Ubisoft on Girl Games: "Babyz" About Raising Babies, Not Making Them

babyz_small.jpgGirls don't want to be cops. How do we know? Ubisoft asked.

Lately, the leading game publisher of the Tom Clancy games and the "Far Cry" series has been doing research on games for pre-teen girls. And what have they learned? A quarter of DS owners are young girls but less than 10% of DS games are aimed specifically at them. With that, Ubisoft surveyed girls and found that the top activities young girls enjoyed included fashion, cooking and taking care of animals and babies.

The result: the creation of the Imagine line, a series of video games targeted to 6-14 year-old girls. Unveiled at E3 in July, it's the first non-licensed brand of games dedicated specifically to girls by a major publisher. Based on Ubisoft's study, the first games in the line, to be released later this month, are "Fashion Designer," "Master Chef," "Animal Doctor," and "Babyz." "We did research, and we are studying the market… that's what the girls actually like, so we should try to fulfill their needs," Shara Hashemi, Ubisoft’s Brand Manager for the Imagine line, told Multiplayer in an interview last week.

To produce these games, Ubisoft is working with third-party developers: Virtual Toys is developing "Fashion Designer" and "Animal Doctor," Visual Impact Productions is developing "Babyz" and MTO is developing "Master Chef." In "Fashion Designer," girls are able to design clothes, coordinate photo shoots and adorn models with make-up and accessories; in "Animal Doctor," players cure sick animals and expand the veterinary hospital; in "Master Chef," girls can create recipes and customize everything in their kitchen, including utensils and appliances.

BabyzBut what about "Babyz"? While the gameplay for "Fashion Designer," "Animal Doctor" and "Master Chef" seems self-explanatory, "Babyz" raised eyebrows as to what the game entailed. The original press release stated, "Players take on the challenges of raising a baby throughout all stages of development." Hashemi clarified that "Babyz" is actually a babysitting game; in other words, there's no sex ed involved as the initial, vague description suggested. "You are a babysitter in the game. It was always intended to be a babysitting game," Hashemi reiterated. In "Babyz," neighbors come to the player with their children, and it's the player's responsibility to change diapers as well as feed them and bathe them, among other caretaking tasks.

"Those games were really designed for young girls who are just looking for fun games and ways to explore their favorite hobbies," Hashemi said. But what about making less stereotypical female games, like a "Doctor" or "Police Officer" title? "From what we've seen, [the girls] didn't mention anything about being a police officer," she said. "We really wanted to create something for girls specifically because there are so many boys’ games out there, and that's where the market was really lacking."

Fashion DesignerAlthough a few seemingly girl-skewed games like "Cooking Mama" have had crossover appeal, Ubisoft doesn’t have any illusions about throngs of boys running to pick up these titles. "I think it's going to be very limited," Hashemi admitted. "I don’t know many boys that would go for example into fashion design, but it’s possible; some boys play with Barbies. But [Imagine] is specifically targeted for girls."

So far, gamers either praised Ubisoft for their efforts to promote girl gamers or lambasted the company for falling in line with gender stereotypes. To the critics, Hashemi said, "The main goal of video games in general and the Imagine games is to have fun. The games are built on ideas and concepts that every girl can relate to and they allow girls to expand their creativity while they’re learning real facts and real-life concepts."

The next game planned for the Imagine line is "Figure Skater" for the DS, out in March 2008, which has players balancing training to become a medal-winning athlete, having a social life and going to school. New games will be rolled out according to customer feedback and continued research, and Hashemi suggested the line "will probably extend to the Wii," though no plans have been announced.

What do you think? Are these games giving girls what they want?