Who’s really gaming today?

Media

You always think of Xboxers and gamers in general as teenage and male – at least, that’s the stereotypical image. Perhaps Xbox has a slightly younger profile than other consoles (though this is a moot point) but, generally, that’s the overall perception.

But is this accurate today?

Well, when it comes to consoles, there is a high degree of accuracy in the perception, but when we talk about gaming in general, the truth is very different.

In particular, the explosion in smartphones in the past five or six years has really changed both the gaming possibilities and the gaming stats. The stereotypes hold true no longer (if they ever did).

One recent UK survey by the Internet Advertising Bureau researched the online and overall gaming traits of the country. Somewhere in the region of 4,000 people were surveyed, so this is a reasonable sample of the country’s estimated 33.5 million gamers of all different types.

Now what’s really interesting here is that the females of the species took the lead for the first time ever in any such gaming surveys in the UK. In fact, just over half of all gamers today are women – with a score of 52 per cent, according to the survey.

And many of the players on smartphones choose to play games for real cash, including bingo and casino games. The former are certainly more popular with women than they are with men, and other surveys seem to suggest that the social aspects of the game and the sheer fun are more important to women than they are to men who are simply playing to win.

Most bingo sites have chat room facilities, but they also have progressive jackpot prizes and although the stats suggest that bingo is still predominantly female preserve – it is certainly true that more men are also playing. And with sites like betfair now offering Bingo games, along with the other likes of coral and mecca, which are generally male dominated, it gives an indication of the way things may be moving.

But perhaps the really big explosion in gaming in recent years has been the time-killing, fun games on smartphones or tablets – like mobile scrabble games, Dots or Threes, Monument Valley and many others.

In fact, according to the Internet Advertising Bureau survey, over half the ladies interviewed (56%, to be accurate) who are aged over 43 years old played mobile puzzle games as their number one choice of game.

These games have a couple of things in common that set them apart from others. First of all, they’re free to download as long as you don’t mind a few pop-up advertisements from time to time. Secondly, they can be played intermittently with ease – so they’re simple to play while you’re on the move or just from time to time whenever the moods takes you. This appeals to women leading busy lives.

But are there other reasons more females have developed an interest in gaming in Britain over the past few years? Well, the device certainly seems absolutely crucial – and the overall means of play. Over half the female respondents cite their mobile as the primary choice, followed by the computer, the tablet or the console.

But at the same time, other surveys suggest that mobile gaming is becomingly increasingly more of a family pastime. A survey from the U.S.’s Entertainment Software Association in 2013 suggests that 58% of gamers play video games with their kids once a month or more and over a third of all respondents play with their children once a week or more.

So perhaps gaming is becoming more of a family pursuit as opposed to solitary, young males. This certainly seems to reflect the ads for consoles, including Xbox, which seem ever more aimed at families. What’s more, the American survey also indicates that 16% of all respondents play games with their partners and just over a third of people play with other family members. In short, gaming on consoles is becoming increasingly a family / social activity.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the fence, the “supply” side, there seems to be a difference in the sexes that perhaps reflects more the nature of the gamers playing on consoles rather than mobile gaming etc. In the UK today, just 12% of all computer game designers are women. But this is a little chicken and egg. The most popular console games remain a male preserve but is that because of the guys who are designing the games or does it reflect the realistic demand? And if it’s the latter – why is that? Is it that action-based games tending to appeal more for some inherent reason to the testosterone fuelled amongst us? Because this certainly isn’t reflected in the trends of the mobile gaming world.

So maybe we’re on the verge of a sea change in console gaming too? Perhaps the relatively gentle introduction into the world of gaming will now mean that more women crossover into console gaming – particularly if it really is becoming more of a family and social pastime. So perhaps the future Xbox games will reflect this kind of change? Of course, this is all conjecture and it remains to be seen what will actually happen.

So it seems the age of the teenage males dominating gaming are over, or at least being whittled away. But when it comes to console games and particular types of console games aimed mainly at young males (Grand Theft Auto, combat games, various action spots etc.) the market is likely to remain dominated by this segment and again – the game-specific internet and TV ads certainly reflect this target demographic.

So what does the future hold? Well, it seems likely that the current trends will continue for the foreseeable future but the whole nature of this fast-moving world is that anything is possible. Techie developments tomorrow could change what we think we all “know” today – just as the smartphones have done.

Dave is the co-owner of TIX - When the site breaks, it's his fault! You'll find him playing a lot of FIFA and removing heads with ease on Gears of War with the longshot...