The changing face of gaming

The "average" player's a little different to what you might expect.

The changing face of gaming  Everybody Plays
28th June, 2011

It doesn't seem all that long ago that gaming was viewed as being the almost exclusive territory of young men. At least, that was the stereotype. With your average game player forever emblasoned in the eye of popular culture as a spotty geek, who lived in his parent's basement, those who didn't fit into that stereotype were almost afraid to admit that, actually, they too enjoyed playing games. They appreciated Pong, they loved Space Invaders, and, if they had the money, they'd secretly love to have a games machine in their home. And even though they weren't as many in numbers as the men, there were still plenty of women, families, and children who enjoyed playing games. With a large, vocal majority to cater to, however, games companies almost seemed to forget that other side of the audience existed. To them, your "gamer" was a young male, and the vast majority of advertising, with the possible exception of Nintendo, was geared heavily towards them.

Stereotype much?

Fast forward some thirty two years, and things have almost done an entire about turn. Having suffered a minor failure with the GameCube, which, while it sold well, couldn't compete with Microsoft's Xbox and Sony's Playstation, due to its "kiddy" image, Nintendo realised that if they wanted to "win", they'd have to do something different. Something radical. Something other publishers and hardware manufacturers would never have dreamed of doing. With their eyes focused firmly on the 18-35 "hardcore" male, Microsoft had never even so much as thought of the family, or female players, and Sony, while it had made a few attempts, never really went after the market with much vigour. After all, to them, this was untested territory - tradition had dictated that making, and promoting games to young men worked, so why bother taking a risk, and going for a different market?

Nintendo, on the other hand, thought differently. Seeing the expansion in so-called "casual" gaming on the PC, with the Sims pulling in hundreds of millions of players, of all genders, backgrounds, and social status, Nintendo knew that the market for games was a lot wider than other companies had realised. From Solitaire, to Bejeweled, games were beginning to pick up speed on the PC, and mobile gaming was slowly developing into a business you could make money from, with games that were fun to play. Across the whole spectrum, people were interested in playing games - but games, and consoles especially, had developed a bad image. If you played the Sims, or Bejeweled, you would never class yourself as a "gamer", yet alone "hardcore", no matter how many hours you poured into it. With the media, which attended product launches (where it was mostly men camping out to be the first to get their hands on the latest product) painting gaming as a harcore, male pastime, many women and older men were embarrassed to admit that they played games. This was something Nintendo sought to change.

With Nintendo's agressive marketing campaign treading new ground, Nintendo single handedly tried to expand gaming's demographics. By featuring adverts showing families playing together on a sofa, simplifying the controller, and talking about games in different ways, Nintendo broke down practically every barrier that existed - to huge success. All of a sudden, there was a focus on females, a focus on families, a focus on coming together, and playing together, on games that were explained well, and promoted in the right way. With over 88 million units sold so far, the Wii is still selling like the proverbial hot cakes, while the DS goes from strength to strength. With franchises like Professor Layton, Mario, Wii Fit, and third party games like Just Dance leading the way, Nintendo have played a major role in expanding the reach of games - so much so that your average game player has changed almost entirely.

More and more families are playing together.

A bevvy of reports out recently have attempted to gauge the size, and make up of the game market, with some interesting results. The ESA report that some 72% of American households now play games, with the average player age being 37. Some 18% are under 18, while a whopping 29% are over 50. The gender divide's narrowing too, with some 42% of players now being female - partially because more women are playing, and presumably partially because more women will admit to enjoying playing games now that gaming's shed its negative stereotypes. More interesting still is that the average game purchaser is now 41, and 86% of children seek their parents permission before buying a game - and hopefully those same parents check the Parental Perspectives on our reviews. 65% of players play games with other people, and, heartwarmingly, 45% of parents play games with their children at least once a week - a huge increase on the 37% of 2007 - with 85% of parents joining in because they were asked. How nice is that? My Dad always used to play games with me when I was a child, so I'm glad it's something that's being passed down. In fact, that's a large part of why each review here on Everybody Plays features a Parental Perspective, which along with flagging any extreme content, also tells you how well the game works when played as a family.

The information correlates somewhat with information from the NPD, which states that while "core", or hardcore gamers account for 23% of the US Market, family and child players make up 22%. Where the other 50% went, we're not sure - but such huge growth amongst families and children is encouraging to see.

With Facebook and smart phone games growing in popularity and showing no signs of slowing down, and Nintendo's next home console, the Wii U set to try to carry the same market over into the next generation of games, thanks to its revolutionary touch screen controller, the games industry's doors have been burst wide open. Whether you brand yourself casual or hardcore, whether you're male or female, young or old, single or married, a family, or a grandparent, there's now a game that'll appeal to you, and a site (us!) that'll help you find it. We use plain English, we explain games in ways anyone can understand, we help parents find games they'll be able to play with their family, and we focus on what makes games fun for people like you.

Whether you're a new player, or a seasoned veteran, the statistics prove there's never been a better time to pick up a controller, and start playing. Welcome aboard. We hope you enjoy the ride.
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