Thursday, April 22, 2010

Why Don't More Women Play EVE??

What could CCP Games do to attract and maintain a higher percentage of women to the game. Will Incarna do the trick? Can anything else be done in the mean time? Can we the players do our part to share the game we love with our counterparts, with our sisters or daughters, with the Ladies in our lives? What could be added to the game to make it more attractive to them? Should anything be changed? Is the game at fault, or its player base to blame?

That is the question that CrazyKinux put before the eve community with his most recent EVE blog banter. Truth be told this is a highly complicated issue that doesn't have a direct or easy answer. So as an anthropology student I will attempt to tackle this subject matter as methodically as possible, though if I start ranting mid way through an idea don't be too surprised.

First off you have to consider the social implications of playing video games in the first place. For guys console games like madden and COD are the norms, those of us that enjoy MMOs while not in anyway made into social pariahs are certainly considered less normative than the rest of the gaming community. The biggest reason behind this is the fact that MMOs take up way more of a time commitment than do most console games. Certainly to feel a sense of accomplishment there is a great deal of a time sink involved in the playing of most MMOs. Girls in general and even girl gamers have a tendency to shy away from this time sink. I couldn't find any solid statistics that I trusted but I am fairly confident in venturing the opinion that most girls aren't interested in the grind of an MMO (even WoW isn't a 50/50 mix although I have read statistics that put it close to 30% women). No MMO will automatically draw in as many women as they do men, the game has to work to attract the fairer sex.

The question becomes then, that of those women who are willing to play MMOs and put there hard earned blood, sweat, and tears into a game, what is it that draws them into a fantasy environment. First off I have read in other blogs that most women aren't attracted to the sci fi genre, and while I will admit that the community is predominantly male if you have ever been to any kind of sci fi convention you'll realize that there are just as many "geeky" girls out there that enjoy dressing up as Princess Leia (although you don't always want to see them all in that metal bikini) and other storied characters of Sci Fi past. Hell I know women who don't even like sci fi that absolutely loved Firefly. So what keeps all these geeky femme fatales from joining the ranks of those dedicated to the universe of New Eden? I would have to honestly say that the learning curve of eve is the most significant deterrent of anyone to sticking with the game, and since women have a tendency to gravitate towards pretty things over slick shiny mechanisms (it's why guys think an all stainless steel kitchen would be cool but women make a weird face and then decorate your austere environment with flowers and other feminine objects). I think women aren't as likely to overlook the less than intuitive game controls.

Beyond the problems with sheer mechanics of the game however I think it comes down to gender mentality. Men as gendered creatures (that is to say men as men have been acculturated to act) are far more likely to overlook the repetitive nature of mining and missioning. They will stick with the game simply to watch there skill count go up. I know that there have been times personally where I wasn't enjoying the game play aspect of blob warfare, lagfested battles, and worst of all the gate camps of doom, but I still logged in to watch my skills grow in number. Call it e-peen, call it machismo, call it whatever you like, but the truth of the matter is that women aren't as likely to leave gratified from watching numbers on a screen get bigger. Women desire a more immersive gaming environment, one in which they can grow and change and express their individuality.

If you have ever railed against the stupidity of your alliance leaders or the massive ego that some FCs get you will understand why women are turned off from that part of the game. It may be an old cliche that women date assholes but they don't date the kind of asshole that is yelling at a bunch of his supposed "allies" over a video game, they date the ones that demonstrate their power over others physically and socially and hell even that is an incorrect and gender biased point of view. I simply brought it up as an illustration of how the EVE community can be off putting to a member of the female gender.

