Gaming

Two gamers playing on a phone

The Casual Gaming Boom

Casual gaming has been around in one form or another for years.  You might even argue that some of the earliest games like Pac Man could be classed as casual games.  However, the genre has really taken off over the past decade.  The increased use of social media and the ubiquity of Smartphones has created the perfect environment in which casual gaming has been able to flourish.

App Annie predicts that mobile gaming spending in 2021 is on track to surpass $120 billion.  As a substantial chunk of that spend will be on casual and hyper casual games; the enormous size of the opportunities are self-evident. 

So, are we experiencing a casual gaming boom?

Who is the ‘casual’ gamer?

A decade or so ago, if you asked people to describe a gamer, the image of a teenage boy playing Call of Duty late at night on his games console would likely have sprung to mind.  Or, perhaps, they might be playing World of Warcraft on a desktop PC instead. But things have moved on a lot since then.

People who play casual and hyper casual games now include a great many gamers who never play either on a console or a PC.  A significant number of these gamers have come to gaming more recently and, indeed, might only ever experience gaming on a Smartphone or, perhaps, a tablet. 

This, then, represents a different audience of gamers from the traditional gaming market.  It is a much more female focused audience and has many different likes and dislikes, hobbies and consumer preferences that would distinguish the casual gamer from someone who might prefer to play CoD on an Xbox or Cyberpunk 2077 on a PC.

The gaming market is no longer a single homogenous audience, but rather a collection of different (if sometimes overlapping) audiences.  That means different channels, different media and very different commercial opportunities. Different audiences also provide very different opportunities in terms of the future potential for advertising and sponsorship deals.

But casual gaming is also a market that is still growing.  So, the composition of this audience is changing and evolving each year.

The audience is not only different in terms of its composition. It is also clearly different in terms of what people are looking for from gaming.

The Casual Gaming Experience

Games like Assassin’s Creed and Cyberpunk 2077 are enthralling role-playing experiences.  Many people play these games precisely because they like to get into the characters and absorb themselves in a fantasy world.

It is easy to sit down in front of PC or a console and lose yourself for hours in a highly engrossing escapist experience.  In addition, it’s an experience that can be very intense, requiring sometimes lengthy periods of quite focused concentration.  This can be quite a mentally challenging experience.  It may also be quite difficult to dip in and out of – you often feel obliged to hang on just to get to that next cut-scene or to find a good place to save.

But casual and hyper casual games are far less demanding in terms of concentrated time.  You can potentially play a game in 15 or 20 minutes.  This makes it easy to fit your gaming in around other things.  Play a quick game in your lunch hour, or a quick couple of games on the train on your commute to and from work.  As one casual gamer put it on an online forum:

I play half an hour to an hour on my phone everyday. I don’t really have much to do while I’m on the bus or at lunch, so I’d just use to time to play video games on my phone.

Relax with a casual game

It’s because these game can be less mentally demanding that people are more likely to see them as relaxing.  They deliver a means to wind down after a hard day’s work.  As another gamer put it:

What I loved so much about Animal Crossing was how I could wind down and relax.

As such, these games lend themselves more to humour, light-hearted entertainment, and cartoon characters.

fun and utterly hilarious.

But, whilst it is possible to quickly fit in a game in your coffee break, it is still also possible for gamers to spend hours playing such casual games.  Indeed, gamers can and do become every bit as a engrossed with games like Clash of Clans on their mobile phones as a console gamer might with Red Dead Redemption.

In a way gaming is becoming not that much different from television.  TV producers have, for many years, understood that working within different genres means appealing to different audiences.  The audience you might attract for an enthralling thriller is not the same as you’d get for a light entertainment programme. 

So, as the variety of different gaming genres evolves, so too will the variety of audiences.  And so too will the need to understand them independently from each other.

A Blank Canvas

Many of the new generation of casual gamers have come to gaming via the Smartphone and via casual games specifically.  There are many amongst them who have never played a console game or even a PC game.  Perhaps, they have only started playing games within the past few years.  All this means that they are not constrained by any of the pre-conceptions that PC and console gaming fans might have.  That means they represent much more of a ‘greenfield’ opportunity for the future.

This relative lack of ‘expectations’ is likely to mean these gamers are more open to experimenting with new things.  Perhaps they are more open to in-game advertising, perhaps they offer the best opportunities for cloud.  Indeed, any genuinely new innovation in gaming might find a more fertile ground for uptake amongst these gamers than elsewhere.

On the downside, it should be remembered that many of these newer gamers may well not be so familiar with concepts that gaming publishers and developers might ‘assume’ gamers know about.  That means gaming companies need to be careful in using gaming jargon – these guys just might not understand it (or worse, misunderstand it). 

Assume nothing.

Cloud?

