Gaming in 2021 Download report

Until recently, gaming was associated with a particular type of person, rather than an activity everyone does.

It’s something we’ve had our eyes on for some time; in August last year, we acknowledged that gaming is as ubiquitous as TV watching and this would have long-lasting implications on the video games industry’s image – something a quick look at the current advertising landscape has since confirmed.

Reaching a level playing field

Featuring prominently in Virgin’s “Faster brings us closer” ad, gaming is central to the romantic lives of its two main characters, but not their respective identities. Elsewhere, JustEat’s “We Got It” campaign, points to gaming as one of the numerous activities in one woman’s routine – as opposed to singling it out.

More recently, in fact, Microsoft’s E3 2021 showcase kicked off with a clear message from Xbox’s head of consumer experience, Sarah Bond:

“We are committed to forging the next era of gaming… delivering the power of games to everyone”.

As such, when more women and older audiences were seen to be playing games, the image of “typical” gamers (those who are male or young) quickly began to change.

Picking up controllers in droves, older internet users are some of gaming’s fastest-growing demographics. They’re joined by the likes of families and grandparents, where children have an important influence – 86% of parents, who live with their children, play games on any device, while 74% of grandparents say the same.

There’s a simple enough explanation for why this is, at least in the context of a pandemic.

For those locked down with their family, gaming made perfect sense: boredom was rife and digital activities had become mainstays. Amid the familiar stories of Zoom quizzes and family FaceTime, party-based games were well-placed for a gaming boom – particularly on the Nintendo Switch, a device so popular that many households bought it twice.

Among older internet users, generally considered at higher risk of COVID-19, the lack of social interaction threatened a mental health crisis, with loneliness a key factor. 

Gaming helped bridge the gap between older audiences and their families, and gaming brands took notice.

Despite this, sceptics watched on with a sense of caution; after all, a correlation between increased gaming and lockdowns raised questions about gaming’s sustainability when normal life resumes.

There’s clear evidence now that shows the gaming boom is here to stay.

Data from a recent GWI Zeitgeist survey, fielded in March 2021, asked respondents what they had spent more time doing during the pandemic, and what they expected to continue doing after. 

Regarding playing video games, 22% of females and 21% of those aged 38-64 say they were playing more at the start of the pandemic – of which, 65% and 69%, respectively, say they’re still doing so.

Gaming has been normalized

The sudden surge in gaming activity shed light on how accessible it really is. Playing games for fun, to pass the time or relax were often attributed to a casual relationship with the activity; anything else were markers of a “true gamer”.

This includes things like playing competitively, socially, or to improve cognition, the likes of which have now taken off among audiences not typically associated with gaming.

Though young or male gamers still lead the way when it comes to other gaming motivations, the gap between themselves and their counterparts is not as large as you might think – 6 in 10 older or female gamers say they play games for reasons beyond fun, relaxation or to kill time.

It’s a promising sign that these growing gamer segments are likely to continue playing games down the line. More broadly, it’s confirmation that gaming has become the norm; cementing itself as more than “just a means of entertainment”.

For example, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Nintendo’s 2020 success story, was an eye-opener for those sceptical of gaming’s appeal. People were drawn to the game’s very different concept of entertainment, where hours of hard work and careful planning is its own reward.

It was a game without a typical audience; anyone could play it in their own way.

These shifts in behaviour are not without a change in attitudes either. In the past, gaming might have conjured images of a male-dominated activity, one unwelcoming of newcomers. But as the activity grew more popular, that hostility has subsided somewhat.

Data from GWI’s Gaming dataset shows:

Just 16% of female gamers say the activity is male-dominated, while 48% of all gamers say women should be encouraged to play games. 

It’s something we can attribute to changing attitudes about gender equality in general, but also the side-effect of more high profile women showing their interest in gaming too. When congresswoman, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and her colleague, Ilhan Omar, broke Twitch records through their Among Us stream, it was validation that gaming had changed for good.

Gamer profiles: a game-changer

If you thought gamers looked a certain way, then think again; start by segmenting them based on their motivations, their franchise preferences or the devices they play on – to create more impactful campaigns.

It’s important to note that not all gamers will respond in the same way, even those playing the same game, genre, and device can behave very differently to one another; but refusing to treat this audience with nuance means missing out on an opportunity that’s too good to miss.

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