The contention that irritated me most claimed that marketing should focus on the biggest of a game’s existing demographic, to the exclusion of all else. This, proponents declared, is the most efficient use of each marketing dollar. This, I say, is short-sighted.
If women comprise a growing share of the gaming market why wouldn’t you target that demographic as well? According to BioWare devs, the Dragon Age consumer base is already 30% female. While a large percentage of those women love the company and their games because of their strong female protagonists, and thus will purchase new BioWare games by preference, not all women loved Mass Effect 3 or Dragon Age 2 and may abandon both franchises unless shown that DA: Inquisition will be different and more to their tastes.
What company can afford to ignore nearly a third of their current customer base? And what company wouldn’t like to grow their market share across more than one demographic? This question leads to the most pertinent one: what should BioWare do to make the most of each penny it spends marketing DA:I?
For this, I have a vision. Picture, if you will, a screen shot of the character creator. The invisible player selects a human male warrior. Bam! You see a cut scene of him catching a massive blow on his shield. Then back to CC and switch to a female dwarf berserker. Pow! She’s dropping a flying cleave with her two-handed axe on the head of some demon. Back to CC and a male elf. Thwack! A searing arrow of death hammers into a Red Templar. Then a female Tal-Vashoth, then her flinging a fireball into a group of whatever.
You get the idea: showcase the classes, their unique abilities, and the fact that you can customize your character all at once. The strengths of the Dragon Age games lie not in one gender or character but in their choices. These begin at the very start with the selection of appearance options. BioWare offers dozens of ways to play epic heroes and those options will appeal to the largest number of people. Why limit potential customers to those who want to play stubbly, lantern-jawed white boys when that’s not the only way to play?
Of all the genres out there, particularly on consoles, I’d argue that role-playing games in general and the fantasy types in particular, are most likely to appeal to women. In part I base that on my own preferences and in part I consider the stereotypes that most women are raised beneath to influence those choices.
Women are raised to love fairy tales and believe science and math are, if not beyond them, at least too hard for them to master to be worth the effort. Don’t believe me? See one or fifty of the thousands of articles, blog posts, and videos about bringing women into STEM fields. They’re also told that they’re too delicate physically and emotionally to handle a battlefield, leading to the current struggle to convince men that women willing and wishing to put their lives on the line as soldiers should be included there.
By extension, this discourages women from reading, writing, and playing science fiction. Certainly, you can name dozens of exceptions to this rule, women who have followed their passions and excelled. In general, however, women tend to be more comfortable with magic and dragons than space ships and gunplay. It’s more socially acceptable for them to enjoy fantasy than to criticize the accuracy of a sci-fi universe to real-world physics.
Should that change? Hell, yes. Is it? Yes to that, too. But remember that I’m refuting the argument that BioWare should exclusively target straight white males with their marketing of Dragon Age: Inquisition. That’s foolish. As it becomes more and more common for women to start gaming or try new platforms, the marketing of new games should find ways to include them in the target audiences.
The guys in the so-called target demographic already know that the games will have plenty to appeal to them. If anything, BioWare and the gaming industry in general should limit the stoic, manly, white protagonist of old and start promoting PCs of color, female leads, and LGBT relationships in games. Consider the size of this largely-untapped pool of players, people who don’t know yet how much they love Dragon Age. Tell me again why no one should market games to them, please.
All of this ignores one key element in the advertising of DA:I. We don’t know who has the final say over the marketing purse strings. If BioWare gets to direct the campaign over the next several months before release I have a great deal more faith that they’ll be willing to take a chance and expand their focus. If EA picks what will be shown, however, I fear that the “safe” route will stay the only one they see. Time will tell.