Change is Possible: A Look at Industry Stats

Is the gaming industry ready for a change? Can it support less big boy roles for the option of stronger females leads or a choice between them?
This article is over 10 years old and may contain outdated information

Female video gamers have been a hot topic in recent months. In comments in an article by Destrolyn.Bechgeddig, a commenter made a point that the ratio of males to females in the gamer sector is 10:1. This judgement is supposedly made by standing in the local GameStop for an hour. We are in the age of technology, so just visiting a local establishment is no gauge of gamer population. I can not count the times I’ve purchased a video game online and had it shipped to my house or downloaded it to my computer or console.

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Another aspect of debate in the industry is the types of games considered popular. Some people would rather play in traffic rather than sit through having to play a first person shooter. Some people hate the Grand Theft Auto series, while others revere it. Some will only play roleplaying games and look at nothing else, no matter what.

Let us take a look over the past decade of video gamers. The ESA (Entertainment Software Association), founded in 1994, has been releasing studies entitled “Essential Facts about the Computer and Video Game Industry.” The ESA was formally known as the Interactive Digital Software Association and they are the ones that stage E3 each year. I will be pulling all information for this article from these studies published each year.

Travel in Time Back to 2003

In 2003, the ESA’s study, the gender ratio saw a divide by computer game player and video game player (in other words, console players). The ratio was more even for computer players than console players.

Just like the huge difference in gender ratios, age ratios were very different in computer game players and console players. 40.6% of computer gamers were 36 or older while 77.4% of console gamers were 35 and under. 37.9% of those console gamers were under the age of 18. What genre of games were these people playing most? The top three genres of 2003 for video games are, based on units sold:

  1. Action (25.1%)
  2. Sports (19.5%)
  3. Racing (16.6%)

The top three genres of 2003 for computer games tells a different story. The top three are again based on units sold:

  1. Strategy (27.4%)
  2. Children’s (15.9%)
  3. Shooter (11.5%)

People also like to claim what are best-selling video games for a year too, even make predictions that “such and such” will be game of the year, or be the best-selling game of the year. In 2003, sales are split into computer versus consoles. The top five games for consoles includes:

  1. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (Take2)
  2. Grand Theft Auto 3 (Take2)
  3. Madden NFL 2003 (EA)
  4. Super Mario Advance 2 (Nintendo)
  5. Gran Turismo 3 (Sony)

The top five games for computers in 2003 were:

  1. The Sims: Vacation Expansion Pack (EA)
  2. The Sims: Unleashed Expansion Pack (EA)
  3. Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos (Vivendi)
  4. Medal of Honor: Allied Assault (EA)
  5. The Sims (EA)

In 2002, according to the study, combined sales for computer and console games totaled at 6.9 billion dollars, with 5.5 of that being console sales.

Moving Forward

In 2004, things hadn’t changed that much according to the Essential Facts study, though gender was not separated by computer or console players. An interesting fact in the 2004 study that was not in the 2003 study is online games. In 2004, they said that the gender split of online games is 60/40, males versus females respectively. Total sales for 2003 totaled to 7 billion, 5.8 billion being console sales. Average gamer age shows as 29 years old.

In the 2005 study, gender ratios started to almost even out with 55% of males gaming versus 43% of females gaming. A neat fact in the 2005 study stated that women over the age of 18 had a higher population at 28% than boys under the age of 18 at 21%.

Game genres did not change much either. Action still topped console sales and strategy saw the most computer game sales. The gaming industry itself still grew, selling 7.3 billion in 2004 with 6.2 of those sales being console game sales.

“The opportunities for our industry are vast and exciting. We are growing and broadening our audience, opening new frontiers, developing online and wireless platforms, and creating truly original and unique forms of entertainment.” — Douglas Lowensteing, President, Entertainment Software Association

Is Growth Steady?

In the Essential Facts study completed in 2006, average game age hit 33. It is hard to say what happened between the 2005 and 2006 studies, but the gender gap widened during the year, to 62% male with 38% female gamers. Online gamers weren’t that much different at 58% male versus 42% female.

But gender isn’t the only thing that dropped that year. Gaming sales dropped as well. Games only sold 7.0 million, a difference of 3-4 billion from the year before. Consoles made up for 6.06 billion total sales. Console makers announced their next generation consoles this year and it attributed to the decline in sales. 

The study completed in 2007 was nearly an echo of the 2006 study. The gender gap stayed the same except for online. Those numbers changed to 53% male versus 47% female, a much more even ratio. Industry sales rebounded to where they were the in 2004 to the tune of 7.4 billion. Average gamer age did not change.

