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The emergence of mobile games such as Candy Crush Saga is helping to create a world where “gamers” are increasingly female.
More women now play games than men in the UK, according to the Internet Advertising Bureau, with females making up 52 per cent of players compared to 49 per cent in 2011. Yet the faces of those who create the games remain largely male: women account for only 14 per cent of the gaming workforce in the UK, below the global average of 22 per cent, according to the Association for UK Interactive Entertainment (Ukie), a trade body.
Several incidents involving female games developers who were harassed online for speaking out against sexism in gaming recently prompted concerns over wider discrimination across the industry. Yet many games experts argue that those incidents — which represent the views of only a minority of those who play or make games — should not deter women from pursuing a career in a sector that needs greater diversity to reflect a changing consumer base. “In the past five years, there’s been a shift in the types of games that are available,” says Catharina Lavers Mallet, head of studio at King Digital Entertainment, creator of Candy Crush Saga.
“Mobile games are short in duration and cater to busy women who can’t devote three hours to one game but enjoy them in short snaps.”
King employs 1,000 people globally, 27 per cent of whom are women across all departments from programming to design and marketing. Last year, the company recruited two women into senior engineering and programming positions. These moves were important for the company, whose target market is women aged 25-45.
Ms Lavers Mallet says being a woman has added credibility to her role, which involves everything from hiring to operations. “I represent our demographic very well from a customer perspective.”
Yet recruiting women with specialist technical skills remains a challenge. “I’ve yet to have a face-to-face interview with a female front-end games developer,” she says. “They are just not coming up the funnel.”
The percentage of women in the UK employed in internet gaming
Front-end developers create what users see and interact with while playing a game, requiring fluency in many programming languages.
One explanation for why so few women apply for these roles is that even fewer young girls study programming in secondary school.
Last year only 15 per cent of girls across the UK took computer science at GCSE. Uptake among girls at A-level was even lower, despite an 11 per cent rise in overall students taking computing — nine out of 10 students were male, Ukie research found.
Ukie is trying to address this problem. It successfully lobbied the government to include computer science at GCSE level in 2014, which its chief executive Jo Twist says was a big step in encouraging students to start thinking about tech jobs at a young age.
Global percentage of women working in internet gaming
But more needs to be done in terms of how these jobs are explained to students, she says, particularly to young girls. Ukie supports initiatives such as the government-backed Next Gen Skills Academy, which hosts workshops to help women overcome barriers to entering the industry.
Communicating the idea that young women can be creative and technical is vital, Ms Twist explains. “[Young girls] need to understand why learning technical skills is beneficial to them. We all know the importance of role models.
“We need to get more of them to talk about their jobs and how they got into the industry — one that’s creative and fun.”
Some say there’s a natural lag in the labour market that will be resolved as more women play games. This is being seen by the emergence of independent developers who are creating games that cater to all ages, genders and ethnicities.
Jennifer Schneidereit is one example. After a decade of working at large gaming companies in Japan and the UK, she and two partners set up a company focused on building games that appeal to everyone. “We wanted to get away from the traditional gaming audience of boys aged 18-30,” she says.
Tech companies also need to promote a working culture where women don’t feel compelled to stay in the office 24-7, says Games City programmer Alex Roberts. “I think a lot of [games] companies are set up in a way where you go to work, have breakfast at your desk, shower at work and have dinner there. It’s a very male-oriented way of working and not everyone wants to live at work.”
Ms Lavers Mallet agrees. “King is the kind of place where you can come as you are. There’s no ‘work self’ and ‘home self’.” She often brings her one-year-old daughter to work, which she says sends an important message in the office.
“We encourage people to have hobbies outside work and to go home and see their friends and family. This culture is what makes us successful.”