How to make sense of gaming demographics

Gaming is no longer just a boys’ club. But with global brands experimenting with the market, marketers need to act quickly.

Simon Hathaway, EMEA MD at Outform, believes marketers still need to do more to tap into gaming’s now hugely diverse demographics if they’re to get buy-in. 

Gaming is the ‘it’ tool for audience engagement. And brands are keen to bask in its success. Nyx Cosmetics is working with gaming influencers as the official beauty partner of e-sports platform Dignitas, while Selfridges has opened its own immersive gaming floor.

There are 3.3billion gamers across the globe – that’s nearly half of us. This number continues to climb as new adopters jump onto the pandemic-driven hype, which gave rise among other things to Twitch influencers and megastar musicians performing virtual concerts within the wildly popular battle royale game, Fortnite. 

But Fortnite is just one example of how gaming is spilling into other entertainment sectors. With that cross-pollination, players are becoming increasingly diverse: Outform’s research found that 20 percent more women are gaming now than before the pandemic. And as gaming’s traditionally macho tribes start to wane, so are its barriers to access, as other devices become preferential to play on.

The opportunities for brands to scale through gaming are huge, whether that be in-app advertising or campaigns with influencers. But now, marketers face the challenge of being able to speak to the habits and expectations of new types of gamers.

Why gaming’s accessibility means marketers should consider all platforms

Marketers want shortcuts to reach multiple demographics. It’s similar to the role linear TV played before streaming and the smartphone, and gaming could be the tool that shapes future campaigns. It doesn’t need its audiences sitting on a sofa in order to engage, nor does it require them to be physically present to foster community. 

Players can now game in all kinds of environments on a plethora of devices. In fact, it’s the portable apps that are designed to play in short bursts and require less commitment, like Candy Crush, that have become firm favourites. It tops the poll for 41 percent of women, miles ahead of FIFA (17 percent) and Call of Duty (20 percent). 

Whilst Twitch has exploded as the destination for gamers, apps like Snapchat have found a new lease of life, launching 60 new gaming and e-sports shows on its Discover platform in 2021 alone. 

This all runs in tandem with the experience many of us now want from games: seamless, accessible and less time-consuming, rather than having to invest in expensive paraphernalia like chairs and headsets. 

With 18 percent more of us playing casually than before the pandemic, the ‘casual gamer’ is a growing type of consumer that brands should be quick to target. But the unpredictability in how they play will make one-time deals and limited opportunities a shortcut to interest and engagement, particularly as Outform’s research found these types of players are motivated by discounts and saving codes. In fact, 63 percent are actually more loyal to preferred brands – so even though they’re not as invested in the actual gameplay, they’re committed to the brand they do decide to spend that time with. 

Brands can’t afford to make assumptions when it comes to gaming

As gaming demographics become more diverse, so do playing habits. Baby Boomers are heavily invested in mobile gaming with 91 percent citing smartphones as their preferred device, while Gen Zs are using legacy devices to play.

But brands shouldn’t necessarily favour one over the other. Although Snapchat clearly shows there’s a real business demand for mobile gaming, the likes of IKEA are quickly expanding on gaming stock to appeal to a growing audience who are willing to open their wallets to play.

And with a breadth of players across different devices, making gaming a shoppable experience in itself is on the upward trajectory. Adidas has already used in-built Snapchat game Baseball’s Next Level to sell baseball cleats directly to consumers. The sector isn’t just a discovery asset, though. It’s a commerce tool making browse-to-buy frictionless and preventing drop-off before reaching the checkout.

The age-gap in gamers is too complex to make assumptions based on when people were born. But this presents a fresh opportunity for brands, as there’s more chance than ever before to build awareness and relationships with audiences perhaps not previously considered – over-55s just wouldn’t have been given a look in two decades ago, for example. 

Why we must consider post-pandemic motivations in gaming to target audiences 

With household names like Star Wars reportedly planning to introduce transgender characters in future games, brands tapping into gaming have to make diversity top of their agenda. And there’s a small window to pioneer this. Take NYX Cosmetics, which has partnered with e-sports company Dignitas in an effort to improve the representation of female gamers, building content with women’s e-sport teams while using NYX products and collaborative giveaways.

But marketers must also look beyond this and assess why consumers are playing. While it’s easy to dismiss the hobby as a pastime, 74 percent of Boomers and 57 percent of Gen-Zs say they’re now gaming for brain stimulation. 

As lockdowns and phone pings kept friends and families apart for much of the last 18 months, virtual interaction in gaming became a godsend for mental wellbeing. It’s unnsurprising that our research found a quarter of Boomers play to feel part of a community. With this in mind, brands must offer genuine value, enrichment and community if they’re to resonate with players.

Other social platforms could soon follow the Snapchat model – bricks & mortar retailers, like Selfridges, are already refitting shop floors for gaming products and it’s no surprise that many specialist retailers have built their offer through community. It’s exciting to consider what the future holds for the sector, particularly as marketers get creative in how they can use it to engage with audiences old and new. 

But gaming is becoming a competitive space too, and if brands want the lion’s share of gaming’s broad demographic net, they need to cater to every way of playing.