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Will There Ever Be A Market For “Old” Gamers?

Here’s an interesting factoid when it comes to video games:

There were no gamers before 1985.

In the late 1970s there was the Atari 2600, which had a lot of games ported over from popular coin-operated arcade machines of the time. In the 1980s there was the Nintendo Entertainment System which also had a lot of games ported over from arcades – but what made that console different is that it was the first system that had long-play titles specifically designed to be home-only, such as The Legend of Zelda role-playing game. It was in fact the NES that brought about the first real true home gamers. This means for all intents and purposes that what we know now as a gamer didn’t exist before 1985.

You could say PC gamers existed before the NES in ’85, but I don’t subscribe to that because DOS games didn’t get anything beyond bleeps and bloops until the Ad Lib sound card, which didn’t have wide sales until 1990. That sound card and the CD-ROM is what arguably brought about the best DOS games ever, but that was all well after NES was firmly in the market.

Okay, so you have a whole ton of people from 1985 today that are now the age of early 30s to mid-40s who are avid gamers, but there’s a problem:

The gaming market has absolutely no clue what to do with that demographic.

Unofficially, anyone who still plays video games after age 22 is considered an old fart. The reason for that is because it is assumed that a kid will graduate high school at 18, attend 4 years of college, graduate at 22, enter the workforce and stop playing games at that point. Well, you know as well as I do that once someone hits 23 years old, they don’t stop gaming for a good long while.

In old-school sales demographics, the magic target market are people age 18 to 27; this is because that demographic supposedly wastes the most money on absolutely worthless junk, i.e. they will buy anything even if it’s crap. For the most part, that assumption is absolutely correct because most people don’t grow a brain and stop spending money on crap until they hit their 30s.

Now you’re left with this demographic of gamers age 30 to 45. Definitely not young and definitely not old either, but totally willing to spend gobs of cash on games…

…and the gaming industry doesn’t give them a second thought. In fact, they’re pretty much  completely ignored even though they are very strong in number.

The only thing the gaming industry discovered completely by accident is that re-releasing old titles on modern consoles is something the "over-30’ers" really, really wanted. Every modern console has a ‘retro’ area where you can purchase older 8, 16, 32 and 64-bit games, and many people buy these titles. They’re not only cheap, but good sellers because of the intended audience’s familiarity with the games.

Where the problem lies however is that there are no new (keyword there) games made to specifically accommodate the 30-45 crowd. Retro only goes so far, after all.

What do 30-45 gamers actually like?

Tastes vary, but this is what that demographic is looking for:

1. Good long-play single player campaigns

The trend right now in new games is that online multi-player should be the #1 feature, and that’s absolutely not what the 30-45 demographic wants. They grew up with games that were designed first as immersive long-play single player campaigns. A good example of this is Dungeon Keeper; that game is very entertaining, can be played at your own pace and takes a very long time to complete without frustrating you. Another good example is the original Starcraft. Good single player campaigns, great strategy, easy to understand and has truly enjoyable gameplay.

2. Plays like a game and not like a movie

The 30-45 demographic likes games that act like games. What this means is that they typically do champion gameplay over storyline, or put another way, "Give me something to play and not to watch".

There are far too many titles that put needless effort into storylines the over-30’ers don’t care about whatsoever when all they want to do is find the bad guy and shoot him in the face.

Truly great games let you paint the picture of what the story is in your mind rather than having the game tell you through needless exposition. A fantastic example of that is Portal; what that game masterfully does is only gives you what you need to know so you can continue solving puzzles and enjoy the gameplay. The game even pokes fun at itself concerning exposition when at a certain point it explains a puzzle as "Speedy thing goes in, speedy thing comes out".

3. Does not require ridiculous add-on requirements to get the full game experience

This is a short list of things that will instantly piss off a 30-45 gamer:

  • The computer (if a PC game) he or she has isn’t fast enough to run the game – even though the box said what they had was good enough.
  • The console (if a console game) needs a specific piece of hardware bought just to play the stupid thing.
  • Their internet connection isn’t fast enough to run the game smoothly (bad programming on the game dev’s part there if the bandwidth req’s are too chunky).
  • The entirety of the game isn’t unlocked unless you specifically buy something, even though the game was just bought for full retail price.

