Massively Overthinking: Why doesn’t video game marketing reflect our demographics?


This week’s Massively Overthinking topic comes to us from Steve, and it’s a frustration for our team as well, I promise.

“If the following statistics industry execs and analysts put out are true – that online multiplayer games are most profitable, that the average age of gamers is 35, that over 40% of gamers are female, and that ‘women’ and ‘over 35’ are two of the fastest growing demographic segments – why are virtually all major online multiplayer games designed primarily (in fact, almost exclusively) for males aged 15 to 35? I can’t speak for women, because as a straight, white male, I am aware 97% of the world exists to obey my whims and desires. However, as someone in my 40s, I notice that video games increasingly tend to be the exception, and it’s pissing me off more daily. So I can only imagine how frustrating it must be for women (40% of gamers, but just one Overwatch pro, for example, has to be infuriating). For an industry that wants every cent it can get its hands on, ignoring these groups (particularly the affluent 35+ age group) seems like a massive oversight.”

Yep! Let’s dig in.

Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): Agreed! However, how many of those industry execs are male? How many of the developers are male? The marketing team? How many of them would be willing to tone down the violence and sexuality and risk losing the male audience, especially if men tend to make more money then women?

It sucks, and its frustrating. I’m hanging out in meatspace with more female gamers these days, and most of them just don’t want to reveal their gender, let alone with strangers. While online games may be popular, the communities aren’t always known to be accepting even of other males. Talk to any casual gamer about AAA titles like League of Legends, Overwatch, Call of Duty, Playerunknown’s Battlgrounds… basically any of the smash hits, and the phrase “toxic community” will come up. No, those aren’t MMOs, but they’re accessible online games. The survival genre doesn’t help with this either, and I really thought that would have given MMOs a shot in the arm by making PvP feel more community dependent (I’m feeling completely wrong there).

World of Warcraft probably is better known for being accepting of both genders to a degree, but it’s also an older title with a first party voice chat barely being utilized. Console gamers rarely use keyboards it seems, making anonymity harder. There are other MMOs (Final Fantasy XIV seems particularly attractive for newer players), but our genre is notoriously time intensive, which is probably another reason it’s marketed to younger players. The combination of the idea that online games these days require voice chat and that MMOs in particular are time intensive make marketing harder, especially when you look at all the failed WoW-clones. The people financially backing/building these games are going to stick with more traditional audiences that align with their own identities/gamer stereotypes, even if a broader audience is theoretically available.

everybody everybody

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): Over Christmas, my parents finally handed over the massive stash of LEGOs my brother and I collected through the ’80s and ’90s, which they’d kept in storage until my son was old enough to inherit them. As we’ve been unbundling the sets, I’m surprised to realize we aren’t seeing any “girl” colors in our old sets. The knights, pirates, policemen, and ninjas were all “boy” LEGOs. There were only a couple of female minifigs in our entire stash. Good thing I was stubborn! Nowadays, we’ve moved from that sort of hidden sexism to outright gender-shaming when it comes to toy marketing because marketers figured out that it sells. Toys that logically ought to be universally enjoyable are now color-coded, gender-coded – instead of ignoring girls, now LEGO sells toys that intentionally divide girls from boys – and boys from girls. Boys have been socialized to favor “boy” toys marketed specifically as not-for-girls, whereas girls will play with both because being a “tomboy” isn’t as ostracizing. Everyone loses.

Replace the word toy with video games and here we are. Publishers have spent such a long time telling dudes that video games are for them that they are now terrified of losing the market they control by chasing the market they don’t with the same product, having already predicated the dude market’s (and product’s) whole identity on that gender-based Catch-22. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been told by dudes to get out of “their” games as if the mere presence of a girl doing what they’re doing undermines their manliness – and they didn’t just pluck that idea out of the air; they were taught it, and you can’t unteach it overnight. Good thing I’m still stubborn!

The ageism issue was working its way out as the gamer and developer demographic grew up too, but e-sports’ popularity with Gens Y and Z put the brakes on that. The biggest entertainment industries are no longer selling game content as their main product, after all; they are selling the attention of their consumers. Riot Games would rather sell advertising space for placements seen by a zillion broke-ass 18-year-old boys surfing Twitch than produce and sell skins to you. Not that it’s going to turn you down – it’s just why “disposable income” isn’t the most important factor.

Eliot Lefebvre (@Eliot_Lefebvre, blog): This is, honestly, too big to dive into in just an Overthinking response. The short answer is “dumb, short-sighed reasons,” and that’s when we take into account that MMOs are some of the most inclusive subgenres out there. The really long answer would be an entire series of columns, some of which I’ve already written.

The middle-length answer? Well, the companies running these games want to police toxic behavior, but they really want money. So they’d prefer to only police toxic behavior when it gets really escalated, which means that most people who aren’t men (preferrably straight white men) between 15-35 are more likely to just avoid these games outright. Video games, in their own way, are having the same problem that comic books have been having for decades, where it’s becoming increasingly clear that you can either cater to an aging and calcified fanbase that wants a wooden “NO GIRLS ALLOWED” sign in front of the door or you can risk alienating that core base while potentially picking up a lot of new people.

Fortunately, games as a whole have gotten steadily better because as you mentioned, there’s a huge portion of the world that is not straight white men aged 15-35. But there are a lot of complex factors at play that led to marketing games to that demographic for long enough that a lot of the people willing to get into game development were themselves in that demographic. It’s going to take time for that to really filter out of the system.

MJ Guthrie (@MJ_Guthrie, blog): I, I don’t even know how to answer. How do you respond to nonsense of game companies marketing seemingly exclusively to a demographic that is not the one with the most disposable cash nor is the one that is growing? It is kind of mind-boggling. Are they stupid to ignore the demographics? I think so. I’d want to make more products that enticed those folks with more disposal income to spend. And let’s not ignore the fact of more people mean more possible customers. It is one of those times I get the feeling that many suits are totally clueless about the customer base, or maybe they have an agenda to keep the world in a certain order. Not like that has ever happened, right?

Now the question is, are they ignoring the demographics? That part I am not sure of. Are these numbers specifically about MMOs? Then egads, industry, get on the bandwagon already and make some money by giving games to these groups! If stereotypes is all that is holding the industry back then get over them already. However, if it takes into account all gaming, with things like the FarmVilles and Candy Crushes of the world, then how are those number skewed? Maybe development is going into those things because that is where the customers are right now. I can’t speak much on that because I avoid those games.

Your turn!

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