Thursday, August 28, 2014

It's A Numbers Game

I have been reading more articles about the ESRB's 2014 version of their annual review regarding gaming stats and who is playing. While many people are focusing on the fact that women do make up the majority of the gamers, and we should start demanding more changes to reflect this, a part of me feels that people are rushing to conclusions without absorbing all of the information being presented. It's easy to take up a position when you have the basic facts. "Not enough women in gaming? Outrageous!" I want to take this time to dive deeper into one particular comment that I see over and over again:

- "They keep marketing to only 17% of their demographic!" This comes courtesy of writer May, on Autostraddle. This is where numbers can play tricks with your brain. 52% of the game playing market is male, with 71% (32% and 39% respectively) over the age of 18 as gamers for both men and women. This isn't all people in the United States. Only 59% of the population within the U.S. will state that they play video games. This is all an estimation. Not every single citizen was surveyed, and some people may not view cell phone games as a "video game" which can skew the results. The 17% that Autostraddle's article refers to is this statement in the results: "Women after 18 or older represent a significantly greater portion of the game-playing population (36%) than boys age 18 or younger (17%)." It is true that women are playing more games then boys under 18. But, so are men over 18. They still make up the majority of gamers (somewhere in the realm in 45-50% when you start breaking down the numbers). How did I come up with that? Math. If you take that 71% I mentioned earlier and get rid of the 36% for women, you end up with 35%. Well that's not right then, now is it? Not if men are still the majority according to the pie chart on page 5 of the results. The 36% comes from all gamers within that particular age range, in this case 18-35, and splits the gender between men and women and then divides the percentage by the Age ratio originally quoted. That means 36% women, 64% men in that coveted 18-35 grouping of the 32% who do game. I didn't tweak any of the numbers. I'm simply presenting them in another way to show how easily numbers can trick our brains. It's of no fault to the ESRB. The information they have is accurate. But it doesn't provide the complete picture.

As we continue to talk about target marketing, the coveted group is 18-35 year old single males. These tend to be the group with the most disposable income, that's why. And when 64% of gamers are male in that age range, what are you going to do? Focus your marketing and development tactics to ensure they are your key demographic. And why is that? Well kids, game companies are businesses. They want to make money just like everyone else. So of course they are going to adjust their position to ensure that they are marketing to audiences that will buy their products. Not to sound like I'm repeating myself, but I have to-it's logical to think that they want to make money too. So of course they are going to target to that male audience.

Kids marketing for games has changed over the years, from what I have seen. They no longer make up the majority, and as such, game makers have tailored the experience. You'll find more advertisements featuring girls playing games, female avatars to select, and broader appeal to families. Thank you Nintendo for being the forefront of this. So while we may not see a female lead in Assassin's Creed (again Ubisoft, Kojima is giving us real time horse poop), kids games have been receiving facelifts to target the new generation of gamers: boys AND girls playing together.

There is a show on National Geographic titled Brain Games, that has an episode focused on numbers and how they can easily be misconstrued to provide different answers to the same question. Give it a watch if you want to know more about the stats above.  Or you can watch Pen & Teller's Bullsh*t episode titled Numbers. Both are equally informative. The latter has swearing. :)

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