‘Untapped’ is a word commonly used to describe the girls market for interactive entertainment software. While the industry may have suspected or known that girls’ use of computers decreases by their teen years, only in the last two years have a spattering of new software publishers and developers begun to pay girls the kind of attention that half the population deserves. These fledgling companies may have struck a gold mine: with so few products currently available for girls, this audience could represent the next hot market for the industry.
‘Targeting girls is not as simple as making the package pink and putting a girl protagonist into a traditional game,’ says Doug Glen, president of El Segundo, California-based Mattel Media. Designing for girls requires a fresh mindset because girls have interests and play patterns that differ from those of boys. The accepted view is that girls enjoy communicating with friends, decision-making, role-playing, storytelling, emotional involvement with characters, creativity and adventure without violence.
Taking these findings into consideration, the year-old publisher Mattel Media is targeting girls and boys aged three to 12 with products based on its popular toy lines. The biggest effort is behind Barbie, with three titles to launch this fall, and other products will feature Polly Pocket and the Cabbage Patch Kids.
Glen says the titles have been criticized for not being more educational, but he points out the key is just to keep girls using computers. ‘[The products are] making the computer a lot friendlier for girls.’
‘We need to encourage girls in the technology area, because if they start young, then they are going to have more career choices in the future,’ says Janese Swanson, founder and CEO of Girl Tech of San Rafael, California.
Also formed in 1995, Girl Tech is pitting itself against Mattel Media in producing electronic toys, an Internet guide and CD-ROMs for girls aged five to 11. Its first venture, a Web site (www.girltech.com) named Club Girl Tech that includes profiles of women in history, games and a journal, kicked off last April.
With inspiration from her nine-year-old daughter, Swanson says she wants to make products that not only entertain girls, but ‘foster an adventurous spirit,’ present limitless options, and not only build their confidence in using computers, but in themselves.
Software developer Girl Games of Austin, Texas, also aspires to educate, as well as amuse girls. Its first product, Let’s Talk About Me, is broken down into sections called My Body, My Personality, My Life and My Future. The title will launch in September, with a new release in the series, published by New York-based Simon & Schuster Interactive, every four to five months. While this product is geared at girls eight to 14, the company plans to eventually create products for older girls and women.
Girl Games also puts out a monthly on-line newsletter called Girls InterWire and has a Web site (www.girlgamesinc.com). These areas, says Laura Groppe, president and founder, have shown ‘very high growth’ since their launch in January 1995. That growth among preteen and teen girls is remarkable considering the competition. ‘My competition is the best friend, the boyfriend, the telephone, the mall, music, movies.’
Because preteen and teen girls are much more likely to spend time in a clothing store than in a software store, companies must take new tactics to promote titles for girls. ‘I think marketing partners are very important,’ says Patricia Flanigan, founder and executive director of Her Interactive of Albuquerque, New Mexico. For its first title for girls nine to 16, a social adventure called McKenzie & Co. released last November, the two-year-old publisher raised awareness of the product through tie-ins with N.E. Waz clothing and Sassaby Cosmetics displays at Wal-Mart, a mall tour with four bands and ads in teen magazines.
Flanigan says when girls know about a product that is made for them, they will buy it. She interprets the zero product return for McKenzie & Co. as a sign of a ‘hunger’ for girls software.
But not everyone believes that girls need separate products from boys. ‘We feel many of our products are for girls as well as boys,’ says Sarina Simon, president of Los Angeles-based Philips Media Home & Family Entertainment. Thinking games, puzzles and educational products can appeal to boys and girls alike.
Still, the company found economic motivation-primarily the popularity of the book series on which the title is based-to publish its first title for girls, The Babysitters Club Friendship Kit, scheduled to hit shelves in September. ‘We think it is a very rich content base from which to draw on.’ Because girls are the the primary audience for the books, Simon says Philips Media, formed more than 10 years ago, had considered girls’ interests and play patterns when creating the product.
The drawback to producing a title for girls or boys only, says Simon, is that ‘you’ve cut your market in half.’
But the arguments in favor of producing girls software may be stronger than those against. The steady drop in the price of computers and CD-ROM drives has created a new market of families that own computers. ‘For the first time, we’re inundated by merchandisers and retailers that are clamoring for new product,’ says Groppe of Girl Games.
With so few products currently available for girls and so many girls with access to computers, the market for girls software appears to have no limit to its growth.