There are two main questions I would like to ask with this topic:
1) What games can you name that have stared non-sexualized* female protagonists, AND were very successful when it came to sales?
2) Other than the Mass Effect 2 18% figure, does anyone have any other data on the amount of players who choose to play as a female character when both male and female options are available?
* Sexualized is a subjective term, but if you're looking for examples, see the "Why 18 percent..." section below.
These questions are meant to be a focused continuation of two of the discussion points raised in this thread: http://www.giantbomb.com/forums/general-discussion-30/about-female-protagonists-1427109/?page=1
Several of my full quotes from that thread can be found below, but here's a basic recap:
18 percent of Mass Effect 2 players chose to play as a woman, Mass Effect 2 seems to be a game that would likely interest female gamers, chances are more males decided to play as females than females decided to play males, this would put the percent of women who played Mass Effect 2 at under 18 percent.
This means that not enough men would rather play as female protagonists when given the choice, and not enough women play retail console games in general. Considering the strong likelihood that there isn't enough of a demand for female protagonists, ultimately game publishers are doing what is best for their companies and their shareholders, and the true blame for the lack of female protagonists should be placed on the consumer.
There's another interesting point of discussion that was mentioned. That's the idea that it's possible that many of the white male game developers are hesitant to write female or minority characters, because they're afraid of the criticism that frequently comes with it.
For more on that, see the article here: http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/RyanCreighton/20130101/184227/White_as_a_Sheet.php
As a full recap of my thought process behind the two main questions, here are some quotes from the initial thread.
What the 18 percent statistic tells us about the probable number of female gamers.
How about Mass Effect. Developers have revealed that only 18% of gamers who played ME2 used a female character. Some interesting facts to note about this:
Mass Effect features a heavy emphasis on characters, dialogue, relationships, and even a little romance.
ME encourages multiple playthroughs, and even has an achievement dedicated to finishing the game twice.
For those who have played as both, the voice performance by the female voice actress has been said by many to be superior to the male voice actor. As someone who switched to fem Shepard himself, I couldn't agree more.
Finally, let's think about this from a male / female perspective. How many male players do you think picked fem shepard? They could have done so because they they wanted to stare at her ass all game long, or perhaps they long for better female protagonists. Either way. Now, how many female players do you think picked male Shephard, even with the 1000s of other games staring male protagonists, and even with the relationship / romance aspect of the game?
And despite all this evidence to the contrary, Partrick still links to an article claiming that game developers don't know what they're doing, that the next Gears of War would sell just as much if it had a non-sexualized female protagonist, and he calls it "worth reading." Even worse, he promotes the article in the most sensationalist way possible, with...
"Perhaps the biggest failure of Aliens: Colonial Marines is the amazing lack of females."
All this, despite the fact that the campaign does include at least one main character who is female--not that you would get that impression from Patrick or the article--and several female skins for multiplayer.
Just the other day I saw someone make a highly belligerent post in reply to someone who DARED to suggest that that maybe the male / female breakdown of "hardcore gamers" is close to perhaps 75% / 25%. That poster was accused of pulling those number out of his ass. I would imagine that currently you can only WISH for 25%. I'm not even going to guess how low the actual numbers are, but I will join you all in wishing it was a lot higher.
Why 18 percent of people wanting female protagonists doesn't mean that 18 percent of protagonists should be female.
Hypothetically, let's say that 18 percent of gamers would rather play as a female lead character, and 82 percent of gamers would rather play as a male lead character. We'll forget about the actual percentage of female gamers for a moment, which I would guess would have be somewhere under 18 percent, if the ME2 stats are to be believed. Note that I'm only including "traditional" 60 dollar retail games here.
Now, knowing this about your potential audience, why would you go with a choice that is preferred by 18 percent of potential customers, over a choice that is preferred by 82 percent of potential customers? This is even more true when making a female character too sexualized could lead to accusations of sexism (Tomb Raider, Bayonetta), and not sexualizing a female protagonist enough could cost your game sales (Mirror's Edge, Beyond Good and Evil). Not to say that THE reason those games didn't sell more is because of their non-sexualized female protagonists, but come to think of it, I am struggling to come up with a game that featured both a non-sexualized female protagonist and was a fairly large success. Anyone happen to know of some?
Believe me, I'm not saying it's right, I'm saying it's a sad truth. Don't get me wrong, I love when games allow a choice between genders, and I would also personally like to see more female protagonists in games. With that said, I think it's a bit telling that I've recommended Mass Effect to a few male friends now, and despite my recommendation of going with fem Shepard, they've all played as men.
So not enough men want to play as women, and not enough women want to play video games. To borrow and reverse an old urban phrase, don't hate the game, hate the player.
So a lack of female protagonists might not be the fault of game publishers, and could accurately reflect the market demand?
It's hard to tell how many would skip a game just because of the protagonist's gender, but I doubt most publishers care to do anything that might risk them any sales. To them, if 82 percent of players would rather play as a male, and those players have to choose between their game with a female lead, and another game with a male lead, that might be the slight push that it would take to cause customers to purchase your competitor's product.
Of course this is all just guess work, but you can be darn sure that publishers spend a lot of money on market research, and it's kind of stupid to suggest that they don't know what they're talking about when they shy away from female protagonists.
I find it humorous that Patrick berates those who would dare question the amount of money it costs to add another character to a fighting game, and in the same article link to a story that basically says publishers don't know what they're talking about when they say that games featuring female protagonists don't sell. Seems kinda hypocritical.
As for sexualization, I would define that as anything that causes a character to be more sexuality attractive, either through physical appearance, attire, or personality.
It's very much a sliding scale, and it's not a one-sided issue. I've already given female examples, but it's not hard to see that the Ezio from Assassin's Creed and Drake from Uncharted are far more sexualized than Master Chief from Halo, or Marcus from Gears of War.
You can call the sexualization of female characters offensive to women if you want, but I think that's missing the point. How many romance novels have you ever seen with skinny looking nerds on the cover? Sex sells, and it's a two way street. When the vast majority of your market is men, it's foolish to ignore their buying habits or preferences.