If you’re still under the impression that gaming is the domain of teenage boys, it might surprise you to learn that it’s actually the 55- to 64-year-old age group that makes up its fastest-growing demographic. And while marketers appear to be coming round to the idea that gaming can be attractive to older generations, questions remain around why they’ve been ignored for so long. We take a look as part of our deep dive into all things gaming.
Gaming was already an increasingly popular pastime for the whole family, but with 62% of adults claiming to have played some kind of video game in 2020, it is clear the pandemic has boosted its appeal beyond its traditional audience.
Perhaps even more surprising is that the fastest-growing demographic among adult gamers is those in the 55- to 64-year-old category – a group that has risen by almost a third since 2018.
The generation game
Research shows that gaming has jumped across all generations, with a new dynamic of family gaming also on the rise thanks to low-stakes games such as Animal Crossing. Furthermore, many in their late 20s and early 30s, who may have once been bedroom gamers themselves, are becoming parents and handing down the pastime to their children.
Ben Lovett is the client planning lead at media buying agency the7Stars. He says brands can now reach entire families at the same time within games. ”Those parents who grew up gaming themselves have a much more positive perception of it, so time spent gaming has increased. The sector is thriving.”
Will Humphrey, the strategy director at Wunderman Thompson, meanwhile says there’s no doubt gaming has gone mainstream. “Since as far back as 2011, when Call of Duty became the biggest entertainment release of the time, it has been absolutely clear it is here to stay. And there are a lot of communities who have gamed for years and who love it who are now coming to the fore.”
So why hasn’t marketing kept up with this diversity of gamers? Humphrey suggests there could be an unwillingness by brands and businesses to really get under the skin of the matter. “It’s much easier to appeal to a broad population by just focusing on the tried and trusted tropes of something, whether that’s in film, gaming or elsewhere.“ The teenage boy trope is convenient shorthand when it comes to targeting gamers, he says.
In many ways, however, marketing video games to older generations would be a perfect cultural fit. Research shows that they can improve reaction time, attention and short-term memory in older adults, and they provide a social element that can help tackle rising loneliness and isolation.
Humphrey points to Twitch as an untapped market here. “The platform has come on since its early days when it was just about watching other people game. Now it is a social and activity platform in its own right and I don’t see why it couldn’t and shouldn’t be utilized by older generations, whether gamers or non-gamers. It could become a place to socialize and connect, and could help combat the trend of loneliness among older generations in our society.”
There are instances where brands and agencies have clocked the untapped potential of targeting older gamers. Such as Xbox, which recently worked alongside McCann London to create the ‘Beyond Generations’ campaign that seeks to demonstrate the relationship-building potential of gaming as a pastime.
Xbox and McCann teamed with Retirement Villages to set up gaming consoles in a number of its retirement homes, with staff encouraged to coax residents into picking up a controller both – both for their own amusement and to play with younger relatives. It was hoped the initiative would also empower older people to learn a new skill.
Recognizing that most elderly people don’t own a console and that it wouldn’t be uncommon for younger people to have a spare gathering dust, Xbox has also been encouraging gamers as they upgrade to new consoles to gift their old one to an elderly person in their life.
The brand’s director of global integrated marketing, Michael Flatt, says the hope of the ’ReBoxing’ campaign was to ”make a step towards renewing family connections and democratizing gaming for everyone”.
McCann London executive creative director Sanjiv Mistry meanwhile says the initiative ”shows the power gaming has to make a genuine difference in people’s lives”, adding that the more people who take up the call and gift their old consoles to their grandparents, ”the more those siloes of loneliness start to break down”.
Humphrey concludes that, without falling into purpose-washing, there is a potential need that gaming brands and platforms can fulfill – one that an older audience may not necessarily arrive at on their own.
“If you’re able to provide the tools for people to connect, it feels a bit more incumbent on you to do so,” he says. ”As a means of re-energizing audiences as well as communities as a whole, there is a sweet spot where gaming meets a community need while also addressing a broader societal problem. And that makes sense from a business perspective as well as a cultural one.”
With the pandemic only exacerbating the desire for new forms of entertainment across the generations, pitching gaming to the older market could be a game-changer in bridging the divide between relatives forced apart, as well as tackling the crisis in loneliness for older people across the country.