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Wooing women gamers -- and game creators

  • Story Highlights
  • Sony created scholarship to attract women to careers in development
  • Some students said male dominance could be a deterrent for women
  • Survey: 38 percent of gamers are women who play about 7.4 hours a week
  • Number of students enrolling in gaming programs is on the rise
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By Matt West
CNN
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(CNN) -- On a Tuesday night in a San Francisco nightclub, Torrie Dorrell makes a very personal revelation to the gathered crowd: "I'm a full-on gamer, and my husband hates me."

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"Cassie" is one of the characters who occupies the online world of "The Agency."

In fact, Dorrell spends so much time gaming, she has risen to the level of "officer" in a "guild" playing "EverQuest 2" online.

More and more, husbands and boyfriends are playing second fiddle to computers and consoles as 38 percent of gamers are female, spending an average of 7.4 hours a week playing, according to the Entertainment Software Association.

Dorrell isn't just one of these female gamers, she also works in the industry. As the senior vice president of global sales and marketing for Sony Online Entertainment, she has made a career out of her passion for games.

"Women are out there in significant numbers playing MMOs, action games, first-person shooters," Dorrell explains. "What is lacking in the equation are women behind these games."

In an effort to balance that equation, Dorrell and her colleagues at SOE have created G.I.R.L., Gamers In Real Life, a scholarship program to attract more young women to careers in game development.

"Go to any video game convention and it appears quite obviously that there are more men than women in the industry," says Courtney Simmons, public relations director for SOE, who helped spearhead the G.I.R.L. program at the company's San Diego headquarters.

Speaking to an invitation-only crowd at that San Francisco bar, in town for the recent Game Developers Conference, Simmons was joined by several other women from SOE to announce the details of the program, a partnership with The Art Institutes. The program, the first of its kind, would give the winning female student currently enrolled at an Art Institute school $10,000 toward her tuition and a paid internship at one of SOE's development studios.

However, this is not the first time the issue of women in the video game industry has been addressed.

Simmons, who enjoys playing video games with her three children, believes that women are being "gamed down to," because, she says, "there is a lack of understanding about how women play."

Studies and sales data have shown that women are more likely to play hand-held casual games, such as the Nintendo DS, along with social oriented games such as "The Sims," where women make up more than 55 percent of players.

Though the number of women who play games is high, they represent just under 12 percent of the industry, according to the International Game Developers Association. By diversifying the work force, developers can create products that appeal to a wider audience.

Simmons wants to see "more women making games," she says, "making more games that women want to play."

More than 60 percent of female students enrolled in game design programs at The Art Institutes said they believed male dominance in the industry is a deterrent to women pursuing a career in gaming, according to a survey commissioned by SOE. It's a statistic that's mirrored in the student body at the school's campus in San Francisco.

"I get excited when there's, like, two or three girls in my class," says Nhaty Ngo, a third-year student finishing up her studies at the Art Institute, but she says the numbers appear to be growing with each new freshman class.

The number of women working in the industry is also on the rise. Sherry Floyd, a game designer at SOE's Seattle studios, is part of the team developing "The Agency," an espionage-themed first-person shooter set for release later this year. "I honestly don't think it's a gender issue," she continues. "I think it's a marketing issue." Video Watch the women behind "The Agency" »

Floyd is just one of a number of women who are contributing to nearly every facet of "The Agency's" development, from modeling and texturing to illustration and animation -- far more than the current industry standard and part of a concerted effort on the part of the game's lead developer, Matt Wilson.

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The game features a strong, female lead character named "Cassie," who while being as tough as her male counterparts, is also attractive without being as overly-sexualized as other female game characters, such as "Lara Croft."

"I know everybody is looking for the big 'ingredient' we need to get [the female] market," says Floyd. "Honestly, if we just make good product, everybody will play it." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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