As I mentioned CrazyKinux is doing a Blog Banter special on why there are so few women in Eve (reportedly below 5% which is below the 6% CCP quoted a few years ago) and how we can get more of us playing:
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?
So why do I think women don’t play Eve? A lot of reasons. Nothing can come down to one thing. Visuals, gameplay, culture, and just plain luck. I can kick out a few ideas though, few of which are sadly going to help with the question of how to attract more women.
In the here and now of 2010, I’d say the biggest reason that there are few women in Eve is that there are so few women in Eve. After a while, this kind of thing becomes self-perpetuating. It’s hard to be the only woman out there. I’ve only been in one corporation where my first time on Teamspeak wasn’t greeted with someone exclaiming in shock that there was a girl on comms. (The one it didn’t happen was an all woman corp.)
And with so few women playing, the culture becomes more masculine and in some frankly very misogynist ways. Either I listen to guys using rape every third word and describing in horrific detail the details of their bio-break or I get embarrassed apologies for language far less offensive than your average PG rated movie. In either situation, my presence is awkward. As a woman, you are very aware that you are a rare and odd creature in the Eve universe.
Why did Eve develop this way? I’d bring up the look and feel of the game more than anything else. Eve’s PR, advertising, and outreach. Even the interface in the game. It’s dark. Very dark. Sharp featured, chiseled, desperate men, and they are almost always men, lurking in shadow, ready to kill at a moment’s notice. And then a nice dark gray background with a black frame just to make the point. It’s a brutal world and the graphics communicate that quite well. When there are women, they seem unapproachable, isolated, and very very hard. I don’t find any of it to be very appealing. I suspect that other women feel similarly.
I hate to even bring this up, but I have to admit I think there is something going on here even if I don’t like the possibly sexist connotations of it. The game itself has always been impermeably complicated and this is often blamed for keeping women away from the game. While I reject the notion that women won’t play complicated games, I think the particular type of complication in Eve is something that turns women off.
I’m reminded of last year’s vacation when we ran into a couple of “rail fans” (not surprising as we were on a train) and when they found out we were from Cape Cod, they immediately started to rattle off the type of train engine that our little tourist railroad uses along with all kinds of information about it. I’m into science, I game, I ride a motorscooter. But this was something deeply foreign. That kind of statistical geekery common to transpotters, baseball stat freaks, and Nick Hornby characters seems to me to be something that is almost exclusively a masculine interest in our society. And it’s exactly the kind of mentality that “fitting” a ship in Eve requires.
All games have this type of thing. WoW has sites like Elitist Jerks where you can look up what is mathematically the best piece of equipment or spell rotation. But nowhere is it so important or pronounced in the culture as well as the game system as in Eve. What do you do about that? Hopefully absolutely nothing because as annoying as I find discovering that I need Advanced Weapon Upgrades IV to fit this on that ship, it wouldn’t be Eve without this system. Dumbing down isn’t the answer. And it would also likely create a sexist backlash from existing players. But I can’t say I don’t think it’s a factor.
So how can we bring in more women? In all honesty, you got me. I have some suggestions that I think would make the game more friendly to women, but whether that’s enough to actually bring in people long term is another question entirely. I for one, do not want Eve to stop being Eve.
I’ll start off by bursting CCP’s big bubble. One thing I’m pretty sure won’t attract more women is Incarna, the upcoming “walk around the stations” addition. The fact that your avatar is limited to a facial portrait in a window has been posited as a major factor in women not playing and Incarna has been the great hope for bringing women to Eve. It will supposedly appeal to our interest in more social aspects rather than the hardware side of your main avatar being a spaceship. Just my opinion, but this is not going to bring in women because it’s going to end up being a huge sexist mess. If it had been in the game at launch, it might have been have increased the appeal of the game, but now the culture is already set, I suspect that Incarna will involve lots of naked or semi-naked G.I.R.L. avatars lounging around stations cybering men for isk. In fact, I’ll make the bold prediction that Incarna will actually turn more women off than it brings in by giving yet another outlet for alienating sexist behavior.
Some solid ideas?
First while Eve is a harsh place, starting to crack down on some of the more blatant sexist, racist, homophobic, and otherwise offensive behavior would do a great deal to improve things for women. You may not be able to keep chat more pleasant, but you can at least remove characters with the word “rape” in their names.
And yeah, most importantly the rape thing. Guys? You the players? Shut the fuck up about rape this and rape that and rape something else shit. Learn a second motherfucking verb. Obviously I have quite the mouth, but this particular term is different. One sixth of all women are at some time in their lives a victim of sexual assault. For those who have been, “rape” is not a random term of violence or just another offensive word, it’s something that’s actually happened to them.
CCP could lighten up some of the graphics in advertising. Don’t change the entire branding. Just give women more avatar time. And it’s possible to create avatars within the Eve world that don’t look like psychopaths, so try it. Not a ludicrous parody of happy joy joy, giggly girl in her pink spaceship, just someone that doesn’t look like an emotionless ice queen (Amarr) or a heroin addict not quite in recovery (everyone else).
And pay attention to where women are in Eve: right here. Women are very well represented in Eve blogging. More than anything, sell the story.
Eve has the best stories of any MMO and emphasizing these will do more to make the game more personal than all the pink spaceships or avatars of Incarna. Eve has not just the four race storyline, but also the player stories, whether it’s the fictionalized adventures of the Hellcats (and ex-cats) or the epic story of the Two and now Third Great Eve Wars. The out of game stories about what happens in game are a very potent weapon for contextualizing and personalizing the game. Cater to it and support it.
Directly into that comes Eve-Gate or Spacebook or whatever you want to call the upcoming “social networking” portal to Eve. To me, this is the big development likely to interest women, not Incarna. CCP: don’t make this just about game mechanics. This should be a very effective way to increase socialization, communication, and storytelling within Eve. Let us work on our pages, link killboards and blogs. All things that should make it more approachable for all newcomers, but in particular women. And with web development being a bit cheaper than MMO development, probably with a far lower economic investment than something like Incarna.
But in the end, we all have to just deal with it. The game is almost seven years old. It’s a man’s galaxy and it’s probably going to stay that way. There are things that can be done to make the transition into Eve easier for women, but no matter how much I’d like to see our little sisterhood grow, wasting resources chasing a demographic that already has rejected your game isn’t going to be very fruitful.
Some other comments on the subject (and note the repeated comments about player behavior–no I did not cherry pick these):