Mobile gaming may well prove to be an area to watch in terms of cloud streaming services such as Google Stadia, Microsoft’s Ultimate Game Pass and Amazon Luna. 

The mobile casual gaming audience includes many gamers who are not wedded to traditional console and PC gaming.  They will also include many people who are comfortable with streaming film or music to their mobiles already, so cloud gaming won’t be an alien concept to them.  But here, the cloud services need to get their content right.  Content, after all, is king – demand will entirely depend on a wide enough choice of content.

However here again, gaming companies need to be careful.  These people are not the enthusiastic, technically literate, hardcore of the gaming world.  They may not even have heard of cloud gaming or even understand what makes it any different from other forms of gaming.  They probably haven’t read any of the articles on the subject that appear in the gaming press.  So, this raises the question – how best to market such services to such people? 

Monetisation

Gaming has historically been financed by gamers paying for their games (either outright or perhaps by subscription).  However, recent years have seen a growing proportion of revenues generated by microtransactions where gamers seek to buy in-game content such as upgrades to the game, additional equipment (some functional, some purely aesthetic) and so on.

There are many games available where you can play a basic version of the game for free and any revenues come purely from upgrades to a more complete version of the game and/or from microtransactions.

The free-to-play model has proven a successful option and in future I can see this approach extended to deliver an even higher proportion of content for free.  Monetisation here will therefore be increasingly driven by the microtransaction approach and even by advertising and sponsorship deals.

TV is significantly financed by private advertising and sponsorship and this is now an increasingly important revenue stream for esports – it is surely only a matter of time before we start to see this proliferate across the gaming industry.  The obvious route in will be through the Smartphone based games – and that means casual gaming is likely to be at the forefront.

However, to capitalise on these opportunities gaming companies will increasingly need to learn from the playbook of other entertainment industries (like TV) who have been playing the advertising and sponsorship game far longer.  That means understanding audiences and knowing what advertisers and/or sponsors would offer a great fit for any given audience.  It also means finding the best way to accommodate this without disrupting game play or without it becoming overly intrusive.

Channels

One potentially dark cloud on the casual gaming horizon relates to channels.  At the end of the day casual gaming on Smartphones depends very heavily on two key channels – App Store and Google Play.  This grants Apple and Google incredible market power.

The current legal dispute between Epic and Apple has highlighted the potential problem here – are these channels becoming so dominant that they can effectively squeeze the margins of gaming companies down to near minimal levels?  This very fear has led Epic to invest heavily in its own store front.  At the time of writing, it is yet to be seen as to whether Epic’s legal action with Apple will change anything.

Nevertheless, Epic’s move to develop its own store may yet prove to be a shrewd one for the longer term.  You only need to look at food retailing in the UK to see that a relatively small number of dominant retail chains can seriously squeeze the margins of the food producers. 

The Future

There is little doubt that we will continue to see continued growth and diversity emerge in the casual gaming market over the next couple of years.  New audiences will continue to emerge and evolve as a result.

The challenge for the gaming companies will be to find ways to best capitalise on these audiences – and that will require a detailed understanding of them, plus, of course, how they continue to evolve.

About Synchronix

Synchronix is a full-service market research agency.  We believe in using market research to help our clients understand how best to prepare for the future.  That means understanding change – whether that be changes in technology, culture, attitudes or behaviour. 

We have considerable experience in the design and execution of market research surveys in the gaming, leisure and consumer tech sector.  We can offer a range of services to help you identify new market opportunities and to understand the current and potential audience for any given game. 

You can find out more about us on our website.  

If you wish to follow our weekly blog you can view all our past articles on our website here.

If you have any specific questions about our services, please contact us.

Sources

ANIMAL CROSSING COMMUNITY

APPANNIE

BBC

COMMONSENSEMEDIA

GAMESKINNY

MARKET WATCH

QUORA

SEATTLE TIMES

What can Cyberpunk 2077 teach us about brand reputation?

Promising Greatness

When Cyberpunk 2077 launched with considerable marketing and general industry hype at the end of 2020, it was a game that promised greatness.

A lot of people were predicting that Cyberpunk 2077 would be the big game of 2021.

CD Projekt Red had established an enviable reputation for quality on the back of the success of its Witcher franchise.  And the early signs were all good.  The setting, the graphics, the story and the atmosphere of the world they’d created all received praise and the pre-launch marketing led to incredibly high volumes of pre-orders for the game.

The stage was set for the game to really explode. 

Hitting problems

However, as we all know, not long after its launch, Cyberpunk 2077 hit problems.  Numerous bugs and performance issues came to light that eventually led to it being pulled from the PlayStation store.  It seemed to have particular problems running on the older console technology.

It wasn’t long before refunds were being offered.  If anything the high profile hype surrounding the launch made matters worse.  The actual delivery had clearly not matched the high customer expectations.

