A ten-year-old YouTuber, with a subscriber count running in the tens of millions, recently created an interactive world for his fans to hang out in on Roblox. If you want clues into what makes Gen Alpha unique, that’s not a bad place to start.
More than any other generation, Gen Alphas are reimagining what’s traditionally done in video games by using them as social hangouts and launchpads for learning.
If millennials had Facebook, and Gen Z have TikTok, we can call Alphas the Minecraft or Roblox generation after the popular sandbox games, which are having a powerful influence on their ideas, behaviors, and future plans.
If you want to understand what Gen Alpha will be like as fully-fledged consumers, you’ll need to know the platforms they’re using right now. Companies that grasp their gaming motivations and habits are best-placed to win them over, and to stand out in the years ahead.
Gaming’s about building things, not just blasting them
Every generation has its gaming touchstones. It’s been claimed that The Simpsons: Hit & Run‘s “cultural significance sits somewhere between BTS and the Shroud of Turin”. Guitar Hero, which created a legion of wannabe rockstars, is another good window into the noughties.
We’ve come a long way since then. In addition to shooter and action adventure games, Gen Alpha have a range of digital alternatives to building toys like K’NEX and Lego. They’re coming of age at a time when immersive creation games or “proto-metaverses” are well-established, and it shows.
These types of platforms not only top Gen Alpha’s leaderboard, they’re growing more popular over time. Roblox has made the biggest jump since 2021, moving from 5th to 2nd place in the rankings.
Minecraft, Roblox, and Fortnite take up three of Gen Alpha’s top four gaming spots, and they share some key similarities. Each platform’s users can customize their own avatars, and they’ve all played host to music concerts or other social events at some point in the last two years.
Minecraft and Roblox have even more in common, with Fortnite following in their footsteps. They’re user-generated spaces that let players build worlds and go on adventures with others; and they’re influencing what kids want from gaming experiences in general.
Demand for building/creating tools has climbed by 7% since 2021, which is the highest increase across the board.
Plus, we’ve seen an equal rise in the number of teens playing simulation games (e.g. real-life, building) within this timeframe. It’s now the fourth-most popular genre among 12-15s, having overtaken fighting and sports since 2021 in order to get there.
Kids clearly relish what these platforms bring to the table: the chance to think critically, learn new skills, and team up with others.
This is more relevant for younger kids: demand for building tools is higher among 8-11s than 12-15s (49% vs 37%), and the same is true of Minecraft (65% vs 50%). This could be down to a number of factors, like younger kids naturally having more imaginative interests like arts and crafts, space, and dressing up.
But even if the hope of becoming a “master builder” subsides as they grow older, creation software is on course to be more popular among today’s teens as they age than it is for current adults – 19% of whom play Minecraft in these markets.
How brands can inspire a generation of game-changers
Creativity is infectious and thanks to these platforms, it isn’t in short supply. Brands have an opportunity to nurture kids’ interests by challenging and supporting young players.
Kidfluencer Sofia LaBarbera believes that her time on Roblox is laying the groundwork for a potential career in architecture or interior design. She’s already created two “smart cities” within Bloxburg, a life-simulation experience where users build their own structures or towns, right down to the tiniest details.
Companies could sponsor those who show potential by funding in-game currency or hardware, for example. And on a broader scale, they can get community-based conversation going by asking fans to help flesh out their campaigns or products.
Compared to other 12-15s, Minecraft players are 27% more likely to say they use online social spaces to interact with brands.
So, it’s not just about meeting kids where they are and speaking to a more engaged crowd; brands can use world-building games to feed their appetite for self-development.
Nike has enlisted a group of Gen Alphas to build its presence on Roblox, a land called “Airtopia” in honor of its Air Max line. By handing over creative control, it’s proving to be a brand that values kids and what they have to say, while inspiring other young developers at the same time.
This will strike a chord because many Gen Alphas want to contribute to the online spaces they inhabit and have faith in their ideas. Half of teen Roblox players say that being treated their age is important to them, and even more describe themselves as creative (55%).
Meta hopes these spaces will be a big win for artists and people who live in areas with fewer opportunities to show off their imagination. With this in mind, brands will benefit from using them in ways the tech world is envisioning – as catalysts for thought and inspiration.
Games are already social hubs for next-gen consumers
Something that’s less unique to Gen Alpha, but still super important to their gaming profile, is their desire to socialize and collaborate while playing.
Virtual social spaces aren’t anything new – think Club Penguin or World of Warcraft. But the metaverse has been described by Mark Zuckerburg as the “next evolution of social connection”, a concept that has Gen Alpha’s name written all over it.
Kids are a key audience for brands eyeing up opportunities here, partly because they’re already enthusiastic about in-game socials; they’re usually the ones having Fortnite movie nights or hanging out on each other’s Animal Crossing islands.
And it’s easy to see why. Playing with friends is more common than playing alone, especially among 12-15s. It’s also the general preference, with a minority saying they’d rather fly solo.
With Roblox having been described as the “most social ecosystem on the planet”, Gen Alpha’s experience with creation systems has not only sparked their imagination, but also made them crave social interaction while playing.
48% of teen players want games to include either teamwork or events, rising to 56% among Minecraft players.
And kids put gaming on a higher pedestal than other online activities, partly because it allows them to hang out in laid-back environments.
Many got digital fatigue after lockdowns drove them to stare at their reflections a lot. Yet, playing video games is still the second-most popular thing Gen Alpha like to do on weekends (56%), ranking ahead of seeing friends in person (43%) and talking to them online (39%).
Our data highlights a couple of reasons for this. For starters, avatars allow kids to express their identity and mingle without being made to feel self-conscious.
Our recent Zeitgeist study shows that 82% of adult gamers would rather be themselves than a persona when spending time online, whereas kids seem to be more enthusiastic about the latter: 29% say they like playing games as someone else, rising to a third among Roblox, Minecraft, and Fortnite users.
Plus, these avatar-driven environments are naturally diverse, which matters as youngsters feel more at home in inclusive settings. Over a third of teen gamers say that seeing all types of people in media is important to them.
Parents and kids alike might be concerned about time spent in front of screens, but gaming seems to hold a special place in Gen Alpha’s heart, and gives them an opportunity to fully express themselves.
Brands should do their bit, and then hand kids the reins
On the whole, existing “proto-metaverses” have the potential to break down barriers, making kids feel more comfortable and empowered. And in the future, branded metaverses could be safe spaces for niche or marginalized communities, especially among teens struggling with self-identity.
Like players, brands will need to carefully map out their own avatars when taking part, and prioritize customization settings when building their own worlds, as these characters underpin the social experience.
Vans’ Roblox offering is a good example of how companies might charge kids’ social batteries. Its virtual park is a spot for skateboarding fans to get together and deck out their avatar in clothes, accessories, and more.
At the end of the day, it’s all about catering to these online communities and following their lead.
As President of Kartoon Channel! Jon Ollwerther puts it, “We’re not trying to alter kids’ behavior or attract them to a new thing. We’re looking at what kids want to do and how we can facilitate that”. And right now, they really want to socialize and build things.