(The following is a repost of my article originally published in the Fall 2006 edition of Casual Connect Magazine.)

10 Reasons Women Like Casual Games
Why Casual Games and Female Gamers Go Together
Sheri Pocilujko
Casual Connect Magazine, Fall 2006

I’ve played games for as long as I can remember. To the core, I’m what you could definitely call a “gamer.” And I’ve been involved in making and playing games long enough to have formed a few opinions regarding what drives the market. So it shouldn’t surprise you that when someone asks me “Why are casual games so popular among women?” I’ve got lots to say on the subject.

It’s a question that’s worth asking. Consider the numbers: According to the Electronic Software Association, women make up 38% of all game players (PC, console, handheld, online, etc.)—but many casual game portals will tell you that their female audiences are much bigger than that. Women also are responsible for making between 80%-90% of all pocketbook decisions in the household. Those are some pretty powerful figures.

So what it is about casual games that appeals so much to women? I can think of at least ten reasons why the women who might not play hardcore games so often play casual games instead:

1. Casual games are typically short—quick to play and easy to pause. Say you’re a mom trying to cook dinner, take care of chores, run errands, etc. If you’re going to sneak in a little play-time, you need a game you can save often and pause at any moment. You need to be able to pick it up, play for 20 minutes or so, and run out the door—as opposed to a game which requires several hours of focused play to progress.

2. You can stop a casual game with little consequence. When you’re on the go, you don’t want to be penalized for leaving a game in the middle or letting it end on its own. If you are playing Solitaire, Tetris, or Checkers, it doesn’t really hurt you to leave the game at a moment’s notice and not come back. Although some versions of games may have timers running, and online versions may have session time-outs, usually the stiffest penalty you might face is losing a chance at a record when you have to quit a high-scoring game in progress.

3. Casual games are easy to learn. When you don’t have much time and you aren’t a “hardcore gamer,” it helps when a game is easy to learn and instantly fun. Casual games always have relatively small learning curves. It’s the whole “easy-to-learn, hard to master” mantra. And if you’ve only fifteen minutes of play-time, you don’t want to feel frustrated because it took you that long to figure out how to choose your game mode.

4. Casual games come with easy-to-follow instructions. Many casual games feature tutorials, practice levels, and help sections that are easy to find and easy to follow. You may have heard the statement “Women read manuals; men don’t.” Although that is a generalized stereotype (as almost all things in these sorts of discussions are) it is often true. A woman is more likely to read the help section, read a manual, or play an optional tutorial than a man is.

5. You can try a casual game before you buy it. It’s reasonable for anyone to want to know what they’re getting before they spend some money. When you’re serious about gaming, to find out about a game, you’ll visit the chat rooms, read the blogs, subscribe to some industry mag, and find some excuse to visit E3—anything to find out about the next cool game. As anyone who has done that can tell you, however, there are not very many women who are inclined to do all that work to find out about a game. Thus, the free demo that comes with most casual games is a superior alternative, ideally suited to those who see gaming more as a diversion rather than an obsession.

6. Casual games are inexpensive. Another reason I think so many women like casual games is that they offer a relatively low price point. A mom trying to feed a family, take care of the home, and pay for piano lessons is likely to be more willing to buy a casual game for $4.99 or $19.99 than she is to buy a console game for $49.99. What’s more, I’m guessing that even those who are totally hooked on a favorite casual game like what that $20 says about them: that playing the game is just a silly little pleasure—not that big of a deal.

7. Casual games don’t require much computing firepower. In general, the average home PC with an Internet connection can run almost any casual game on the market. It is much easier to get into games when you don’t have to repeatedly upgrade your hardware or buy a console system just to play the game. So while a woman is already on the computer checking e-mail or surfing the web, it’s easy to take some time out to play a casual game.

8. Casual games usually don’t feature the stereotypical video game turnoffs for women
If you ask women what they dislike about the most popular casual games, they’ll generally mention the same issues: unnecessary violence and big, bouncing boobs. To some degree, the young male demographic generally associated with hardcore games is a self-fulfilling prophecy: because they are designed for young males, that’s what they attract. In contrast, casual games are devoid of those turn-offs. In fact, their imagery is almost explicitly inoffensive and friendly—and women notice.
9. Casual games don’t have the same physical requirements as hardcore games. I’ve heard of women suffering from nausea or motion sickness while playing FPS games like Halo or Unreal Tournament. Also, many females feel they can’t compete with the fast-twitch play required by some hardcore games. In contrast, you don’t need great physical prowess or exceedingly fast hand-control to play Diner Dash or Solitaire.

10. Casual games are more fun! Ultimately, fun is what really matters.

So what does all this mean? It means that casual games currently are one of the best subsets of the video game industry to attract and keep the female demographic. It means that in an ever-growing industry you’re poised to help reach 51% of the world’s population possibly better than anyone else in games. And it means that you’ve already found some of the ways to capture the hearts (and pocketbooks!) of that “elusive female market.”

Sheri Pocilujko is an avid gamer. She plays all types from board, card, and paper role-playing to PC, massive-multiplayer, and console games. Sheri is an outspoken member of the industry and an active contributor to the International Game Developers Association. Sheri can be reached at: <old email address>.