CDPR were now looking at a damage limitation exercise.  The reputational cache their brand had cultivated over the years was now under serious threat.

“It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.”—Benjamin Franklin

Ongoing Problems

Ever since then, CDPR have been working hard to issue bug fixes.

As Gamesrant noted in mid-April “The 1.2 patch notes for Cyberpunk 2077 are the length of a short novella and show a lot of changes.”  But despite this the game still seemed to suffer from more bugs than an anthill. 

It is clear that all this has had an impact and CDPR’s reputation has taken a serious knock amongst its fanbase.  Comments on the steam community posted in April 2021 make it quite clear that the game still faced some serious unresolved problems, even at this time.

“To begin i wish to say i was a Gigantic fan and supporter of Cdpr and this game.  Regardless too many things sold this game to me and i got none of them.”

Mind you, some people still felt Cyberpunk was value for money, even if had not met expectations:

“I look at it this way. I got my money’s worth out of the game even though the experience wasn’t as good as I’d hoped.”

Hype?

And some felt that the pre-game overhype was the real problem here and that those people who bought games on pre-order were potentially setting themselves up for disappointment:

“That’s a ‘buyer beware’ problem.”

Such comments by fans may have been made in defence of CDPR but they also reflect a view that other fans got their fingers burnt precisely because they believe the pre-launch hype and pre-ordered the game.

The potential lesson here that some fans may well take from this is therefore twofold:

  1. Don’t believe the pre-launch marketing (or at least, don’t take it at face value).
  2. Don’t pre-order.

However, the potential longer term damage to CDPR’s reputation could be a good deal more serious, judging by some of the comments:

“I’m just dumbfounded how a company could make a blunder like this. They were in a position that was coveted by large corporations, true customer loyalty and customer love. They didn’t even need a marketing department.

…Now, they are relegated to being just any other gaming company.”

How did it happen?

How could CDPR go so quickly from hero to zero, in the eyes of many of its fans?

Obviously, this was originally a problem caused by rushing an unfinished product to market too quickly.  This would not necessarily have been an issue but for the pre-launch marketing hype that had raised expectations so high.

The scale of the problem was at least partly acknowledged by Co-CEO Marcin Iwiński who issued an apology to fans in January and admitted that CDPR had “underestimated the risk” they had faced in developing the console versions of the game.

Iwiński took responsibility for what had happened and urged people not to blame the developers.  This appears to have been acknowledged internally by ditching plans to link developers’ bonuses to game review scores.

You have to have some sympathy for the CDPR developers.  I’m sure those guys set off with the intention of making the best game possible.  But, as Jason Schreier of Bloomberg News highlighted, several developers felt the deadlines set were over ambitious, given the relative lack of adequate resourcing to meet them.  Unfortunately, you can be the best developer in the world, but if you are forced to work with silly deadlines and overambitious targets you are simply being set up to fail before you even start.  I think you’d have to be a bit hard hearted not to feel their pain. 

Overall, then, it looks like it all comes down to a classic case of overambition.  Overambition in terms of what CDPR set out to do with the technology, overambition in terms of the timescales they set themselves to do it and overambition in the marketing hype they created for the game leading up to the launch.

Ambition is good.  But when the gap between stated ambition and reality becomes wide enough, that’s when you end up with problems such as those that have plagued Cyberpunk 2077. 

How has it impacted on CDPR?

Despite its problems the pre-orders and the initial rush of sales for the game tell a story of financial triumph.  Cyberpunk 2077 pushed CDPR’s 2020 sales to record levels – $562 million (compared to previous record best year of $210m in 2015).

Superficially that would appear to suggest that, despite its problems, Cyberpunk 2077 has nevertheless been a huge success.

However, the $562 million figure is largely the result of the pre-orders, which were driven by the pre-launch marketing rather than by the actual performance of the game.  It also does not fully factor in refunds that followed in the new year.  Nor does it factor in the longer-term costs of all the extensive bug-fixing that followed.  We don’t yet have crucial information on how well the game has faired in terms of sales in 2021, post-launch.

The longer-term impact of the game’s problems may ultimately be that the game fails to perform as well as it might have done.  At one time it was heralded as the big blockbuster for 2021.  And the initial sales looked like the game was very much on track for that. 

In December 2020 it achieved the fourth highest ever number of concurrent players on Steam.  However, at the start of May 2021, it now ranks #62 on Steam – that’s lower than the ranking held by CDPR’s previous blockbuster (Witcher 3).   CDPR’s stock price also tells a tale (dropping by nearly 18% between 6 April and 5 May 2021).  These are not good signs.

Reputation

However, the short to mid-term impacts on CDPR’s financial performance is unlikely to see them turn a loss.  More likely, it will simply see the company struggle to make the kind of money from Cyberpunk 2077 that was envisaged back in the heady days of last November.

