This Giant Industry Isn't Just For Teenage Boys Anymore
It's a common workplace scenario. A colleague mentions "Minecraft," "Mario" or "Monument Valley," while a second squints back, intrigued but a little confused.
"Is that a game? Like, with a screen and controller?"
The first employee starts to explain, but gives up. At best, the second admits to playing a video game once, for an hour, nearly 10 years ago. The two colleagues depart, and the stereotype persists: games are geeky, young, insular and niche—the playthings of teenage boys and nerdy twentysomethings.
The data says that stereotype is wrong. Video games have never been more popular, and video game players (often called "gamers") are as diverse in age and gender as they've ever been, despite what the occasional bemused coworker or classmate might say.
In order to visualize the gaming market in 2015, SpecOut turned to the Entertainment Software Association (ESA). The ESA publishes a yearly study on video game sales, demographics and usage, based on a survey of 4,000 American households.
Age And Gender Diversity
In 2015, the average gamer is 35 years old. What's more, there are more gamers in the 18-35 and 50+ cohorts than there are in the under-18 group.
So gamers are diverse in age, but what about gender?
While a slight majority of gamers are male, the industry is not nearly as male-dominated as many stereotypes would suggest. Compared to STEM majors and women in tech—areas where male dominance remains a big problem—gaming is in great shape, and on pace to approach a 50/50-split in just a few years.
That's not to say that the gaming community is spotless here. Female gamers remain a target for online bullies, and women often receive criticism, insults and threats. This might explain why many online shooters feel like all-male frat houses, even if a big portion of the player base is quietly female. It's one of the many reasons why the teenage boy stereotype persists, despite an increasingly diverse community of players.
The Rise Of Smartphones
But how much have smartphone games contributed to this diversification? After all, it's one thing to play "Angry Birds" (99¢) while waiting for the subway. It's quite another to log regular sessions of "Call of Duty," a $60 game made for pricey consoles and PCs.
Once again, the data suggests that consoles and PCs are still a huge part of the gaming equation. The ESA polled the "most frequent gamer" from each surveyed household, asking which platforms he or she used to play games. Smartphones were a distant third (35 percent of respondents) behind PCs (62 percent) and game consoles (56 percent). Add to that the fact that 51 percent of U.S. households now own a dedicated game console, and the good-old-fashioned Xbox, PlayStation or Wii is still very much relevant to the industry.
(If there's one platform that likely has been cannibalized by the smartphone, it's the dedicated handheld system—like the Nintendo 3DS or PS Vita—played by only 21 percent of even the most frequent household gamers.)
Increases In Digital Sales
The mighty smartphone may be less popular among each household's "most frequent gamer," but there's no question that the device has disrupted the industry in a variety of ways, many positive for gamers.
With 75 percent penetration in the U.S. market, three out of four Americans now have a potential gaming platform in arm's reach, lowering the barrier for curious new players.
And then there's ease of access to software. With the advent of the App Store and Google Play Store, consumers can now browse titles, read reviews and download cheap or free games in a matter of minutes—a process speedy, efficient and seamless enough to make even Amazon envious.
While Apple and Google didn't invent digital downloads, the explosion of smartphone apps has pushed console makers to polish and improve their digital offerings as well. Across all platforms, digital downloads have become the norm, passing the 50 percent mark in 2014.
The march toward digital software means more living room-downloading and fewer trips to GameStop or Best Buy, removing yet another barrier to entry for first-time gamers.
Parents As Gamers
So gamers are getting older, women are playing more every year and smartphones are creating new players. But how is it possible that gamers over 50 years old make up the second-biggest gaming cohort?
One likely explanation? Parents. In households where kids play games, 59 percent of parents play games at least once a week, if not more, as a social activity with their children. Combine these parents with your average, 50+ game enthusiasts, and you make up 27 percent of the nationwide gaming population.
Parents are also embracing video games because of the return on investment. Consider the cost of a blockbuster video game next to that of a family sporting event, theme park or movie.
On average, a family trip to the movies will run you just a bit less than a marquee game, but when you consider that most AAA games will provide over 30 hours of entertainment, many parents will pick Mario over "Minions."
The sales numbers for each industry only further make the case. Despite far greater attention in mainstream media outlets, movies and music simply aren't making as much as video games—and it's not close.
Setting Aside The Stereotype
The video game industry still has a ways to go. Online bullying is a real problem, a discouraging factor for female gamers especially. Smartphones have helped push the industry forward, but they've also introduced a glut of garbage apps, focused more on in-app purchases and less on innovative gameplay. Game development remains a risky business, where developers are overworked and success is elusive—an environment that drives talented people away from games and toward safer, corporate jobs.
But it's time to admit one aspect of gaming that's no longer a problem: gamer diversity. The industry has gone mainstream, and there's a whole community of players who want to see these problems solved, to keep enjoying the most creative games, to share a competitive online experience. That's something even the break room colleague can get behind.
The following article is from one of our external contributors. It does not represent the opinion of Benzinga and has not been edited.