Nicole Lazzaro
Founder and President, XEODesign
03:45

Turning Girls Into Gamers

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For years, video game culture has basically been a boys’ club. Nicole Lazzaro’s work will help change that trend forever.

Nicole Lazzaro

Nicole Lazzaro, Founder and President of XEODesign, Inc., has twenty years of expertise in Player Experience Design (PXD) for mass-market entertainment products. Voted by Gamasutra as one of the Top 20 women working in video games, and cited by Wired, Fast Company, CNET, ABC News, The Hollywood Reporter, and Red Herring, her clients include Sony, EA, Ubisoft, Sega, PlayFirst, The Cartoon Network, Disney, Lucas Arts, Nickelodeon, LeapFrog, Mattel, Monolith, Xfire, D.I.C.E, Leap Frog, Ugobe, The Learning Company, Broderbund, Roxio, Cisco, Go Pets, Sierra Online, and Maxis. She has an undergraduate degree in Psychology from Stanford University, where she also studied film making and computer programming.

Since founding XEODesign in 1992 Nicole's design and research has improved over 40 million player experiences, including several popular franchises for casual audiences such as three of the Myst Series, Diner Dash, GoPets, Cosmopolitan Virtual Makeover, Mavis Beacon teaches Typing, Jeopardy Online, as well as creativity coaching for the designers of The Sims.
Transcript

Question: What kinds of video games are being designed to appeal specifically to girls and women?

Nicole Lazzaro:  Well I think that the experiences that are being designed are definitely much more casual.  In our research what is interesting is that it’s not so much the mechanic, the type of choice that you make in the game or the type of challenge, but the theme tends to have more of a gender skew and what is interesting with…  I’m glad you brought up the gender issue because there is some really interesting stuff.  Not all guys want to have a Rambo fantasy.  Some kind of get tired of it after a little while.  A lot of guys like sports, but not everybody likes sports and if you think about what… if you get two groups and it can be divided by gender or age, you know average **** time, amount of violence in the experience you have to remember that that average is an average of what?  Well it’s an average of individuals and those individuals actually aren’t all on that same line.  Even if there is a statistical difference between the two you actually then have two normal distribution curves and so there is a lot of guys in the girl’s range say and a lot of girls in the guy’s range and what people tend to forget with the… with 50 years of marketing experience behind us now we tend to jump right into the gender as like oh, this is the defining rule, this is how we make our games better because we’re going to target this by gender.  It turns out though if we put everything that people like about games and we just sort of dump it on the table okay and in one hand we gather everything that guys like and only guys like in one hand and if we gather the other hand and everything girls like and only woman like in the other well then what do we do?  Well the game industry well it makes a game for guys and a game for girls, right?  Well what are we forgetting?  It turns out what we’re forgetting is everything that’s still on the table, right and it turns out in terms of our research everything that is still on the table is what players like the most about games and so when we think about how to you know use gender segmentation as a way to make games more fun it’s actually a pretty slippery slope because if you’re looking at a lot of games that have mass appeal you know it’s like 40, 60, you know, male and female and so… and games are almost all played in mixed gendered environments.  So it’s not surprising that the most popular games like World of Warcraft or the Simms or Myst, and we’ve worked on three of the Myst series, is that they actually draw… They actually draw from both pools.  You know there is mechanics and situations and themes that appeal to… that appeal to both.

But in terms of casual games what we find is that there is a lot of very interesting obviously theme stuff, so the whole restaurant simulations, Diner Dash, we’ve worked with PlayFirst on everything since Diner Dash II pretty much on has come through our lab and what we’ve noticed is that there are a number of mechanics and it’s not that they… women absolutely like hard fun.  You might think that it’s the guys that want the real sweaty, kind of like intense experience and the girls want this either very social or very easy time.  Not true at all.  I mean women love as well as men, they really love to work hard for their game.  The harder they work the more rewarding it feels and so it’s not surprising that people will…  You know you play Tetris on time mode and it’s you do work up a sweat.  But what we don’t see is we don’t see a lot of complexity in the controls, so you know women do tend to invest less time in learning a thing.  They also are a newer entrance into the market, so what correlates a lot more with casual and core kind of games is like, you know, how long you’ve been playing games and how often you play because games for the hardcore market have really scaled up in terms of adding additional features over time and the hardcore market really has perfected, you know, the sort of five core games.  There’s five core games that they perfected, whereas the casual space is much more open.

Recorded on February 16, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen


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