Girl games are in the pink

Until recently, the interactive industry has been sluggish about courting girl gamers, but the realization that girls like to play computer games and develop console calluses just like their brothers has opened up market possibilities beyond the shoot-em-up boy standards. Still...
August 1, 1999

Until recently, the interactive industry has been sluggish about courting girl gamers, but the realization that girls like to play computer games and develop console calluses just like their brothers has opened up market possibilities beyond the shoot-em-up boy standards. Still pretty in pink, girl-specific interactive games aren’t branching out much beyond the feminine stereotype of the kinds of activities girls like-namely, creativity, communication and, of course, fashion. Given these parameters, it’s not surprising that Mattel’s Barbie is still leading the way.

Ranked by first quarter 1999 unit sales as tracked by the NPD Group, Barbie snagged the top five creative software titles geared to girls. There were only two non-Barbie games in the girls top ten list-Madeline Rainy Day Activity came in sixth and Teen Digital Diva scored a seventh place finish. Barbie Riding Club topped the list, selling 80,687 units from January to April, and raking in approximately US$2 million according to PC Data. Total first-quarter sales of all girl-specific digital titles (about 750,000 in total) grossed approximately US$15 million. Armed with a market strategy steeped in the belief that girls go for creative gameplay, the digital industry is starting to sit up and take notice of this increasingly lucrative demo.

Girls are buying titles for themselves, and are urging parents to drop money on interactive products as well. Mattel counts on girls purchasing their own games. ‘We see a lot of girls spending their own money,’ says Cynthia Neiman, VP of marketing at Mattel Media. ‘[CD-ROMs and video games] are things they want and save up for.’ Neiman cites TV advertising and packaging as the most important elements for marketing girl products. As far as the Barbie pink packaging goes, Neiman says Mattel will also start incorporating gameplay screenshots in its box art in the fall.

According to a 1998 Roper Starch Youth Report on girls and video games, artistic/graphic games have twice the appeal for girls than boys. Eight percent of female respondents ages eight to 12 play these games as opposed to only 4% of boys the same age. Military/war games were virtually ignored by girls in the eight to 12 range (3%), whereas boys the same age flocked

to them (22%). Action/adventure games also attracted more boys (67%) than girls (41%). Girls are just as likely, however, to have access to the latest gizmos as boys. According to the same report, 37% of girls ages eight to 17 have a video game system in the house, on par with the 38% of boys surveyed. Only 21% of female respondents had a video game system in their own room, however, compared to 42% of boys the same age. Portable game players like Gameboys are also popular with girls, with 23% surveyed owning one, as compared to 32% of male respondents.

This data supports an increased effort to target the girl demo. Ubi Soft product manager Erica Mason says: ‘It’s a growing market, and there aren’t a lot of companies targeting girls.’ According to PC Data, there were only 10 publishers selling girl games from January to April of this year. Karen Davidson, director of marketing at The Learning Company took part in the panel discussion ‘Girls Are Hard’ at E3. She says that girls’ access to technology is critical to their future. ‘If girls aren’t exposed, they are at a disadvantage, and providing great software for girls is a step in the right direction.’

The need for girl-specific games is based on the theory that girl play patterns are inherently unique. ‘Girls like a richer story line,’ says Mason. ‘They want characters they can relate to, and don’t like being pressured by the clock. Boys are happy picking up this and shooting that-girls want to know why they’re doing it.’ Girl games are also centered around relationships. `There is a social aspect to girl play patterns,’ Neiman says. ‘Girls are looking for more character-driven products that have a personality and involve a sense of belonging and being a part of a group.’ She adds that fashion, glamor and adventure play with female protagonists are particularly appealing to girls.

In contrast, Diane Strack, senior producer at Simon & Schuster Interactive, is not a fan of gender labeling. ‘I don’t know if they need their own games,’ Strack says, ‘or if there just aren’t enough gender-neutral games out there. I think girls are various [in their interests],’ she says. ‘You have Barbie in your house if you have daughters, but you also have soccer balls and a chess set,’ she explains. ‘There is a place where the play patterns intersect, and that’s what the computer gaming industry hasn’t figured out yet.’

Recent and upcoming releases

Barbie Ocean


Color Game Boy

Mattel Media * May 1999

US$29.99 * five and up

An underwater adventure game

with puzzles and three different

levels leading to lost treasure.

Laura’s Happy



Ubi Soft/Playmobil Interactive * June 1999

US$19.99 * six to 12

Based on Playmobil characters, the game includes five adventures with Laura in a bid to restore a magical rock with powers by doing good deeds for others. This title offers 20 hours of gameplay in an open 3-D environment.

Barbie Super Sports


Mattel Media * June 1999

US$34.99 * five and up

Barbie gets sporty for the first time with

five levels of in-line skating and snowboarding featuring racing options and an instant

replay function.

Um Jammer Lammy

Sony PlayStation

Sony Computer Entertainment

August 1999

US$39 * all ages

Players jam with the all-girl band Milk Can

in seven jam sessions, in preparation for

Milk Can’s on-stage debut.

Generation Girl

Gotta Groove


Mattel Media * October 1999

US$34.99 * five and up

Players can design dance outfits and choreograph routines with motion capture and real-time 3-D animation.

Daria Life Central


Simon & Schuster Interactive

October 1999

US$19.95 * eight to 12

Includes day planner, calendar,

journal, address book, screensavers

and clips from the TV show.

Miss Spiders’ Tea Party


Simon & Schuster Interactive

October 1999

US$19.95 * three to seven

Based on David Kirk’s book series, the title includes eight games in a 3-D environment.

Purple Moon Secret Paths to Your Dreams


Mattel Media * October 1999

US$19.99 * eight to 12

Dream journal with background animation, sound themes and a dream interpretation dictionary.

Rockett’s Camp Adventures


Mattel Media * November 1999

US$19.99 * eight to 12

Rockett and other members of Purple Moon go to Camp Luna, where they solve mysteries, make friendship bracelets and race canoes.

Barbie Race and Ride

Sony PlayStation

Mattel Media * November 1999

US$40 * five and up

A two-player action game in which girls choose their horses, then race them against each other in jumping and riding competitions.

Movin’ Doodles


Mattel Media * November 1999

US$29.99 * eight and up

Girls can doodle on-screen, and watch

the drawings animate. The title creates

doodle movies, greetings and dance

routines, and has an e-mail function

(recipient must also have the program).

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