Women in Board Game Development: All About My Workshop

I have a tendency to do things that are both spontaneous and inadvisable. Recently, I wondered why there weren't more women in board game development. From pure anecdotal evidence, about 20% of the people I see at game shops are women, but only about 6% of the top 100 games are by women. When women do create games, few are solo designers; most are co-designers and usually with a man. But I didn't want to draw any conclusions, I wanted to find out more. So I decided to run a women's development workshop -- and the results were pretty illuminating in a way I didn't expect.

Why Aren't Women Becoming Developers?

When I asked women why they weren't developing more, I got back a ton of answers. For women, they broke down into three categories:

  • Interest.
  • Time.
  • Confidence.

Many women said they had no interest in creating a game. Even the women who played games frequently (2 to 3 times a week) had never thought about creating a game. Women also didn't feel like they had the time; studies have shown that women tend to have five hours less of free time a week compared to men. (Largely, this is because women tend to do chores that men don't see as necessary. So the debate rages on regarding whether women need to have less free time or choose to allocate their resources that way.)

Women also didn't seem confident in their abilities to create a game. It's well known that women are generally more averse to risk than men. Creating a board game requires a lot of risk.

When I asked men, the answers were pretty different. Men said:

  • That they didn't know, because they weren't a woman (fair).
  • That women just aren't fun; in other words, they backpedaled quickly, they don't enjoy leisure activities, but prefer doing things more realistic and grounded. 
  • That women prefer to improve upon things rather than create them. (Initially the verbiage used was "criticize," but it was changed in clarification.)
  • That women never got enough into gaming to understand the mechanics enough to recreate them.

From the male side, it seemed like the emphasis was just on women not enjoying the hobby to the depth that they did.

Running a Development Workshop

I've always had the idea that if something is broken, you fix it. But I didn't know whether this was broken or not. Were women being artificially limited by social constraints? Or did they really just not want to develop games? So I decided to create and heavily advertise a workshop for women in board game development. It was advertised all over town, directly to women, and the results were interesting. 

Firstly, only about 40% of the people who showed up were women, despite it being a Women's Workshop and only advertised online and through social media to people who identified as female. Now, it was an inclusive workshop; men were invited to come as long as they were interested in the topic. But what happened was very different from what had been envisioned.

A few key points:

  • Men dominated the workshop. Not only did they interrupt the women, but one woman visibly started tallying how many times she was interrupted by one male developer. She got to 12 instances within thirty minutes. 
  • One group of men were there to advertise their game. They spent most of their time talking about their game and were not prepared to discuss women's issues at all. 
  • Only one of the women present were interested in actively creating a game.
  • Another woman had been sent by her game-loving husband to find out more information about the game development process. 
  • The one woman who had a game idea confessed that she was never actually going to make it, she just thought it was a fun idea.
  • Many of the women ended up quietly whispering to each other rather than participating with the group, even women who didn't know each other previously.

I know this sounds like a trainwreck, but it really wasn't, because I learned a few things that were important. One, men had a far greater support structure. The men in the group could easily trade information and offer to help each other. The two developers who were working on a game together were clearly helping each other out; one was extremely introverted and the other was extroverted.

This is important, because it's not that women can't work together. Even in this random environment, the women at the table instinctively pulled together. It's that if there are fewer women in the hobby, the odds of them finding each other in order to work together are far lower. Women find it harder to find another female supporting partner. 

The men listened more actively and communicated better when other men were talking. Once, when asked whether she was interested in developing a game, a woman began to answer ("I never really thought--") before being cut off by another man. That man proceeded to talk another 20 minutes or so with two other men without even noticing he had cut her off. This wasn't intentional behavior, it was just supported by the group dynamics. 

To be very clear: the men weren't interrupting and dominating the conversation because they were being rude. They were doing so because that was the way that they related to each other. The one woman who was actively making a game interacted more "like a man" during the workshop and consequently got better results. She also interrupted people and overrode them, and used a lot of body language (leaning into the table) to capture attention. 

Another issue seemed to be the general lack of interest. Though a few women had ideas for games, they weren't passionate about the idea at all, and had no real drive to bring it into fruition. Partly, I wondered if it was specifically because there was little prestige in the idea. As board gaming is still considered to be a bit of a male hobby, there's social prestige for a man who is developing a game. For women, there isn't that level of social prestige yet.


It is dangerous to draw any real conclusions from a sample size of 20 people. But it's important to keep the discussion going. I wanted to know whether women are interested in board game development, and the answer really seemed to be not in this geographic location. That doesn't mean anything about all women.

What it does mean is that women who are interested in board game development have a more difficult road to walk. There aren't a lot of networking opportunities for women. Women need to be more assertive than they are usually comfortable being and they need to be able to be better than men, insofar as they are going to have to do a lot of things on their own because of that lack of support infrastructure. And they're going to need to work with men: men who will help them with their ideas without overriding them. 

There are a lot of things about board game development that I would think would be interesting to women. Board game development requires a lot of skills and not all of them are masculine: crafting, social dynamics, art, and writing. It also helps to have a knowledge of educational theory, which is generally a field that's been dominated by women. And more women play board games than perhaps even women themselves realize -- who hasn't played Monopoly?

But there shouldn't be the idea that everyone has to be interested in everything, either, or that people have to force themselves to be interested in something out of some idea of equality. It's fine to say that there are things that are more interesting to men than women, and it's fine to not stress too much about figuring that out. 

What I will say is that I don't think the board game industry is inaccessible to women. While the women were interrupted quite often, the men were more than happy to try to offer insights into their ideas, and try to help them out. In fact, the men were very eager to share their knowledge and to learn from the women -- the interruptions were simply a part of their own more confident, more aggressive process.

Instead, I think it's a problem of exposure, where up until recently far fewer women were interested in board gaming. While now you can easily see 50/50 groups of men/women at a gaming table, many of the women didn't grow up with board games the way men did, and they don't have the multi-generational interest, such as a father teaching a particularly complex game to his son. This means that most women don't have the culture of valuing games the way that men often do. This may equalize and it may not, all we can do is make sure the resources are available. 

There are 5 Comments

Я незнаю с чего начать…я обычная девушка…мне 18 лет…я ревнивая, наивная, доверчивая, у меня есть парень которому тоже 18 лет, нас разделяет 70 км, он мне сегодня сказал что переписывался с девушкой из другой страны, он дал мне ее ссылку и она действительно с другой страны и она старше его на 2 года….но ещё он мне кинул запись с пошлым намеком и сказал что это не мне, я вспылилась и он начал предъвлять претензии по поводу моей ревности, я спросила кому тогда же он скинул эту запись, он сказал что своему другу, но я не верю, мой парень врал мне уже , но там совсем по мелочи…я уже не могу никому доверять…мне врали много раз. шлюха новосибирская
Я со своим парнем чуть меньше месяца…люблю его безумно….но такое ощущение что я ему не нужна, когда я ревную то он говорит: отвали, а мне больно это слушать. Я пытаюсь ему доверять…но как тут доверять если он что то вечно скрывает…Он каждый раз сидит на моей странице и отшивает парней, а со своей стр пароль не даёт….Да и ещё пару дней назад мы поссорились он сп в контакте поставил на активный поиск со злости и не хочет менять его, говорит что это все глупости( Что я делаю не так? может проблема в самой во мне, что я не умею доверять?

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