More damaging for CDPR may be the longer-term reputational damage.  This might make it very difficult to persuade anywhere near as many fans to pre-order their games in future.  It may also mean that future marketing will not be believed. After all, no one believed the boy who cried wolf, even when the wolf really was coming.  It may also mean that fans will adopt a wait and see policy on their future games – delaying buying until they are able to read customer reviews that confirm that any new release is genuinely up to scratch.

Re-building Reputation

CDPR are not the first company and will not by any means be the last to suffer reputational damage of this kind.  This has happened before in other industries outside gaming.  It is easy to list examples once you start to look; VW emissions scandal, Whirlpool product recall, BP Deepwater Horizon and so on.

A classic case in how to manage such crises is in Johnson & Johnson’s 1982 recall of its best-selling Tylenol painkiller after seven people died in the Chicago area from cyanide-laced capsules.  The key to getting on top of it was to act fast and to be as transparent as possible.  The company incurred a large cost at the time but because they acted so fast, the crisis was over fast.  Their share price recovered within a year.

Samsung provide a more recent example in their response to exploding mobile phone batteries for their Note 7 product in October 2016.  The company realised that its long-term reputation was far more important than any short-term financial hit and invested a considerable amount of money and resources in solving the problem.  They deployed 700 researchers and engineers to test over 30,000 batteries in every extreme condition possible. They even invited in third party auditors.  Once they had identified the problem (by January 2017), they communicated it to the public and announced a new quality assurance program and safety features in a bid reassure consumers.

Samsung’s market share of the mobile phone market today is now very similar to what it was in 2016.  It has consistently managed to maintain a market share of 20% or higher in every year since the crisis.

Lessons Learnt

Reputational damage is the real threat to the future success of CDPR.  Others have been there before and offer some clear lessons as to how to respond to such issues.

First, you need to understand the scope of the problem – both in terms of the actual product issues and in terms of how these have impacted on customer perceptions. 

Then, secondly, you need to act fast and decisively. Don’t skimp on resources. Get the issues sorted out as fast as you can, even if that means taking a significant cost hit in the short term.  Throw resources at it.

Thirdly, you need to be transparent.  Explain the full extent of the problem to customers, what you are doing to fix it and provide realistic timeframes (that you stick to) in terms of sorting it all out.

Fourthly, you need to recognise that you have a PR problem.  Even if you solve the actual product problems, you need to communicate this effectively and keep reinforcing it until the message gets through.

Finally, you can’t be the boy who cries wolf and constantly promise to sort things out, but then shift the deadlines, or offer up only partial solutions that fall short of expectations.  That is the sure-fire way to make things far worse for yourself in the long term.

About Synchronix

Synchronix is a full-service market research agency.  We believe in using market research to help our clients understand how best to prepare for the future.  That means understanding change – whether that be changes in technology, culture, attitudes or behaviour. 

We offer market research services and opinion polling to clients in the gaming, media and leisure industry.  You can read more about this on our website.   We can also help provide market research that will enable your business to understand and track your brand reputation with customers.  You can read more about this service and about how to use market research to help manage your brand reputation here.

Sources

BBC

Bloomberg

Businessinsider

Counterpoint

Denofgeek

Entrepeneur.com

Gamerant

Harvard Business Review

IDC

Pushsquare

Steamcharts

Steamcommunity

TechRadar

The Verge

VR in action

Virtual Future – how will virtual reality shape our future world?

Part 1: VR Gaming

The Boom that Cried Wolf

“The Virtual Reality Boom.” So read the title of an Op Ed (written by a source which I will not name to spare their blushes) that was originally published in the summer of 2016.  Now, four and a half years later, no sign of that boom yet.

It seems at the start of most years since then, more than one source will have predicted that VR’s time has come. 

I am sure I am not the only one who can recall seeing countless predictions that VR is set to grow by a factor of eight – ten – twelve over the next two – four – five years…  Funny how charts like that always seem to be talking about what will happen rather than showing us such spectacular evidence for growth that has happened.

Of course, VR has grown and the past few years have seen significant improvements in the technology.  But this progress is a long way from the “boom” we’ve been so frequently over promised.   So why is this?  And, perhaps more importantly, what does the future really have in store for us from this technology?

VR for Gaming

At present the primary (but by no means the only) application for VR remains gaming.  In this first blog I will focus on VR in gaming but it is important to say that this technology has important applications in other fields as well.  Part 2 of this series will focus more on other uses of VR but, to begin with, it makes sense to focus on the most widely used VR application.

