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The gaming industry is excited with legalization of state by state online gaming. Naturally, 2013 is turned to a year of conventions and events within gaming space to discuss prose and cons. One particular event, IGaming North America IGNA) took place on 19-21 February at Planet Hollywood, Las Vegas Resort & Casino. IGNA brought together a large segment of gaming industry by providing a comprehensive agenda that looked at all aspects of online gaming and beyond. Included, was a session in collaboration with Global Gaming Women. The session started with featured speaker, Dr. Pari Esfandiari discussing the evolution of women’s role in gaming space, followed by a panel discussion with Dr. Esfandiari, Kim Arnold, May Scheve Reardon, and Judy Patterson. Here is a summary of the speech given by Pari Esfandiari:
I would like to share with you a story of a woman, Anita Sarkeesian. She is a pop culture journalist. Last year she placed an ad in the cloud funding for her campaign against video gaming contents and ads that were objectifying women. A large group of gamers were dismayed. They began a hate campaign against her. They hacked her social sites and flooded them with porn and hate messages. Hacked her email with attempt to obtain her personal information including her telephone number and address. Then several video games that rendered Anita’s virtual rape by game characters were created and put online. If these were not enough, a new game encouraged viewers to bite her by clicking on her face. Each click marked a new bruise.
This is why gathering like this are crucial and I would like to congratulate the visionary women behind the IGN (iGaming North America), GGW (Global gaming Women) for their timely idea. Indeed there is no greater power than an idea whose time has come. I also would like to thank Sue and everyone of you for being here and for receiving me so graciously in your community.
It is no secret that the gaming space pose some of the most sexual and objectified portrayal of women. There has been complains and campaigns by female consumers about video gaming content and advertising. Some women feel that at best their needs are not met and at worse that they are objectified. Indeed marketing within the gaming space both i-gaming and land base casino remain focused on using women’s bodies for the pleasure of men. As for the service, I myself had more than disappointing experiences with land based casinos on the Strip. Whether at players clubs or casino floors, I have often been ignored until men are served. When I ordered a limo to go to the airport to welcome an investor I was addressed by a driver as “babe” and “honey”! These may seem minor ioncciedents but collectively turn gaming into a male dominated space that is unfriendly to women.
As for the industry, a survey conducted by the AGA (American gaming Association) in 2007 reported that women outnumber men in gaming industry jobs, yet the number of women in management is 3.1 percent with compensation lower than their male counterparts. Improvements since have been minimal.
This is grim and depressing. I know. But the good news is that the game of gaming is changing and we will examine that today. I will begin by a glance at reality on the ground and how the role of women is evolving. Then I discuss the reasons for current mismatch between this reality and the industry conduct. Then we look at what we as women need to do to influence the process of change. I will conclude by looking at new trends that show the way.
So, what is the reality on the ground: Consumers; the most influential players in the gaming space are changing in favor of women. Today, women are the unsung heroines behind the most engaging, fastest growing, and most valuable consumer internet. Consider the three “horsemen” of the consumer web—Facebook, Groupon and Twitter. In all 3 the majority users are female and they spend 30% more time on these sites than men. Mobile social network usage is 55% female. As for female purchasing power, it is pretty clear in ecommerce. According to Gilt Group, women are 70% of the customer base and they drive 74% of revenue. And 77% of Groupon’s customers are female. These platforms often serve as strong distribution and/or marketing channels for gaming. Even if we choose not to use them in gaming space, they signal the future anyway.
Within gaming space, seemingly forte of men, after decades of gender disparity among players, not only the gap is closed but according to the king of social gaming, Zynga, 60% of players are female. And PopCap research notes the average social gamer is likely a 43-year-old woman. Yet, the image of 14 years old male remains dominant archetype.
But women raise is not limited to the internet, the number of women players in brick and mortar casino is also rising. According to recent statistics published in U.S. News and World Report, 55 percent of casino players are women.
What is more women spending power as consumers is increasing as well. According to the US Census Bureau, women oversee more than 80% of consumer spending, or about $5 trillion dollars annually. Women control the purse strings when it comes to disposable income.
The above numbers reveal the untold story of women within the delusional gaming industry that still perceive its customer base male dominated. But it is a common practice for imagery to overshadow the reality. Perceptions are the result of decades of indoctrination and are embedded in unconscious. These believes pass through generations. Concepts such as “technology is the domain of men”, “public space belong to men”, and “men are in charge of disposable income” all have a leg in reality. Past reality.
