12-Year-Old Asks a Good Question: Why is it So Expensive to Play as a Woman in Endless Runners?

So the Washington Post ran an interesting article from Madeline Messer, a 6th grade student who decided to investigate the top 50 endless runners on the App Store for whether they offered women characters to play as – and if they did, were they available for free, or if they cost anything to use. Her findings were this: “Of the apps that did have gender-identifiable characters, 98 percent offered boy characters. What shocked me was that only 46 percent offered girl characters. Even worse, of these 50 apps, 90 percent offered boy characters for free, while only 15 percent offered girl characters for free. Considering that the players of Temple Run (Free) , which has been downloaded more than one billion times, are 60 percent female, this system seems ridiculous."

She has a good point – women represent a massive part of the App Store. Analytics firm Flurry’s data from August 2014 indicates that women spend more time, more money, and have higher retention rates in games than men do. And the games they prefer are genres that monetize well on mobile – social/simulation games, casino games, and match-3 puzzlers. And endless runners are preferred by women, according to Flurry’s data. As such, it seems a bit silly that considering they are such a lucrative and numerous audience, that developers aren’t appealing to them by offering women characters to play as.

Female vs Male Gamers Time_hires_v1

There’s two ways to look at why this situation exists: one is the ignorance position, where game developers are dumb and/or unaware enough to not make playable women characters available by default, and that could be turning a lot of women off from the games, and they’re letting money slip away to competitors who do offer them. After all, Candy Crush Saga (Free), social casino games, and loads of other games are the successes they are because of women players.

Temple Run 2 ScarlettBut the more cynical view is that developers are well aware of it, and the idea is that it might be more profitable for them to make women characters something that people who want them would pay for. It could be a cold, calculated business decision driven by data. That is a terrible position to take, to literally profit off of unfair circumstances.

Or it could be a case where both situations are happening, really – there’s plenty of ignorance and a lack of imagination out there in mobile gaming where everyone’s just trying to hop on to the latest bandwagon to give the first hypothesis credence. But there’s also plenty of data-driven analytics and analysis that at least someone has probably thought “we could charge women to play as the characters they want to play as."

Considering the endless runner women character scenario, and that you have situations where Game of War (Free) literally is using a marketing strategy of “Kate Upton is an attractive woman, you should play our game because of that," the point is pretty clear that many mobile game makers’ understanding of how to appeal to women is significantly flawed. This is ridiculous considering that women are an absurdly-lucrative market, and willingly throwing away money that others are willing to lap up. Or, they’re cynically trying to make a quick buck off of them. Perhaps more mobile developers and publishers, if they’re looking to succeed on mobile, need to look at how to appeal to women – because those who are doing so are often making more money on the App Store!