Over at Penny Arcade Report, Ben Kuchera talked to analyst Geoffrey Zatkin about the market conditions for video games that have only female protagonists, as opposed to male protagonists, or the choice to play as a male or female main character. There are a lot of insights in there worth considering, but this one stood out to me:
We know from our previous article that marketing spend is one of the few, if not the only, things that can overcome negative reviews. Television commercials, ads in magazines, and even shelf space in stores are all for sale, and the more you have to spend the better your game will sell.
Games with only female heroes are given half the marketing budget as games with male heroes. That’s an enormous handicap that cripples their ability to sell well. “Games with a female only protagonist, got half the spending of female optional, and only 40 percent of the marketing budget of male-led games. Less than that, actually,” Zatkin said.
So is this a self-fulfilling prophecy? Do publishers send female-lead games out to die without proper support? “I think it might be, and I think in some cases, though this is a guess, that these games may be considered more niche, and you advertise niche games less,” Zatkin said.
It’s also hard to draw many broad conclusions from this data. There are so few games with exclusively female heroes, and those few games are given such a small marketing budget, do we even know how well a large-budget, marketed game with a female hero would perform?
And this is exactly a point. I don’t want to hear that video games starring women don’t sell as those starring men unless you can show me a persistent failure of video games starring women that have received the same quality and investment in their advertising campaigns and rollouts. Don’t tell me that African-American actors can’t conquer international box office until you make the same efforts to build more Will Smiths as you do to build Taylor Kitsches and Daniel Craigs. Our assumptions about what works and what doesn’t, what will sell, and what won’t, are not natural laws. They’re decisions we’ve made.