Monday, September 27, 2010

Newsflash: Gaming is no longer just for white guys

I’ve been working in technology for 16 years, and I’m often the only female in the room.  I’ve learned a lot from my male colleagues, but I find that every once in a while, they, like the rest of us, are guilty of seeing things only from their point of view.

Take the lastest (October) issue of WIRED magazine. On page 104 there is a short piece called “Zyngaphobia,” which cites a few opinions from game designers, mostly about how Zynga’s games are a threat to gaming.

With all due respect to the accomplished and experienced designers quoted in the article, I would like to point out that, at least in my humble opinion, the piece in sexist.

Here’s why:

Chris Hecker points out that while playing Counter-Strike and Frisbee are fun activities in and of themselves, playing Zynga focuses on the “junkie behavior” of getting “more stuff.”  But who considers Counter-Strike fun?  Not me. What is considered traditional gaming is boring to most women I know.   As for getting more stuff, my favorite sport is shopping--not shooting. 

Chris Randall talks about how Zynga forces game designers to break basic game play to monetize the game. The thing is, these games are free to play.  They also have a different business model.  Micro-purchases as part of game play are how they do that.  But unlike their traditional counterparts, users don’t need to buy a gaming console (something I personally would never do) or purchase a game. 

Daniel James talks about Zynga games from the standpoint of being introduced to gaming from interactions such as clicking and spamming friends.  I’m not a fan of spamming friends, mind you, and you don’t need to do that to play these games. But this is a different game audience. The casual gamer may be fine with clicking.

Which brings me to Jesse Schell who warns against the growth budget of low budget games.  Again, these games are reaching an audience who would never in their lives pick up a first person shooter game.  The fastest growing gaming segment is 48-year-old women, 83 percent of which play on Facebook and cite “fun and excitement” as the reason for playing. This is not competitive growth but new growth.

Technology in this country is most often adopted earliest by white males.  That’s fine—but that doesn’t mean that the established behavior of a technology is the only acceptable behavior.  New audiences may have new relationships with technology, and that’s a good thing. 

And being a user-centric designer means keeping your user in mind and designing for them—not you.