21 Apr 2010

Women? In MY SPACESHIP? Is she from Mars as well?

Welcome to another special installment of the EVE Blog Banter, the monthly EVE Online blogging extravaganza created by myself, CrazyKinux. The EVE Blog Banter involves an enthusiastic group of gaming bloggers, a common topic within the realm of EVE Online, and a week to post articles pertaining to the said topic. The resulting articles can either be short or quite extensive, either funny or dead serious, but are always a great fun to read! Any questions about the EVE Blog Banter should be directed to me. Check out other EVE Blog Banter articles at the bottom of this post!

EVE Online, as the saying goes, is probably the most hardcore MMORPG currently available to the gaming masses. Hell, let's be serious it's one a the very few true MASSIVELY MULTI-PLAYER Role-Playing Game out there, and one of a handful who's seen its subscriber numbers go up since its launch. But gentlemen, we have a problem.

I say gentlemen because, though there are few ladies roaming New Eden, the truth is, there are too few of them. As @Mynxee wrote about in "The Real Sisters of EVE", in a recent issue of EON magazine (issue #018 for those curious souls), EVE is an MMO that is overwhelmingly played by male, and where the female player population hovers at a about 5% of its total subscriber base.

I am one of those who believes that, though the game should not be changed to specifically go after that part of the gaming population, EVE Online would greatly benefit if somehow the balance the 2 genders roaming New Eden would lean towards an equilibrium. So I ask...
What could CCP Games do to attract and maintain a higher percentage of women to the game. Will Incarna do the trick? Can anything else be done in the mean time? Can we the players do our part to share the game we love with our counterparts, with our sisters or daughters, with the Ladies in our lives? What could be added to the game to make it more attractive to them? Should anything be changed? Is the game at fault, or its player base to blame?
I'm not trying to provoke or lay blame on anyone or any group. I'm simply trying to get your neurons and opinions working on finding solutions to this interesting problem we're are faced with. I know you can come up with interesting and innovative ideas. And I'm willing to reward for those...

So I want to try and break this down and make grand sweeping generalisations as I amble my way through this banter.

There are not enough women in New Eden.

Sorry, let me re-phrase: apparently there are not enough real-life-women-behind-the-keyboard in New Eden. There are plenty of female avatars for sure but most have a GIRL (Guy In Real Life) as the puppet-master. It does appear that the female of the species is sadly lacking in representation in New Eden. However, is the status quo of 5% women subscribers really an issue in New Eden and to whom?

It is an issue to CCP as bringing in more woman will help with their subscription numbers!
A strong argument here and one that I cannot find fault in. If a commercial company has almost 50% of a potential market population not using their product - for some unknown reason, it would pay dividends to them to find out why and to rectify the situation, without driving out the existing subscribers before someone else finds the winning formulae.

This alone would probably encourage CCP in fiddling with the game to increase the appeal of EVE-Online. I just hope they don't fiddle too much and in the wrong area (:-))

It is an issue to the Pod Pilots in New Eden as there a too few real women in New Eden and I need feminine company!
In my New Eden travels, I have had the pleasure of knowing a few real life women. Apart from their voices on ventrilo/eve-voice or teamspeak - there isn't too much differentiating them from their male counter-parts when communication is via chat only. Some women are noobs and clueless; bumbling around New Eden and crying when a nasty pirate (er, me) ransom their ship and pod and demand a ransom. This then might be a cue for some hilarious banter as they whine and complain. I love it, especially when they tell me they're a woman in real life.
I say, 'good on you' and continue to apply the pressure.

Other women are savvy and blood-thirsty and I have their back in any fight. They can fly, have earnt respect and can mix with the best and one wouldn't want to cross them in this life or the next. I look at Mynxee, Shae and Persephone to name three.

To me, the sex of the pilot has nothing to do with their playing ability, desire to succeed and longevity in the game. However, men and women are different and these differences probably make a difference in certain decision-making the sexes make, in and out of the game.

So why is there a 95% male subscription base to EVE-ONLINE? Surely there is something appealing in New Eden that attracts the males more than the female?
I was attracted to New Eden all those years ago because it promised space ships and the freedom to explore. It reminded me of Elite, the first ever game that had me hooked. New Eden appealed to me. However, I think there is something that appeals to males more so than females, but it isn't solely related to EVE-ONLINE but online games in general. My own circle of friends and colleagues, it is approximately 50/50 in terms of male to female across a massive age range from 16 to 80. Most males of my age are active in one or more games, (EVE, BattleField, WarHammer etc) while females are also active online but in social networking venues such as Facebook and Twitter.

Interestingly, equal numbers partake in collaborative Nintendo WII games if opportunities arise.

