What a woman really wants

Every year women spend billions on magazines, movies and other forms of lifestyle content. So why is there still a gross mismatch between what women expect and what the mobile industry delivers in terms of games and in the larger category of lifestyle applications‾


Recent research highlights the scale of the problem and confirms women are an underserved and misunderstood market segment. In North America, for example, LimeLife, a mobile consumer software publisher focused exclusively on content for women, has studied the mobile motivations, usage patterns and content interests of women ages 18-49. Its findings, while over a year old (December 2005), speaks volumes about women's use of their mobile phones and their fit within women's lifestyles and life stages.


The mobile phone initially serves as a "private line" for girls 16-17, then evolves to an "always with me connected buddy" during college years, gradually becoming more functional and ultimately beginning to serve as a "command central" for working moms and women pursuing careers. The research also identified a strong interest among women in mobile applications that function as reminders, such as alerts, and help them be more productive and efficient as they multitask throughout their typical day. The research also revealed games are second only to ringtones for desired mobile downloads among women.


Unfortunately, the market is flooded with content that "most females find a turn-off," observes Iain Gillott, founder of iGillott Research (iGR), a market strategy consultancy focussed on wireless. "The typical complaint is that the majority of games available on the market today are "˜kill-and-kick it entertainment' and neither sports nor violence appeals to most women."


Indeed, the female demographic wants intelligent games, or apps that allow them to connect with real-life friends or nurture relationships in virtual worlds.


"Communication and social networking is a huge part of personal mobility for girls," Gillott explains. It begins with the fact that girls typically get their first phone 18 months to two years earlier than boys, according to iGR focus groups. "Among boys, mobile has a high cool factor; among girls it's about communicating, connecting and sharing."


The personal touch


Electronic Arts is one company determined to tap the female market and its pent-up demand for more engaging games and content - via multiple Sims titles, including SimsCity, Sims Pets and, more recently, Sims Bowling. "Games like Sims are not linear games; they allow users the freedom to explore a world and create almost a mobile soap opera," explains Mike McCabe, EA's Mobile Asia Pacific regional director. In his opinion, it's the greater involvement in the creative process and the ability to personalize and customize the content consumption experience that appeals to women most.


"We see a female skew with the titles that allow players to create their own character."


In markets such as China and Korea personalization is a must-have feature for popular games and pastimes. "The overwhelming popularity of avatars - whether online or mobile - is unique to Asia at this point," McCabe says. Asian game players also show a greater interest in giving their mobile personas clothing and accessories they can show off to their friends. The downside is that EA is much more the exception than the rule. "In all honesty, I don't think the industry has done a great job because the overwhelming desire for most games publishers is to basically create remakes of existing content within the console space," McCabe says. "So, there's more shooting games, driving games and sports games that appeal to a much limited demographic."

Closing the gender gap


In view of the disconnect between what women want and what the industry is prepared to offer, recent research from M:Metrics is all the more surprising. The benchmark survey, focused on the number of games downloaded across Germany, Italy, Spain, France, the UK and the US, reveals the gender gap is closing.


Paul Goode, M:Metrics vice president and senior analyst, believes one reason could be the overall growth in 3G penetration and the handset industry's recognition that devices targeting women have to combine both fashion and functionality. Giving that observation some weight is a February benchmark survey by M:Metrics that shows 3G subscribers are twice more likely to consume mobile content such as games, news and information, photo messaging and search.

The increased interest from women in games is borne out by a gaming demographics study published by Japan's NTT DoCoMo that shows that female players have become real game enthusiasts. Some 59 percent of female users play games more than four times a week, compared to 51 percent of male users.


However, much of M:Metrics' data from 2005 on the gender split in mobile game play still rings true today, says Google. "The industry has been aimed more at youth and the male market, but more recently, what we see is greater activity from older users and women," Goode adds. "We can conclude the female market has been and continues to be underserved."


Girl power


But not all companies are blind to the opportunity. LimeLife has built its business on catering to women with a mix of lifestyle applications, wallpapers, text alerts and casual games.


