The U.S. video game industry is big business: $56.9 billion in 2020, according to NPD Group. That’s more than the combined revenues of the movie and music industries. Women account for nearly half—46%—of all gamers, according to Newzoo.
Although more women have become gamers, the gaming community and culture are still hostile toward them. “To hide the fact that they are women, 75% of women who play games with headsets game without their voice command on,” said Rebecca Brock Dixon, cofounder and CEO at the*gameHERs.
Four female founders who are experts in building communities as well as diversity, inclusion, and equity believe that women gamers represent an untapped market opportunity and created a community where women gamers can connect. “Some country-based studies reveal that gaming motivations do differ cross-culturally across genders,” writes Tomoko Yokoi in Forbes.com. the*gameHERs website and app are proving to be a welcoming oasis for women gamers (and even men).
Three of the four founders of the*gameHERs launched, grew, and sold a community network for expectant and new parents called Mommybites. Two had strong ties to the gaming industry. Dixon’s family has been in the gaming and esports business for a while. They are part of the original ownership of Envy Gaming, the owner and operator of global esports franchise Team Envy. Heather Ouida went from the parenting world to product development, focusing on the esports/gaming space for Kidtagious Entertainment.
Verta Maloney, one of the cofounders, has a 25-year career in diversity, equity, and inclusion.
“The pandemic has ignited a period of exceptional growth for the [gaming] sector,” writes Bartosz Skwarczek in Forbes.com. The platform also benefited from the social justice movement’s social consciousness-raising during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The four cofounders were fascinated that women represented nearly half of all gamers. They wanted to understand this market better. They did survey and focus group research among thousands of women gamers and attended a Pax convention. It is the Comicon of the gaming world and includes tabletop, arcade, and video gaming.
Even with women speaking on panels and nonprofits dedicated to the progression of women in the industry, the foursome discovered there was a need for a place where women could talk about gaming. “Women who game generally have a hard time finding other women who game to connect to,” said Dixon. Whether they are players, employees, executives, or founders, the*gameHERs’ mission is to give a voice to women in the industry.
the*gameHERs website launched in March 2020. While not ignoring the toxicity in the industry, the site focuses on how gaming improved women’s lives, the friendships they formed, the skills they learned, and the pathways to careers.
“We like to say we are the place that shines a light on the positives of gaming,” said Dixon. That’s not to say that the platform doesn’t tackle the industry’s toxicity. It does!
“From day one, the video industry marketed to boys [and not girls],” said Dixon. No surprise that the public’s perception was that gaming was a male activity, with a boy’s-club attitude that was antagonistic to women who played or were in the industry. It’s been hard for women to progress into director and C-suite levels.
“It’s not that women don’t want to play with men,” said Dixon. “They want an environment in which men abide by the rules to play nice!”
“We support anything that is positive toward women in gaming,” said Dixon. That could be leagues with tournaments that are exclusively for women. Or, because gaming is an activity that physical strength doesn’t give men an advantage, it could be to have men and women competing in the same league.
The challenge for the startup was managing a finite set of resources—both human and financial. When the quartet wanted to create an app, expanding the*gameHERs resources became a priority.
When the cofounders came up with the idea for the*gameHERs, they did not intend to raise angel and venture capital. But, as they better understood the market’s needs and how they wanted to address them, they changed their minds. The foursome wanted to advance the role, voice, image, and power of women in the gaming world, which would require building an app for the community that provided tools to create content, build communities, and empower each other.
The quartet did a small raise from friends and family. They participated in the Tampa Bay Wave TechDiversity Accelerator last summer. “It really helped lay the groundwork for our raise,” said Dixon. They put together a impressive advisory board including John Brock III, retired CEO, Coca Cola Enterprises; Nicole LaPointe Jameson, CEO Evil Geniuses; Jennifer Saxton, Founder and CEO, Tot Squad; Kaili Vernoff, actress; and Maria Tamellini, Founder and CEO, Gamer Safer.
They also had connections to the investment arm of Riot Games, a leading publisher of games. The company recognizes the lack of diversity in the industry and the misconduct that has taken place. It is a strong supporter of the founders and invested in the*gameHERs. In addition to the $975,000 pre-seed the startup raised, it raised $1.2 million in a seed round, Dixon commented.
Dixon also had many conversations with venture capitalists who invest in later-stage companies. You don’t hear this often. “Fundraising was a really fun experience because it was an opportunity to share the message about the company [and the market],” said Dixon. They were educating VCs about the opportunity women gamers represent and were laying the groundwork for their next raise and other female founders of gaming startups. LinkedIn was a great tool for building out her network.
When limits are placed on your company’s growth, how do you circumvent them?