Is the Game Industry Stuck in the Past?

Posted September 5th, 2014 at 2:04 pm (UTC-5)
1 comment

Eighty-five-year-old German Walter Lutzky (R) plays online at the Games Convention, the fair for interactive entertainment in Leipzig, eastern Germany, Aug. 22, 2007. (AP)

Eighty-five-year-old German Walter Lutzky (R) plays online at the Games Convention, the fair for interactive entertainment in Leipzig, eastern Germany, Aug. 22, 2007. (AP)

Did you know that the average gamer is 31 years old? And that the number of gamers age 50 and older increased 32 percent between 2012-2013?

The statistics come from the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), whose members include an impressive array of major game developers in its membership.

David Mullich, Producer at Electric Sheep Game Consulting, told TECHtonics that from the early days of the game industry, there’s been a mentality that games are for teenage boys. He says it is getting better, but “there’s still that kind of myth that came about from the 1980s that it’s trying to shed.”

That perception, which continues to linger, is just not true, says Mullich. “According to the latest survey results – 44 percent of gamers are female and 26 percent are age 50 or older.”

But the workforce that makes the games that are appealing to a wide variety of demographics is not itself showing much diversity, including when it comes to the age of the developers.

Many game companies are staffed largely by younger people, according to Mullich. A recent International Game Developers Association survey bears that out, with only 17 percent of respondents saying they’re more than 40 years old – with only 1 percent over 50.

And the gaming industry, which is witnessing enormous growth, continues to hire young people who often work long hours and then hang out with each other after work, essentially living their life at work.

Older people with family commitments find it harder to participate in this culture, says Mullich; and it gets harder for them to find jobs in the industry.

In a recent article on age discrimination, Mullich said many people age of 50 or older who started out in the game industry told him they were no longer able to find jobs because they are deemed lacking in attitude or stamina or relevance because of their age.

ESA did not respond to TECHtonics’ repeated requests for comment on the question of age in game development.

“The perception that only young people can innovate is not true, says Stanford University Fellow Vivek Wadhwa, Vice President of Innovation and Research at Singularity University.

His research shows that there have been “twice as many successful entrepreneurs over 60 as under 20, twice as many over 50 as under 25.”

Age provides a big advantage, says Wadhwa. Yet he argues that the game industry is stuck in the days when game development, like computing, was for the young and for nerds. But now, technology itself has globalized.

“Why do we leave older people and women out of the development economy, out of the innovation economy?” he asked. “It doesn’t make sense.”

The gaming industry may be hurting itself, according to Wadhwa, without a more diverse workforce that understands what older gamers want.

“Kids don’t understand how Grandma or Grandpa might want to play games,” he said. “They don’t understand it. All they know is how they like playing games or how people like them like playing games.”

In 2014, the game industry, much like the tech industry in general, is far less diverse than its intended audience “in terms of ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation,” said Mullich.

“It’s still predominantly white male,” he said. “Things are getting better. And part of the reason why is because of the press and advocacy groups helping to make thinks more diverse. But one area which not enough people are talking about is age diversity.”

Ageism, plain and simple, is age discrimination, says Wadhwa.

“It is not legal. It cannot be tolerated,” he said.

Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.

One response to “Is the Game Industry Stuck in the Past?”

  1. […] to this piece on the Voice of America website, the computer games industry still thinks and behaves as if its products were only for teenage […]

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