Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

The aging gamer

There was a debate on a forum recently about ‘the lack of middle class games’, which attracted me, because I thought it would be a (possibly amusing) discussion of games aimed at middle-class, and indeed middle-aged people. In fact, it was about mid-tier games, inbetween indie and PC. Ho hum. I was expecting mortgage-repayment sims and puzzle games based around getting planning permission for a loft conversion…

I think there is little debate that the average age of gamers is rising. This should also be combined with the realisation that a lot of younger gamers don’t think games should cost any money (witness huge sprawl of F2P games. Such games are anything *but* free, but that’s a separate topic). These two factors are combining to suggest that there is a very large, and relatively lucrative market for gamers aimed at people in their 30s, even in their 40s, with disposable income.

Everyone seems to be falling over themselves to make games for the attention-deficit-got-no-money-angry internet kids generation, but in so many ways this seems like suicide. Lets look at reasons to consider our perfect gamer to be aged 30+, with a decent job, probably a mortgage, blah blah.

  • They have less time (work + family) so don’t expect a 60 hours+ RPG for their money.
  • They have more money.
  • They probably bank online, or worry more about viruses / the law etc than kids, so likely pirate games much less.
  • As people with jobs, they don’t resent paying other people for their work.
  • They have probably been gaming for years, and are fairly tech savvy, understand how to install and patch games etc.
  • They have played enough games to be honestly open to playing something new.
  • They remember crappy 1980s graphics, so won’t vomit if forced to play a game without bump mapping.

He didn’t get where he is today by playing World of Warcraft…

These all seem like good reasons to target these gamers. The thing is, what games do they want to play? I’m 41 (oh my god!!!) and if I’m honest, probably pretty darned middle class,. I have a nice house and car and listen to radio 4. The evidence here is pretty overwhelming.  Do I think gaming is targeted at me right now? Not really. Some games such as this and maybe this, seem open to targeting my demographic, but generally, if I want to play a game, I need to disengage the grown-up bits of my mind and think ‘lets blow stuff up! cool!, or similar.

As a middle ground, I think a lot could be done to mitigate the extent to which my demographic is turned off by games. I think playing a fantasy RPG is perfectly reasonable, but if all the female characters have breasts like barrage balloons, and everytime you kill someone a fire-hydrant of blood spurts out their neck, then this is not so much *cool* as it might be aged 14, but more *tragic* and ultimately embarrasing, once you reach the age where you worry about your pension plan.

Who out there is making a game aged at people in their 30s-40s? post a link in the comments if you think you are successfully targeting the older gamer.

23 thoughts on The aging gamer

  1. I think one the important factors in targeting this group is making reflex a less important factor in the games. The glut of fps’s and other twitch based gaming can unintentionally alienate older gamers, even if their content is perfectly fine.

    You mention toning down gore and overtly sexual pandering, is this your main concern or are there other things you think would help?

  2. There’s plenty of time for a good game. An RPG with the stories and atmosphere of Fallout 3, but without the constant combat would go down well.

    Gratuitous violence is the thing which most stops my wife enjoying games (that’s a parent thing. She used to be indifferent to it, but now can’t even stand GTA* because it’s too violent)

    *The top-down one.

  3. I’d love a game that was fun and engaging that I didn’t have to dedicate hours and hours of my life to. Also something that I can pick up and play quickly if I only have a few minutes, but that doesn’t become mind numbing if I have longer to play. Plus something that I can play in front of my 2 year old.

  4. The game needs to not be a twitch game where instant reflexes are needed, and it needs to be playable for short periods of time while still accomplishing something. This means being able to save whenever you want and then load the saved game. Conflict, war, and explosions are not needed at all.

    My father absolutely loves the Anno games. They’re slow, city-building games. He just likes setting up island colonies with farms and houses, and setting up supply routes across the game world to organize an efficient economy.

  5. When we were doing mini games for Alien Hominid I worked on the PDA Games mini game. One of our goals was to make it simple enough for your 2 year old to play but interesting and accessable for parents (both gamer parents and not) too. That’s not really targeting older gamers, but it was a consideration.

