Most protagonists of games are male. I imagine the conventional wisdom is that this is because

  1. We live in a patriarchal society, especially when it comes to game development, and
  2. The target demographic is predominantly male.

I once heard that for fiction, females are more able to empathise with a male character, than males are with a female character. So the great imbalance in gender in fiction is not necessarily due to patriarchy, but that it just makes sense from a financial point of view. I'm not sure if I subscribe to that, but it is interesting.

And there was a time when gaming was for super hardcore nerdy males, but now almost everybody has a games machine, and it is not a stigma to like games as it once was, I don't know if it is such a male domain any more.

So leaving aside any question of whether we should try to reduce gender stereotypes, my question is, does having a female protagonist actually affect sales, in particular, for small indie games? Are there any experiments, statistics or research relating to this question? What is the actual demographic breakdown of gamers these days?

I realise this is an inflammatory subject, so I will stress here that I am not looking for opinions:

I am looking for hard facts and data.

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    \$\begingroup\$ -1. Controversial question, not about development, asking for definitive facts where no such facts could possibly exist. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 12, 2013 at 10:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ @GustavoMaciel Fact is people thought Samus was a Man until later on when someone beat the game with enough points which revealed that Samus Aran was actually a female character. The American booklet of the game explained that Samus was an Android. Eh, I'm not sure if the game would have sold that much if people knew from the get go that Samus is a woman. At least not back in those days. \$\endgroup\$
    – Sidar
    Commented Jul 12, 2013 at 14:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ Just a note to those who are planning on answering this question, I find it to be an interesting question and while not off topic, it'll be very easy to create subjective answers. Please ensure your answer contains references and hard data to support your conclusions. \$\endgroup\$
    – House
    Commented Jul 12, 2013 at 18:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Katana314 Precisely what sort of "solid, incontrovertible data" are you thinking of? Can you give an example? I can't think of anything, myself. You'd have to be comparing two otherwise-identical popular mainstream games marketed to the same group in the same part of the world whose only difference was the gender of the main character. Right? Does any such game release exist today? How would such a game ever come into existence so that we could gather that sort of data in a valid way? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 13, 2013 at 1:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ Although the question is interesting, I don't think there is really any way you can get a definitive answer. Games vary too much between themselves (as far as narrative, gameplay, and content) to be able to determine if the reason for a games success was due to the gender or ethnicity of the main character. Really the only way to get factual information would be to release a game where you could buy either the female version or male version (you'd have to buy the game twice if you want both) and see how their sales measure up. But no one has done this as it seems like a bad marketing strategy. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 15, 2013 at 21:06

4 Answers 4


I don't think you can prove that "having a female protagonist actually affect sales, in particular, for small indie games?" And I don't think the sex of the lead character will deter people from buying games. Allow me to explain.

The article where an investor said he would not invest in a game with a female lead "You can't have a female character in games. It has to be a male character, simple as that.". The guy was a sexist person with a sexist attitude making great assumptions about buyer attitudes. Read the comments below the article for a response to that.

So that's one isolated instance of somebody saying something sexist like that. Of course, they didn't say who it was, whether he was big time or small time, or whether at all he knew the market he was trying to sell to.

So anyway, without a carefully controlled study/social experiment (each same game quality, exact same fun level, only thing changed: lead male becomes female), it's not really possible to tell if there is an effect or not. But I urge you to think about this rationally and not let sexist attitudes of a couple of people dominate your thinking. Have you ever avoided a game title because the lead was female? I personally have not. Have your friends? Has anybody you know? Why would the market respond negatively to a female lead then?

Now consider the following notable games with female protagonists, leads, or main characters (by no means complete):

  • Final Fantasy 6 (Terra). Terra was the only magic user in a world where magic had all but disappeared (and was forbidden). The majority of the story centers around her, particularly the early parts of the game.
  • Portal. A "maze-shooter" with a female lead character who you see in mirrors at the beginning of the game.
  • Mario Bros 2 : Had princess toadstool, who was arguably the best for beginners to use (since she could float for 5s)
  • Warcraft 3 - The Night Elves are a matriarchal society. 2 of the heroes for the race are female including Maiev and Tyranda
  • Tomb Raider featured Lara Croft.

