4 Myths About the Gaming Audience and How To Think About Them Differently

If you look up “gamer” or “gaming” on most stock photo sites, you’re going to see a lot of the same things: a boy with an awestruck expression perched at the edge of a couch with a controller in his hands; a young adult decorated with a gaming headset, tense-set eyes, upright and focused in a black and neon room; and (though dwindling down somewhat in the age of lucrative pro-gaming deals) teens with snarls on their faces, screaming angrily at a TV screen with a white-knuckled grip on their controllers.

These people certainly exist outside the universe of stock photography. However, it’s an incomplete picture at best. If you are only speaking to tropes while developing your marketing plan, you’re neglecting a significant amount of potential customers, or, worse, alienating them. By broadening your view, you may find more opportunities to connect meaningfully and authentically with the gaming audience. Here are four common myths and misconceptions we see about the gaming audience and how to incorporate the bigger picture into your brand activations.

Myth 1: All gamers are young, male, and white.

Regardless of which image library you come up against, the major vision that most people have of gamers is young, male, and white.

This stereotypical image of gamers is not entirely unfounded. The gaming audience has historically skewed younger, 65% of Twitch users are male, and most of the highest-paid gaming content creators are white men. While this may be somewhat informative, especially for traditional marketing strategies and targeted ad buying, it’s also an incomplete view of the gaming audience.

According to the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), 80% of the gaming audience is over the age of 18, and the average age range for gamers is 31 years old. According to Newzoo, 77% of millennials, 60% of Gen X-ers, and 42% of Baby Boomers are gamers. Speaking to the whole gaming audience as if they were teens or young adults can make you sound immature to these populations, and you may be ignoring the different ways older gamers make space for games in their lives.

You’d also be remiss to neglect a major portion of the gaming audience: women. While Twitch’s audience demographics skew heavily towards men, ESA found that 41% of their surveyed gaming population are women. Women have often been left out of the narrative of gaming despite their active presence. For instance, in partnership with research agency Alter Agents, Activision Blizzard Media found that most moms are gamers. 71% of surveyed mothers engaged with games across PC, console, and mobile; and 29% of gamer moms in the United States play games over ten hours per week. They also found that gamer moms are more receptive to advertising, they’re likely to engage with brands, and share recommendations with their social networks. This intersection between engagement, social influence, and purchasing power is clearly under-recognized due to the lack of brand messaging directed towards gaming mothers.

As for POC in gaming, it’s important to consider some of the barriers that may discourage people from closely identifying with the gaming industry. It can start at the top–within game companies themselves. According to the 2021 Developer Satisfaction Survey Summary trend report from the International Game Developers Association (IGDA), 67% of their industry survey respondents identified solely as White or Caucasian, and Black, Hispanic, and Latinx people are underrepresented in the industry. Lack of representation in development has a palpable effect on the games and players, too. 60% of the Game of the Year nominees from 2003-2018 had only white playable characters.

This underrepresentation contributes to the myth of the stereotypical gamer. But according to Pew Research, “there are no differences by race or ethnicity in who plays video games:” similar percentages of Black and Hispanic Americans play video games as white Americans, despite 73% of American gamers being white (ESA). To combat this cultural dissonance, many organizations in and around the gaming world have dedicated themselves to surfacing underrecognized gaming communities. The Game Awards launched their Future Class, a spotlight feature for cross-industry individuals “who represent the bright, bold and inclusive future of video games” to address the continued lack of diversity in gaming. Software provider StreamElements launched a Creator Diversity Fund to enable underrepresented groups on Twitch and provide them with professional livestreaming resources and services. And companies like Kickstarter and Oculus have sponsored events like the Game Devs of Color Expo and organizations like Gameheads which work to empower POC in game development.

As far as brand messaging goes, be sure that your alignment with the gaming audience doesn’t further ostracize these communities. If you’re going to speak to the gaming audience, it’s better to hold yourself accountable and recognize these communities rather than pretend the issue isn’t there or unintentionally support toxicity in gaming culture.

Myth 2: All gamers are competitive.

Another common misconception is that all gamers are competitive, though it’s pretty easy to see why. With the prevalence of huge battle royale titles like Fortnite and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, the giant worldwide tournaments for League of Legends and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, even down to lingering memories of split-screen Halo matches, Mario Kart rivalries, and head-to-head Street Fighter games in local arcades, it’s not a hard conclusion to reach. You play to win.

But competition and domination aren’t the only reasons why people play games, and competitive games aren’t the only popular titles. Research group Quantic Foundry has been researching gaming motivations for years, and, as of their 2020 report, they describe twelve different gaming motivations, of which competition is just one possible factor for gamers. Others include excitement, discovery, story, community, and challenge. Players also tend to express a combination of motivations which reveal nine different player segments. This can range from the “Acrobat” (players that are more interested in challenging their skills and reflexes in solo settings), the “Skirmisher” (someone more likely to play fast-paced and action-packed multiplayer matches), and the “Bard” (someone deeply engaged with storytelling and world-discovery in games).

