Gaming once meant plugging a console into a television using a bunch of cables, blowing on a cartridge in case dust was making the game unreadable, and going down to the shop and spending quite a lot of money on a new game (or possibly on renting a game from your local Blockbusters). As anyone old enough to remember will recall, it wasn’t a hassle, it was merely part of gaming. Although Nintendo’s offerings and other game consoles have more or less been commonplace since the mid-80s or early-90s, back then they were novelty items in a burgeoning market.
Nowadays, the gaming industry is big money, with 2016 seeing the gaming industry bring in somewhere close to $90 billion. As time goes on, the industry continues to mature and develop in new ways. The industry has gone from being almost a niche market, namely the sole purview of adolescent boys, to a market that has about as much gender distribution as something like food. By some estimates, there are now more women and girls gaming than men and boys — although, in development and programming, the bias is still strongly tilted in favour of men.
At present, there are still tremendous differences in the types of games that men and women play. Conforming to heteronormative stereotypes, we can see in data collected by Quantic Foundry, a game analytics consulting practice, that in the genres of grand strategy, shooting and sports, fewer than ten per cent of gamers are women. The numbers almost reverse when you look at match-three games (think Tetris) and family or farm simulators, where some seven in ten players are female. The Sims, a life simulation game par excellence developed by EA Maxis and first released in 2000, went on to sell some 200 million copies and it is estimated that 60 percent of the people playing the game are women and girls.
One of biggest game changers – in both the most literal and figurative of senses – in the industry has been the introduction of smartphones as gaming devices. Of that $90 billion earned in 2016, nearly half of it was for games played on smartphones or other portable devices like tablets. With some three billion downloads, physics-based Angry Birds is a testament to market for mobile games. UK-based Sun Bingo offers customers mobile bingo and other games in which players can win cash prizes, while the hugely successful Pokémon Go, a game designed especially for mobile devices, topped the charts for both Google Play and Apple’s App Store in 2016. The arrival of casual games on the markets is one of the factors that led to a more equal distribution amongst the sexes. Beyond that, it’s the biggest factor in the explosion of the industry. In the year that the first iPhone was introduced, 2007, the gaming industry took in $31.6 billion. It doesn’t require much imagination to see the economic impact of mobile gaming.
As populations who have spent most of their lives surrounded by or at least not unfamiliar with video games ages, the demographics do too. With data gathered from some 4000 American households, the Entertainment Software Association annually releases a report on the trends found in the world of gaming. Although the image of the asocial male adolescent gamer persists vehemently, the study found the average age of a male gamer is 35, whereas for female players it was an even higher 44. Where hours spent gaming are concerned, the study found that two-thirds of households in the US have at least one person who plays three hours or more per week.
The study also notes that while just under half the households surveyed have a dedicated game console device, 97 percent of houses had a personal computer and 81 percent had smartphones, meaning the gaming industry has the potential to reach nearly everyone. Around half of the respondents also said that video games help them stay in touch with friends and stay closer with family – a far-cry from the loner gamer image of yesteryear.
In the same way that it’s difficult for us to imagine nowadays what air travel was like in the 1950s or before, for anyone who didn’t play video games in the 1970s or 1980s, playing on smartphones and tablets might seem unquestionably natural. What is easy to imagine, however, is the continued growth of the gaming industry across as demographics as computers and smartphones continue to proliferate.