The evolution of gaming – from niche to mainstream

A couple gaming

There was a time, perhaps not so long ago, when gaming was viewed as a niche hobby, appealing only to young men.  Many people’s idea of a ‘gamer’ was of a teenage boy glued to a computer screen, leading a semi-reclusive and often nocturnal lifestyle.

But this has changed.  Gaming has evolved significantly since those times and now reaches a far more diverse demographic than ever before.

In 2021, the fact is that most people are gamers.  Using the results from our recent gamer survey, we explore just how widespread and diverse gaming has become.

Old stereotypes persist

Surprisingly, some people still regard gaming as a niche interest, apparently clinging to many of the old stereotypes.

Only this year in September an article appeared in the Telegraph under the headline “Grown men shouldn’t be wasting their lives playing video games.”   The story implied firstly that gaming is a bit of a frivolous waste of time for an adult, and secondly that it’s mainly men, rather than women, who tend to ‘waste’ their time doing it.

Of course, it is strange indeed that gaming should be singled out in this manner. Other equally unproductive leisure pastimes like watching movies, attending a gig or being a spectator at a sports event are, for some reason, considered to be less of a waste of time.  But leaving that aside, the idea that gaming is still the exclusive preserve of geeky teenage boys couldn’t be further from the truth.

Most of us are gamers

The reality is that gaming is now a mainstream interest.  Our survey shows that 76% of adults aged 16+ played a game last year. 

Now you might argue that playing Call of Duty for an hour on your old Xbox360 once last year does not a ‘true’ gamer make.  There are of course a few people who only play occasionally like this.  However, perhaps a better way of looking at it is that around 60% of us play games on a regular basis (at least once a week).

So, the truth is that most adults are playing games regularly.

Gaming is no longer an all-male preserve

The idea that gamers are mostly all men is also false.  The reality is that the majority (57%) of adult women play games every week (compared to 64% of men).  So, male gamers still make up the majority – but only just.

Men and women often engage with gaming differently, however.  They have different platform preferences, different genre preferences and even different preferences in where and how they like to buy their games.

Info graphic of UK gaming habits by gender

Men are more likely to play on the more conventional gaming platforms like PCs or games consoles.  40% of male gamers would solely play regularly on such devices, with only 18% being predominantly mobile gamers.  For women, the reverse is true. Nearly half of female gamers play regularly on mobiles but hardly at all on PC or console platforms.  Only a minority of women (15%) would tend to avoid mobiles in favour of playing regularly on a PC or Console.

Men are more likely to opt from games like shooters, sports and fighting games – all classic genres with a long-established history.  However, for women, casual games are by the far the most popular.  Women also like games with a mystery solving theme (rather than fighting and/or shooting themes) and many women like to play what we’ve termed “table games”.  This relates to a mobile, console or PC version of a conventional game that you might expect to physically play at your table (like sudoku, scrabble, jigsaw puzzles or solitaire).

Platform and genre preference also impact on where people like to buy their games.  Women, with a stronger preference for mobile and casual gaming are much more inclined to source their games from places like the App Store and Google Play.  For men, sources like Amazon and PlayStation Store become far more important.

Gaming across the generations

But is it still true to say that gaming is mainly all about teenagers and people in their early twenties?

No.

68% of youngsters aged 16-24 play games every single week.  This is higher than the average for all adults, so gaming certainly appears to be most popular with this age group.

However, a very similar proportion of 25–34-year-olds play just as often. And if we look at the 34-44 age group we see that as many as 64% also play regularly. 

Gaming remains almost as popular with the 45-54 age group; 62% of whom play every week.

For the 55-64 age group, we do see some decline in interest in gaming.  However, significant numbers of people of this age still play and still play regularly.  41% play games every week.  It seems that many of the old Space Invaders generation are still gaming strong.

Gaming is evolving as a key media for the C21st

Gaming is fast becoming as much a part of our daily leisure activities as watching movies or listening to music. 

As a leisure medium, gaming benefits from the potential to offer a high degree of interaction.  The player does not passively experience a game, they actively participate in it.  If a game designer can get it right, they can create a truly absorbing, interactive experience that will attract a highly engaged audience.

This isn’t simply an opportunity for gaming brands but, increasingly, a fast-evolving opportunity for brands outside the industry.  The medium of gaming provides such brands with a golden opportunity to connect with a highly engaged audience.

eSports events already attract significant sponsorship from brands like Intel, Coca-Cola, Honda and Red Bull.  For a brand like Intel, the tie-in is an obvious one, with gamers being such important consumers of higher-end PCs.  But what about soft drinks and automotive brands? Well, here the tie-in is also compelling; regular gamers account for as many as 70% of adults who say they enjoy soft fizzy drinks and 61% of car owners.

Gaming offers all these brands a means to reach out to highly engaged audiences; some of which may be hard to connect with via other more traditional media.

One thing is for sure, as gaming continues to evolve, it will reach out to wider and more diverse sections of the community. This will bring with it new challenges as well as new opportunities.

For further information about the UK gaming market & Synchronix

The statistics quoted in this article come from our UK Gaming Market Report of 2021. 

This report provides invaluable insight into current trends in the UK gaming market, covering detailed gamer demographics, genre preferences, device preferences, trends in Cloud, eSports audiences, VR, gamer consumer profiles, aspirations for the future and more. 

You can find out more about this report 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

Playbook – UK Gaming Market Report 2021, Synchronix Research

Mental Health Foundation

Telegraph, Camilla Tominey, September 2021

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