The rise of the grey gamer

Mobile Marketing - Member Content

Casey Campbell, Managing Director, North America at Gameloft for brands, looks at the increasing number of older people playing games on their phone, and the opportunity this presents for brands targeting this demographic.

In recent years, it’s become increasingly clear that some of the prime misconceptions about the gaming audience – that it’s a purely young demographic, with low disposable income and few interests outside of playing videogames – have been exposed. Numerous studies have shown that the gaming demographic is a wide and varied one, with people of all types and ages seeking entertainment in games, often on their mobile phone. In fact, the avalanche of causal games released for mobile devices in the past few years has done much to bring the joys of gaming to a much wider audience. Gamers are also likely to be well educated, with a high disposable income, and often identify themselves as the key decision-maker for major purchases in their household. In fact, research from the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) suggests that that the average gamer is 34 years old, owns a house and has children.

As all this has come to light, more and more brands have started to come to the gaming party, realising that, whatever their target audience looks like, they can likely find them in games, and that the gaming audience is an engaged one, which has proved it responsive to native, contextual advertising, often on a rewarded basis. So a player may be rewarded for watching an ad or a piece of branded content by gaining a life or advancing to the next level of a game – a very open and transparent value exchange.

One fact often overlooked when thinking of videogames is just how long they have been around. The first videogame worthy of the name, Tennis for Two, came out in 1958, with the popular hobbyist classic Spacewar! following a few years later in 1962. And while it would be another 10 years before the 1972 release of Pong, which brought videogames to wider public attention, that is still almost 50 years ago, and this raises an important point: even if we assume the first tranche of videogame fans were young people in their late teens, many early players are now in their late 60s. Even those who got into games during their first growth spurt in the ‘80s are now in their late 40s, and there’s a lot of evidence to show that these older players still enjoy the fun of playing videogames, and have a positive attitude towards them.

It stands to reason, of course, that many of these older players will now have children of their own and more ESA research found that, because they are gamers themselves, they see the benefits that gaming can bring in terms of entertainment, interactivity, and social contact with other players through games, in a period when physical social contact has been heavily curtailed. According to ESA’s study 70[CC1]  per cent of parents said that videogames have a positive influence on their child’s life, while 67 per cent said they play videogames with their child at least once a week.  

Cognitive benefits
It’s not all about the kids. A study conducted by the University of Montreal found that videogames are good for the brain, with older people who regularly play games showing reduced cognitive impairment. The study went as far as to suggest that playing videogames might even help to prevent the development of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Another study published by the journal Nature also pointed to the cognitive benefits of playing games. For this study, researchers from the University of California created a videogame called NeuroRacer, which challenged players to navigate and respond to signs in an immersive, 3D environment. The game was tested on players in their 20s and 70s, and found that the older players improved their multitasking abilities, and that these enhanced skills stayed with them for six months after the test, with no additional gameplay.

In the UK, a 2019 study revealed that 42 per cent of Brits aged 55-64 played games regularly, and that more than one in four over 65 had played a game in the last five years. The creators of the popular mobile game Bejewelled, meanwhile, revealed that 47 per cent of their estimated 150m strong player base were over the age of 50.

It should come as no surprise. Games are a great way to lose yourself in a challenge and can help stave off loneliness. A study from AARP (which previously stood for the American Association of Retired Persons) found that the number of people aged over 50 playing videogames in the US rose from 40.2m in 2016 to 50.6m in 2019 – a 25 per cent increase in just three years.

The same study found that the most popular games among 50-plus gamers were puzzle and logic games (50 per cent); card and tile games (48 per cent); and trivia, word and traditional board videogames (24 per cent). Only 7 per cent said they liked action or shooter games, with 6 per cent opting for racing or sports games.

Game genres
This in itself is another interesting and appealing aspect of the gaming market in marketing terms. There are so many genres and types of games, with statistics to show the type of person likely to be interested in any given genre, which means marketers can target at a very simple level by the type of game they advertise in.

Another AARP survey from 2020 found that 44 per cent of adults aged 50+ play games at least once a month, mostly on mobile devices, with 49 per cent of these women and 40 per cent men. Forty per cent said they learn about new games and hardware from advertising, up from 25 per cent in 2016, and collectively, they spend $6bn a year on games and accessories.

There’s a video with more results from the study here.

The research firm, Global Web Index, also released a report earlier this year showing a 32 per cent increase in the number of gamers aged 55-64. Twenty-four per cent of parents and grandparents said they considered playing games together as family time.

Engagement strategy
So what does all this mean for marketers? The key message is that games can play a key, effective role in your engagement strategy if you are targeting the older demographic, whether that’s though in-game advertising or gamified creative, which is often more subtle and more natively integrated than a regular ad unit.  

There are lots of stats above to show the number of older people playing videogames, and it seems safe to assume that these numbers will only have grown over the past 12 months as normal life has been paused for most people in the world, leaving with time on their hands, and a need for entertainment, engagement and social contact.

Even as the world returns to normal, many of these older players will still have time on their hands, and having experienced the fun of gaming, whether they are new to the hobby or old hands, they are unlikely to stop playing any time soon. Which means that for marketers, there’s an army of older players out there ready and waiting for your next campaign.