  6. Regarding your first bullet point:
    Yes, I have less time than I used to (being 35 with a FT job and a 2 year old), but that doesn’t lower my expectations of what I get when I buy a game. I’m still disappointed when I finish a game before I feel I’ve wrung my money’s worth out of it.

  7. Part of being financially successful is targeting a wide audience. I’m not so sure about targeting 30-40 years old exclusively would be a good idea. These peoples might not have enough time to try your game. They may be able to play only one game by 2-3 months. And if they play WoW, you migh as well forget about them.
    The younger audience have more time on their hand and thus play more game per months. But they are constrained by the fact they have less money.
    Its a battle of time and money essentially, that is why making game for kids is the best avenue for financial success. Parents have the money to buy the games, and kids has the time to button smash through your games, or at least part of it until they quickly change their center of attention to another game. And if their is a g-rated 3d animated movie the game is based upon… $_$

    Personally I try to target 20 an up. I make games my dad and I would like to play. No physics-deifying boobs nor over the top gory mutilation. :)

  8. I’m exactly what you’re talking about: 30 years old, married, children and a full-time job. I can only play a game in one or two hour blocks, when everyone is in bed. That happens about once or twice a week.

    A story that is understandable and not particularly dense helps me get into a game, especially as I’m not devoting my life to it. For example: Halo has bad aliens, bad zombies and bad robots. Jade Empire had slavers, angry ghosts and oppressive government agents.

    Games that offer no readily identifiable “why” for fighting are discouraging. In Bioshock, I spent hours wandering around killing crackheads with a pipe wrench and listening to audio diaries. It was boring. Besides making fun of Ayn Rand, I still don’t know what that game was about.

    A nice thing about GSB is I can start it up, play around with some ships, and watch things blow up in an hour or so.

    Also, as far as mature games, I play games that distract me from the fact my 401k may well be worthless by the time I can take any money out of it — not beat drum of “climate change will eat your grandchildren.”

  9. Well I still want to have 60+ h , I dont see any reason for games to be short, specially when it is a crpg.

  10. I certainly fit into this demographic, which is probably why I still play Civ as much as almost any other game in my collection. It’s why I loved GSB too. Anything that offers reasonably deep strategic play with a lack of reliance on twitch play will definitely get my attention these days.

    I don’t mind investing time into a game (helps that my significant other is a gamer too and we don’t have kids) but I do resent long stretches of time where there’s no real gameplay, so ‘epic’ RPGs don’t hold my attention like they used to.

    Conversely, I’ve sunk a ton of time into Monday Night Combat on Xbox Live over the past few months. For those who don’t know it, it’s essentially Team Fortress lite. I love how it’s easy to pick up and play and I’m not constantly made to fell like a noob when playing it – I could never get into other deathmatch shooters as a constant string of deaths isn’t my idea of fun.

    On the horizon, the game I’m most excited about (although details are still a bit shady on it) is From Dust. If it can be the Populous update that I’ve been waiting for then I’ll be a happy gamer.

  11. I find it quite ironic that now, when I finally have the disposable income to buy a lot of games, I actually do not want to play them at all and don’t buy them. During the last year, I have bought more games than I played. Because I do not have as much free time, a lot of money (relatively speaking), and have gotten very critical of bad games.

    I also have no trouble with paying for games that are “overpriced” in the sense that they are short and have little replay-value. As for twitch: I can still hold my own in TF2, SC2 or Bloodlines, but I play low-twitch styles.

    What do I want? Grown up topics (yes, sex is fine). Less pointless murder and violence. More story, more plot. Intrigue. Romance.
    What do I not need? Pretty graphics. Pornography.

  12. Paradox makes more or less only games for this demographic. Complex grand strategy games spanning hundreds of years looking at a map requires quite a long attention span.

    On top of that my two other main time sinks over the years: Civilizations and Football Managers

  13. I think something like Heavy Rain minus the rather precise controller movements needed in some scenes & and slightly tamer gore would be great for this audience. It’s got a great atmosphere and solid story which is shaped by player choices.

  14. I think the most fun I’ve had with recently published games have been an even split between:

    1) Team Fortress 2. TF2 is a game where each class plays like a whole different game, and some of the weapon unlocks increase that variety even more (classic Demoman vs. melee Demoman, Support Pyro vs. Assassin Pyro, etc.) Some of the classes are far less “twitch” and more tactical than others. There’s something in TF2 for pretty much any play style, and in my experience the usual group you get when you just jump on a server full of random people are MUCH easier to get along with than the usual crowd you get with Halo, Counter-Strike, etc.

