Mobile gaming sparks changes in gaming demographics

Brian O'Kelly

With the rising popularity of mobile games, suicidal birds, crushed candy and half-naked Vikings commonly grace any smartphone owner’s screen.

Mobile games, such as Clash of Clans, have become a gold mine generating millions of dollars in daily revenue. While the mobile scene was previously considered a passing trend, mobile games are now drawing in millions of consumers who hadn’t given gaming the time of day in the past. With its success, mobile platforms have turned people from all demographics into gamers.

While people once saw gaming as a masculine hobby, females now make up 78 percent of mobile gamers, according to the Entertainment Software Association. This change isn’t just in relation to gender — groups of all ages have increased their playtime since the rise of mobile games with the average gamer ranging from their late 30s to early 40s.

Despite existing for decades, gaming has recently seen booms in its user base, a trend exclusively because of mobile gaming. Eighty-seven percent of all gamers are now playing mobile games, surpassing all other platforms in number of players. Paul Toprac, associate director for game design and development at UT, said most users don’t realize the mobile games they play belong to the same family as traditional forms of gaming.

“When I talk to a grandmother, I say ‘Hey, do you play any video games?’ and they say no staunchly,” Toprac said. “But then I ask them, ‘Hey, have you heard of Candy Crush?’ and they say, ‘Yeah, I play that all the time.’ It seems that most people just aren’t making the connection that they are playing video games.”

This isn’t the first time this phenomenon has occurred. It wasn’t long ago that people had blistered hands from spamming the invite button on Facebook’s FarmVille. Users seem to have transitioned their FarmVille addiction for smartphone games, which are more readily available. Radio-television-film lecturer Sheldon Pacotti, lead writer for the critically acclaimed video game Deus Ex, said transitions in gaming occur alongside changes in technology accessible to users.

“Mobile gaming is just one more touchpoint in the evolution of gaming,” Pacotti said. “And the increased inclusion is the most positive thing that has happened for it.”

Pacotti said the success of the mobile gaming market stems from people’s desire to bring games into their lives.

“Human nature is geared toward play,” Pacotti said. “The convenience of having games on accessible devices — such as a phone or tablet ­— gives us a popular outlet to curb our desire to play.”

Unlike previous forms of gaming, mobile games offer the accessibility that consoles and older handheld gaming devices lacked. This allows a less dedicated audience to entertain themselves for minutes at a time, not hours.

Whether it’s waiting for friends, riding the bus or passing time before class, gamers can escape boredom for a brief moment with mobile games. Radio-television-film lecturer Wiley Akins said it’s important to consider these on-the-go users that during game development.

“As gaming has opened up, you have a much larger and diverse population that is interested in it,” Akins said. “You have people that don’t want to spend a whole weekend going through a console game but will want to kill some time while they are waiting to do something else."