There are a lot more games listed here featuring female protagonists.

So in short, I don't believe having a female role prevents the game from selling. I think how well the game is made, how fun it is, etc, dominate the scales in terms of people liking the game. The isolated sexist people who say things like "It won't sell because the lead is female" are simply speculating and projecting their sexist views on the entire market.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 This is likely as close as we'll get to a complete answer for this question, unless someone runs a study for exactly this topic. \$\endgroup\$
    – House
    Commented Jul 20, 2013 at 15:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 Maybe somebody could do an analysis of Nathan Drake vs. Lara Croft. As far as I can tell, Lara Croft is more well know because she was here earlier, but other than that, both game series are popular, profitable and critically acclaimed. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 24, 2013 at 12:51

Old Opinions

A game recently came out called Remember Me. The sad thing about this game is that for most people it flew under the radar. Why? The studio, Dontnod, attempted to get funding and support from multiple investors but couldn't so they weren't able to advertise. Investors did not one to sink money into the game for one major reason, the lead was female. There was a scene where the character's past is explored and she kisses a man, which the investors thought that the male population wouldn't want to see.

Whether or not they were right is not the point, Dontnod couldn't get support due to the lack of faith by the investors, so when it came time to sell their product it flopped due to a rather small and under budget advertising department.

The Honest Truth

So then where does this leave us, is making a female lead wrong? Is there a large male gamer population than female? Let's look at the Sales, Demographic, and Usage Data provided by the Entertainment Software Association. On page 5 it shows that 47% of all gamers are female. What does this mean?

Knowing who all of Dontnod's investors were is impossible but it is a safe assumption that they were male, or just overly cautious about the male consumers. Could the game have done better with more investments, maybe; was it a female lead that caused it to crash, no.

Strong Female Leads

There are several examples of female leads in games that did great: Konoko from Bungie's Oni, Lara Croft from Square Enix's Tomb Raider, and Samus Aran from Nintendo's Metroid.


I would post more links to show what I mean, but I can't due to the posting limitations, to make a long post simple:

The gaming industry catered towards males for the past twenty years, but as this newest generation began to grow up with technology, the internet, and video games, the gender gap began to close. Sure there are still people out there who will argue against it, but having a female lead shouldn't affect your game much, so long as the character is interesting.


Personal opinion I would never even second guess adding a female to a cast or even making her the lead. If it works with what you are going with than do it, as well as the fact that if more leads are given to female character's than eventually the amount of female leads will be similar to that of males.

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    \$\begingroup\$ 47% of all gamers are female - that old chestnut? Your Remember Me anecdote is even more interesting if you look further. Females may represent half of the entire gaming population, but it's a lot less even when you break that apart. Females represent 74% of casual game sales, and there are surveys to the effect of "core" gamers being predominantly male. Casual games tend to have no protagonists. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 17, 2013 at 3:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ISJTrigger Thanks for the interesting info. Small criticism however, I don't think you can use Samus as an example of a successful female protagonist, due to the secrecy of her gender. Also, there is a case to be made that Lara only became famous because she is sexy and acts like a male (at least in the beginning). We all know that sexy women will sell games, but not so much for realistic multidimensional ones. \$\endgroup\$
    – DaleyPaley
    Commented Jul 17, 2013 at 7:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DaleyPaley, the problem with saying she "acts male" is really just that only men are portrayed in that situation. If more females were portrayed as "strong" and "daring" and "adventurous", you wouldn't say she was "acting male", you would say she was a strong character forging her path. If you want to break down gender barriers, you can't use phrases like "acts male" or "acts female" because that doesn't mean anything. Is it only that men can have strong traits, or aggressive ones? If so, then the gender gap will never close, and male protagonists will dominate. \$\endgroup\$
    – kurtzbot
    Commented Jul 18, 2013 at 18:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ "Investors did not one to sink money into the game for one major reason, the lead was female." ^citation needed. I seriously doubt "investors wouldn't invest because the lead was female." Valve invested in Portal and the lead was female. And so was the team lead. \$\endgroup\$
    – bobobobo
    Commented Jul 20, 2013 at 2:38
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Game development is also about creating something that gives a "feeling" to the user. You have to set a tone to the game and by setting the tone you can speak to the public outside. Todd Howard has talked about this and I find him inspiring.

