Rumor: Activision Doesn't Think Female Leads Can Sell Games

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Rumor: Activision Doesn't Think Female Leads Can Sell Games

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Activision might be directing its studios to stay away from developing games that star female characters.

Sources out of Activision are saying that the publisher forced its studios to alter the gender of their games' main characters to stay in line with what it thought would sell. While a specific situation surrounding the development of True Crime: Hong Kong is named, the sources say this is just part of a larger problem at Activision where the company uses focus group tests to the "extreme."

Activision's Treyarch once conceived a game inspired by Hong-Kong action cinema called Black Lotus starring a Lucy Liu-esque female lead. Activision reportedly decided that in 2007, when Halo 3 and Modern Warfare were king, a game starring a female lead wasn't going to work. "We were all on board, and then Activision killed it, said they don't do female characters because they don't sell," one source told Gamasutra. "Activision gave us specific direction to lose the chick," said another.

One plainly believes: "Activision has no room for 'we are making an open-world game with a Hong Kong action movie feel with a female lead,' because that game doesn't exist right now. What they do have room for is, 'we are making an open-world game with a gangster main character who can steal cars and shoot people, but it will be in Hong Kong instead of Liberty City. And then they go, 'Hey, GTA IV sold 10 million copies, so that's what we expect from you.'"

Black Lotus was then reborn as True Crime: Hong Kong, now in development at United Front Games and starring a male lead. The sources indicate that this project switch is evidence of Activision's reliance on focus tests that they say stifle developer creativity. They also say that management skews focus tests at times so that they suit management's own opinions, such as with one case where "feedback sent to the higher-ups from someone on the publishing side was skewed to be the exact opposite" of what it actually was.

But this doesn't just involve True Crime: Hong Kong and the female gender. The sources also say that True Crime: New York once starred a white male police officer until the success of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, which starred a black gang member, forced a switch to a black male gangster for True Crime as well.

Activision replied to the allegations, saying it "does not have a policy of telling its studios what game content they can develop, nor has the company told any of its studios that they cannot develop games with female lead characters." It says there was no gender mandate put on the main character of True Crime: Hong Kong, but did say it "uses market research in order to better understand [what] gamers are looking for" like most videogame and media companies.

Anonymous sources are always tough to put my full faith in, because sometimes they can be disgruntled employees with an axe to grind. Whether Activision specifically said "lose the chick" or not, it probably does use focus testing to some degree and try to alter future studio behavior based on the results.

Though we've seen games with female leads like Final Fantasy XIII sell very well, for whatever reason this may not be the case with other genres. Would a Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty-style game really appeal to the same mainstream audience if it were to have a female on the cover or as a main character? If no, why the heck not? I would love to see a studio develop one such title (that's actually good) to see what happens.

Source: Gamasutra

Permalink

Dear Activision,
Please. Please. Please learn to STFU. If female leads cannot help sell games, pray tell, why has the Tomb Raider series done so well? Why is Beyond Good & Evil a cult-classic? Why did Resident Evil 1 do so well? And Mirror's Edge? That's a great game.
Stop being fools, lower your prices, stop talking and make good games.
Thank you.

Firstly, in my opinion Lightning isn't even the lead character in FFXIII since she isn't seen more than others and isn't focused on more than others, she is just shown on the box art and is the first character you see, other than that everyone is evenly distrubuted in terms of screen time.

Sorry, got a little off topic... OT: What some people have to understand though is that the majority of the gaming market is Male and so companies are worried to make games have only female leads because it might put off people from buying it. It's why BioWare shows only the Male Shepard in trailers and box arts and yet you can still choose to be female.

Although i do think Activision are being quite silly and should take a risk and not be so snobbish.

Yeah, because games with a female lead have never made a major impact on gaming.

I hate focus groups so much. And this pisses me off. Your game won't sell well if it has a male-lead. Stop focusing on pointless things and focus on actually making the games fun.

Morons.

Metroid... mother******* Metroid. You stupid mother*******!

Gah! This is actually the first time my blood boiled at this nonsense.

EDIT: Well played Irridium... well played.

It does sound like something Activision would do, to be honest.

Booze Zombie:
It does sound like something Activision would do, to be honest.

Pretty much. The main problem I have with Activision is they've decided to dump the idea of making a game but rather want to make a product that sells.

No point getting disgruntled, because none of this is confirmed. It's all a rumour.

Considering Activision's bad reputation though, I wouldn't be surprised if everyone agreed that this was true. Not defending them, just looking at it from a different perspective.

When has Activision ever been supportive of anything resembling a new idea? Where exactly is the butterzone between "this idea is too radical! we hate your idea! We like what's familiar!" and "This is too similar to games we already exploited to death! Suck my lawsuit!"?

YurdleTheTurtle:
No point getting disgruntled, because none of this is confirmed. It's all a rumour.

Considering Activision's bad reputation though, I wouldn't be surprised if everyone agreed that this was true. Not defending them, just looking at it from a different perspective.

If I am proven wrong, I will apologize and bring a picture of cake.

