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There Are Women on the Internet
Champions Online, Cryptic Studios’ newest MMORPG, appeals to those who want to play superheroes, but does it appeal to women? In many respects, it is off to a good start, but several improvements could easily be made to appeal to more women gamers outside the traditional MMO realm. Currently, 64% of the gamers on the internet are women according to Nielsen Entertainment’s third annual Active Gamer Benchmark Study. Only 11% of the current MMO population, however, are women, so how can CO attract more of these women to their game?
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Put Women in the Artwork
Normally, you cannot stop the MMO developers from plastering large-breasted women everywhere they can and often in completely inappropriate ways. Champions Online has the opposite problem. You can barely find women characters and art depicting women anywhere. On their webpage, all of the most prominent figures are men. The one woman I could find is 75% covered by an American flag. I see the faces of three more once I scroll down, but only their portraits are displayed.
The Champions Online game box is even worse. On the front of the box, three figures are prominent featured, and they are all male. Two more tiny figures can be seen, and they are also male. On the back of the box, you finally get a nice piece of work with a Celtic-deity-like woman flying in a very strong pose. We want more of that kind of art. Some of the most awesome superheroes in comics are women: Wonder Woman, Phoenix, Poison Ivy, Rogue, Storm, and Cat Woman. Let’s see more women in the artwork!
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Put the Difficulty in the Gameplay Not the Character Planning
There is a trend in MMOs to put the game's difficulty in character development (spec) rather than in the actual gameplay. Champions Online follows this path with its Framework and open ability system. Having to go to the forums to figure out which powers are best to take, which ones are useless, and which build will actually make you useful in a group is incredibly immersion breaking.
CO’s completely open ability system in addition to their extremely restrictive, expensive, and limited re-spec (retcon) options makes leveling a paralyzing process. Thankfully, the gameplay is relatively easy, so messing up your character will not cripple you. Having to ponder a ton of abilities every time I level gets painful - especially knowing that undoing them will be stupendously expensive (respecting more than a few powers back in your order of training is usually more money that you have earned in your character's entire life). This would not be a problem if all of the abilities were useful and equally powerful in some way, but as we all know, that is simply not true in any MMO.
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Don’t Be Afraid of Cuteness
The cutest ability in the game is also the most worthless one. Attack Toy in the Gadgeteering line is adorable and fun. The idea of playing a superhero (or supervillain) toy maker is classic. Even Batman has his toys though they are not nearly as cute as the ones in the Attack Toy ability. Sadly, attack toy is an incredibly weak power as compared to what you can get when spending points elsewhere. It should not be reduced in effectiveness simply because it is cute.
Action Figures are collectible pets available in the game. They have absolutely no function other than to run around after an avatar. This seems like the ideal place to put “cute" items that people can enjoy seeing and collecting, but unfortunately, most of them are just freaky bobble-heads that simply cannot be considered cute. The gorilla may be the closest Action Figure to being cute. One or two more may be considered “ugly cute".
CO should not be afraid of cuteness. The game’s serious tone and art style are already in place. Anything cute, at this point, simply adds eye candy. It will not drive men away, and it may very likely attract women to stay.
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Women gamers differ just as much as men gamers do, but studies show a marked different between men and women gamers. The online segment of women gamers are on the PC not the consoles, so marketing to them should be easier for a game that is already online. Women gamers tend to be less likely to sit for as long as men gamers, so game systems that have repetitive tasks with a definitive beginning and end hold women gamers longer. Though most women do not gravitate towards hyper-competitive player vs. player gameplay situations, they are more aggressive in the social arena. While CO could do much more to appeal to women gamers, that can be said of MMOs in general. Thus, this article only addresses the basics without completely changing the game.