We see a lot of gaming messaging take on the competitive voice, but that might not interest a lot of audiences. Depending on the rest of your brand messaging outside of gaming, that voice can also feel disingenuous. Instead, consider all the other reasons why a person might play games; you can appeal to a sense of adventure, creativity, or wonder.

Thinking broadly about these other motivations can also open doors for considering how your brand can add value to different gamer types. Maybe you offer productivity services that can appeal to the collected thinkers and strategists. Or maybe your brand helps people discover new experiences and can appeal to more adventurous gamers. Your horizons open up if you’re not forcing your messaging into a box to promise some kind of competitive edge.

Myth 3: All gamers are antisocial

There are two parts to this misconception (which can both be pretty insidious). The first is that gamers prefer the digital to IRL, neglecting real people in order to spend more time in their virtual fictions. Or the image is that of the highly aggressive gamer that only spends time with people online just to get under their skin, hiding behind a screen to lash out at others. Regardless of whether or not this type of person exists, these stereotypes neglect a core pillar of the gaming audience: community.

So much of the current gaming landscape is built around community. From fandom events like PAX East, which saw over 130,000 attendees in 2019, to communication platforms like Discord, which reached over 150 million monthly active users in 2021, games have a tendency to bring people together. And community has been at the heart of gaming for a long time. 

For instance, take a look at the evolution of gaming content. Just looking at Twitch, you’ll usually see that some of the top games are multiplayer and competitive games like Fortnite and Valorant. But you’ll also see that the second biggest category on Twitch is the game-free Just Chatting, which accumulated over 822 million hours watched in Q2 of 2021 alone, over 50% more hours watched than the third most popular category League of Legends. The popularity of this streaming category just goes to show that a lot of gamers really want a space to hang out and … just chat. And Just Chatting isn’t the only non-gaming content that’s popular on Twitch. Non-gaming content including music and sports has generated over 4 billion hours watched during 2020.

Game developers long ago recognized the social aspect of gaming and have experimented with different ways to bring gamers together on both the small and large scale. Party-style games like those in the Jackbox series are designed to foster out-of-game interactions and conversations, and they have added more ways for people to be able to play and connect while distanced. Indie game Among Us, in the spirit of more intimate IRL social deduction games like Werewolf and Mafia, became a surprise hit during this pandemic with the mobile version of the game achieving over 217 million downloads as of November 2020.

Treating gamers as if they all are aggressive or avoidant of other people will prevent you from truly tapping into the spirit of the gaming community. In fact, the ESA found that 77% of gamers play games with others at least weekly. With that level of social influence, it’s better to foster those relationships between gamers and get in on the conversations.

Myth 4: All gamers want to go pro.

Especially with the magnitude of the esports industry and the emergence of success of celebrities like Ninja, Pewdiepie, and Shroud, going pro feels like it’s the ultimate dream for gamers. But for a lot more gamers, they just do it for the love of the game.

For one thing, “going pro” can have a lot of definitions. Maybe it’s getting signed onto a major esports team and becoming a verified partner on Twitch with a lucrative exclusivity deal. Or maybe it’s just being able to go full-time into content creation and making a decent living. While big names make headlines with their exclusive signing contracts, and some major esports tournaments can dole out millions of dollars to first prize finishers, pro gamers can also make modest and steady incomes by streaming, working tournaments and events, or competing in smaller tournament circuits. A popular, full-time streamer can make $3-5k per month while the median tournament earnings for esports competitors was a little over $8k for 2019. This amounts to similar earnings of a $45,000 salary. However, these earnings can range dramatically depending on if a player is a salaried member of an esports team, how often they stream and/or compete, and the types of partnerships or monetization methods they pursue.  If you’re targeting the aspiring pro, be sure to recognize this spectrum of desired outcomes and how you can help gamers reach the level of success they want to achieve.

It’s also important to recognize that a portion of gamers also just aren’t interested in profiting off their gameplay at all; they just like playing games. Think about the number of people that play sports just for fun: the people at the local basketball court playing pick-up games, the kids on their high school teams that don’t pursue it in college, or the folks that join rec leagues or community clubs to meet new people. Video games can have the same place in people’s lives.

Remember that games are an activity first before a career path. Speaking to gamers as if they’re only interested in games for monetary achievement or fame misrepresents the fundamental aspect of gaming: play. If you approach the whole gaming audience with the idea that gaming is a job before it is a pastime, gamers will catch on and think your messaging is disingenuous. The best thing a brand’s message can do is to truly advocate for a love of games.

Where to Go From Here

Since you’re here, you likely haven’t fallen into the trap of stereotyping the gaming audience, but you still might not know where to start. Keeping the above information in mind, the expansive possibilities for engaging meaningfully with the gaming audience can be both exciting and confusing. That’s why we dedicate plenty of time researching and entrenching ourselves with the gaming landscape.

If you need a little more guidance on how your brand can effectively tap into the nuances of the gaming audience, feel free to drop us a line — we’ll help you navigate.