Water Cooler Games served as the web's primary forum for "videogames with an agenda" — coverage of the uses of video games in advertising, politics, education, and other everyday activities, outside the sphere of entertainment.
The site was maintained at watercoolergames.org from 2003-2009, where it was edited by myself and Gonzalo Frasca. It is now archived here in full.
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A recent AOL Study claims that women over 40 are more likely to play online games than any other demographic.
Even though men spend more time on the Internet each week than women (23.2 vs. 21.6 hours), female game-players over 40 spend the most hours per week playing online games (9.1 hours or 41 percent of their online time vs. 6.1 hours - 26 percent of their online time - for men). These women were also more likely to play online games every day than men or teens of either gender.
The question, of course, is what does this mean? The folks at Terra Nova are trying to understand if online games means MMOGs or just casual games like Bejeweled.
I suspect that newer, socially-focused virtual worlds like There and Second Life are indeed bringing more women into the mix. However, my completely unscientific impression is that these women are playing casual games on Yahoo! and Pop Cap and MSN Game Zone. Again, this is an unscientific impresion, but based on my personal observations I'd guess that women are playing these games while doing other things, such as:
Talking on the phone
Reading messageboards or waiting for new board posts
We also know that the conversion rates from free to paid online casual games are very low -- 1 - 2 % (2003 IGDA Online Games Whitepaper). I do not believe this is because women are unwilling to pay for games, I believe it is because there is no value proposition for paying for them. MMOGs add a value proposition by radically increasing the social diversity, but they also require women to create or find new affinity communities -- most women who are online have already found these communities and won't want to give them up. Likewise, I think the free casual games just provide enough gameplay to satisfy the goals of most women gamers -- and I think those goals have more in common with absentminded doodling or magazine flipping than gaming as such.
This topic reminds me of one of my design rules for online casual games -- the player has to be able to play with one hand, so she can hold the phone (or an infant) with the other.