Women are just too hard to create, says billion-dollar video game company

If you’re hearing a lot about video games lately, it’s probably because the Electronic Entertainment Expo, commonly known as E3, is happening this week. This is when game developers, reviewers, and other gaming industry professionals get together to nerd out about upcoming video games. (Of course, I say “nerd out” fondly, as it has been a lifelong dream of mine to attend E3, but unfortunately the event is invite-only, and as I don’t work in the industry, it is unlikely that I will ever get to attend.)

Luckily for me, the ubiquity of the internet has made it possible to watch many of the presentations and follow along on the twitter streams of people who are attending. All the news of E3, without the sexual harassment that’s endemic to gaming culture! Win-win!

So far this week, we’ve seen some great stuff. Nintendo aired soA screenshot from the upcoming Legend of Zelda game.me footage from the upcoming Legend of Zelda game, and after comments about how Link looked different, producer Eiji Aonuma said “No one explicitly said that that was Link.” Which opens up a whole world of possibilities! Is the main character actually Zelda? Or someone else? Maybe a woman?? Even if the unnamed character isn’t a woman, though, at least Nintendo also has Hyrule Warriors coming up, with Zelda and Midna as confirmed playable characters (and I believe others, but not all playable characters have been revealed yet). So they’re at least trying!

There’s also Rise of the Tomb Raidera sequel to last year’s Tomb Raider reboot (and if you recall, it made my top games of 2013 list!). It looks great, and it’s exciting to see new Lara Croft, with a personality and character development, not “play 200 hours to see her boobs” Lara Croft (I don’t remember if that was the supposed cheat code for it, and I don’t want to spend 2 hours googling for stuff about Lara Croft’s boobs).

We can’t forget about Mirror’s Edgewhich doesn’t have a release date yet, but looks very promising. In the video linked, you can even see the developers working on animating Faith, the main character.

If only the guys at Ubisoft had talked to any of the game developers mentioned here! According to Ubisoft technical director, James Therien,

It was on our feature list until not too long ago, but it’s a question of focus and production. So we wanted to make sure we had the best experience for the character. A female character means that you have to redo a lot of animation, a lot of costumes [inaudible]. It would have doubled the work on those things. And I mean it’s something the team really wanted, but we had to make a decision… It’s unfortunate, but it’s a reality of game development.

Again, it’s not a question of philosophy or choice in this case at all I don’t really [inaudible] it was a question of focus and a question of production. Yes, we have tonnes of resources, but we’re putting them into this game, and we have huge teams, nine studios working on this game and we need all of these people to make what we are doing here.

So there you have it! Despite multiple other companies making video games with women as playable (or even main) characters, despite being a billion-dollar company, despite women being half of the population, and despite the fact that almost 50% of gamers are women, it just too hard to create a woman character! Time to get together and play the violin for how rough Ubisoft must have it. :(

Seriously, Ubisoft, be better than this. Aren’t there like 25 Assassin’s Creed games already? You couldn’t have ONE with a woman as the main character? (Google tells me there are seven-fucking-teen Assassin’s Creed games, which makes my complete guess not far off the mark.) Keep in mind this is a game set in the time period of the French Revolution, and guess who one of the most important real-life assassins was during the French Revolution? Charlotte Corday. So you’re sexist and forgetting actual history. Great job, Ubisoft.

Seriously, game developers, stop fucking around. Women are real people, who do and like diverse things, just like men! And women buy your games. Stop acting like we’re some niche group who only plays Mary-Kate and Ashley: Magical Mystery Mall. I like games where I get to explore! I like games where I get to conquer worlds! I like games where I get to shoot aliens! Lots of other companies have the right idea (hey, look, Bioware released Mass Effect seven years ago and you could choose between a man and a woman as the main character. So shocking!!). It is the year 2014. Get the fuck with it or you’re going to lose half of your fan base.


(Edit: I’ve been informed that there was an Assassin’s Creed game with a woman as a playable character. In that case, it makes Mr. Therien’s comments even more ridiculous.)


Sarah is a feminist, atheist vegan with Crohn’s Disease, and she won’t shut up about any of those things. You really need to follow her on Twitter (and probably Google+, just to be safe).

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  1. There was one Assassin’s Creed game featuring a black female character though it was a spin-off of 3 and it supposedly was pretty dull. Jim Sterling did an episode of the Jiquisition on this about 2 years ago in which he features a comment from a different developer that does have female playable avatars that basically calls out any argument in favor of keeping female characters out as being bullshit. Also said developer is at most about a tenth of Ubisoft’s size.

  2. I agree with your comment however, let’s just straighten the facts a little. First, there was an Assassin’s Creed game with a woman as the main character : Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation. Second, the person whom the media jumped on that made that statement is a technical director. I doubt he represents the company’s values. His answer was not only dumb but incorect in many regards. I don’t disagree with what you’re saying but I don’t like extravagant posts for the sake of having a dramatic title. Especially from a website called Skepchick. Again, I agree, we need more women as main characters in video games.

  3. Sarah, is right its easy to disregard his statements as the opinion of a single person of the gaming community. But his single opinion is indicative of a greater community wide problem. As males it easy to say there is nothing wrong with the current gaming world, it is designed and built by us and for us. I used to be very defensive of opinions like these that were critical of a community I was so found of, it was when I tried to quantify my belief that was no gender bias that I realized how dramatically skewed the majority of games are. Not simply the fact that most games were driven by heroic males tropes but that female characters are offensive on so many levels and provide very little in the way of a strong female characters.

  4. I went to Wikipedia to see if how much Ubi’s revenue was (just barely over 1 billion Euro) and found out that their operating income is -75 million Euro! Wow, they should be doing everything they can to draw in more players. Like maybe representing more than 50% of the potential audience.