The study in 2008 lists the gamer age as 35 now. Average gamer age is increasing as time passes. Gender gap is still about 60/40 split between males and females. Online stayed about the same as well. Top selling genre for consoles hasn’t changed, but the top three for computer games has changed. They are now:

  1. Strategy (33.9%)
  2. Role Playing (18.8%)
  3. Family Entertainment (14.3%)

Sales in the gaming industry jumped quite a bit during the year of 2007, however. Game sales totaled 9.5 billion with 8.64 billion being console sales.

Gender remains the same in the 2009 Essential Facts study. Online gender again changes to closer resemble overall gender ratios. Racing games drop out of the top three genres for consoles, however, replaced by Family Entertainment. Total sales takes another leap that year from 9.5 billion to 11.7 billion, 11 billion of those sales being consoles. You’ll notice over the years that computer sales barely reach a billion, if they even do.

The 2010 Essential Facts study again finds the gender gap at 60/40, with online games not far from that. Genres stayed the same as well. Sales took a tumble in 2009 by 1.2 billion to result in 10.5 million in sales. 9.9 billion of that was in console sales.

“There are games now for pretty much every age, every demographic. More and more women are going online. It comes down to everybody is playing games. Games are just evolving like species in order to fit into every little niche of our lives.” — Jesse Schell, instructor of entertainment technology at Carnegie Mellon University

It’s Slow Growth

Average gamer age is up to 37 years old in the study done in 2011. Gender gap has dropped by 2% to result in a 58/42 split. Family Entertainment falls out of the console top three, replaced by the Shooter genre, as well as replaced by Casual gaming in computer games. This study adds a new aspect to gaming sales. It updates the sales in 2009 to a total of 16 billion, with 5.4 of those sales including digital games, add-ons, social network games, and other types of physical delivery. Prior to 2009, all sales listed were exclusive retail figures. In 2010, sales dropped just a bit to 15.9 with consoles selling 9.4 billion and other delivery methods at 5.8 billion.

How quickly things can change. In the 2012 study, we can find the gamer age has dropped back down to 30 years old. The gap between genders is now 53% male versus 47% female. Genres remained the same. There is a discrepancy between total sales for 2010 between the 2011 study and the 2012 study. The 2012 study lists 2010 sales at a total of 16.9 billion. 2011 sales total 16.6 billion, with consoles selling 8.8 and other formats being 7.3 billion.

Catching up to Present Day

The 2013 study released and shows the gender gap is 55% versus 45%. Women over 18 years old still have a greater population and boys under the age of 18. Average gamer age is still 30 years old. Genres have maintained their positions in 2012. Top selling console games now include the following:

  1. Call of Duty: Black Ops II
  2. Madden NFL 13
  3. Halo 4
  4. Assassin’s Creed III
  5. Just Dance 4

Looking back to 2003, the only similar game from that list was Madden NFL 2003. Top selling computer games are:

  1. Diablo III
  2. Guild Wars 2
  3. World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria Expansion Pack
  4. The Sims 3
  5. Star Wars: The Old Republic

The Sims saga retains their spot on this list, but the rest are roleplaying games that are either totally online or have the multiplayer or online option.

Sales again dropped in 2012. The industry did a total of 14.8 billion in game sales. Consoles sold 6.7 billion which was outsold by other delivery formats with 7.7 billion in sales. Overall in 2012, the gaming industry sold 20.77 billion. The rest of the sales are from hardware and accessory sales.

The ESA has yet to publish their findings for 2014. It will be interesting to see how things changed from 2012 to 2013 with the announcement of next-generation consoles at last year’s E3 as well as industry sales totals.

So Where’s that 10:1 Male to Female Ratio?

Video games sit at the confluence of history, technology, and art in such a way that’s found in no other medium, a place where influences from every creative field meet, mix, and recombine.” – Daniel D. Synder, The Atlantic

Ten years worth of industry stats summed up and the gender split isn’t as far apart as some would like to believe it is. The industry, while it has had its ups and downs, is more than bringing in the cash, so investing in updating ideals is definitely worth a company’s perusal.

So why is this industry still considered a “big boys” club? The only reason is that women are just not truly flocking to the computer science industry and are trying to break into what was primarily a male’s field. The “big boys” club must exist at the developer level because it obviously is not at the gamer level.

Do you think the industry is ready to change its thinking?

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Image of Mary Yeager
Mary Yeager
I am a wahm mom of two who loves gaming, both electronically and table top.