GDC 13: Why female protagonists in games are rare

GDC 13: Why female protagonists in games are rare
Craig Chapple

By Craig Chapple

March 28th 2013 at 10:16PM

Industry needs to be spurred on by financial gain to adopt changes, says BioWare writer

The game industry needs better financial motivation to encourage more developers to use female protagonists in games, the lead writer of Dragon Age III has said.

Speaking to Rock Paper Shotgun, BioWare’s David Gaider said that developers and publishers as a whole largely relied on generally accepted industry wisdom that certain genres or ideas were not as popular and could not be as successful as others.

Citing EverQuest as an example, Gaider explained that when the MMO reached 800,000 subscribers at is height, it was generally accepted by the industry that the 800,000 was essentially the market cap for the genre that was already being catered for.

That was until World of Warcraft came along as a game-changer and proved the accepted industry wisdom was wrong.

He said that for more games to star female protagonists, more examples needed to be given that these titles could be as successful as those starring male characters in the lead role. Although accepting this was a jump in logic, he said it didn’t stop the industry trying to justify it.

“To say that about female protagonists - that they just don’t sell [is myopic],” said Gaider.

“Over the last ten years, how many titles have had female protagonists? And we’re supposed to accept, from those particular titles, that a) that constitutes a pattern, and b) the only reason those games were unsuccessful is because they had female protagonists? That is a real leap of logic. 

"What it is, it’s just that accepted industry wisdom is often deciding that the reasons these things happen are because we’ve already come to an assumption and we’re trying to justify that assumption. So yes, there is lots of that in the industry.”

Gaider went on to state that while not everyone in the game industry was driven by money, it would take large financial incentives for more developers to adopt female protagonists. For this to be achieved, he said, a hugely successful game would need to be released from which the lead character was one of the defining factors in its financial success.

“Ultimately the industry at large is only going to listen once money is involved,” he said.

“If you were to ask me, not that by any means I’m an authority on the subject… If you were to ask me what would make the industry change its mind about female protagonists, it would take some game coming out and being completely financially successful such that people in the industry couldn’t say, 'Well, it was just because of this. Not because female protagonists are suddenly marketable.'"

"It has to be something they couldn’t ignore. The only way the industry can’t ignore something is when money is involved."

The BioWare writer also said that with rising development costs for games and the need to sell more copies, it made sense for developers to target a wider demographic by introducing more female leads, as it could help a title offer more sound financial backing on the market.

“If you’re talking about that, maybe that’s the only way the industry is going to listen," he said.

"It takes somebody to do it and do it well and prove that this is something that makes financial sense before the industry will accept that maybe it’s a thing.”

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