Is the term ‘gamer’ now so broad as to have no meaning for marketers?

The Drum 28 May 2021 10:00

What does it even mean to be a ‘gamer’ when there’s supposedly 2 billion of them worldwide? As part of our deep dive into all things gaming, Luke Aldridge of Dentsu’s gaming division DGame argues that the industry needs to reach some kind of consensus on the term. He even offers up his own definition.

As the marketing world gets to grips with the inexorable rise of gaming as a new and exciting marketing channel, we are slowly and quietly attempting to move away from a polarizing word (‘gamer’) that is a compliment to some, an insult to others and somewhat confusing to many.

When people describe someone or themselves as a gamer, they mean someone who plays video games. This is a fair starting point, but lacks context. How often do they play? Is gaming their main passion or hobby? Have they built their own gaming PC? There are many factors that make it difficult to pin down exactly what being a gamer means in 2021.

Changing demographics

Describing someone as such doesn’t make a lot of sense if it can be applied to most of the world’s online population. You wouldn’t call people that use the internet ‘browsers’ (you can have more fun with this line of logic – people who watch Twitch?) Therefore, context in 2021 around ‘those who play games’ is vital – it’s necessary to read the methodology to understand who is included in that number. It might be someone who plays online games at least once a week, once a month or even ‘once in the last 12 months’. Those of us who fall into the first definition might have trouble calling those in the last ‘gamers’.

Nowadays, if you say you are a gamer you are more likely to elicit a positive and curious reaction instead of a raised eyebrow and a hasty exit. This, one could argue, is largely down to two inferred possibilities – that you might be an esports pro-level athlete or a famous streamer. Both are now legitimate career paths, with financial rewards going to the winners – Ninja made $15m in 2019 off the back of a successful esports career (Forbes). Popular US streamer Timthetatman made $8m in the same year, the majority of which came through donations, ad revenue and sponsorships (also Forbes). He’s never been a serious esports player.

To make things more straightforward, publishers and research firms often break down the audience by device, claiming that the PC gamer is different to the console gamer is different to the mobile gamer. This has some logic, but many of us are all three – so how does that work? Is one a ‘console gamer’ if they spend most of their gaming hours each week on the PlayStation rather than their Android phone? Is one automatically a ‘core gamer’ (meaning hardcore gamer) if one plays across multiple devices?

We seem to be moving further away from a consensus around what it means to be a gamer, rather than towards one. But rather than pontificate, it is time to stand and be counted. So, here’s my definition of a gamer: a gamer is someone who considers playing video games their main passion, pastime or profession. Everyone else falls into an audience who play games. For marketing purposes, we need transparency on methodology for reporting so we can segment the audience accurately and speak to them in a way that reflects their relationship to gaming, the platforms they use and how they wish to interact with brands.

For more on what the gaming sector’s pandemic-propelled popularity means for marketers, head to The Drum’s gaming hub.

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UKUSLuke AldridgeDGameDentsu UK
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