Mobile World Congress: Did the mainstream media notice?

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Surprising research proves that you probably don’t know who your typical gamer is

"Gamers" (CC BY 2.0) by Taylor.McBride™
“Gamers” (CC BY 2.0) by Taylor.McBride™

It was only a few years ago when the word “gamer” was used to describe teenagers or men in their 20s with perhaps a little bit too much time on their hands. But video games have evolved, and so have gamer crowds. And today’s gamer is probably not who you think they are. At all.

Every year, the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) releases a report that reflects trends in video gaming in the United States at that point in time, based on original research conducted by Ipsos MediaCT on more than 4,000 American households. The 2016 report is an eye-opener when it comes to many different factors – and more importantly, to the question “who’s your typical gamer?”

If you were to hazard a guess at what the average age of gamers is nowadays, your answer would probably start with the number 2 (20? 25?). In fact, the average game player is 35 years old, according to ESA, and a whopping 44% of gamers are over 36 years of age. Of course, you may be forgetting that in addition to your “traditional” video gaming youngster, gamers now play more than hardcore console or PC titles. There’s mobile gaming, there’s social gaming and everything in between.

The case in other countries is quite similar, with 45% of the online gaming crowd in France, for instance, being 35 and older, according to an IFOP report published on Statista. There’s no question that this development also has a lot to do with mobile gaming as well as casual gaming on platforms such as Facebook.

“”Who wants to play video games?”” (CC BY 2.0) by JD Hancock

To fully grasp this shift, one has to consider how game developers and providers are now offering a wider range and bigger variety of video games than ever. For instance, by far the most popular genres of games played on wireless and mobile devices are puzzle, board and card games, according to the ESA/Ipsos report. But that includes everything from Crossy Road to bingo games to Square Enix’s Lara Croft Go. Now what’s interesting about all three of these games is that they are based on game mechanics that most people are familiar with, in one way or another. That’s not to say that there aren’t any original games in these categories, but it is clearly an interesting trend.

First of all, Crossy Road is a modernized, endless version of 1981’s Frogger. Automatically, that means that people who were old enough to have frequented video game arcades at that time would probably take to this iOS and Android title. With bingo, it’s quite self-explanatory: once a pastime popular with the older crowd, the virtual game is based on the same premise, only modernized. Wondering how to play online bingo? Thanks to power-ups, graphics and other additions, the updated version of bingo manages to appeal to those who liked to play the analog type as well as millennials. And on a site like William Hill, players have a social experience too with online chat rooms to keep them entertained. As for Lara Croft, you’re looking at a very large fan base too, as the popular heroine was first introduced to the public in 1996.

"Lara Croft" (CC BY-ND 2.0) by Neil Tackaberry
“Lara Croft” (CC BY-ND 2.0) by Neil Tackaberry

Traditionally considered a boys’ club, video games are certainly appealing to women of all ages in the 21st century. The aforementioned ESA report lists 41% as female but the gender gap seems to be closing. Although we often hear that not enough women study technology, some sources report good developments on that front – for instance, the fact that women now outnumber men at the University of Southern California’s video game design graduate program. Plus, according to the International Game Developers Association, the number of women working in the game industry has doubled since 2009.

Games Radar’s humorous article on gamer generations is a great indication of how much games and the gaming culture has changed in the last twenty years. Discussing physical media, a time when gamers had to find DRM codes in game manuals and how online gaming “still feels a bit like witchcraft” to some people, the author manages to remind us of how much rather recent gaming conventions nowadays feel ancient. The point is clear: gaming has progressed at lightning speed, but clearly so have gamers, who are on average 35-year-old men – or 44-year-old ladies!

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