The Rise of Female Gaming in Asia: Gameplay and Content Trends
08/10/2020

The Rise of Female Gaming in Asia: Gameplay and Content Trends

In this article, Anna Lin, Investment Associate at LEGO Ventures based in Shanghai, China, highlights the emergence of female gamers in Asia and what this means for game developers.

Anna Lin
Written by
Anna Lin

“I’ll definitely come back.”

Last year, I made a pact to myself to return to Japan each summer to watch the Hanabi, a mid-summer fireworks festival. Watching the fireworks alongside the beautiful Shinanogawa River in Nagaoka, the trip made my teenage-girl dream a reality — dressing up in yukata, lining up for shaved ice, taking photos with a selfie stick. I couldn’t wait to return this year. However, 2020 had different plans in store. With the state of the world brought on by COVID-19, it seemed like I wouldn’t be able to live my teenage-girl fantasy again this year. But luckily, I was still able to make the trip — thanks to Animal Crossing.

Screenshot: Virtual fireworks festival in Animal Crossing

And I wasn’t alone — many of my friends joined as well. Games are becoming an integral part of life, on parallel with shopping, travelling, and TV. The frequency of asking “What games are you playing?” happens almost as frequently as “What series are you watching?” these days, thanks to a consistent, high-quality supply of hit titles this year — Animal Crossing, Canal Town, and most recently Onmyoji: Yokai Cabin, a spin-off from NetEase’s highly successful MMORPG title. Gaming is becoming both a connective and get-away experience. Take Canal Town for instance — a recent hit city-simulation game that paints beautiful, poetic, ancient Chinese riverside towns. In Canal Town, I personally love that I can team up with my friends to win ‘adventure prizes’, equally as much as I love designing my own little space with whimsical features.

The ability of games to attract diverse audiences has been shown with the rise of Honor of Kings, Tencent’s smash-hit MOBA title, which at one point claimed 50%+ of the players were female. Following the success of Love and Producer (2017), Travel Frog (2018), and Shining Nikki (2019), the market share of female-engaging mobile games rose from 19% in 2015 to ~29% in 2020 according to an estimate by Frost & Sullivan (found in Friend Times’ IPO prospectus). A number of factors, such as technology and design improvements for mobile devices, have amplified female-based virtual communities and increased attention to female gameplay psychology by game developers. This, coupled with impacts from COVID-19, have helped drive the proliferation of high-quality and well-recognized titles this year that successfully won female users’ eyes and wallets.

Player creations inspired by the game Canal Town. Spotted on RED (Xiaohongshu小红书 in Chinese), one of the largest virtual gathering spots for urban Chinese women.

Genre alone isn’t the deciding factor of success as hit titles span widely — mid-to-hardcore MMORPG, MOBA, and FGS could be equally as appealing as casual play, such as puzzle/adventure, simulation, and interactive storytelling. Important factors on the success of a game include how the user feels and what they learn while playing. Understanding the unique aspects of female gaming psychology is key to reaching and engaging this audience in a meaningful and authentic way. For example, Travel Frog, (known as “Tabi Kaeru” in Japanese) was a dark horse that swept China with 10M+ downloads in 2018. Players recounted that they had philosophical take-aways like learning to “let go” when playing the game, and learning to assume a parental role.

Screenshot: Travel Frog game.

Increasingly, gameplay is becoming an integral part of life instead of an isolated form of entertainment. It’s quickly becoming an aspect of identity for female players, both in which games they play and what they share with their friends and networks about the experience. In this way, virtual gameplay is being brought into the real-world, just as real-world experiences are being brought into games. Games that bridge this virtual-reality gap have a good chance of standing out — for example, integrating gaming experiences and societal trends in fashion, parenting, and relationships. Moreover, through participating in “derivative” experiences (cosplay, exhibitions, souvenirs, etc.) and “MOC” activities (such as anime-style scratches and fanfic), players indirectly extend their gameplay to real life.

At LEGO Ventures, we believe in the power of meaningful digital play experiences and gaming’s potential as a culturally symbolic art form — just as celebrated as those everlasting works in literature, music, and paintings. However, this can’t be done without capturing a variety of experiences, which includes addressing gender representation. The increasing power of diverse gamers raises a higher bar for game production. Fresh talent — from those who work in movies (screenwriters), animations (artists), and fashion (designers) — are joining the industry to elevate the experience to a new paradigm. Through accessing diverse perspectives, developers are closer to their audience than ever before.

Bilibili’s sitewide campaign promoting Fall Guys, leveraging its content creator network, live streaming channel, and MCN agency.

Another interesting area is gaming’s intersection with other digital ecosystems to make the experience accessible to players at all levels, given the strong correlation between gaming and lifestyle among female players. The UGC economy — a marketplace model to reward creativity and passion — have the potential to prosper. We have seen play experience transformed onto mediums from modding, live streaming, fan scratches & fictions, to online businesses where players can buy cosplay makeup and costumes. Strategic investors are also increasingly willing to open up resources for this, and cross-industry collaboration could assist supply and demand and further enhance the UGC economy loop.

Bottom line: girl power in gaming is just sprouting. We look forward to the next generation of play experiences, connecting all of us closer together.