    2) Various Indie games. VVVVVV was wonderful, and is pretty much aimed at gamers my age. Super Meat Boy is really not as hard as it seems at first, thanks to infinite lives and relatively small levels. Diamond Dan is a wonderful procedurally generated puzzle platforming game with levels that shift and change in different ways each time you play AND (even though attempting that would be good enough for me) it’s actually polished enough to be fun even if it wasn’t ridiculously ahead of it’s time. And of course a bit of Gratuitous Space Battles. ;)

    I’ve also been playing a lot of older games on emulators. Lately I’ve been playing Ultima VII (copying my legitimately-purchased files into the Exult emulator) and the Taito Legends collection (again, a legit collection of arcade ROMs + emulator published by Taito).

  15. Im 30+, played a LOT of games,
    And just cought myself purchasing Kudos2, after playing the demo.

    The game is really cool, It looks like a girl-things game at first, but then develops into
    a nicely thoughtthrough social interaction simulation.

    What actually cought me, was the fact, that I played the demo until it ended,
    and wanted more.
    The full version I played now several hours.

    Its mainly due to the gameplay, and not the graphics.

    i think reaching the critical point of having someone play longer than 5 minutes
    on a random Demo, will actually putt customers better than any word of mouth or

  16. Meh, forty, schmorty. The biggest thing that alarmed me at 40 was that I might be half way through my life, or MORE. Still, there’s plenty of time for medical science to allow me to fulfill my dream of dying peacefully in my sleep aged 187.

    I’m with Will and kdansky to varying degrees on this. As I get older, my spare time becomes increasingly valuable. What of it I’m not using playing with my little one and the increasingly large population of stuffed giraffes in our household MIGHT get spent on a game, or a book. Speaking for myself, if I’m not being a really old person and mumbling about the state of modern society whilst reading Private Eye and holding a glass of brandy, I play the games I’ve always played but in 1 and 2 hour chunks.

    It took me three months to get through Fable III at that rate. The last two games I bought are still sitting in their shrink-wrap… that can’t be good. I do concur with Cliff in that it does feel like games are not targeted at me any more but given how much time I’ve spent on ’em recently, I sort of understand why.

  17. I’m over 40, and I don’t have a whole lot of time for games anymore. I’ve definately bought more games last year than I was able to play (mostly from Steam sales, all in the hope of eventually getting around to playing them). I gravitate more to adventure games (such as ones from Tell Tale Games and old LucasArts style) and puzzle games, but I have to play them in smaller chunks of time (so these games need to be saveable at any point). I still occasionally have done some twitch games, mostly old arcade games via MAME (those old games that I grew up with still have a soft spot in my heart). I don’t really get into 3rd person shooters much. I’ve played some with friends, from time to time, but I find most of them rather mindless and bit more violent and gory than my tastes.

  18. I’ve been wondering lately if I’ve actually lost the passion for gaming or the games coming out are too derivative… maybe these things are both my tastes changing and not enough games are targeted at my demographic?

    I develop games as a hobby, so don’t have a lot of spare time for playing games. My latest game Dirchie Kart started purely as a personal project to be played with my friends, but ended up on XBLIG (Xbox live indie games), when I started looking at the marketing of the game I realised I’d made a game specifically for our demographic, short and sweet and requiring some knowledge of the original SNES Super Mario Kart (at least some respect for how hard it is). Probably explains why I’ve only sold a few hundred copies!

    I’m still working on reducing initial difficulty to ease (Young) players into it. You can check it out here if you’re interested…

  19. Strategy games in general tend to appeal to an older demographic. I’m 27, but I prefer games that have non-combat conflicts and challenges, and which are less twitch and more strategic.

    I’m making Kung Fu Kingdom ( targeted squarely at the 30-45 strategy gamer demographic. The artwork is less realistic and more cartoony, the combat does not contain blood, unit control is indirect (and so much less micromanagement), and the game is primarily about world exploration and temple building – with combat thrown in for tension.


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