The pink console problem: how not to market games to women

Katharine Byrne
The pink console problem: how not to market games to women

Chinese smartphone manufacturer Huawei came under fire yesterday when its CEO Richard Yu said that "pink gold" was the "preferred colour" for women during a launch event for its new handset, prompting members of the tech press to call the remark "unacceptable" and "inappropriate" for a modern-day smartphone maker.

Of course, this isn't the first time a pink or rose gold gadget has been brought to market, either in tech or in games, in order to appeal to women, but platform holders would do well to avoid the same pitfalls as Huawei, according to our Women in Games candidates, who told MCV that gender neutral hardware is just as important as the types of games appearing on each particular console. 

"Stop making everything for girls/women pink!" said Rebecca-Louise Leybourne, a facial motion editor at Weta Digital. "I have nephews and I think they miss out on great games because they think they are just for girls. Not all products aimed at boys are blue, so gender neutrality game console and game marketing will even out the audiences."

Maria Diez Heurta, creative producer at Melbot, agreed, saying that platform holders can "definitely" do more to make their brands more attractive to women "but not necessarily by painting their consoles in pink, please."

"The TV adverts for Nintendo Wii included different combinations of people playing. [...] Everybody could connect and feel represented playing Wii."

Maria Diez Huerta, Melbot

 Indeed, instead of making consoles supposedly more appealing on a purely cosmetic level, platform holders should be working harder to make sure their products reach women where it really counts, said Games London's business development administrator Roz Tuplin. 

"They can tell women their brands exist," she said. "They can place ads where they’ll be seen, encourage womens mags who wouldn’t think twice about telling their readers to go see a new action film that they might also like to play an action game. It’s easy in the games industry to assume everyone is aware of what games have just been released, but if you’re not actively pursuing this information then you’re not going to know."

Indeed, several of our shortlist held up Nintendo as an example of good practice in this respect, despite the platform holder having also released several pink versions of its handheld consoles over the last decade.

"This is something that I believe Nintendo has done amazingly well with some of their consoles," Diez Huerta continued. "I remember the TV adverts for Nintendo Wii included different combinations of people playing: the whole family, just the grandparents, just kids, kids with their parents, female friends, female with male friends, couples… Everybody could connect and feel represented playing Wii. Also, there were many games released with Nintendo DS which were very appealing to women, without being necessarily overly girly - brain-training games, for instance."

"It’s easy in the games industry to assume everyone is aware of what games have just been released, but if you’re not actively pursuing this information then you’re not going to know."

Roz Tuplin, Games London

"Xbox, Playstation and PC are extremely targeted at men," said indie developer Lucy Blundell. "Games advertised alongside those platforms are often very masculine and uninviting to women as well. The last console I bought myself was my Nintendo Wii and 3DS. Both were highly welcoming to women, but often put down as casual or not hardcore because of this, despite being highly successful systems. 

"Sadly, I feel most games are not for me anymore and have naturally gravitated towards iPhone and iPad. I don’t believe Apple, or Android, do a better job at appealing to women, but their games are easy to get hold of, quick to learn and are made by a huge variety of game developers from different backgrounds. Apple’s 'Editor’s Choice' and regular features are trustworthy and easy to spot, unlike other platforms. 

"I believe that Nintendo is still one of the best platform holders creating games and consoles that appeal to women. I still think there’s room for improvement though – especially with the Switch, which feels less appealing to non-gamers and casuals upfront. I’d love to see more feminine/ female lead games developed by Nintendo in future."

"Stop making everything for girls and women pink."

Rebecca-Louise Leybourne, Weta Digital

Creative Assembly's lead concept artist Lulu Zhang and level designer Lisa Burgers also praised mobile as a particularly welcoming platform. "Spending power of women can never be overestimated, and more female players can stimulate more women to join and make their unique contribution to the game industry," said Zhang. 

"I think mobiles and PC do much better than game consoles such as PlayStation or Xbox because they have more games of such genre: sims, atmospheric exploration, high fantasy MMO and so on, which are known to have equal amount number of female players and male players."

Burgers added: "Web games and mobile games tend to expose their games better just because of the nature of them – easily accessible and playable quickly while you are on the go. The method that is often used is through posts or ads on Facebook or the app store, and brands dictate who they target with these ads."

For our full interview with 2017's Women in Games finalists, check out our in-depth feature right here.

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