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Game design: what women really want

| By Hannah Gannage-Stewart | Reading Time: 4 minutes
Gamevy’s Helen Walton looks at practical ways that operators and providers could be appealing to women

Gamevy co-founder Helen Walton looks the behavioural trends behind women’s gambling and purchasing habits to understand what really appeals to them

What Women Want – the rather dated film with Mel Gibson playing a chauvinist advertising creative who is suddenly able to hear women’s innermost thoughts – took at least half of its jokes from how profoundly women’s motivations are misunderstood by those selling to them.

I was on a Global Women in Gaming panel recently alongside the ever-delightful Per Eriksson, chief executive officer of NetEnt, who was not afraid to admit past failings on the same subject.

When asked how to design gambling games women liked to play, he quipped dryly: “It turns out it’s not ones with handbags, lipsticks and diamonds. We built those and they sucked.”

Make it pretty
The “lipstick and handbag” school of female design has many adherents within gambling. Sites dedicated to women are bedecked in pink and added cupcakes, kittens and tiaras, with no discernible irony.

(Source: Yankelovich Monitor & Greenfield Online)

Women outspend men in many leisure activities, including social gaming and are also the key purchase decision-makers in markets believed to be male, in spite of data evidencing the contrary.

For those of us who like data (the above is taken from the 2010 British Gambling Prevalence Survey), looking at the difference between female participation and spend, raises some interesting points.

First, the difference is not that great – something that ought to put paid once and for all to the question of whether women gamble.

Second, as a business owner and marketer I ask myself, what products could persuade women to spend that little bit more? Or what am I doing that is inhibiting women from spending more? As they do in social gaming, for example.

Where’s the appeal?
The evidence suggests that women prefer some products over others. Why? Are scratchcards more appealing to them? Or are they simply more likely to buy them because the point of distribution is often at supermarket tills (where women are still more likely to be responsible for the weekly shop)?

Should casinos invest more in instant win products to attract the female gambler? Scratch players tend to be casual players and as such, not particularly valuable, but attracting them still offers incremental revenue – is this a trade-off more gambling companies should embrace?

Slots players play more and as such are more valuable. Men seem to prefer the games – but is that a reflection of the number of slots that appear to exclude women, or a true preference?

Recent experiments, by companies such as Skills Gaming, with products that combine popular Candy Crush-style mechanics with slots, suggest that innovating the genre can create greater appeal and longer play sessions with a female demographic.

What other innovations could casinos borrow from social gaming or from more social activities – such as the community chatrooms of bingo or the community and social purpose of lottery?

Deeper motivations
There are a lot of studies showing that women are less likely to spend discretionary cash on themselves, instead spending it on their families (read Nobel Prize Winner Muhammed Yunus on micro-loans in Bangladesh).

There is an argument that could see lottery and scratch card ticket purchases as being more closely allied to this focus on family. Those playing the lottery cite their number one motivation as to ‘buy a new home’, followed by ‘give money to family and friends’.

The small wins and longer playtime of slots or sports betting, however, are more closely allied to entertainment and self-indulgent discretionary spend.

Could it be that there is an opportunity to help tap into this family-centric set of motivations, while also providing entertainment? Many lotteries are experimenting with scratch cards that promise not unimaginable wealth or luxury lifestyles, but security and comfort.

We’ve noted with interest the various property ‘raffle’ websites popping up over the last year in the UK, such as Houseagogo.com. Could these represent a new type of appeal to female players – and one which does not even come under gambling regulations?

Beyond pink
Whatever the answers to these questions (and I certainly don’t pretend to have the answers), it is clear that gambling should move beyond reskinning sites and products in bright pink and hoping women will flock to them in droves.

The opportunity to increase penetration and lift GGR is one that ought to excite ambitious operators and encourage true innovation… Let’s see if the gambling industry can get close to its own epiphany of understanding female motivation.

Helen Walton is co-founder and marketing director at Gamevy. She started out in Unilever, and has since then worked as a columnist for the Daily Mail, named lipsticks, and written an IT course.

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