• Women represent half of gamers, majority of King's customers
  • `Companies have been leaving a lot of money on the table'

How much are women gamers worth? Maybe $5.9 billion to Activision Blizzard Inc., the video-game publisher whose hits include Call of Duty and World of Warcraft.

That’s how much Activision is paying for Candy Crush Saga-maker King Digital Entertainment Plc and its 447 million monthly users -- the majority of them women. And that customer base is one reason the acquisition “makes a ton of sense,” said Mark Pincus, who founded the social gaming pioneer Zynga Inc.

“There’s no question women like competition,” said Pincus, whose company’s titles include Farmville and Words With Friends. “They just don’t like blood and guts and gore. The game industry has had that wrong.”

Women have represented almost half of the gamers in the U.S. for the past few years, according to the research firm NewZoo BV. They account for 58 percent of King’s customers and 62 percent of those playing Candy Crush. An even larger share of female customers end up spending money on the games, which are free to start but earn their keep through in-game purchases, according to Riccardo Zacconi, King’s chief executive officer.

“If you then look at the paying side, it’s much more accentuated toward a female audience,” he said on a conference call Tuesday. “And this is where one of the big opportunities here is.”

The combined company will be the second-largest game-maker in the world, behind China’s Tencent Holdings Ltd. It will bring together Activision titles that are played on computers or consoles with those made mostly for mobile devices from King, including Pet Rescue and Bubble Witch. Women are slightly more likely than men to play on phones or tablets than PCs or consoles.

“There’s a lot of money to be made by taking women seriously, and Activision is a company that wants to make money," said Brianna Wu, head of development at Giant Spacekat, which makes video games aimed at women. "Companies have been leaving a lot of money on the table."

The video-game industry has struggled in recent years with its relationships with women. Some critics have lambasted publishers for games that include overly sexualized female characters or that write sexist behavior into the play, or omit women altogether. Women players, developers and advocates have been harassed in online forums, insulted and threatened with death and rape.  

Last week, the organizers of next year’s South by Southwest Interactive conference in Austin canceled two panels, one featuring Wu, that would focus on such harassment and on women in gaming, because of threats of violence. The organizers did an about-face after a public outcry and announced that there would be a full-day summit to discuss the issue.

"You are seeing more women in video games, but it’s coming slowly," said Bonnie Ruberg, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Southern California who studies gender and sexuality in video games. She cited a growing number of independent developers who are women and an increasing number of female characters in mainstream games.

Ubisoft Entertainment SA’s Assassin’s Creed, created in 2007, this year included a female main character for the first time, and Electronic Arts Inc. put female soccer players into its popular Fifa game, including stars Alex Morgan and Christine Sinclair on the cover. Chief Financial Officer Blake Jorgensen said he didn’t have data to show more women were buying the game but that sales have been strong.

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