The stereotypical video game player: he is young (under 20) and male; he plays for hours on his console, all from his parents’ basement. But that stereotype is becoming increasingly difficult to justify as study after study has shown that gaming population to be comprised of a very different demographic.
Indeed, video gameplay is not restricted to one age group or gender. Rather, game playing is ubiquitous, with 72% of households in America saying that they play some form. Just 18% of gamers are under age 18, while 53% are between the ages of 18 and 49. That means almost a full third – 29% – of gamers are over 50. The gaming population is skewed slightly more male than female: 58% to 42%. But it’s important to note that women over age 18 represent a significantly greater proportion of this population (37%) than do boys age 17 or younger (13%).
Looking at these statistics, it’s clear that the explosive growth of mobile and casual gaming has challenged what’s long been seen as the traditional gaming market. Sales of game software is declining, but social gaming is booming.
So has the industry adjusted to account for gamers that don’t fit that old stereotype?
An Ignored Audience?
While there’s a steady stream of new social gaming titles available on Facebook and the like, the entertainment market research firm Interpret says that women gamers still aren’t having their needs met. The firm released a report earlier this month entitled “Games and Girls: Video Gaming’s Ignored Audience,” arguing that the female gaming market is far more nuanced than some of the “casual-centric reputation” suggests.
The report found that console use among female gamers has increased significantly in the past two years – and not just for the Wii. 21% of women gamers now use an Xbox 360, up from 17% two years ago. Women gamers are also demanding new types of games, with 44% of those responding to the Interpret survey saying they preferred genres other than casual, exercise, and music. They also tended to prefer games that emphasized narrative and character development over combat and preferred solo to group gameplay.
Changing Demographics, Changing Game Development
The rise of social gaming has largely been associated with women, but the Interpret report suggests that it’s wrong to assume that women want – or only want – casual gameplay, the likes of Zynga‘s Farmville or Cityville, for example. Of course, in the rush for MAU (monthly active users), new games are constantly under development in order to lure new players.
Some of new gaming studios are developing with female audiences in mind. Earlier this year, we wrote about the first title released by Silicon Sisters, a Vancouver-based and women-run gaming studio. The game, School26, is aimed at middle school-age girls and involves negotiating various social situations at school. Here’s what I wrote back then:
That’s a very different set of goals and behaviors than most video games. There isn’t swordplay here. No princesses to rescue. No alien invaders to vanquish. There isn’t “action.” There’s “talk.” The rewards aren’t cash or weaponry. The skills honed in School 26 aren’t the ability to time your jumps or dodge bullets or land killing blows.
As a long-time gamer, I have to say that this isn’t the sort of gameplay that interests me. I like killing things. In games, of course.
In other words, it’s actually pretty hard to develop a game that, de facto, “girls love.”
We’re All Gamers Now
Despite the emphasis among some social gaming companies to market to women, Lisa Marino, CEO of the social gaming company RockYou predicts that we may see what she calls a “return to center.” She contends that as social gaming gains more credo within the gaming industry, we’re likely to see even more titles aimed at men. She points to Zynga’s recent Empires and Allies as an example.
She also believes that the casual gamer is becoming more sophisticated and – male or female – is demanding more intricate gameplay and higher production values. But at the end of the day, she argues, the most important thing for gamers is that we’re able to play these games where we want and when we want. After all, we’re almost all gamers now, and so appealing to us will take a lot more sophistication than simply assuming we’re all 17 year old boys in the basement or 55 year old women on Facebook.