Zen Of Design

The design and business of gaming from the perspective of an experienced developer


Among the various other ludicrous claims I’ve seen come from the gamergate truthers and Sarkeesian bashers is a fear, a deep, unsettling fear: if the Social Justice Warriors win, the games industry will stop making gamer games for gamers!  There will be no more boobs and blood!  We’ll all be playing Diner Dash!

Let’s do a little reality check.

One of the more tedious parts of the industry is that it is one where copycats are routinely pushed into development.  Every time someone comes up with a ‘gamer game’ formula that kind of works, every major publisher falls over itself attempting to copy it as quickly as possible.  Think about the E3s and other trade shows you’ve been to.  How many MOBAs were there this year? How many open world games three years ago?  How many MMOs were there five years ago?  God of War clones 6 years ago?  How many World War II shooters 8 years ago?

Now let’s look at the Sims.  Yesterday marked the release of The Sims 4, the latest iteration of EA’s very popular virtual dollhouse.  The Sims franchise is a relatively unique snowflake because of a combination of three elements:

  • It’s got a AAA budget for production values suitable on a non-mobile device.
  • It’s designed for a female, or at least co-ed, audience (65F/35M according to this link, up from 50/50 in its earliest days).
  • It touches upon ‘adult’ themes.  You’re not just crushing candy or doing other ‘girly’ stuff. My wife, most notably, tried setting her kitchen on fire in the Sims 3 with the express purpose of trying to seduce the arriving firefighter in her hot tub.

It’s also notable for one other reason.  Mainly that, despite the fact that it is one of the most successful video game franchises of all time, selling 175 million boxes so far, there has been no credible attempt by a major publisher to copycat the game in its entire 14 year history. 

Seriously, the most notable attempt to do so was Playboy: the Mansion.  Because lord knows nothing makes women pick up the box at Best Buy like a Playboy Bunny on the cover  (Disclosure: it was actually kinda fun).

The truth of the matter is that the people making decisions about what gets greenlit at major companies only greenlight AAA games that they understand.  And most of the people making these decisions are traditional gamers.  So when they see a brand new genre they like to play, they want to rush into that product space.  No matter that, for example, the MOBA field has one utterly dominant force in LoL, with two beloved heavyweights in Valve and Blizzard taking all remaining oxygen in the space.  If you’re a game industry executive, it’s clear that MOBAs are the future of gaming!  That’s where we gotta be!  But copy the Sims, or Kim Kardashian game’s massive success?  Those games are just weird.

Which makes the games industry unique.  Say what you will about the Bechdel Test, there is clearly no shortage of movies aimed at women.  Television has also adapted, and now has entire channels devoted to women, and most of prime time network programming is built with the realization that they have female-majority audiences now (because, *ahem*, apparently the men started gaming instead).  Note that, in neither case has testosterone-fueled guy-content disappeared from our televisions and theaters.

So if you’re a traditional gamer, don’t you worry your pretty little head.  There will be AAA games for guys long into the foreseeable future.  And I guarantee that they’ll continue to try to compete on general badassery – and I’m fine with that, since being a standard male gamer, I also, in fact, like those games.

The question I ask is, isn’t this industry capable of making a female-oriented, AAA game with adult themes more often than once every four years?


  1. Don’t need to copy others, just need to understand
    what works for a certain IP,can’t make a game by
    a looking at a 7 year old plan.Then when it launch
    look at metrix and numbers.

    What we have seen the last years is that the people in charge of AAA MMOs really don’t know what gamers want.
    Because they are not gamers, most mayor MMOs last years have “failed” Look to Star Citizen and Camelot Unchained.
    Players want freedom exploration huge open worlds and immersion over all.A game like AoC and SWTOR with starcitizendesign would be the greatest MMO ever.

    I still play SWTOR but the only reason i played it last 2 years as the other MMOs have been bad, and SWTOR now is getting better in many ways.It is starwars that helps.
    But still now they refuse these people in charge to do the right things like cross server, hood toggle,minigames etc etc.

    Imagine if SWTOR was SC with Raids .
    Want to explore in SWTOR … EXHAUST ZONE AND DEAD ….

  2. I’m surprised nobody has tried to license the Twilight video game rights yet, actually. Sure, people would mock, but you’d make trillions.

  3. Twilight: First Blood?

  4. Good point. It’s sad though that some people in the other corner actually uttered things going into that direction, and therefore getting even more people into irrational defensive mode.

  5. This seems to be a general failure in any supply chain where the supplier has no real frame of reference to the intended audience. A reliance on fickle focus groups or the laziness of just duplicating what has worked before perpetuates the situation.
    Only when more female developers enter the industry and are able to use their own mores to develop games they themselves want to play will we be likely to see a more balanced output of games.

    Not to mention the need to breakdown some of the more pervasive stereotypes that pervade in modern culture around gender bias.

    I’ll put this ad here as I feel it illustrates part of the issue… http://www.always.com/en-us/likeagirl.aspx

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