Overwatch, Blizzard’s first-person shooter, is incredibly popular among girls and women. “In our data,” game demographics expert Nick Yee wrote in a recent blog post, “it is 16% female gamers. So that puts it at more than double the genre average for FPS games.”
QuanticFoundry, Nick’s analytics firm, has collected surveys of 300,000 gamers, which is where he gets this data. Overall, Overwatch is about as popular with female gamers as males: “As a raw count ranking of how many gamers mention Overwatch in the survey," he tells me, "the game is 7th among male gamers, and 12th among female gamers.”
16% percent may not seem like a lot, but for a game as popular as Overwatch, that means millions of extra players, compared to sausage-centric franchises like Call of Duty or Battlefield. And dollars: Since Overwatch has sold over 30 million copies, the game’s female user base is about 5 million -- who’ve given Blizzard roughly $250 million.
Among them is Annette, a 20-something from Denver, pictured here rocking her cosplay as Overwatch character Symmetra. Her username is “fevercadence” and if you’ve played against her, she has probably kicked your ass: Her highest rank this season is Diamond.
A group of female friends she knows through Second Life first got her into it: “I had so much fun in our group games that I fell in love and preordered it once beta was over,” she tells me. “There's so much diversity in the characters in both gender and race, which is great for us cosplayers!” She also loves how much Overwatch emphasizes teamwork: “I've played some other games where one person can just dominate the entire game without needing their team, but it's a lot harder to do that in Overwatch. I often play competitively so I like being exposed to that kind of coordination.”
“Most shooters don't have female protagonists, so that's one” reason for its cross-gender popularity, Nick Yee tells me. He cites a couple other factors that surprised me, but are frankly really cool:
“See also this blog post (and comments) on how women perceive guns to be unappealing (even though they might not mind violence) because they see guns as the most boring and unimaginative way to kill someone. Overwatch provides more magic/alternative methods of killing people (in addition to guns). The color palette also doesn't evoke traditional conventional war colors/atmosphere, and that's also something female gamers find less appealing. So it's not that they mind the violence, they just dislike the drab palette.”
Overwatch's Tracer, for instance, rocks ruby red sunglasses and a sticky "Pulse Bomb" which is handy for clipping combatants in creative ways. Tracer is the favorite character of Skye Everidge, a 20-something woman from New Orleans who goes by the adorable usernames of Pumpkin Spice and BlessUrHeart. With a competitive score of 3500 she’s currently ranked as a Master -- suggesting that hundreds and hundreds of players have yelled something like “Damn you, BlessUrHeart, damn you!” after she blew them up real good.
“What I like most about Overwatch compared to most FPS is that it's constantly being added to, improved and there's always new things to play in Arcade mode,” Skye tells me. “I also love the competitive mode even though it's full of toxic players in higher ratings.” Like Annette, Skye appreciates the game’s character diversity. “There's just as many female heroes as there are male. There's different races. Different sexualities.” (In the official game lore, Tracer is described as lesbian.) “It's easy to find a hero you can relate with and enjoy playing.”
Overwatch’s popularity with women isn’t surprising to me, as so many female acquaintances play it. However, I suspect most other FPS game developers will be surprised, because it’s clear they’ve made little effort to engage female gamers the way Overwatch does. Given the game industry’s overall sexism, I doubt many of them will. And Blizzard will go on to make hundreds of millions of extra dollars on account of their competitors' lack of insight.