"It's about providing women with the same range of content they'd see looking at a magazine stand," notes LimeLife CEO Kristin Asleson McDonnell. "We also know that women are interested in fashion and shopping, and sharing that kind of information with their friends."


Putting two and two together LimeLife delivers In-Style magazine via mobile, a service that updates women on the latest in fashion, trends and popular celebrities. Users can also save shopping wish list items on their phone and share them images with their friends.


"If you really liked the dress that Cameron Diaz wore or the shoes you saw in the last issue of In-Style, you can save these items to your shopping list and email from inside the application to friends," McDonnell explains. "Women want a full range of lifestyle content and mobile has to deliver that daily dose and more."


Crazyfunbabe.com, a developer and aggregator of female-focussed content, believes most companies are missing the mark because they misunderstand the women's market and underestimate the importance of correcting their stereotypes.


"We say butterflies and daisies just don't cut it," notes Crazyfunbabe CEO Lorane Poersch. "Our audience is smart, sassy, sexy and sophisticated women whose mobile is an intrinsic part of their life. The fun, flirty, side of them loves to download images that make a statement like our "˜Bad Girl for Life' wallpaper or send a Crazyfunbabe MMS "˜Girls Night Out.'"


Just fun content


While many may complain about a lack of female-focussed content, Rimma Perelmuter, executive director of the Mobile Entertainment Forum, the global infotainment industry association, believes the issue is not "so much about making content for men or women - per se - as it is about creating exciting content for all."


Several submissions for this year's Meffy Award for the best in mobile content have succeeded in doing just this. An example of this is Get Close To"&brkbar;, a made-for-mobile reality show produced by Endemol that allowed viewers to interact with celebrities via their mobiles, and invited them to send in video questions which the celebrities watched and answered during the show.


The first series, Get Close To "&brkbar; Sugababes, produced in May and June 2006, didn't start out with the goal of targeting a girls-only audience - a decision that ultimately contributed to the series' success, notes Pasa Mustafa, head of CrossPlatform at Endemol UK Digital Media. The series was in the top three downloads on the O2 Active portal throughout its six-week run.


"Reality shows appeal to a demographic which is mostly women," Mustafa explains. "But for us it was about experimentation and developing content to appeal to a broad audience."


The series also won the praises of the MEF, which short-listed Endemol for a Meffy. "The interactive element also served to educate women about mobile content and what is possible," Perelmuter explains. "That's an important aspect of proactively targeting women and engaging their interest over the long term."


If there is a lack of content for women, it's because operators don't recognize what's at stake, Mustafa of Endemol says. "It's a bit of a chick and egg thing. Operators complain women don't consume content, but then they don't offer much in the way of content that women would want to consume in the first place."


The problem is most operators are obsessed with earning money straight away. rather than building audience, relationships. To me the audience that we need to tap into is the mainstream audience - which just happens to be made up of a high percentage of women."


Changing times


But why wait until operators and major content companies wake up to the opportunity‾ Independent and individual content creators also have the capabilities mix to deliver content to the long tail of niche segments including women.


It's a transformation that Alexa Raad, vice president of marketing and business development at dotMobi, attributes to the proliferation of direct-to-consumer content and a democratization of the tools to make and distribute it.


"Now that mobile operators are no longer the gatekeepers, more players can experiment and channel their creativity toward targeting women with content they want and need," Raad observes. Against this backdrop, dotMobi's mission is to provide guidelines and direction on how to create mobile destinations by offering individuals tools, templates and guidelines to create and consume content on their own terms. "It's about the democratization of the mobile Internet. Before the people who had the say were the elite, the players who understood the technology or who had pull with the operators to get their content placed on the decks," says Raad. "Now, that is changing"


Unfortunately - at least for now - the trade-off of this avalanche of compelling content is poor discoverability. MEF's Perelmuter says, the vast majority of content buried deep in confusing - often times counter-intuitive - hierarchical menus.


"Women can be great consumers of content - if it's relevant and if they can find it in the first place," Perelmuter says. "It's all about personalization and the search technologies that can pick up on what users want and then encourage them to explore the wealth of content at their finger tips."