Summed up in a phrase, this is what a over-30’er wants in a game:

"When I buy this game, my PC or console will run it smoothly. I will not be required to buy any other worthless plastic sh*t just to run this thing. I will not be required to sign up for anything online to unlock features. I will not be required to pay any additional money to use any game feature."

Sounds simple enough, but you’d be amazed how many games fail that checklist.

Will the gaming industry ever wake up and start making good games for the older crowd?

That’s indeterminate at this point, but the industry still firmly believes that kids are the only people worth going for.

They should rethink that as there are plenty of folks over 30 that were able to regain control over their finances and have a few bucks to burn on games, but there’s nothing there for them to buy that would suit them. For their kids, sure, there’s plenty of stuff, but as for themselves, ‘retro’ is all they have – and that, pardon then pun, gets old.

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10 thoughts on “Will There Ever Be A Market For “Old” Gamers?”

Guest says:
this is an excellent article. it makes a lot of assumptions about wants of the target audience, marketing and game development. i see lots of truth in how he describes my gaming preferences and how i arrived at those, but would dearly love to read the comments of the business minds driving today’s online and console game development.

this thesis needs to be opened up for comment as with the scientific method

D Bostick says:
As an official “old fart” (66 years old) that only started gaming in 2005, I get the most enjoyment from the MMORPGs like WoW, Guild Wars & DDO. Just stepped back into WoW after a 2.5 year layoff.

I have my own businesses and work from home which gives me plenty of spare time to play when I wish.
I find gaming to be more a social thing than anything else. I get much more enjoyment from the social interaction with friends all over the world than actually playing the game. I’ve gone into the game and just sat in an area and used the text chat or the in-game voice chat to just socialize without even actually playing or questing.

dday41 says:
The half wit marketing people have destroyed their best demographic. I am a 50 year old gamer. Been playing since a Pong console showed up at my buddies house in 1972 and did my first serious games on a Commodore 64. I introduced my wife to games at age 24 and she has been playing for 20+ years. We have had several years where we have spent upwards of $2k a year on games and others where $100 would have been a stretch. I know at least twenty others age 40-50 who are the same way. None of us could care less about online unless the game is deep and feature rich. If there is a story it had better contribute to the game play. I like a co-op game where a buddy and I can sit in the living room and play on the same set. A game gets researched heavily before it is added to the library, if it turns out to be good I will play it unto the end. Marketing people ignore us because they know the products can’t deliver quality so they focus on the unsophisticated children in the hopes they won’t notice. Problem is – children grow up. Games that appeal to adults have notoriously long lives (and sell many copies)
Brassy64 says:
I’m a frustrated PC gamer, myself…A 46 yr old women who likes traditional Adventure games….thanks, but i;m not the Shoot’em up type. Never could master console games. My personal brain is wired for puzzles and working around walls and such. Loved Zork, Myst, Longest Journey, Alice in Wonderland….man that had wicked, inventive smart plays -sort of borrowing what you could do in console games. For me it takes years for a decent game to come out. My Alienware laptop is so sad!
Poogmeister says:
I long for the old RPG’s, like “The Legend of Kyrandia”, “King’s Quest”, “Space Quest”, “Indiana Jones” (Atlantis), “Freddy Farkus”, etc. And of course, who could forget the infamous “Liesuresuit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards”. LOL Those games could be played over long periods of time. You could save your game, and come back later and pick up where you left off. They had story line, with a plot and a theme. They had mental challenges. They didn’t depend on how fast you could move your thumb and index finger. If anyone out there knows of anybody that’s producing these kinds of games for modern day pc’s, please let me know where I can find/purchase them. You can email me at .
Poogmeister says:
Oops, that’s
BoredinIndy says:
AMEN to this article! I thought I was the only one who felt this way.

Most game developers have NO clue they are missing out on a huge potential market.
(Maybe because they think we only go to a game store to buy something for our kids)

I’m 46 and still remember the moment I saw the first PONG machine. I was hooked on games that very instant and believed I would play games the rest of my life. I have played every version/iteration/type of game I crossed paths with since and one thing I can say with 100% certainty is this. Once a “type” of game hits the market, it becomes a “me too” market. Different graphics, same game play. Big yawn whooopie.

Rarely does anything NEW hit the market. Think back (or Google it if you are too young) to Wolfenstein. You walk through a map to find stuff and shoot bad guys. Sound familiar? Even online play is basically the same thing over and over.


