Don’t Pigeonhole Gamers—Marketers Who Take the Time to Understand This Massive Group Will Be Rewarded

What’s your strategy to reach this affluent, educated and engaged audience?

This year gaming has captured marketers’ attention like never before. Between BMW’s multi-esport team sponsorships and Travis Scott’s Fortnite appearance, marketers have enthusiastically embraced the gaming audience during this time when traditional media channels have dropped dramatically due to people being stuck at home.

Industry trades focused on the console, PC, and esports jump, but mobile apps and mobile gaming are what have been driving consumer time spent more than anything else. App usage jumped 40% year-over-year in Q2 and levels are still far higher than last year, according to comScore. While much of that is due to apps that help consumers adapt to their new lifestyles, like food delivery, online shopping and remote work, the big driver is mobile gaming, which is now projected to capture 26 minutes of users’ time each day.

As gaming has exploded this year, the lines between PC, console and mobile gaming have blurred. When you say “gamer,” it no longer means the stereotype of the young, male, underemployed console gamer playing for hours or even days on end.

Rather, the label of “gamer” has taken on a larger meaning—it’s now a catch-all term for a consumer who enjoys gaming entertainment on any platform, and many of those individuals are multi-platform gamers. In the 2020 study “The Modern Mobile Gamer,” AdColony found a 78.2% overlap between those who play mobile games and those who play games on any other platform.

So, it’s no wonder that now, when you say “gaming audience” to a forward-thinking advertiser, they don’t think of the stereotype. Instead, they imagine someone who is into competition, adrenaline, independence, problem solving and teamwork.

The demographics of modern gamers

Across the board, the No. 1 reason people play mobile games is entertainment. So, marketers know these consumers are ready to engage with content, whether it be game content or full-screen video ads that may accompany their experiences.

These are all great reasons for you as a brand to consider games as a prime channel for advertising. But you also need to be confident you’re targeting the right audience, demographically speaking. Findings from the modern mobile gamer report include:

  • Gamers are affluent. Committed gamers (those who play mobile games at least once a day) have significantly higher household income (HHI) than you might expect. As much as 65% of consumers making over $250,000 play mobile games daily, and 54% of those making over $200,000 self-identify as gamers, the report noted. Individuals at the more than $200,000 HHI-level also play on a console, with 66% owning an Xbox and 62% owning a Nintendo.
  • They span all age groups. It’s easy to think of gamers as being all Millennials, Gen Z and younger, but more than half (53%) of those in the 35 to 54 age group play mobile games daily, and they also own and play on consoles, too:

  • The gender split is even. Half of those who play mobile games daily are women, and the breakdown in console ownership also is fairly even. Women are more likely than men to own a Nintendo, as well as other types of gaming systems, such as retro consoles like Sega Dreamcast or streaming-only systems like Google Stadia.
  • Gamers have degrees. There is also no drop-off in the percentage of daily players with higher education levels; it’s still about 50% among those with Bachelor’s, some postgraduate and Master’s degrees. Among college grads, one in five own an Xbox and one in four own a Playstation.

Reaching the gaming audience

Many brands have acknowledged the value of the gaming audience. IBM, for instance, wants to reach decision-making professionals. The company became a major sponsor of the Overwatch League and had its branding all over the finals in early October. How much of that decision was because IBM wanted to reach hardcore gamers? And how much was because IBM realized that a good portion of the 1 billion esports fans fit the demographics of its target customer? The answer is clear.

Or, if you sell energy drinks, like Mountain Dew’s GameFuel, there is only so much you can spend on Microsoft Advertising Xbox display network or esports sponsorships before you’ve saturated the market. Where else do you turn? Hint: There are 64 million Xbox users; 2.4 billion people play mobile games.

If you didn’t think mobile was important to gamers, one need not look further than the mobile strategies of the major platforms themselves. Microsoft’s xCloud platform is available on Android devices and streams games directly to mobile phones—because Microsoft knows a huge portion of its user base also is playing games on their phones. They’ve even gone on record lamenting Apple’s restrictions.

Epic has said, in court, multiple times, how important mobile is to its business in Fortnite. While one could debate Epic’s larger motives, you don’t go toe-to-toe with Apple about mobile payments if you don’t find that platform and those users very valuable. Amazon announced its new game streaming platform has actually gone out of its way to play with Safari in iOS 14, to avoid Apple’s rules on streaming gaming services.

That’s really what this comes down to: In an era where large-scale addressable audiences are becoming more and more difficult to rein in for your marketing campaigns, the focus is going to now turn to the channels in which marketers know the target audience spends time. With cookies gone, and IDFA disappearing, it’s all about contextual—and gaming is an ideal context, because everyone is now a gamer.

Jonathan Harrop is AdColony’s senior director of global marketing and communications. Prior to AdColony, he led marketing for mobile gaming startup Yvolver, and digital marketing for GameStop’s digital and mobile products. Jonathan is a passionate lifelong gamer, esports enthusiast, Destiny Warlock and Zarya main.