However, even when we focus on gaming, it remains the case that VR remains very much a niche interest.  The biggest success to-date in terms of VR/AR (Augmented Reality) gaming has undoubtedly been Pokemon-Go which took the world by storm in 2016/17.  However, such a spectacular success has not been repeated since.  Alyx was the big VR hit of 2020, eventually pushing its way up to 2-5 million Steam users.  That’s good but compared to the 500 million downloads for Pokemon-Go in its launch year, it is small potatoes.  So why is it that the success of the Pokemon game has never been repeated?

The answer to all these questions lies in understanding the essence of what it is that VR/AR has to offer – what is it about this technology that makes it appealing?  Equally important is to understand its limitations – what is holding it back?

The Barriers to Adoption

We are all probably familiar, one way or another, with the reasons why some people don’t go for VR gaming.  These reasons are mainly a function of the limitations of the technology as it stands today.  But some of them may relate to a lack of choice and variety of different forms of gameplay experience within the category.

Cost is clearly one barrier.  Not everyone is willing to pay for all the extra kit needed to enter into the VR world.  Costs have come down but the fact still remains that you need to be prepared to put your hand in your pocket to join the VR universe.

Another limitation is the availability of a wide variety of different games to play in VR.  There is definitely more choice than was once the case but the fact that VR still represents a niche area for the gaming world, has limited the availability of content.  You could say it is almost a catch 22 situation.  Many people are reluctant to develop content for it because it is a niche interest category but, on the other hand, it remains niche in no small part because the more limited range of content limits growth.

True, the equipment now is lighter in weight, less clunky and as wireless tech is more available, less awkward to use.  But there is still some way to go as far as that is concerned.  Most headsets are still fairly bulky and some people find it uncomfortable.  Here, we can expect things to continually improve and there are some potentially interesting developments on the horizon such as Apple’s Smart Glass project.  However, this still seems a ways off and it is likely we will need to wait until 2023 before we start seeing this new generation of technology really hit the market.

Consumer Attitudes

In fact you only need to look on gaming forums to encounter some of the key objections the technology needs to overcome.  Here some examples of gamer comments that will sound familiar.

Space is an issue for games that aren’t made for sitting as you play.

Some people only have very limited space in which to play.  So they need games that don’t require you to move around a lot – or at least they need the option to play a game in a mode that allows them to remain seated.

The other issue is that motion controls are not for everyone and to attract people who dislike motion control will require a significant amount of good quality non-motion control based content.

For me, motion controls consistently break the 4th wall and gameplay by not being as responsive or precise as I want them to be, so I actually feel more immersed when using a gamepad, but a lot of the VR games use motion controls

And some people still experience physical problems when using VR kit:

it has made my motion sickness go into hyper drive. 

when I wear glasses, it is kind of a chore

To my mind one of the most significant objections raised was this:

VR games still seem like glorified tech demos to me.

Now there are some VR/AR games that have enjoyed a lot of success, so in these cases it would seem that we are dealing with games that have managed to evolve beyond being tech gimmicks into offering something else.  But what is the secret of their success?

The Ingredients of Success

In a sense the success of Alyx provides a glimpse of what it is about VR that people like.  However, some elements of its success have nothing to do with VR.  In particular, it is part of an already established franchise with a ready made fan base that it could tap into (an ingredient that Pokemon also had).  However, beyond that, it was able to tap into some of the strengths of VR technology and this was able to give it an appeal that other VR games perhaps lack. 

Most importantly, Alyx was designed to be a VR game from the start – not a standard PC or console game that then gets retrofitted to suit VR.  That has enabled it to make optimum use of what VR could do, rather than try to crowbar it in as an afterthought.

The result is a game that is suited to get the most out of the media in which it is presented.  This is a key element it shares with Pokemon-Go.

Pokemon-Go is the ideal AR game.  Why? Because the Pokemon universe is our universe (but including Pokemons!).  Anyone who has watched the original cartoons with Ash and friends will know that the world of Pokemon is not some bizarre fantasy or sci-fi universe, but rather a form of contemporary fantasy.  The stories all appear to be set in our world except that they also feature the addition of Pokemon.  That means that an AR representation of our own world with cartoon Pokemon characters aligns perfectly with the concept.

The key ingredients of Pokemon-Go and Alyx that helped make them successful, is the ability to make the most of the technology in a manner that suits the game and the gaming universe.  There has to be a fit and that fit has to be a seamless one.

The “Gimmick” Risk

When VR games are designed primarily to show off technical trickery, they run the risk of looking like glorified tech demos – superficially impressive, but ultimately unfulfilling (rather like the worst that ‘3D’ cinema has to offer).  The further VR can get away from the gimmicky tricks and focus more on using the technology to deliver a truly immersive and engaging experience the more successful it will be.

Another successful game in the VR field worth mentioning is Skyrim.  No doubt it owes much of its success to its devoted fanbase in the wider gaming world.

Skyrim, whilst not specifically designed for VR , nevertheless clearly had something about it that made it appealing.  Why? 