What is more, perceptions fit nicely with the status quo. Changing that is painful because no one likes to lose privilege to which they have been accustomed. Anita’s story showed the conscious, active and extreme resistance to change from consumers. But resistance is often unconscious, subtle and in every level. It is manifested in the form of management that ignores the statistics or employee who ignore or talk down to female customers. Even women, by holding to old habits of self-doubt are resisting the change. Yes, many women close the door on themselves unconsciously. Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook in a recent talk discussed the issue as women who would not take the seat by the boardroom table. Yes, often, women politely wait to receive the offer, the permission. But the game is more competitive, too aggressive. There is also a tendency to focus on the here and now while neglecting the big picture. Call it a lack of strategic approach to ones career. This mindset must change.
The good news is that changes are coming and reality is ca5ching up. Investors, another influential players in the game of gaming are showing “their evolved thinking” according to Marissa Meyer CEO of Yahoo in her interview with Fortune. She was referring to Yahoo’s Board’s decision to hire her in the final stage of her pregnancy. Evolved indeed. My own first encounter with Silicon Valley’s investors dates back to early 1990s. I was in the right place at the wrong time. After all it was technology and what does a woman has to do with technology? Fast forward, I returned in 2001, it was still very much a “boy’s club”. But now a decade later signs of change are everywhere. After all, it is not smart to ignore women when they make-up 55% of the customer base. It is a little more than foolish to ignore them when they make-up 70% or more of the customer base. The message is finally sinking in, at least in technology sector and inevitably it will lead gaming industry.
Yet, no one can avoid changes. Our challenge becomes how to influence and speed up the process.
Indeed, it is an amazing time for gaming industry. Time of fundamental changes and opportunities. Finally, brick and click are shaking hand. Public opinion on gambling is swinging in favor of the industry. Legal system is signaling approval of online gambling. Online gaming is spreading into the other industries like fire finding new application and purposes far beyond entertainment. Think of gaming for education or problem solving within the medical field. I myself am engaged in bridging gaming with e-commerce to offer marketing solution both online and on the casino floor. Opportunities are everywhere.
A time of change is also the time to influence the process. Power relations are not established yet. It is time to be alert, active and demanding both individually and collectively.
At individual level, a new generation of women, with self confidence are taking a “just do it” stance. They do not wait for an offer; they feel entitled to that offer. What is more they do it in their own way, while celebrating their feminine side. You could see this when women merge their personal and professional lives. Their outlook. All the no, nos of old boy’s club are ignored, forgotten. It is girls club in a new girly way. In doing, so they are creating and projecting complex, positive and powerful image of women. Margaret Thatcher said so eloquently: “Power is like being a lady… if you have to tell people you are, you aren’t”.
A time of change is also a time to be active collectively. It is not about the like and dislike nor about competing with one another. It is about team building, power posturing within the industry. It is about collective identity and voice and active participation. Bay area women have formed a very strong Girls’ club. It is not formal, yet, but it is lively, bonding, strong, supportive and proactive and it is delivering. There has been increasing success amongst women entrepreneurs due to the mentoring they receive from one another and visibility and opportunity they provide for one another. Such actions have made way for many possibilities for funding and success. Think of Jessica Herrin, founder and CEO of Stella & Dot or Selina Tobaccowala founder and CEO of Survey Monkey and Evite.com.
It is critical to go out and aggressively build a network. One just can’t underestimate the value of human capital. That is why I am so grateful to the visionary women, Sue, Patti, Judi and Virginia whose timely idea brings us together today. It is now up to us, women in gaming space to take the ownership and turn this network to a lively space for growth and opportunity. Tools for mentoring, networking and support are all in place and it is up to us to use it or lose the game.
Anita tried to change the culture, she was attacked. But there is another side to her story. She received an overwhelming support and funding far beyond her expectations. Indeed, a chorus of voices from cross section of gaming industry are gaining momentum in demanding change for women. I really believe that if we, women work and support each other, we can have a cultural shift. This leads me to conclude with a warning from Madeleine Albright who is convinced that: “There is a special place in hell reserved for women who don’t help other women”.
Pari Esfandiari – WorldNewsVine