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How games continue to drive a cultural shift

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Photo of Karol Severin
by Karol Severin

The strides gaming has made in recent years regarding its cultural relevance are hard to ignore. Twenty years ago, consumers defined their cultural image through the music they listened to, the clothes they wore and the sports teams they supported.

Today, the emphasis is shifting towards things like what games consumers play, what their avatars look like and how they behave and express themselves in the digital realm.

Looking through MIDiA’s Q2 2020 survey reveals more about consumer behaviours and attitudes across gaming and the wider attention economy in 2020. Here are some of the behavioural indicators highlighting where gaming is on its journey of cultural relevance.

If you are a brand or an investor with any doubts around the cultural relevance of gaming, this should hopefully help address some of them.

If you are an esports company or anyone else trying to attract brands and investors into games, the below might help your case.


More people now spend money on games than on music

In 2019, 33% of US consumers spent money on recorded music in the surveyed month, compared to 29% of people spending money on games. In 2020, this changed to 24% having spent on recorded music, compared to 28% having spent on games. The drop-off on both sides is due to curbed overall spending during lockdowns and the Covid-19 outbreak (the survey was fielded in May).

Rather than the absolute numbers however, the most important thing here is the changing ratio between the music- and games-spender penetration rates. Indeed, this is only one quarter’s worth of data, which does not suggest a clear-cut trend just yet. Having said that, this is the first time we are seeing more people spend on games than recorded music, albeit only by a few percentage points.

Note that this is not skewed by the lack of live music events during lockdowns, as we asked specifically about recorded music here (CDs, downloads, streaming)

Gaming is increasingly penetrating other culturally important content formats

One indicator of cultural relevance is, how much a subject is referenced/used across other culturally important fields. Music features in video and games; fashion features across video and other visual arts, as well as sports; video viewing has been referenced countless times in song lyrics and lead to the birth of music videos…and so on…

Traditionally, gaming has been somewhat more absent from mass references/utilisation across other media formats. However, this has changed significantly in recent years. Games-related video content is particularly interesting. 10% of consumers now view games-related video content every month (6% view esports) with Google, Amazon and Facebook all competing for attention in the space. In terms of music, we see the rise of digital concerts with games serving as digital music venues. Cosplay is speaking to people on the fashion side, while esports have been making strides to intertwine with traditional athletic brands and talent.

Gaming has established relevance across all genders and age groups:

Gaming has established relevance across all age and gender segments. While indeed there are parts of gaming (e.g. console gaming) which are still skewing towards young males, gaming as a cultural notion resonates across the general public.

Different gaming experiences are currently adopted by different segments. Just like with music or video, where various genres, delivery formats and platforms appeal to various generations. 54% of mobile gamers are female. 26% of PC gamers are over 55+ years old.  62% of console gamers are less than 35 years old and 64% are male.

The landscape is as diverse as ever in terms of age and gender distribution. Arguably, bringing gaming even closer towards mainstream age and gender distribution rates is now more an issue for the supply side (which is still heavily male-skewed) than the demand side. Brands and investors getting into the space now can still contribute to play a significant role here.

Cultural relevance also occurs without engagement

Finally, brands and investors should keep in mind, that games and gamer communities don’t carry cultural relevance among just those who play games. Not everyone plays games (47% of consumers play mobile games, 29% console games and 28% play PC games). But almost everyone at this point is regularly exposed to someone who does. Most parents don’t play Fortnite, but a lot of them could tell a story about how their kid’s Fortnite session affected yesterday’s dynamics at the dinner table.

The very fact that games create emotions (both positive and negative) for people beyond just gamers is a) an opportunity for brands and content creators to tap into, b) a testament in itself to the degree of cultural relevance games carry today.

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