Thought of the Day: Are computer games the new megamedia or a (big) flash in the pan?

For as long as I can remember, computer gaming has been a growing hobby. It still is. Every year, more and more people play games on their consoles or computers, whether they be social facebook games, multiplayer deathmatch shooters, single player, or MMOs. Games are becoming more and more a part of the cultural fabric of society. Maybe the norm is still guys playing shooters on their xbox/ ps3, but it’s not a weird thing to do any more.

And yet, Syp has looked at various surveys on the average age of gamers and found that it is rising. (Even the more conservative figures here agree that the average age of gamers is rising.) It is possible that the surveys just don’t capture younger players well. It’s likely that they tend to play on consoles owned by older family members, or play games that aren’t included in the survey.

But just for the sake of argument, let’s say that the surveys are right and the average age of gamers is going to keep increasing. Younger people will drift into new, different hobbies. Probably they’ll involve internet connectivity but not the big AAA games, increasingly looking bereft of new ideas, that we’ve seen in the past few years. (If I say AAA games are looking short on ideas, it’s from having been trapped in an office with a fanatical black ops player – I know a lot about that game now! And pretty much all of the battlegrounds/ win conditions are things I’ve seen before.)

Whilst gamers are still in the money making part of their lives, studios will pander to them. But in 30+ years time? It’ll be on to the new hotness. It may be less than that depending on how the next generation of consoles shapes up. If you think that games are the 21st century’s big media breakthrough in the way that cinema and TV were the media darlings of the 20th century, then you have to wonder how the next generation will be enticed to make them a part of its life.

8 thoughts on “Thought of the Day: Are computer games the new megamedia or a (big) flash in the pan?

  1. That’s true, but it’ll be worth keeping an eye on this trend to see where it’s leading. We don’t know yet whether the average age is increasing because the hobby is being taken up by all sections of society and will eventually match the national demographic … or whether it’s a bubble that will keep moving with the current group of players and eventually die out with them (and turn into a niche market again.)

    I think we’ll start seeing this sooner than later because if the main demographic is getting older, devs will have to focus more on games which are less twitch sensitive. (social games already do this, ofc.)

    And meanwhile, the population age distribution demographic is getting older too.

  2. I think the reason why the average age is skewing older is because it’s becoming more acceptable for older people to admit to playing games. Back when I was young my parents probably didn’t identify as gamers. (Although my mother played a lot of Atari 2600 games and plays card games online these days.) But, now, it’s becoming more accepted that someone in his or her 30s or 40s could identify as a gamer. Therefore, it stands to reason that the age will continue to grow older over time as we get more older gamers.

    I don’t think computer games are a fad, because we’ve always had games. Even crusty old games like Monopoly, etc. The computer just makes it easier to adjudicate and connect with others over a distance. Therefore, there will almost certainly always be computer games.

  3. Due to the broad definition of ‘game’ the trend will continue. I also think that things that we would call games will at least be as prominent as movies or books in the future.

    But that is a future, far away. Perhaps fifty or even a hundred years; depends on the technical and cultural development of humankind.

  4. There’s no data provided that shows younger people giving up or not taking up video games. If anything, I would guess that it’s stopped being largely a young person’s pastime. It’s quite likely that the number of people in the last year over the age of 40 who started playing games is greater than the number of people under that age who did the same, especially with the recent rise of the Facebook game. Farmville et al are much more accessible to older non-gamers (who are likely to have a low tolerance for frustration in games) than previously available games, don’t require them to own a console, and don’t require them to install anything.

    • Jezebeau,

      I’d also suggest that the end of the multi-year shortage of the Wii contributes somewhat to the rise in average age.

      My mom (67) isn’t the sort to have gone out hunting for a Wii when they were hard to come by, but now that:
      A) Each of the three of us has gotten one for *our* kids, and she’s had some word-of-mouth about how fun (and active) they are…
      B) They’re readily available at Wal-Mart/Target…
      She’s picked one up, and probably spends more time playing than any of her three kids (who are now 43, 40, and 36) do.

      I think the Kinect is going to initiate a second round of purchases (and the attendant increase in hours-played), as people like my mom discover controller-free gaming.

      I also noticed that the last report discussed a marked decline in the number of ‘Portable Gaming’ hours – I wonder how much of that is skewed by the perception that the iPhone is a phone, and not a portable gaming platform. I wonder what would happen to that metric if you included the hours devoted to Angry Birds, Doodle Jump, Tap Tap Revenge, Farmville for iPhone, etc.

  5. yep. like other commentors have said: the fact that the average age (i don’t think those surveys were median ages) of gamers has increased says nothing about the decline of younger gamers; the far more likely explanations are a: the increasing acceptance of gaming as a social activity (within the survey populations); and b: the increasing penetration of computer use, and hence game activity, across the life-cycle.

    i’ll add, too, that the figure for 43 years for average PC gamer age is a specific cohort of game users:

    “The average age of gamers increased slightly over last year from 31 years of age in the 2009 study to 32 years in this year’s study. Avid PC Gamers and Offline PC Gamers, comprising 11 percent and 8 percent of the gaming population, respectively, are the oldest segments with an average age for both of 42 years.” (from the press release that Syp linked to).

    so what they’re saying is in fact ‘if you exclude all the younger users, the average age is 42’.

    that’s a gross-oversimplification of course; they’re referring to two clusters of users, comprising a total of 19% of their sample, that have average ages of 42. the average age of the whole sample is 32, so the average age of the OTHER 81% is 22 years of age.

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