To answer that you only have to ask what made Skyrim so engaging in the first place, which you can answer by reading any gamer forum where that question is put to fans.  One such response illustrates a key point about this game:

Blackreach was my favorite part of Skyrim. It captured that sense of wonder …  in spades, mixing a unique aesthetic, with a fantastic ambiance 

The wonder and visual experience of encountering a fantastically realised environment (like Blackreach in Skyrim) is an experience that can showcase the very best that VR has to offer.

At the end of the day, what makes VR better than ordinary gaming comes down to its ability to visually immerse you in a fantastic virtual world.  If you are not using VR to achieve that then, at the end of the day, you run the risk that all you are offering is a technical gimmick.

About Synchronix

Synchronix is a full-service market research agency.  We believe in using market research to help our clients understand how best to prepare for the future.  That means understanding change – whether that be changes in technology, culture, attitudes or behaviour. 

We provide a wide range of market research and data services.  You can learn more about our services on our website.  Also, please check out our collection of free research guides for more information on specific services offers.

Sources

The Ringer

VGR

Reddit

Quora

PC Gamer

Tomsguide

The Rise of the Female Gamer

One half of all gamers are women

Gaming is fast becoming as much a female hobby as a male one.

Once upon a time we used to think of gamers, almost exclusively, as young, heterosexual, white, and male.  That is no longer the case.  Gaming is now a popular pastime and today’s “gamers” are a more diverse community than ever before.

These days, around half of all gamers are women – a fact confirmed by more than one 2020 survey reported on UKIE’s ukiepedia site.  Despite this, many women who play games (two-thirds) do not regard “gaming” as one of their hobbies. 

Why don’t women see themselves as gamers?

So why is this?

Perhaps some mostly only play casual games on mobile devices and are less inclined to regard this as “proper” gaming.  Or perhaps some have come to the hobby so recently that they don’t yet see themselves as gamers. Or perhaps the traditional image of the gaming community as a male dominated sphere makes some women reluctant to overtly identify with it.

Anecdotally, women are still a lot less likely to buy from sites such as Steam and, although accurate figures on such sites are hard to come by, there is some evidence to support this.  One 2015 analysis estimated that only between 4% and 18% of visitors to the Steam homepage were actually women.  Now this may well have changed but it does suggest that there are certain gaming environments where you are less likely to find a female gamer. 

Whether or not women as yet represent half of the gaming market in value terms is an open question.  However, they clearly now represent one half of all gamers.  And, no one would argue that, if provided with the right products, women will not spend as much as men.

But if this potential is to be fully realised, we first need to consider what factors, if any, might be holding things back.

What’s putting women off?

One factor that we certainly can’t afford to ignore is that some (possibly many) female gamers have been put off by the toxic misogyny that has been present in certain sections of the gaming community.  This came to an unpleasant head in 2014 with the gamergate controversy.  Attitudes and incidents of this sort will no doubt discourage at least some women from identifying too closely with the gaming community.  It is particularly likely put off others from engaging in some multiplayer games, where they are more likely to encounter such unpleasant behaviour.

Qualitative research has suggested that the online multi-player environment can be particularly problematic for women gamers.  This study suggested that female gamers did, for example, seek to “…mitigate online harassment, including actively hiding their identity and avoiding all forms of verbal communication with other players.”   This may explain, at least partly, why only 33% of women who play games are happy to self-identify as gamers.

When the hobby gets things right

All that said, some studies suggest the hobby is catering more for female gamers than used to be the case.  A 2016 study by Indiana University analysed 571 gaming titles over a 31 year period and claimed that there had been a decline, since 2005, in the level of sexualisation of female characters. 

It is also the case that there will also be certain spaces where you’d be a lot more likely to find female gamers.  Many would argue that female gamers become a lot more significant when it comes to mobile and casual gaming.  For certain games, the female audience can approach 80% but for others it can be as low as 8% and for others closer to 50/50. 

Clearly some games have done a great job of attracting a significant female following, for instance, by offering strong and interesting female character choices.  Games like Horizon Zero Dawn may be an example of this.   As Malindy Hetfield wrote on Polygon: The complex representation of women in different social spheres throughout Horizon Zero Dawn is one of its best features.

Game developers who make the effort to understand and cater for the female audience can potentially unlock a significant future market. All it requires is a good understanding of what that market wants and the ability to develop and market it in an authentic and appealing way.

One potential issue here is the fact that women still represent a minority of people working in the games industry.  UKIE’s 2020 game industry census reported that women make up only 28% of the workforce.  Getting women more involved in the creative process of games development can surely only enrich the end result.

Tapping into the female gamer audience

However, one size is unlikely to fit all and, with so many women now playing games, it would be wrong to think of them as a single homogenous audience.  Some women may prefer casual tile matching games and puzzles but others like enthralling RPGs, or racing games.  The future is likely to see a variety of different female audiences emerge within different gaming genres. 

