Can I make a significant difference by changing the types of games that are available? Are there any generic features that I can add to games, which will help make them more attractive to casual female gamers?
I am not a woman gamer, but one thing you should definitely try is removing things which would tend to drive them away. Are there games that use a lot of cleavage or exploitative visuals? Does your advertising or the game copy use gendered language ("are you man enough")? Do your games tend to feature male main characters, with women as props or victims? Are your community features (forums and chat rooms) policed for sexist, antisocial, and homophobic content? All these are things that I often hear discussed as reasons why women are driven away from communities.
Things that you shouldn't do in an attempt to attract women: add lots of pink or games about shopping and fashion. While these games may appeal to some girls and women, they can often come across as pandering or disingenuous. Also, avoid having a ghetto category like "games for girls."
I spend a lot of time playing games and personally I don't find myself off-put by male orientated games that use huge breasted victimized ladies and what not, in fact I have no problems with most of the issues Gregory Weir raised. Although I do think the points about community attitude and no pink/games4girls are valuable.
I think as a whole woman are looking for different features, Customization is a huge favourite for example. It's a stereotype because it's true. I like to make my character or gameplay personal to me, that's a huge factor in keeping me interested and coming back for more. It doesn't need to mean i want more pretty coloured wizard hats, i just want to be involved with the role i'm playing in a game. I want to be able to define myself so that i feel that my presence there is worth something.
Another thing is that i like to feel emotionally involved. This is mostly through writing, for example if there is an npc or an instructional character I prefer some thought to have gone into their script so they don't just feel like another game mechanic. Or if a game has a "world" i want to feel that i have some place in it. Alternatively this aspect can be covered by a good community for some people.
It's true i might just be encouraging distinction between men and woman here when the industry is trying to find the happy medium, but i think i'm just being realistic. You can't ignore the fact that what ladies look for is very different, it a tough balance to strike, we don't want to be playing a whole different game from the blokes, we want to be able to play the same game our own way. And we wan't more substance to the game because hack and slash (/other generic gameplay) just can't satisfy us alone like it can with a lot of young men.
A couple of years down the line, noticed this was up voted and I'm not sure my anecdotal response holds much merit. Some of the points are still valuable if you hadn't already considered them, but you should really take any comment on what girls prefer in games with the knowledge that single opinions might not hold up. Even the loudest consensus might not represent the majority of your potential female users. Empirical studies are probably the best way to research this problem if necessary.
I'm a female gamer. I can't really tell you what you could do to attract me to a game, but I guess you're free to ask me any questions about my gaming habits.
I can tell you why I like particular games or maybe you can kind of gather from the games I play, what attracts me to them.
When it comes to computer games I play, or have played:
- Guild Wars (a loong time ago)
- World of Warcraft (Mipey's right about the vanity pets.)
- Left 4 Dead
- Command & Conquer (pre-EA, again a long time ago.)
- Plants vs Zombies
- The Sims
- Sim City (I liked 3000 the most)
- Diablo 2
- Fortress Forever
- Zelda (pretty much all of them, but Ocarina's my favorite)
One thing I find really appealing is having a nice balance of male/female playable characters. In a LOT of games, seriously a TON if there is a female character, there's only one. So I mean, guys can pick from a number of avatars and female players get one character to choose from. That's one thing I liked about WoW, even number of male/female characters, however one thing I don't like about WoW is the, "Oh, you're a girl and you play WoW? You must be ugly!" mentality.
More than on language and visuals, it depends on the very nature of your game. Does it encourage aggressive gameplay (think any FPS)? Then you'll attract more males than females. Does it appeal to the caring personality, such as gardening and management games (think Sims)? Then you'll attract more females.
Males tend to be more competitive, females tend to be more collaborative. If you include both gameplay aspects, you'll see more balanced ratio between men and women. An example is World of Warcraft, which is highly competitive environment (think DPS, PvP), however it also has much of leeway for collaboration (think tank, healer, guilds).
You can also consider adding player-owned housing, gardens etc. that feature growth in return for care (find items). Vanity items also are a good way to appeal to the "other" side, such as non-combat pets, collectibles etc.
Can I make a significant difference by changing the types of games that are available?
Absolutely. Type and setting/story. I'm pretty sure most players of Murder, She Wrote are female. I know for a fact that my 60+ year old mother-in-law, who was quite anti-gaming before, played it through at least twice :)