In this guest post, technology journalist Cassie challenges the stereotypes of gamers across the globe. All thoughts portrayed in this post are that of the guest author and not of GameSparks.
There’s a stereotype that the only people who play videogames are adolescent boys. This image has persisted over the years thanks in part to the aggressive marketing to this demographic by AAA studios. Based on these ads, it might seem like the market hasn’t shifted at all. After all, plenty of big console titles feature macho men with big weapons while more neutral and colorful games don’t get the same level of attention.
Yet with the rise of smartphones, the gaming demographic has dramatically shifted. While AAA studios might still cater to the male 18-25 demographic, the truth is more than 50 percent of the gaming audience is made up of women. While the console and PC gamers dismiss the mobile market as “not real gaming” because it is too casual, that doesn’t change the fact experts believe mobile gaming will pull in $36.9 billion in revenue in 2016. That’s higher than both the PC and consoles will expect to bring in.
While many women have always been interested in video games, it isn’t until smartphones came into the picture that the idea of gaming became more mainstream. Part of the appeal of these games is its broader appeal to various demographics. With thousands of games available on app stores, consumers have a much wider variety of genres and can choose games that best suit their interests.
More importantly, developers generally design mobile games to be played in short sessions while still making it fun enough to play for long periods of time. The most successful games such as Candy Crush and Bejeweled have all been short, easy and accessible. This makes them perfect for women as they shuttle themselves between work, home and other activities. It allows for more freedom to play on their own schedule independent of cords, unlike consoles that require a longer time commitment. For many women, these short play sessions act as a stress reliever and a way to clear their mind after a hectic day.
That isn’t to say women don’t play console games. A recent Pew survey found more women owned consoles than men. It said around 42 percent of women said they had either an Xbox or PlayStation in comparison to 37 percent of men. That being said, game consoles aren’t personal devices like smartphones or laptops. They’re more akin to televisions, meaning if one person in the household buys and plays console games, it’s likely other members of that household will cite they also “have” the item. As the survey didn’t specifically note whether these were single-person households, the numbers are up for debate.
Still, the trend of a growing female audience is clear. That means as a developer it’s important to keep this audience in mind when creating a game. If you’re making smartphone apps, the best idea is to focus on casual, easy and quick gameplay that only takes few minutes for people to play a round. For these games, the trick is to make the controls incredibly simple so players don’t need to remember a whole slew of buttons. Casual gamers will often only play a game for a few minutes and might not pick up the game again for a few hours or even days. In that time, they will forget complicated mechanics and won’t want to spend too much time learning those mechanics again.
Of course, that doesn’t mean there are no female gamers who play more complex games. While you shouldn’t pander to the audience, it’s a good idea to diversify your playable characters as well as NPCs. Why not create a game with a female lead instead of male? Look at Lara Croft and Samus for inspiration on how to create a great female lead.
Video gaming took the world (and living room) by storm with the release of the Nintendo Entertainment System. Many people who grew up during that time period continue to game. Consoles are becoming more accessible and advanced, with some of them able to take the role of a home media center for nearly all entertainment needs. The market hasn’t gone away.
The average age of the gamer of today is around the age of 35. While there’s been ample discussion around how men and women game differently, there hasn’t been much discourse on how people’s gaming habits change as they age. Some surveys suggest age is actually the biggest factor in different gaming tastes and motivations, especially when it comes to competition. Younger gamers prefer competition while older gamers’ interest in it tapers off at around 40.
A more stable motivation across gender and age is strategy. That’s one of the main reasons games like Starcraft II are so popular among people of all ages. Not only does it offer deep strategy, the player-vs-player aspect attracts the younger crowd interested in competition.
In general, however, many older gamers tend to decrease the time spent on games due to increased responsibilities and other hobbies. Many, however, continue to play games in some form or another. Interestingly, MMOs still seem to be a popular genre for many older gamers as they allow for many different play styles. Casual games might be great for this crowd, but they often want the challenge that older games from their youth offered. Developers will want to make the controls relatively simple to pick up while still offering a challenge in terms of level design such as:
- Difficult enemy AI
- Different available play styles so players can approach a level in different ways (think of optional goals and meta-objectives such as speed running).
- Side objectives like mini-games that players can hop on if they only have a few minutes to play the game.
Gamers Under 18
Thanks to technology becoming more accessible, schools are using video games in the classroom. In fact, 74 percent of K-8 teachers use digital games for educational purposes. According to teachers, these games help promote focus and concentration in children while also improving their coordination, reading skills and fine motor skills. Even parents are using video games to help their children.
As gaming becomes more acceptable by society as an educational tool, the number of gamers under 18 will increase. This is especially true as the ‘gamer generation’ gets older and has children of their own. With schools and parents utilizing games as a means of education, this newest generation of gamers will be more accepting of games of all kinds.
The trick with young gamers is that you need to make your game interesting to the child while also appealing to the parents. Graphic violence and gratuitous sex should be avoided. That doesn’t preclude heavy themes. Look at Pixar movies for inspiration on how to approach difficult themes that appeal to both kids and adults. Including morals and themes in games allow games to reach a wider audience and make a deeper impact.
With the proliferation of smartphones and tablets, most children know how to use touchscreens quite well and as such basing controls on them is a great idea. That being said, you do want to make your instructions very clear if you’re using different controls from the norm. For example, if you’re using buttons for an endless runner instead of swipes, make sure you have a tutorial explaining this. Having additional control schemes never hurts as well.
Overseas Virtual Private Network (VPN) Users
Services such as ExpressVPN have hit the mainstream with gamers on a national and international level. The biggest draw is its ability to circumvent geo-restrictions. That makes it great for players who want to connect to their local server when traveling or to access censored or geo-blocked games in their region. Besides granting the potential ability to play almost any game anywhere in the world, VPNs also prevent DDoS attacks and online tracking as a VPN encrypts all of the data sent. This makes them quite popular with the privacy-conscious.
Why is this so important? It means that even if you release your game in one country, it could potentially attract an international audience. Developers need to tap into that market before others do. They should offer as many languages as possible (at least in subtitles). It’s a great way to acknowledge the rest of the world and can also help be a great way to learn how to better localize your game to that specific market. VPNs are just an example of the growing global trend, and international gamers are a positively huge share of the industry.
What many people once considered entertainment for kids has grown into a multibillion dollar industry. The demographics have changed greatly from the origin of gaming and will continue to evolve as more people start embracing it as another form of art and entertainment. What are some changes you’ve noticed in the gaming industry? Let us know in the comments below.
About the Author: Cassie is a freelance journalist and blogger who covers technology and video games. She’s fascinated by how quickly the video game market has changed over the past twenty years and is excited to see what the audience and games will look like in the future.