Tastes are evolving and changing over time and if game developers can find creative ways to tap into the female gaming market, the potential opportunities are clearly significant.  The challenge is to find the right audience and understand how best to reach them with the right products and messages.

We can help in this process by providing audience profiling and segmentation market research services.  If you’d like to find out more about these services, please contact us for more information.

Discovering the Future of Cloud Gaming

People keep talking about it, but will 2021 finally be the year that cloud gaming comes of age?  Will we be seeing an end to discs and downloads as gamers discover a new age of streaming?

The emergence of new services

At the end of 2020 new Cloud gaming services like Stadia, Microsoft’s Ultimate Game Pass and now Amazon’s Luna began to emerge as serious, more rounded, offers.  However, let’s not get too ahead of ourselves, many of these services remain at an early stage of development.  Clearly, the ability to offer a wide range of good quality game content, that works well on many different platforms, represents two essential preconditions that need to be met before these services can make a real impact.  Progress is being made but there is still a long way to go.

The elephant in the room – internet connectivity

The elephant in the room, of course, is the quality of the player’s internet connection.  Looking ahead, you can see how developments like 5G will open up the potential for streaming to mobile, and broadband services in general can be expected to help expand this market. 

That said, the situation today is that many people lack an internet connection that can adequately stream these services as they stand.

This means that the sweet spot for these services at present will be those people with a good broadband connection, who aren’t wedded to the idea of having the latest and greatest console/PC set-up.  The big question is – how small/large is this sweet spot? 

The sweet spot

Those in the sweet spot will include those new to gaming, who are not particularly devoted to a specific hardware set-up.  The PS and Xbox lovers seem keen to continue to invest in consoles.  So too, I would argue, the hardcore PC gamer.  I am sure that some of these people will be happy to experiment with game streaming.  As they are likely to be open to experimentation with any new developments in gaming.

However, there may be newer audiences emerging in terms of people who have taken to gaming a lot more during lockdown.  Another group might be the older generations of gamers – people more likely to have old/outdated gaming platform set-ups.  A third group to look out for would be female gamers – less wedded to consoles and PCs and far more at home gaming on a mobile device.

Cloud gaming might provide these people with a relatively quick and easy way to play new games without needing to get the latest consoles.  Obviously, these services will need to effectively connect with these people and get their messaging right.  After all, many of these people are a different audience from the hardcore gamers currently queuing up to buy the very latest consoles. 

The need to promote real benefits

There is also a potential problem here – and that is that I wonder if they are even promoting the right benefits?

To use these services effectively at the moment you must have a great internet connection.  I suspect that those gamers with great connections are also likely to be the same people with the latest Xbox / PS console or with high powered PCs.  They will be the very same people who have easiest access to the latest games because their tech can handle them.  They are also likely to be the people who will suffer the least from problems when downloading games. 

As a result, some of the benefits that cloud gaming often talks about are least likely to be issues for people with the best internet connections.  So, what is the point of pushing the message that you do not need the latest hardware, if the people with the fastest, most reliable speeds have the latest hardware anyway? And what is the point of telling them that they do not need to worry about slow downloads or troublesome upgrades when it is not a problem, because most of them have top-end fibre connectivity? 

So, the big question is, what other benefits are these services offering? 

Content is King

The obvious key requirement for these services to have any future at all will be for them to offer a strong library of relevant content.  Because for any streaming service, content is king after all.  Offering a few dozen titles (not all of which work on all platforms) is not that great to say the least.  100 titles – so what?  Steam offer thousands of titles!  Once people can be sure, for example, that all Xbox games are available for streaming on Ultimate Game Pass – then we would be cooking on gas.

At present content libraries are a bit scant, although they are growing.  The appeal of a streaming service will be limited by the range and quality of the content it can offer and its ability to deliver that content on any platform with consummate ease.

Just compare these services with successful, mass-market, film or music streaming services.  Netflix UK offers 6,500 films and box sets, including much unique content, available over pretty much any platform you could want.  Currently, cloud gaming services come nowhere near offering that kind of choice.  And if those services can take one lesson from film and TV streaming, it will be that the provision of attractive original content is likely to be the most important determinant of longer-term success (or failure).

The Right Business Model

Finally, these services are going to need to find the right business model for delivering cloud gaming.  Currently, things are at an early stage and, I suspect, many providers are still feeling their way.

The benchmark standards have already been set by the music and film streaming services.  These are the standards by which cloud gaming will ultimately be judged. 

Netflix UK deliver their service for an all-in cost of £84-£168 a year.  Now, buying a film on a DVD is generally cheaper than buying a game on disc so, granted, it is not 100% comparable.  That said, film and music streaming services have, in many ways, set expectations in consumers’ minds as to how successful streaming services should work. Which is that an all-in price provides access to a large amount of content.