Till then, I have unresolved rage brought on by years of aggravation from this company that I kept inside of me. I need an outlet and Activision just happens to be the perfect verbal punching bag. Actually, I have unresolved rage from the industry in its entirety. Activision just loves pitching in more than the others, publicly anyways.

YurdleTheTurtle:
No point getting disgruntled, because none of this is confirmed. It's all a rumour.

Considering Activision's bad reputation though, I wouldn't be surprised if everyone agreed that this was true. Not defending them, just looking at it from a different perspective.

Yeah it's all just a rumor, but probably one of those that have at least some form of truth to them. I mean I have to say I wouldn't put it past them, and even if it isn't true, I can't say that it'd improve my view of the company.

I've kept a steady answer whenever someone asks me what gender I want to play. I play women. Because if I have to look at an ass throughout the whole game it might as well be a nice one.

Seriously, I'm pretty sure nobody will care what gender the lead is so long as it's a good story and good gameplay. Saying that gamers don't want women is just... moronic, really.

Enigmers:
When has Activision ever been supportive of anything resembling a new idea? Where exactly is the butterzone between "this idea is too radical! we hate your idea! We like what's familiar!" and "This is too similar to games we already exploited to death! Suck my lawsuit!"?

that's a good question, too bad all we have to go on is the occasional rumor from a supposedly-former (and disgruntled) employee.

Meh, Activision saying something stupid isn't really news at this point <_<

Let's be real, when has a game with a female lead ever sell a game?

No, female leads don't sell games, but neither do male leads, it's their backstory that sells them.

::NEWSFLASH::

Activision are out of touch!

::END TRANSMISSION::

I read this on 1up, and to hell with them. Samus was the first character I really ever was into as a character, and I was a mere 12 year old lad at the time. I would love to see a GTA starring some ambitious young woman starting her own cartel, or another game like Beyond Good and Evil... character wise.

Gaming culture already has a problem with being seen as a place for boys who refuse to grow up. Lets not continue that stereotype, Activision.

focus groups obviously never heard of lara croft.

I think if the female lead is overly sexualized, then yes, a male character will be a stronger choice. Look at Jade and Samus: neither are very sexualized, but both are very strong characters willing to do what needs to get done. I don't know about Tomb Raider as I've never played them, but I could see where Laura could prove me wrong since I know there has been a bit of a mainstream sexualization of her. Still, she is a strong woman who likes to kick ass more than take her shirt off, so I can see where she is a still a good lead.

Irridium:
Yeah, because games with a female lead have never made a major impact on gaming.

I hate focus groups so much. And this pisses me off. Your game won't sell well if it has a male-lead. Stop focusing on pointless things and focus on actually making the games fun.

Morons.

Wait. WAIT. METROID IS FEMALE? How did i never know of this? Why didn't anyone tell me? I've never played the games mind you but i have played little bits and seen friends play the game.

I'm coming to the hypothesis that perhaps the people who run these huge, over-sized game companies
(and people who climb to the top of any over-sized company) are damaged in some way, that they use more of their lizard brain than the rest of us.

Flamezdudes:

Irridium:
Yeah, because games with a female lead have never made a major impact on gaming.

I hate focus groups so much. And this pisses me off. Your game won't sell well if it has a male-lead. Stop focusing on pointless things and focus on actually making the games fun.

Morons.

Wait. WAIT. METROID IS FEMALE? How did i never know of this? Why didn't anyone tell me? I've never played the games mind you but i have played little bits and seen friends play the game.

Its a damn shame what they're doing to Samus in metroid M.
The whole point of Samus Aran (beyond her silent protagonism) is that she is a woman who DOESN'T run around in public wearing nothing but latex....instead she never takes her suit off in front of others.

It would be interesting to control a female character in a Modern Warfare-like game.

Irridium:
Yeah, because games with a female lead have never made a major impact on gaming.

I hate focus groups so much. And this pisses me off. Your game won't sell well if it has a male-lead. Stop focusing on pointless things and focus on actually making the games fun.

Morons.

Tons of people say games with female leads can sell really well, yet the first game that people ALWAYS bring up in topics like this is a character who purposely had their femininity hidden in their original game except for the obligatory fanservice at the end of the game, and ever since has only had said femininity exposed for more fanservice(*glares at Zero Suit Samus*). Samus is NOT a female character, it's a robot suit that the developers decided "Hey, lets throw a chick in their to mess with some people's heads". Doesn't the fact that the only truly popular female lead character that gaming can offer up has their femininity hidden behind a cold metal shell kind of imply that maybe it's not as far off the mark as people say? The only time female leads(where it's not a "choose your own sex" game) really have sold well is in the "blatant fanservice role" like in Tomb Raider, Dead or Alive, and Bayonetta. All the games that have female leads that are actually identifiable as female and not blatant fan service like Mirror's Edge, Xenosaga, Beyond Good and Evil, and The Longest Journey haven't sold very well at all. Sure, they're cult favorites and were rated high by critics, but that doesn't mean they sold well. That's not to say that we shouldn't demand more games with female leads and that developers shouldn't make them, but more along the lines that the fear developers have of actually doing it isn't entirely unfounded, and that placing the blame all on them isn't very fair. Actual gamers shape the industry just as much as developers.

