SAN FRANCISCO — Women make up half of mobile gamers but game developers, the gaming culture and the games themselves are still mostly male.

That’s according to new research from Google, which is pressing the industry to hire more women and to make games that appeal to a broader cross section of players.

Playing games on mobile devices has caught on with an unprecedented number of women — 65% of women ages 10-65 in the U.S. play mobile games — moving the gaming industry beyond its traditional young male demographic. Women also fire up these games more frequently than men, with 43% playing more than five times a week, the Google research found.

A quarter of men who play mobile games said they would spend more time playing if they knew they were playing against other men. Among men who play mobile games the most — 10 plus hours per week — that number is 47%, according to the research that surveyed 3,300 U.S. Internet users.

“The male preference for gameplay within their own gender group may produce exclusionary interactions which trickle down and make female players feel less welcome,” Google said.

At the root of the problem is the male-dominated gaming industry, which is still little more than a quarter female, transgender or other gender identity, according to Google. Only 23% of women feel there is equal treatment or opportunity in the industry, the research found. That limits the gaming industry’s ability to build games that resonate with a wide audience, Google said.

What’s typical: Games with male characters and themes that hog the spotlight. Of the top 100 grossing games on Google Play, 44% more of the app icons feature male characters than female characters, according to Google. The majority of female gamers say that only 30% of those games are made for them.

That has consequences, with women saying they don’t explore multiple genres, talk with friends about mobile games and buy as many mobile games. And they don’t identify as gamers, Google said. Harassment of women from the online campaign GamerGate has increasingly linked the gaming culture to misogyny and sexist attitudes. 

More: Most TV computer scientists are still white men. Google wants to change that.

More: Exclusive: Code2040 raises $5.6 million as it fights tech diversity backlash

More: Google goes to Oakland, Harlem to reach black, Latino youth

Google says it’s launching a new initiative called “Change the Game” to bring more diversity to mobile gaming and to highlight women who play games.

Earlier this year, Google said it used Wonder Woman to inspire teen girls to make games and launched a game development program for emerging game designers.

Now it’s promoting women in gaming with a video, a collection of games with female protagonists in Google Play’s Indie corner and an interactive game.

The Internet giant is pushing the gaming industry to become more inclusive as it wrestles with its own diversity issues. Three years ago it pledged to close the race and gender gap to make its workforce better reflect the panoply of people it serves around the globe. Today it’s still overwhelmingly male. Tensions over that diversity drive are running high at Google, which recently fired an employee who wrote an internal memo suggesting men are better suited for tech jobs than women.

 

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