Zynga’s Cara Ely: Let’s abolish the term ‘pink games’

Zynga’s Margaret Foley-Mauvais, Jenny Martin, Lana McCarthy and Cara Ely at Casual Connect in Seattle.

Cara Ely, a creative director at Zynga, wants to make one thing very clear.

It is time to abolish “pink games” already, those titles that target women with annoying game play, poor story lines and appeal to the lowest common denominator of what women want out of games.

In other words, maybe move on from the sparkly pink unicorns.

“I would like to abolish the word pink from the gaming industry altogether,” said Ely, speaking at the Casual Connect conference in Seattle today. “(People) think ‘pink’ means sweet. And most of the women that I know and players that I interact with —  they watch Dexter and they watch True Blood.  They want dark themes….Pink is incredibly misleading and it can actually send you down the wrong path.”

Lana McCarthy, also a creative director at Zynga, added that pink was the color that game developers used 10 or 15 years ago to appeal to girls and young women. Many female players today find that same sort of marketing unappealing.

“Women are in to some crazy, twisted stuff,” said McCarthy. “There’s a reason why fairy tales are coming back. Fairy tales aren’t all about love and sweetness that Disney turned them in to. Women are into fairy tales because they are dark and disturbing, and they are these crazy characters.”

More importantly, Ely said that game developers should create something that stands out to the audience that they are trying to attract, not something that feeds a stereotype.

“There’s a danger … if you are trying to make a game for everyone, it is easy to water it down,” said Ely, a veteran Seattle game designer who previously worked at I-Play Games and Sierra Online. “People worry about whether the game will appeal to women, so ‘we are going to tone this violence down or we are going to do XYZ.’ Whatever game you are trying to make, you really have to have a clear picture in your mind of who you are making that game for and don’t shy away from content that is going to fundamentally appeal to those players.”

She later added that a game has to have a “heart” and “a strong story line” regardless of the theme, even if it is something that would cater more to women.

“If there isn’t a true story or an emotional character behind it, it does really feel like you are pandering,” said Ely, adding that the game has to have a “soul to it.”

McCarthy said that some game developers sometimes make the mistake of thinking that the average casual game player is “stupid,” meaning the creators have to “dumb things down.”

“It is not that they are not smart enough to figure things out. It is that they don’t want to right now. They want to have fun immediately,” she said.