A closer analysis (small sample of my own friends!) reveals that my male friends all started playing these games solo and only joined in corporations/guilds a few months later; many stay solo for their entire lives. The females were not attracted to the solo aspect (with one exception) of play but would be interested if they could identify with a group then they would go in as this group. For example: a bunch of female friends all decided to give SecondLife a try and subscribed en mass and had an instant community in place as they learnt the ropes. They carried on their social circles inside the game. Conversely, I had male friends who started EverQuest around the same time, they talked about it, egged each other on and all subscribed on the same night but they never identified themselves with this initial group inside the game past the first few hours. They frequently hunted each other down. They wanted the biggest weapons. They wanted to succeed and success was defined by winning and winning was through getting more points from killing / stealing from someone else. Maybe this is something inherent in how males need to find their place in the pecking order of their social construct, even if it is a fake one while females feel more collaborative from the outset? In real life, the definition of 'man-hood' has been changed, altered, to the point where many men are confused and when they think they've figured it out - existing institutions (usually the work place but social life as well), prevents them from achieving this goal through assumed male strength and aggression alone.

Are you saying that New Eden encourages such anti-social, pseudo-alpha-male tendencies?
New Eden isn't anti-social but because it is, ultimately, a fantasy, people feel that social norms do not apply. Attitudes that a 'politically correct' world would frown upon is simply not enshrined in any law or regulation in New Eden. Many pilots, feel that they can say and act however they want. Be someone they are not in real life, or may be, be someone who they would like to be but cannot in real life? Either way, some pilots I know act appallingly. They're juvenile and infantile and reinforce the unfortunate stereo-type of nerdy geeks with poor social skills. Introduce a female into this mix and it can cause all manner of poor social interactions as the boys try to first impress and then failing, attempt to apply power over the interloper. 'Hur, hur you're a girl!'

Maybe what I have just described above has entered into popular folklore that many people believe it is the truth and not bother with it? So this can be a massive barrier to the prospective female capsuleer's entry into New Eden. This crazy, fantasy universe should not be regarded by some as a bastion for the socially inept and the juvenile behaviours. Unless you're a Goon (or what's left of them) of course...

So you say that we keep this disparity in place and not seek to change it?
No, I don't think radically changing New Eden's parameters is the answer to a much wider social phenomena. What can one change when everyone is still trying to understand this question? No-one has identified the appeal/repel factor accurately enough. I also think CCP's own figure of 5% female subscribers is too low and 10-15% is closer to the mark. It is still 'low' but I come back to one of the central points: why do some people consider it to be 'low' and why do we want to change this?

I also offer up an example where female gamers did come together. Mynxee and her woman only pirate corporation, The Hellcats was a fine example where a bunch of likely minded ladies got together and formed New Eden's first (and only) all-female pirate corporation. So not only a corporation made up of real-life females but exclusively those who wanted to deliver piracy to the masses wearing lipstick, nail-varnish and mascara. Sadly, it was the only example (that I know) of this type of corporation. It still continues, albeit in an alliance and without Mynxee at the helm.

OK, Flashfresh - you've convinced me that there isn't a definite answer but I do want to attract more female subscribers as they add to CCP's bottom-line. That's good for everyone. So what do you suggest?

I know I ramble so let me collect these stray strands together and offer up some suggestions:

1. New Eden should not change in its tone and feel. It will attract those who want a truly massive, persistent, MMORPG that has space-ships, planets and warp drives; regardless of their sex. Am sure that there will always be a heavy bias towards the males, rather than female. Sexual parity will not be reached. We don't even have parity in the workplace in real life. I honestly don't think this will change any time soon in New Eden.

2. While women make up a small percentage of the New Eden population, social norms and attitudes need to improve to ensure that they stay in the game for the long term. In short, some sort of harassment policy needs to be in place and widely publicised. Policing it is another matter however. CCP has a decent one in place and forum and account bans are useful policing tools.

3. Everyone who cares for the game should attempt to challenge engrained sexist and racist attitudes. Yes, it is a game and everything is pixel but the social interaction is real. The challenges needs to be tempered within the bounds of reason but most people will know when certain lines of behaviour have been exceeded. Action then needs to be taken.

4. By attracting more players, CCP and New Eden will bound to get more women subscribing - just through probability alone. With Incarna and Planetary Interaction, it adds more features to an already exciting world and will pull through more players. Incarna and PI are not exclusively female centric additions to New Eden and should attract more players, a % being female. This is a good thing.

5. CCP should explore more innovative ways to spread the world of New Eden and it's dynamic content to the world at large. The depth of social interaction inside the game and the bounds that form between players and corporations and alliances needs to be celebrated. More exposure = more interest = more potential players. More potential players = more women.

6. Don't do anything gimmicky to appeal to women gamers - they're gamers first and foremost. Most don't want to be treated any differently from their peers anyway...

So, some ideas, half-formed and half-baked but there you go. With a large demographic, it isn't possible to appeal to everyone. We just have to accept it and move on. Spaceships isn't for everyone (men or women) but I do love a woman who gets excited over a 425mm auto canon loaded with hail ammunition.....

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