Please allow me to sum up (in two words) a prime example of what does work today: Angry Birds

Everybody I know or see out and about plays this stupid game. It is simple and addictive. The graphics are “good enough”. Game play has just the right amount of action. Anyone who can see the phone screen is capable of playing it (how is that for a demographic?). It can be played ANY time YOU have time and it costs LESS than one Star Bucks coffee.

I really miss the days of a game like the original Battle Zone. THAT was a game! I would play it for hours because it was awesome and I could back then. Now I just don’t have the time and there is nothing as interesting to play if I did. (It also demonstrated how a game developer could destroy what made a game good for the sake of better graphics)

Sorry for the rant so I will end with a simple plea:
Please for the love of God make a game worthy of forsaking bill paying and college funding. I will gladly pony up!

Steve says:
Very poignant and well written. As an individual in the demographic being represented in your perspective, I have almost grown bored of the X-COM games (PlayStation and PC versions).
Reidwicks says:
I’m 14 and that’s what I want in a game
Oldgoat1957 says:
Good call on the “long-play single player campaigns”; I used to have seemingly endless fun with the original Unreal Tournament, just fighting against the computer controlled adversaries, and slowly cranking up their “smarts”. The Quake games were pretty good too. I’m over 50, btw.
Tarheelgrad1998 says:
Good points.

You know what else I miss? Games that can be consumed in small blocks. Most games now are designed for those young’uns who sit for hours playing the game. Us 30-somethings don’t have time for that. And, you know, we start getting sore from sitting too long, ha ha.

But seriously, think about the classic games. Pac Man, Super Mario Bros, etc…all great games that each level lasted minutes. The only ones of those now are generally hokey flash games.

mmseng1 says:
You can always buy old games you haven’t played in a long time and play them again. That’s what I do ;] They don’t make games like they used to.

Also, isn’t it a bit contradictory to say that 30-45 gamers are willing to spend “gobs” on games, and yet still say “… I will not be required to buy any other worthless plastic sh*t just to run this thing. … I will not be required to pay any additional money to use any game feature.”

Not that I condone this kind of marketing.

Rich says:
It all boils down to the fact a 30-45 isn’t nearly as much of a sucker that an 18-27 is. The 30-45 will spend $50 to $60 on a single game title, but if and only if on purchase he or she 100% knows nothing else needs to be purchased on top of that for any aspect of gameplay.

For example, if the 18-27 buys a $50 game and the game requires a $15/month subscription to unlock features, they’ll probably do it. The 30-45 on the other hand absolutely won’t because they know it’s wasted cost and invites spam (both in email and postal mail “special offers”); this is because the 30-45 has been around the block so-to-speak, and knows better.

The over-30’ers who are avid gamers have the money and will spend it, but they’re not suckers.

Alleged Accomplice says:
I liked some of the newer games, battlefield 42, even bf2 some. Thing is it didn’t improve really. yeah it looks better but 2 didn’t actually play better. It was made for the OMG LOOK AT THE GRAPHICS crowd. Why couldn’t I climb a fence or a wall? Where was the semi realistic gravity that 42 had? Ships no longer work like ships but like islands that look like ships. They somewhat fixed the leading a enemy by firing behind him bug in a patch but still, who all didn’t see that in testing? And are you still employing them? Why was I always getting stuck on things when I didn’t in the older game?

I guess what I’m trying to say is even though I’m 47 and won’t buy crap I will buy newer games and even an entire series of an online game if it improves and the quality is high. In BF3 they are talking about how they are bringing back the ability to go prone, really, that’s what you got for me? After 2 that was it for me, I tried the betas, same game different maps. I know all I talked about was one game series but this is already too long. Most games are made to sell and sell only and the audience these games have is one that can’t see the crap they are buying for the graphics. That’s kinda like the forest for the trees isn’t it? Well I think it’s a decent paraphrase anyway.

Rich says:
When game devs do that “Here’s the 3rd version of the game where we brought back features from the 1st version”, that basically admits there were huge mistakes made in the 2nd version. And the fact they’re using 1st-version features as selling points makes you question whether the 3rd version is any good at all.

And yes, you’re absolutely correct that good gameplay always trumps good graphics. It’s the gameplay we care about the most because that’s where the fun is.

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Mar 23, 2011

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