This last weekend, however, the latest game for the Playstation 3, The Last of Us, blew people away with its sales figures, out-selling even Man of Steel on its opening weekend. Granted, for the majority of the game the player controls Joel, the male protagonist, and the game is centered on the traditionally male hero, but there are sections at the beginning and latter parts of the game where the player controls the female characters Sarah and Ellie.
Games companies and critics of those of us calling for more women in games insist that games with female protagonists, or even women on the game's cover, don't sell. In fact, The Last of Us could be argued to have a similar character set-up to Bioshock Infinite, which also features the player as the male protagonist while the female protagonist is controlled by the game's AI. The idea that the game wouldn't have sold as well with Elizabeth on the cover is one of the reasons often cited for why it is Booker alone, standing in a gritty, manly fashion with a gun over his shoulder, who gets a spot on the cover. This in spite of popular opinion being that the game is, in fact, Elizabeth's story, not his.
Well let's look at this a little more closely.
|Released March 2013. Female and male protagonists, male character on cover. Top-selling PC game of the month, over 878,000 physical copies sold in March, taking the top spot for the month from Tomb Raider.|
|Released June 2013. Male and female protagonists, both on cover. Takes in sales beating Man of Steel's opening weekend, which made $125.1 million in the US.|
|Released October 2008. Male protagonist, no character on the cover. Sold 1 million copies in 4 months.|
|Released November 2008. Female protagonist, on the cover. Sold 1 million copies in 3 months.|
|Released March 2013. Male protagonists, two men and one woman (though it's difficult to tell in the picture that she's a woman) on the cover. Sold 425,000 copies in its first month, considered disappointing compared to the sales of previous entries in the series.|
|Released March 2013. Female protagonist, on the cover. Sold 1 million copies in 48 hours.|
|Released April 2012. Male protagonist, but there's a girl right in the middle of the cover. Sold 1 million copies of the first episode in the first 20 days. To date, over 17 million episodes have been purchased worldwide|
|Released April 2012. Male protagonist, on the cover. Sold less than it's predecessor, which sold under 2 million in it's first year. Poor sales were cited as a reason for Activision Blizzard shutting down Radical Entertainment.|
In each of these cases, the sales of the games with women on the cover are easily holding their own against those of games where women are absent. Certainly, it is clear that the gaming community are focused on the quality of the game itself, and not the gender of the character(s) featured in the box art. Hopefully game companies will start to take a serious look at the sales figures and realise that it's long past time to let go of this outdated notion that gamers won't play games with women in them, or that women on covers must be depicted with revealing clothing, in contorted poses designed to draw attention to T&A. The sales figures speak for themselves. A good game, well-promoted, will sell, regardless of who is on the cover.