As I delve into the early stages of play, I want to give you my impressions of the game from the perspective of a female backseat gamer, and tell you how I think EA has implemented much of the advice provided in the book I discussed here.
(Image found at EA Games Harry Potter site)
Right from the moment that I read the user manual (yup! I actually did!), I knew that this game would provide a really good alternate reward system and thus appeal to a wider market. Besides the usual game progression, there is a special room called the Room of Rewards. You can earn discovery points as you make your way through the enormous world that is Hogwarts by flicking your wand here, playing games there, repairing statues in between. Basically, it seems that anything you can interact with in the scenery that is not directly related to the game will give you these points. The more points you have, the more surprises you can unlock. I have yet to return to the room after collecting the first set of points needed for a reward, but I can tell you that the drive to search for these things is making the game immensely more enjoyable for me.
One aspect of gender neutral design that I didn't mention much in the post referred to earlier is one that should be pretty obvious: girls don't want to play games that feature either: a) hyper-sexualized women characters with no dimension, or b) story lines that focus solely on the "damsel in distress" concept. Neither of these concepts is present in Harry Potter. In fact, as many know, Hermione is integral to Harry's success and as much a hero as any of the others. While it seems natural that the player has no choice in avatar and must play as Harry, the lack of a female choice is perhaps made up by Hermione's presence and help.
So far, the game has also done a really good job of mirroring the movie, keeping the important emotional and social aspects in the final storyline. As we have seen before, this provides the kind of stimulus that females react to more so than visual stimuli. At the beginning of the story, many a student at Hogwarts is none too impressed by Harry's supposed lie about Voldemort returning, for example, and taunt and tease him as he passes by in the hallways. I imagine that things will also become sticky between the trio of friends (Harry, Ron, and Hemione) as happens in the movie. Resolving tensions like these gets girls more involved in the story and therefore the game itself, giving them a reason to come back for more.
It is interesting to note that providing this storytelling aspect does not in any way detract from the way boys prefer to play games. For example, I'm sure there will be many a fight scene with awesome visuals and opportunities for direct conflict. If you play in easy mode, as I am, these duals will likely not be the epitome of accomplishment, but if you play in the more difficult modes, the satisfaction of beating the hardest enemies may be the only reward you need to come back for more. It goes to show that you don't have to neglect the male market to appeal to women: you can have your cake and eat it too!
These are but a few thoughts on the game as I just begin the journey. I am thrilled that I have finally found a game that I am able to play by myself and that I actually feel compelled to finish! I guess game designers really are starting to understand this whole "gender neutral" thing.