I'm tired of those of us who care in the game industry complaining that there aren't enough female protagonists while those of them who make the money decisions keep responding, "Gee, we'd love to, but the market data is clear. They just won't buy it." I hear that from WOMEN in those money/marketing positions, too. And they say it while agreeing with the principle of the thing. Since when did it become okay to NOT do something we know is in best interests of our kids, just because our profits won't be as obscene? I am all for obscene profits, but I want my daughter to see and play characters she can relate to. SHE wants that; nobody put it in her head.
The part of Abernathy's quote that really gets my interest is the "data" the decision makers are referring to. What "data" is surrounding games with female protagonists that suggests gamers don't want them? I have theories.
First, the cliche "girl" games. You know, the pandering, sappy, pink-and-glittery affairs that come from a chauvinistic mindset that thinks the only way to make something appealing to the female gender is to give it ponies and dresses. While I'm no lady, I have it on good authority that cute animals and playing dress-up are not the entirety of feminine entertainment interests. To add further insult the games aren't typically designed well in the first place, so not only is an unwitting-yet-well-meaning consumer (read: non-gamer aunt/uncle/grandparent) duped into buying pandering product, they're buying something that has no entertainment value due to shoddy and shallow design. So of course if you're looking at the Crap Software pool of data, games with female protagonists do not sell well.
Next there're the "fan service" games. Some games, such as Bayonetta, walk a fine line with this as the game is well designed with a good story and fun gameplay, but a protagonist that is designed to titillate. Then there are the ones like BMX XXX and the Dead or Alive: Beach Volleyball series which are pure T&A. Like the "girl" games these are pandering titles, they just pander to a different audience. Like the "girl" games, most of the audience recognizes them as worthless titles devoid of any value beyond cheap thrills. This isn't to say video game characters should be dressed in a puritan manner. A little sex appeal isn't a bad thing and there's nothing wrong with the character you're going to be controlling for upwards of 15 hours being aesthetically pleasing, but when all your cast has to offer is boob-jiggle physics then you've got a shallow product that most people won't fall for. So of course if you're looking at the Look At My Tits Software pool of data, games with female protagonists do not sell well.
Finally, there's the "poorly marketed" games. These are the ones that took a strong story, crafted fun gameplay around it, and then just threw out into the market with little to no fanfare or support. Beyond Good and Evil is the poster child for this, as is The Wheel of Time. I've been reading gaming sites regularly for over a decade and I had no idea BG&E existed until my college roommate bought a copy, and even then I didn't buy it for myself until I saw it for sale a few years later at the Keesler AFB BX for $5 brand new and thought I'd take a chance. Best $5 I ever spent. The game was a financial flop (I think it didn't break 100,000 units sold) and poor marketing is acknowledged as a direct cause for the game's failure. So of course if you're looking at the Software We Made But Couldn't Be Bothered To Market pool of data, games with female protagonists do not sell well.
So what games with player-controlled female central protagonists DO sell well?
Generally: games where it is narratively relevant that your dude is a chick but mechanically agnostic in regards to the same fact; games that receive marketing support from the studios that are investing money in their creation and are counting on successful sales; games that don't adopt the attitude of "It's a lady! Quickly, we must lady-fy everything!" and insult the female audience by pandering or dumbing down the gameplay or story in a misguided attempt to make them girl-friendly. Girl gamers will adapt to difficulty curves and kick ass just as quick and hard as any guy gamer, and I do believe they are capable of understanding and enjoying deep, complex story lines. See: Frag Dolls.
Specifically: the Metroid series (Samus Aran); Resident Evil 1, 2, 3, 5 and Code: Veronica (Jill, Claire, Jill, Sheva and Jill, respectively); Final Fantasy XIII (Lightning); Borderlands (Lilith); Portal (Chell); Mirror's Edge (Faith); Heavy Rain (Madison); Left 4 Dead 1 & 2 (Zoey and Rochelle, respectively); Perfect Dark (Joanna Dark); Final Fantasy X (Yuna, Lulu); Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem (Alexandra, Ellia), American McGee's Alice (Alice); and No One Lives Forever (Cate) for starters. In other words, just make a game.