Defragging ?Killer Betty

Silicon Sisters takes aim at 
women online gamers

They’re sometimes called Frag Dolls or Killer Betties: hard-core female gamers who even like single-shooter games where they blow things and people up. Frag Dolls play games online, such as World of Warcraft, or WoW to insiders. They’re out there.

But most female gamers tend to be invisible, which is ironic because there are significantly more women gamers over the age of 18 than gamer boys under 17. The typical gamer today isn’t a teenage boy shooting up something in his basement for hours at a time; rather, it’s a woman playing Tetris or Angry Birds on her phone for a few minutes at a time. And the average social gamer is a 43-year-old who plays several times a day but doesn’t think of herself as a gamer.

At the vanguard of game developers playing in this new reality is Silicon Sisters Interactive, a Vancouver outfit that launched this May to make games by and for women. Female gamers can’t be stereotyped, and Silicon Sisters doesn’t plan to “pinkify” games, says chief operating officer Kirsten Forbes. But the startup, with three employees and four contractors, will build games that work with the platforms and themes many women are currently drawn to, and in the way many women like to play. 

“For people who don’t really know, they think women gamers would dig gossip and clothes. But it’s so not about that,” says Forbes. She explains that Silicon Sisters will work with basic human instincts and points to Tetris, a video game that’s been around for more than two decades and is now a very popular mobile-phone app, as an example: “Every human being wants to create order out of chaos. That stuff just makes us feel good.”

Forbes and Silicon Sisters’ CEO Brenda Bailey Gershkovitch have 18 years of combined industry experience, and Forbes says the time and market conditions are right for people who love games and have the skills to make them – for women. Silicon Sisters currently has two games in prototype, and the pair plan to release one in time for the coming Christmas shopping season, with the other following a few months later.

Women gamers may just be the biggest growth area in the industry. It hit a bit of a lull in the past few years, but changes in technology – including social media, phone apps, casual online games and new immersive games – have led to new growth areas, all of which are driven primarily by women. A recent PricewaterhouseCoopers report estimates the size of the gaming market to expand from $52.5 billion in 2009 to $86.8 billion in 2014, with Canada as one of the fastest-growing markets.

Among other things, Silicon Sisters will focus on some games that work with the way women tend to use media. “Women pack things into one bit of time while we’re doing something else,” says Forbes, adding that women don’t think of it as gaming in the traditional sense. “We’re just quickly doing a fun thing before doing another thing,” she explains. 
“We don’t sit down and read 
magazines cover to cover 

Silicon Sisters is ahead of the curve on this industry trend. “There are Killer Betties out there,” says Danielle Parr, the executive director of the Entertainment Software Association of Canada, “but more women tend to like casual games,” which she says are easier to pick up and play, and put down.

That’s not to say Silicon Sisters will ignore the Killer Betties – gamers such as Liz Otton, a 24-year-old who has been playing single-shooter games for years and now plays with her boyfriend or online against other guys. For her it’s about the “adrenalin thing,” the “satisfaction of winning.”

– Vanessa Richmond