Monday, June 11, 2007

Designing Women

In an interview with the New York Times, SOE's John Smedley said the following concerning the design of one of SOE's newly-announced games:

Mr. Smedley said he wanted to diversify his customer base, which is 85 percent male and 32 years old, on average. Women have become the major driver of the casual games business (games like Bejeweled and Bookworm), and Mr. Smedley wants a piece of that action.

"We want to get our average age lower, probably into the low 20s, and I'd really like to see the gender breakdown go to 50-50 or even slightly more women than men, to reflect real life," he said.

Sony Online's new direction can perhaps be seen most clearly in a game the company intends to announce today called Free Realms.


While the company's traditional fantasy and science-fiction games have been aimed at a hard-core male audience, Free Realms is basically aimed at children, especially girls. ... To reach out to girls, Mr. Smedley realized he had to hire more women. The creative director and art director on the game are now women.

"I just can't explain to a 30-year-old single male why 10-year-old girls like horses," he said. "We were trying to figure out what pets to put into Free Realms and before, the lead designer was a guy and he definitely wanted things that could fight. And when we got more women on the team, it was like 'No, no, no. We need puppies and horses in there.'"
So how about this? Is it a gesture of respect that someone is trying to open doors to other ways of seeing the world, and thus helping to promote fresh new ways of thinking about game design?

Or is it impermissible to imagine that men and women think differently in any way, in which case the "puppies and horses" comment must grate like fingernails on a chalkboard?

Or is the whole discussion sort of insultingly paternalistic, and as a guy I shouldn't even be asking these questions?