    There was an Assassins Creed game with a female lead wasn’t there? Liberation? So what is this guy even talking about, they did it in the past how hard could that be to duplicate? This guy is making lame excuses.

  5. Not only did they have a game staring a woman (and a woman of color), but her move set was similar to another main male character (biracial even), so it’s not like they haven’t done this shit before. Maybe if they concentrated less on four scruffy white dudes and more on updating the played out game mechanics, they’ll find room to squeeze in a lady main character.

  6. Rendering women is so tough, right. Tell that Pearl Abyss, the developers of Black Desert Online which is rendering player created characters in a stunning way.

    This game doesn’t yet have an English distributor yet, hmm wonder why? I’m not much of a MMORPG fan but this looks brilliant and with a much smaller amount of armor bikinis as well, I might have to check it out.

    But if they can do it with player designs why can’t Ubisoft figure out how to do it with their own designs? Sounds fishy to me.

  7. I always find it amusing that human women are apparently so difficult to render, but aliens, robots, trolls, ogres etc are no trouble at all.

    1. I can see how Disney women can be hard to render as they’re about as unnatural as anything, and that an industry that has relied on a relatively uncommon male bone structure may struggle to figure a way.

  8. Simple solution: alternate all games with 100% male and 100% female casts. Since for a new game, you often have to develop models anyway, it’s not more expensive to develop a female movement set than a male one, so this achieves parity while taking the Technical Director’s comment to heart.

    I believe the female one should be next, given the current skew

  9. To be fair, he didn’t say a word about female characters being too hard to create so most of the comments I’ve seen on this have been sort of silly. What he said was that it would have doubled the workload. That’s absolutely true; creating male and female character models is roughly twice the work of creating a character model for a single gender – assuming they’re going to look, move and speak differently.

    The issue here is that they think, among other things, some combination of below:
    a) Assumed a male main character by default, and put a female main character into the ‘nice to have’ bin.
    b) Don’t think female demographic is worth catering to.
    c) Don’t think male players will play female characters, but expect female players to play male characters.
    d) Don’t have reusable character models for male and female characters, because they (almost) never make games with female leads.

    By all means, they deserve criticism for many things, but saying ‘making female characters is harder than making male characters’ isn’t one of them.

    1. But to be fair, if all of your male characters look, move and speak exactly the same then you are a piss-poor designer. And since different is different it shouldn’t matter whether that different is a female, male, robot, troll or any other body type. It’s simply an excuse used to not need to examine ones prejudices.

      1. That’s true. Although I’d argue that making characters is not the same as making a ‘main’ character, who requires a lot more detail, animations, etc. I haven’t played any of the assassins creed games since the first, but I’m relatively certain they had female NPCs in the crowds on the street and such.

        I’m not attempting to let Ubisoft off the hook in any way. I was just a bit annoyed that the majority of comments on this seem to be taking it for a laugh (albeit at Ubi’s expense) with “billion dollar company thinks females are just hard to create” when the real, and imho far larger, issue here is “billion dollar company doesn’t think it’s worth including female PCs.”

  10. What’s extra frustrating are all the comments from dudebros saying: “OMG, we don’t have to represent EVERY demographic in EVERY game!” This, of course, coming from people in the one demographic that never have any problems being represented in 99% of content.

    The female Templar multi-player characters have had a HUGE following in the previous titles. They can’t tell us they didn’t know the audience is there.

  11. FWIW, Zelda was the protagonist in one of the CD-i games. Few fans actually like those, which has more to do with the overuse of FMV than anything.

    But yeah, the only thing I could think of is the difficulty animating clothing, and even then, it’s not like women always wear skirts. Nor are skirts that hard to animate.

    Another issue developers have is that they’re afraid of problematic portrayals. What makes this funny, at least to me, is, problematic portrayals are still better than no portrayal; you need look no farther than the history of portrayals of minorities that are more than a little stereotypical, but were embraced by the community that some people might think should be offended.

  12. Why did it have to be a Ubisoft spokesperson that said this? Now I have to be afraid that the next Rainbow Six game (if it ever comes out) will be all male, all the time.
    If they really want to be lazy, which is really all this is (fine, more modelling means more hours worked means more money out, but more representation means more interest means more money in) why not just take the Mass Effect 2 route with the animations, and then dress everyone in full armour so only faces, and maybe height, tell you anything about gender? Hell, make it reasonably moddable and the community will do the animations and modelling for you.
    Seriously though, if you’re telling the world that you’re incapable of creating women in your games, aren’t you basically telling us that you’re irrelevant?

    On the subject of Assassin’s Creed, Liberation isn’t too bad. It’s obviously a hand-held port, the voice acting is a little stilted, and it’s short (judging by % completion), but the game itself is pretty decent from what I’ve seen so far. It’s clearly no out of their reach to make a truly brilliant AC game with a female lead.

  13. That’s absolutely true; creating male and female character models is roughly twice the work of creating a character model for a single gender – assuming they’re going to look, move and speak differently.

    Hmm. Yeah, ok, within certain limits, this is true. But, seriously, all sorts of tools exist now to make clothing conform to the model that is being used, so unless you think it needs to be bloody pink, with bows on it, or a chainmail bikini, or something, the idea that it needs to look “that” much different, or you really need entirely different mesh for the clothing, is just absurd, or lazy (as in, you didn’t bother making sure your stuff would re-fit itself to a different body shape automatically in the first place). There may be a point, maybe, with respect to the speaking, but really only, in most cases, if, again, you are talking about some need to put bows and pink in it (i.e., some silly ‘this is how girls talk’ BS in there, **or** you have a legitimate issue finding someone to voice act. Otherwise… claiming that its doubling the work is questionable at best, I think.

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