The popular perception that teenage boys make up the core audience for console-based video games may still hold true today, but some industry observers believe the demographic bulge has already shifted toward young adults.
Doug Lowenstein, president of the Interactive Digital Software Association (IDSA), states that teenage boys are no longer the core audience for video games, with over 72 percent of North American personal computer game players and 46 percent of console game players being over the age of 18.
‘We have a diverse marketplace,’ says Lowenstein, ‘with people from six to 40 years old playing video and computer games. In that sense, it’s looking more and more like a traditional mass market for entertainment content.’
Tricia Gray, public relations manager with Eidos Interactive, developer of the immensely popular Tomb Raider video games, which star sexy cyber-adventuress Lara Croft, agrees that the video game market has broadened its audience base significantly in recent years, although it is still heavily male-dominated. As such, she says, Eidos does not set out to target any particular demographic segment of the marketplace when it develops new games.
‘We just make games that we think will appeal to a lot of people. It doesn’t matter whether they’re an eight-year-old boy, a 30-year-old man, or a 15-year-old girl,’ she says.
Not everyone agrees, however, that teens are a less dominant segment of the video game market. Sega of America product manager Andrew Stein, for instance, says, ‘The heart of the market is teens, and a lot of games are developed with that user group in mind.’
‘On the marketing side,’ he adds, ‘most of the media buying we do is looking to get the 16- to 19-year-olds. Younger kids tend to aspire up to that age bracket and older people kind of regress back to when they were a teenager.’
‘Kids are obviously an important segment of the games software marketplace,’ maintains Lowenstein, ‘but they are no longer the dominant portion.’
An important event driving the ‘massification’ of the video game market, which Lowenstein contends took hold about three years ago, was Sony Computer Entertainment’s entry into the console game scene in 1995. With the launch of its 32-bit PlayStation unit and its strategy of targeting a wider demographic base than its competitors, Sony almost immediately grabbed top billing in the market, which had previously seesawed between Sega and Nintendo.
Conceding that Sony ‘stole’ Sega’s market position in `95 and has since forced it into the number three market position, Stein says Sega is preparing to regain its popularity among hard-core console game players with the launch of a new generation 3-D game system-code-named Katana-in the fall of 1999.
‘The core target group we’ll be aiming at with the new system is the 16- to 19-year-olds,’ he says, describing the nature of the impending product launch, the budget for which could be as high as US$100 million. ‘We’ll be doing everything from sponsoring concerts and events, to Internet promotions and magazine, radio and TV advertising. We’ll be working with partner companies, such as fast-food restaurants and soft-drink companies, to put together some very big consumer promotions.
‘The 16- to 19-year-olds tend to be the hard-core first-adopter group and a lot of them have part-time jobs, so they have the income to get the new hardware. So, we’ll initially be targeting that hard-core group, especially during the early build-up period. But during the holidays, we’ll have a mass-market target.
‘The goal is for Sega to be the number one gift for the holidays in 1999. We will be back in a big way,’ he vows.
As further evidence that teens are still an important, if not dominant, part of the video game market, Nintendo of America recently announced a teen-focused merchandising deal with Tommy Hilfiger U.S.A. in which Nintendo 64 interactive kiosks will be installed in 1,000 Hilfiger stores across the U.S., beginning in August.
As part of the deal, the Tommy Hilfiger name and logo are predominantly featured in 1080¡ Snowboarding, a popular new game released earlier this year. In return, Hilfiger will design and sell special, limited-edition 1080¡ Snowboarding jackets, sweatshirts and T-shirts.
‘The relationship is between two companies that are really on the `totally cool’ list with teens right now,’ says Perrin Kaplan, director of corporate affairs at Nintendo of America, who adds that the deal should help drive home the message to teens that Nintendo is in tune with their thinking.
‘Our formative years were spent with the younger age set,’ she says in reference to the fact that Nintendo had traditionally targeted a more junior audience than its rivals, ‘but those kids are older now. We’re continuing to track them and make products that give them a sense that the games are being constructed specifically for them.’