On the other hand, Amazon’s film and TV streaming works a little differently in so far as you get access to a lot of free stuff and then pay extra for the premium content.  That works because there is a lot of essentially free content. 

So, when all is said and done, cloud gaming is likely going to need to develop an approach like the models that have been shown to work well for film and TV.  And that, of course, brings us back to the need for content.

A year of evolution rather than revolution

On balance, 2021 is more likely to prove to be a year of evolution and experimentation rather than one of revolution.  It is likely that these services will need this time to build their functionality and gaming libraries.  In addition to that, they will probably go through a period of experimentation whilst they get their business models right.  

That said, it is quite possible that by the end of the year we may see some of these services develop the necessary content libraries, business model and technology to start making a more serious in-road into the traditional gaming market.  The potential is there – at the end of the day, if it can work for film and TV then it can work for gaming.  But there is still a fair journey to go before realising that potential.

Discovering the Future of Mobile Gaming

Mobile gaming has achieved massive popularity in recent years.  The pandemic of 2020 has seen it boom, with Facebook figures reported in the Drum, showing mobile gaming hours spent on its platform doubling when comparing Q4 2019 with Q4 2020.  So, what might we expect to see in the coming year?  Here’s our take on four key things to look out for in the development of mobile gaming in 2021.

Firstly, 2021 will see the roll out of 5G. The consequence of this is that it will become increasing easy to stream games over mobile and this will open the door to new possibilities in terms of gaming development. 

The most popular mobile games up to now have tended to be puzzle games, arcade games and other what might be termed “casual” games.  Part of the reason for their popularity relates to the fact that they are well suited to playing quick games on-the-go on your phone (for example, whilst you are commuting or taking your lunch break).  No doubt that will remain very influential in how the market develops.  That said, other types of games may currently be less popular on mobile only because of the limitations of the technology.  So, if 5G is combined with a great use of edge computing this will allow mobile gamers to play games that offer better graphics combined with a more interactive, immersive experience than has previously been the case.  As a result, we may well find that other gaming genres can finally become more popular on mobile.

Secondly, we should look out for further developments in terms of the links between gaming and social media on mobile over the coming year.  The original Farmville demonstrated the potential of social media gaming on Facebook over a decade ago.  Recently Farmville was retired from Facebook (its flash technology finally consigning it to the history books) but it has provided the blueprint for casual gaming success.  Zynga’s founder, Marc Pincus, noted in his recent Twitter feed that “The real innovation of FarmVille was in making games accessible to busy adults, giving them a place to invest and express themselves and be seen by people in their lives as creative.” Farmville on Facebook may be gone but Farmville 3 will aim to emulate its success on mobile.  But Zygna are by no means done with social media.  In 2020, Snap Games’ players exceeded 100 million, prompting Zynga to enter into a partnership with them to create multiplayer games for their platform.  Facebook too has moved on with its own gaming app and has seen gaming activity double in 2020.  It will be interesting to see how social media platforms and gaming companies seek to find new ways to exploit the opportunities offered by such an obvious symbiotic relationship during 2021.

Thirdly, is the huge potential mobile gaming offers as the advertising media of the future.  There is clear potential here to reach an engaged, fast growing, mass market audience.  Finding ways in which to make this work & exploring how best to use this new media will be an area where we’d expect to see some significant developments in 2021.  And the way forward may not simply be in-game ads but also sponsorships and in-game product placement (less intrusive and potentially as impactful as any influencer endorsement).   Reaching global audiences in the tens of millions means that mobile gaming is not a medium that advertisers can afford to ignore.

Fourthly (and finally), mobile gaming may well prove to be an area to watch in terms of cloud streaming services such as Google Stadia, Microsoft’s Ultimate Game Pass and Amazon Luna. 

These services will need to do some work to get the technology right and (more important in many ways) the content.  5G will have a role to play in terms of the former but, assuming they can get their ducks in a row, mobile could well be the platform to watch.  Why?  Because the mobile gaming audience will include a great many new as well as casual gamers who are not wedded to traditional console and PC gaming.  They will also include many people who are comfortable with streaming film or music to their mobiles already, so Cloud Gaming will not seem like a strange concept to them. 

However, there are barriers here that will need to be overcome – the availability of faster reliable connections (which 5G can play a role in providing) and the limitations of data caps will likely mean that cloud gaming on mobile will start off niche.  More important will be the availability of a strong library of mobile games (and here it is still very early days).  Of course, these services also need to get their business model right – can they evolve a model that is closer to a Netflix or a Spotify to really enable them to connect with a mass market?  All that said, mobile has the potential to offer some significant longer-term opportunities for Cloud services and it is worth watching out for how this develops over 2021.

Scroll to Top