The gaming industry has long been dominated by men, but India has seen a surge in female gamers during the Covid-19 pandemic. They now comprise 40 per cent of India’s gamer population, according to Lumikai, a gaming and interactive media-focused VC fund.
“Games were largely considered to be male-dominated—a larger male hobby,” says Salone Sehgal, the founding general partner of Lumikai. Even though 60 per cent of casual gamers worldwide are women, there is a certain stereotype associated with the term 'gamer'—“a typical picture of a 13-year-old playing Counter-Strike”.
What led to this change
“The pandemic and the hybrid mode of education made sure that almost everyone had better technological resources and internet connectivity, which caused a surge in gaming irrespective of gender. It is a prominent stress buster nowadays,” says Shreya Anish, an IIT Guwahati design student and a part-time gamer who specialises in Valorant.
Games were created and designed by men for men, earlier. This has seen a significant shift, with women entering the industry in greater numbers than ever before. "Some characters were featured in a certain way that is appealing to the male gaze,” says Shreya. “The shift in demographics has led to visible changes in game design. Though it isn't very significant, it is still happening.”
Veni Mittal, Senior Analytics Manager at Mobile Premier League (MPL), an esports and mobile gaming platform, says the gaming industry “is globally outperforming industries like movies and music”. Since the pandemic, many among those who started as casual gamers, have now ended up as full-time professionals, she says.
According to Lumikai, in the fiscal year 2022, India's gaming market was valued at $2.6 billion. That market is estimated to increase to around $8 billion over the next four to five years. With a record of 15 billion downloads, the country has surpassed China and the US to become the largest consumer of mobile games. And with esports being recognised as a Commonwealth sport by the Union government, the industry is set to grow faster. “There are big esports companies that recruit players and give them a proper salary to play,” says Anjitha, also known as KATZY in the gaming community, who specialises in GTA 5 and Valorant and is on the way to becoming a full-time gamer and streamer.
What were the hurdles for women
“Gaming can be a viable career option,” says Shreya, “but it does come with its own set of problems, like the uncertainty of income.” Also, the female gamers are subjected to harassment and online bullying, and are dismissed saying they do it for 'attention’. "Some people find it difficult to believe that women can be good at video games, too. It's a double-edged sword, really," she says.
Also, choosing game designing or developing as a career is yet to make its mark in the country, mainly due to the lack of educational opportunities and awareness about the gaming sector.
“Gaming has become much more mainstream now,” says Salone, “and that has created more opportunities in the industry for people to be game designers, game developers, creative artists, concept artists, voice artists, and even gamers, streamers, and esports players. But, people look for role models in their careers, and even with opportunities, that is what is lacking for women in the gaming industry. Once women start to see more role models, we will end up seeing more women in the gaming industry,” she says.
The future is bright for the gaming industry, with a lot of regulatory support now and a lot more invested capital in the last five years. "I feel like there is a future here for everyone, regardless of their identity," says Shreya.
Veni Mittal adds: “Not only in game design, but women are also engaging more in the industry in other domains like marketing, acquisition, branding, retention, analytics, etc.” The industry has not only witnessed a surge in women gamers but also entrepreneurs and founders of gaming companies in the last few years. Also, with the surge of women in the industry, game designers may shift focus to having more women-oriented or neutral games that anyone can play and enjoy.
“Gaming—an incredibly exciting field—is often said to be at the vanguard of innovation, and to understand what lies ahead in the future, you should look into the gaming sector,” says Salone.