The question then becomes how to address some of these issues without breaking the game dynamic that has drawn the 300k some odd game subscribers to EVE in the first place. My first inclination is that while Incarna may help, it isn't going to bring in massive numbers of new female gamers. The truth is that the ability to walk around in stations and buy stuff is exciting news to those of us that have played the game for a long time, but to a new subscriber it holds little draw. If they wanted to walk around and buy stuff they would simply go play second life. What would draw in more subscribers though was if ship customization worked the same way it did in games like Freelancer, or as they now work for Tech 3 Cruisers in EVE. Tech 3 gave the EVE community a taste of something that many have wanted from day one, the ability to customize your ship. The only problem is that these ships are far out of the price range of most players and certainly out of the price range of any noob to the game. An immersive design system in which players can alter the look of their ships would give some women (certainly not all or even a majority) more of a reason to play the game, as it allows them to do to their ships what my metaphorical wife did to my shiny stainless steel kitchen a couple of paragraphs ago. Part of the draw to fantasy games is that your armor changes regularly, granted in EVE you can change ships but even then your ship is identical to everyone elses. The fantasy games that really succeed in this arena are the ones that allow you to customize the look of your gear.

Also if CCP really wants to draw in new subscribers they are going to HAVE to overhaul the interface system that eve uses. I can't list the times that I have known someone that has or had started playing eve and quit because the maneuvering system was clunky and that they didn't feel like they had a lot of fine control over their ships. I am not a programmer so I honestly can't even begin to imagine how to accomplish something like that but I feel it is one of the largest reasons why EVE has such a high turn over rate of gamers period let alone of women. That combined with the fact that EVE is a harsh mistress when it comes to ship loss are two powerful deterrents to knew players. In most MMOs if you die you have to pay to repair your gear or you take a slight XP loss, in EVE you lose everything you have worked so hard to gain. Sure that's not a big deal for the billionaires in space but for new and emerging players that can be a devastating loss. Sadly though PVP is one of the largest reasons to play this game because let's face it the PvE is not something that will keep you playing for years on end.

The missioning and mining system in this game are in one word BORING. Even with the inception of the new epic arcs and what not I can tell you from personal experience that missioning and mining are something you have to have the TV on to tolerate. Ratting is just as boring even with the new "upgraded" systems. Plexing can be fun because of the risk to reward ratio but even then most plexes are boring and tedious (as anyone that has ever run the maze can attest to). Men will generally overlook this as a means to an end. Hell I have even met people who enjoy missioning and mining although almost always they talk about what they were watching or doing while mining. Women don't want to have to find something else to do while playing a game, no one does really. But again as the more austere of the 2 genders men are more accepting of the tedium. But with such a harsh penalty in PVP many people don't ever venture away from the tedium of missioning which means they eventually venture onward to more exciting and immersive games. The revamp of the insurance system will probably help somewhat to alleviate this but even that is just a small step.

The truth is that there is no one thing that will draw more women to EVE. Even if the epeening, tedium, and steep learning curve were magically gone tomorrow there probably wouldn't be a flood of new female subscribers coming in over the next couple of months. People play games for any number of reasons and I have only managed to highlight a very small number of the reasons that women (and men) find this game unappealing. CCP could cave and fold to market pressure and change all sorts of things to appeal to women. Even then the only way the game would draw more evenly numbered across the genders is because of the mass emo-rage quitting of its' male population. Making small changes to the visual affects of the game will certainly help draw in new customers, both men and women, the long anticipated launch of Incarna will be a boon in that arena (provided it lives up to its hype and it better after waiting for years for it's release) but even that falls short of the necessary revamps needed to make this game appealing to the general populace. Let's face it visually EVE can't compete with games like Aion, Conan, and Warhammer ( I picked those 3 games because while they are visually stunning each is failing because of game play and market issues) even with prettier planets (and more lag :) ) EVE is a far cry from being on the competitive edge of graphics and without the ease of play of WOW it really doesn't have a gimic to draw the feminine gamer's attention. And since I just realized that I implied that women like things that are easy and pretty I wanted to apologize for the implication and state that I think everyone likes things that are easy and pretty, but I feel women are more responsive to games that are one or the other. And if that was still insulting, get over it :) .

So hopefully CCP will gain some new ideas from this post and the others like it. But please note you don't have to reinvent the wheel just to make a car more attractive to potential buyers. Keep doing what you're doing only consider our words when you design the new scope of the game.


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