I personally think that data as you want is not reliable because, even if available, it does not preclude the fact that you might find an idea for a game that will attract female users and male user with the same ratio because the range of devices that support video game has increased and they have a wider reach (see Nintendo Wii and Smartphones).

For me the focus should be about story telling. Any good story if well implemented is potentially successfull and hence any gender "choice" could be potentially valid as you could find an idea that breaks into an unknown market :).

However... so far mine is a subjective answer and I wanted to provide you with also some links to published research on this matter so you can have some hard core data and facts to analyze and come up with your own conclusions:

In short:

There is evidence that the demographic of game players are also feemale teenegares (cit 7) and if you want to make your player FEEL something you will have to think what YOUR GAME wants to TELL. If it is a story about a FAIRY then the characters will be mostly female, if it is a story about a solider of the 2nd World War then the character could be MALE (but you could have a FEMALE character as supporting character for specific missions - eg. one character is the solider and needs to do certain missions the othe is a nurse and needs to do other missions -save people- and the overall mission score is combined in a co-op multiplayer experience). Again there is no definite and final answer on this. Fantasy is the beauty and power of video games (I have no data to prove this :-)).

My conclusion is that is UP TO US to create something groundbreaking that will attract both female and male gender and that ANY research in this field is limited as videogames are increasing their users reach day by day (see what is happening with the Nintendo Wii, families and older people play... it kind of made consoles cool also for eldery people which is an achievement to me and suggests that gaming can be for everyone + see what is happening with smartphone games where you see people playing on smartphones everwhere and with any gender, thing that was not seen with portable consoles).


Although it does, it isn't the most defining trait. What defines characters is how they act, look, talk, move. The gender has an effect of each one of these traits, but to what extent it depends entirely on the designer.

An example of a female character with almost entirely male characteristics is Byonetta. She is basically a female Dante and she is female in order to appeal more to the teenager audiance.

Take Elizabeth from the newest Bioshock for an amazing example for a character who has great depth and is female. Even though she isn't the main character, she is a more developed character than Booker.

Tl;dr: Yes it does, though not alone. When the gender is combined with looks, talk acting it can help appeal to a certain audance therefore increasing sales.

Edit: Let's add another pawn on the table. In order to have a main character, you must have some sort of naritive, if you have some sort of naritive, then it is expected for the player to bond with the character. It would appear that male gamers (which are the majority of single player gamers) have harder time bonding with female characters? Maybe... On the other hand we have Portal, which has huge sucsess and guess what, has a female protagonist. There are a lot of factors. I want to point your attention to two things. One of them is this quote:

In terms of pure sales numbers, in the first three months of availability, games with only a male hero sold around 25 percent better than games with an optional female hero. Games with exclusively male heroes sold around 75 percent better than games with only female heroes.

And the other is this link: http://penny-arcade.com/report/article/games-with-female-heroes-dont-sell-because-publishers-dont-support-them

These guys have done an amazing job and I don't want to rip-off their hard work, so just read the article. I think it gives a lot of good points to think on.

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    \$\begingroup\$ -1 This answer lacks a critical component that the question asks for "I am looking for hard facts and data." You can't say "Yes it does" without backing that up with research. Please edit your answer to include what you're missing. \$\endgroup\$
    – House
    Commented Jul 15, 2013 at 14:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ I added some more content to it. Check it out now. \$\endgroup\$
    – Bloodcount
    Commented Jul 15, 2013 at 17:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, that article was linked in the other answer. It's a good article, but I don't see how you're validating the first part of your answer by including it. \$\endgroup\$
    – House
    Commented Jul 15, 2013 at 18:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ Allright, I give up. \$\endgroup\$
    – Bloodcount
    Commented Jul 15, 2013 at 19:25

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