The Aging Gamer, or, When Granny Wants to Go Pwning Noobs

Steve Anderson : End Game
Steve Anderson
The Video Store Guy
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The Aging Gamer, or, When Granny Wants to Go Pwning Noobs

We all have a good idea of what a gamer looks like, at least in the stereotype in our head. Young, male, probably overweight and greasy-skinned living in his parents' basement, sucking down cheese-flavored snacks to such a degree his fingers are permanently stained orange. Reports from Pew Research note this isn't too far out of line, particularly in the United States. A new report from the Electronics Software Association (ESA) and the AARP—formerly the American Association of Retired Persons—suggests that there's a larger proportion of older gamers than might be expected. This large bloc of older gamers may well have a say in at least some aspects of future development.

The Pew reports note nearly as many women as men are likely to report playing video games, even if men are twice as likely as women to consider themselves to be actual gamers. The ESA / AARP report, meanwhile, notes that while gaming is a young person's sport, there are plenty of formerly young people sticking around, and some new older folks getting in as well, with 36 percent of Americans aged 50 or older calling themselves “gamers.” Given that U.S. Census data pins the count of 50-plus Americans at around 113 million total, that means about 41 million consider themselves gamers.

What's more, that substantial bloc is more female than male, though the split is fairly close, and those females are more likely to be aggressive gamers, reporting play taking place every day. Most of the older gamers are likely to turn to PC, followed closely by mobile gamers. The reason most frequently cited was just the pursuit of sheer fun, though a substantial number also reported turning to games as a means to retain mental sharpness. That “mental sharpness” may also include, if on more of an unspoken basis, protection against Alzheimer's disease. A report from detailed several “brain-training games” that could offer “...a wealth of puzzles and problems that can be played for hours or merely minutes at a time.”

It's certainly not outlandish to think that 50 year olds today would be gamers; simple math suggests a 50 year old today would have been 20 in 1986, and those who have any memory of the 1980s know that it was saw both a big rise in console gaming as well as the start of the arcade's decline. The 1980s saw firms like Nintendo and Sega joining in the second generation of the home gaming market, as well as the beginning of arcades shutting down due to too little business to support all of the participants. Young people in that era might well have remained gamers into the increasing console era and the vanishing arcade era as well, so to suggest that today's 50 year olds would have lost that gaming itch altogether doesn't make much sense.

Naturally, with information like this, we might well consider something a little different than Lara Croft and Master Chief. While there's nothing saying that, somewhere, some little old lady isn't slamming Red Bull and delivering out appropriate shotgun justice—complete with teabagging—to her opponents, it's not likely to be a big impact on the console market and the action gaming market. Consider how the study notes that older players are looking for fun and a way to keep the mind sharp; developers here might do well to focus puzzle gaming on the older set, which means targeting the PC and mobile markets.

What's more, there may be a demand for games to play with the grandchildren, so cooperative ventures in which the older gamer can play along with the young could be welcome. A report from Nick Yee notes that around 27 percent of female gamers over 35 and 13 percent of male gamers over 35 turn to massively multiplayer online (MMO) titles, so it's not out of line that the older gamers might have an adventuring party in mind when it comes to games.

For game developers, it will be a safe bet to skew younger when it comes to development. Pew research, the Nick Yee report, and several others all note that younger gamers are perhaps the biggest market around. There is, however, a clear and potentially growing niche market of older gamers out there, as not only demonstrated by the AARP / ESA report, but also by the evidence of our own eyes. Today's young gamers are likely to be tomorrow's older gamers, and being prepared to make games geared toward the older market ensures that the current crop of gamers will be on hand and contributing to the bottom line into the future.

It's one thing to have a market today. It's another entirely to have one tomorrow. To do that requires not only an aggressive approach to drawing the younger players in on the action, but also a careful, husbanding approach to keep the current market in the fold and spending well into the future. A game developer that accommodates these changing needs, while remembering where the biggest demographic lies, should come out ahead in the long run.

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