Video Games Conquer Retirees

I’ve been blogging a lot about how the gaming demographic is changing, and about how to game industry needs to change with it. When the New York Times reports about the same thing, I figure the idea’s going mainstream, and maybe we can expect the mainstream game industry to do something about it. We’ll see. 🙂 Oh, dare I point out this is yet another reference to the Wii and the Wiimote catching on fire? Metaphorically speaking, of course!

So how will this happen best? With companies focused on vertical demographic niches, and building products specifically for them? Or companies developing games carefully designed to appeal across demographics? I can think of examples of both already. However it happens, it’s growth for gaming, growth for the industry, and fun for the new people who are coming into gaming.  Growth that – because it’s so obviously a surprise for most analysts and industry – if likely to shift and increase growth even beyond the projections I’ve blogged about before.

Video Games Conquer Retirees

There’s a lot more in the article – I highly recommend a click and read. But some highlights:

many also have a new hobby, one they credit for keeping their hands steady and minds sharp. They play video games. Every day residents go to the seven-terminal “Computer Cove” to click furiously on colorful, nonviolent, relatively simple games like Bejeweled, Bookworm and Chuzzle.

Spurred by the popularity of the Nintendo Wii game system among older players, Erickson Retirement Communities, based in Baltimore, which manages 18 campuses around the country with 19,000 total residents, is installing the consoles at each location.
[On Thursday Norwegian Cruise Line announced that it was installing Wii systems on all its ships.]

It turns out that older users not only play video games more often than their younger counterparts but also spend more time playing per session. Pogo.com is a Web site that offers “casual” games, easy to play and generally less complicated than the war, sports and strategy games favored by hard-core gamers. According to Electronic Arts, the game publisher that runs the site, people 50 and older were 28 percent of the visitors in February but accounted for more than 40 percent of total time spent on the site. On average women spent 35 percent longer on the site each day than men.

“Baby boomers and up are definitely our fastest-growing demographic, and it is because the fear factor is diminishing,” said Beatrice Spaine, the Pogo.com marketing director. “Women come for the games, but they stay for the community. Women like to chat, and these games online are a way to do that. It’s kind of a MySpace for seniors.”

Sister Marie Richard Eckerle, 72, who introduced the games at St. Mary, smiled and said: “I hear all the time from sisters when they first see the computer, ‘I can’t do it, I can’t do it, I can’t do it.’ And then they can do it. And they actually like it.”

The game industry has been pleasantly surprised to discover this growing audience that is more familiar with Little Richard than Ludacris, and some companies, particularly Nintendo and makers of easy-to-play casual games, have begun to cater specifically to older players. (Microsoft and Sony, two other big game companies, still focus mostly on young men.)

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“We actually use something called the ‘Mom Test,’ ” said John Vechey, 28, a founder of PopCap. “When we were first making games like Bejeweled, we would sit our moms in front of the computers and just let them play, and that’s a big way how we would see what works in an accessible, casual game. The problem is that our moms have gotten a little too savvy, so we’re always looking for new moms to test on.”

Aside from casual PC games the other big spur to increased gaming by older players has been the recent introduction of two new game systems by Nintendo of Japan. The hand-held DS and the home Wii console (pronounced “we”) are specifically meant to buck the industry trend toward increasing complexity and instead provide a simple yet captivating experience for players of all ages and degrees of coordination. In many games, players need only swing and twist the Wii controller rather than have to master complicated combinations of buttons and triggers.Jim Karle, a graduate student in the department of psychology, neuroscience and behavior at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, reported last year that preliminary experiments indicated that playing video games could have a beneficial effect on short-term memory. Mr. Karle has not applied his research directly to older subjects, he said, but he may not have to. He has witnessed the increased popularity of gaming among older players first-hand.

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