New Video Games Feature Women, But Are They Advertising to Them?

November marked the release of four much-awaited games: Fallout 4, Star Wars: Battlefront, Rise of the Tomb Raider and Call of Duty: Black Ops III. Combined, they spent a total of roughly $46 million on TV advertising in November and each snagged top spots on our engagement charts. But they have more than their spend and performance in common: they also feature strong female characters.

A Changing Industry

Once predominantly male-focused, the gaming industry seems to be shifting to become more female-friendly. This may have to do with an increase in female gamers: the LA Times reported that 44% of the gaming audience is now made up of women. Even traditionally male-focused games are getting more prominent female roles. One of the arguably most “masculine” games, Call of Duty Black Ops III, is bucking its own trend by getting a playable female character for the first time ever. Fallout 4 now has the option to play as a male or female character, and Star Wars: Battlefront has both playable female characters and female stormtroopers. Games are moving away from traditional damsel-in-distress characters (like Mario’s Princess Peach) and are instead revealing women who – as Rachel Kimsey, voice actor for one of the female characters in Black Ops 3, puts it – “[are] there as not the prize at the end of the game but as the participant.”

Even the ads themselves are beginning to showcase more women. Star Wars: Battlefront featured Pitch Perfect star Anna Kendrick in its most well-received game promo: “Become More Powerful.” Call of Duty: Black Ops III had model Cara Delevingne beating the boys in its ad “Seize Glory.” And in the Rise of the Tomb Raider trailer, as one astute fan pointed out on Twitter, “for the first time ever Lara is not only a girl but has a proper winter jacket.”

Is the Media Buying Following Suit?

With all this progress toward a more balanced gender ratio in video games and their ads, we were wondering if this change had been reflected in ad placement as well. However, in a comparative analysis of video game ads from the same studios this time last year, we found that there was very little change in the ad placement and that they are still primarily advertising on more male-oriented programming, most notably sports. On average, the game studios devote 60% of their ad spend to sports and sports-related programming. Obviously there are female sports fans, but according to ESPN, “men watch three to four times the number of sports shows compared to women.”

Percent of Ad Budget Spent on Sports*

Additionally, while some more gender-neutral shows like The Walking Dead and Sleepy Hollow have made it into the video game’s top advertised shows by airings and spend, male-targeted shows like Family Guy and South Park are still more common, accounting for 70% of the top shows by spend and 80% of the top shows by airings. At the end of the day, the majority of video game ads are directed at men.

Does it Matter?

Despite not catering to women, the game’s ads have done extremely well. All have engagement scores (rankings from 1 to 10 that measure how effective an ad is at generating earned digital activity across social, video and search) well above the industry average of 6.4:

Fallout 4 – 8.3

Star Wars: Battlefront – 9.7

Rise of the Tomb Raider – 9.2

Call of Duty: Black Ops III – 9.5

But when you drill down into male and female online sentiment, there is a distinctly higher average for men. Across the board, men had 9% more positive perception of the ads than women did: 81% positive for men compared to 72% for women.

Percent of Positive Online Sentiment

While clearly these ads aren’t hurting for performance, studios might consider exploring less male-skewed programs if they want to reach more of their female fans and improve their online perception with women. For more advertising trends within the gaming industry and elsewhere, check back with

*Data from game advertising start date to November 16, 2015

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