What about the Final Fantasy games?

What?

you mean they were guys?

Even Tidus?

Damn...

Seriously tho, I'll throw in Portal. I also agree with Sigma:

Signa:
I think if the female lead is overly sexualized, then yes, a male character will be a stronger choice. Look at Jade and Samus: neither are very sexualized, but both are very strong characters willing to do what needs to get done. I don't know about Tomb Raider as I've never played them, but I could see where Laura could prove me wrong since I know there has been a bit of a mainstream sexualization of her. Still, she is a strong woman who likes to kick ass more than take her shirt off, so I can see where she is a still a good lead.

Essentially I think a well crafted female character will be accepted, if it's just gratuitous titties, then a fair amount of gamers will be too embarrassed to be seen even taking that game to the store clerk.

Maybe I overanalyse, but I sense if I liked the Tomb Raider games, and I bought one, I'd have a niggling voice in my head going 'you know, he think you're only buying it for the jiggle physics'.

Flamezdudes:

Irridium:
Yeah, because games with a female lead have never made a major impact on gaming.

I hate focus groups so much. And this pisses me off. Your game won't sell well if it has a male-lead. Stop focusing on pointless things and focus on actually making the games fun.

Morons.

Wait. WAIT. METROID IS FEMALE? How did i never know of this? Why didn't anyone tell me? I've never played the games mind you but i have played little bits and seen friends play the game.

Ummm... Her name is Samus. That's your first clue.

And again, Lara Croft. That is all.

I'm doing my little Tomb Raider dance down here. Also the aforementioned Samus Aran, Beyond Good and Evil.

A good portrayal of a realistic female character in a game would be so very different, and I for one would like to see it happen. I'm not talking about just having a woman in the main role, though I do like that and roleplay female in RPGs, but an actual female who couldn't in any way be substituted for a male.

Think of Ripley in Aliens. It's much more believable to have the mother figure going after the daughter figure than it would be to have the father figure doing it in quite the same way. Imagine how cool that game would be to play, where you're not just doing it for the goal of defeating the big crime boss or something, but the much closer goal of the daughter or similar.

well this is just a case of digital sexism I believe this sums up everyone's reaction image

Flamezdudes:

Irridium:
Yeah, because games with a female lead have never made a major impact on gaming.

I hate focus groups so much. And this pisses me off. Your game won't sell well if it has a male-lead. Stop focusing on pointless things and focus on actually making the games fun.

Morons.

Wait. WAIT. METROID IS FEMALE? How did i never know of this? Why didn't anyone tell me? I've never played the games mind you but i have played little bits and seen friends play the game.

wow I thought everyone in this day in age knew samus was a girl it's one of the the greatest twist in video game history (I understand your point though you never really played the game)

SenseOfTumour:
What about the Final Fantasy games?

What?

you mean they were guys?

Even Tidus?

They were guys... every single.. oh wait

Call me a typical male stereotype, but I'm more interested when there's an interesting-looking girl on a game's cover than when it's a two-a-penny neckless military dickhead.

Ermmm... Lara Croft.... Seriously... I know some like to point to Samus but well she is not obviously a woman when you look at her... but LAra was uge back in the early 2000 and obviously female... Think they should start to look at history instand of focus group

Meh. Don't believe stories where you have to rely on phrases like "might be" and anonymous sources to be worth publishing, tbh.

Even without it being a surprise twist (Metroid) or using sex to sell (Bayonetta), a female lead is still very capable of selling games, as long as the game is good, of course...

...or maybe I'm the only one who thought Perfect Dark was good. Yeah, I guess Activision is right. That game disappeared into obscurity, and was so unpopular that any mention of a sequel or remastering on Xbox Live would be an absurd idea, all because none of the male players wanted to catch cooties from the controller. Oh yeah, and women never play games either. It's only men. Men who would never want to play anything starring a woman.

Snipped from the other thread:

Uh....Sarah Louise Kerrigan?

She was in this little known game called Starcraft?

So Chell/GLADos, Joanna Dark, The Agent: Kate Archer, Faith Connors, Alyx Vance, Princess Peach, Tifa Lockhart, Cassandra/Sophitia Alexandra, Chun Li/Cammy White/Rose Bison, Rubi Malone, Nariko, Claire Redfield/Jill Valentine, Anna/Nina Williams, Miranda Keyes, Mileena/Kitana, Chai Xianghua, Cortana, Zoey/Rochelle, Damsel/Tourette/Velvet Velour/Pisha/Ming-Xiao, The Path's Sisters, Ashleigh Williams, Sailor Moon, Wonder Woman, Buffy Summers/Willow, Aeryn Sun, Leia Organa, ALICE, Gatchaman Jun, Princess Zelda, Sarah Connor or Dana Scully couldn't sell games?

And of course, Lara Croft, Bayonetta, Mai Shiranui, Ivy Valentine for the T&A brigade.

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