Women get thrills from playing games

New research suggests advertisers looking for a communications channel that allows them to engage with women should focus on computer games.


Teenage boys might have signs on their bedroom doors saying “no girls allowed” when they are tackling the latest version of Grand Theft Auto, but increasingly females of all ages are flouting the geek stereotype and spending more of their free time playing games.

The growth of gaming among women is giving advertisers more opportunities to tackle different age groups on a variety of gaming platforms, according to the 2009 UK National Gamers Survey by TNS and Gameindustry.com.

Stephen Yap, group director at TNS Technology, claims that the results of the research show that gaming reaches beyond the stereotype. He notes: “It has increased in popularity across all age groups. It’s also interesting to note how popular gaming has become among women of all ages.”

One of the partners of the TNS research, Zylom by RealGames, an online female gaming portal, claims this research shows gaming has gone mainstream.

Rumbi Pfende, UK country manager of RealGames, adds: “Gaming has become central [to many people’s lives] but it’s like an underground movement because everyone thinks it’s about kids. In actual fact, an older market is spending a vast amount of time gaming and it’s becoming a central part of the day.”

This isn’t just good news for the gaming industry hoping to reach more consumers. Advertisers that are looking at new ways to reach females are “opening their eyes to the opportunities that gaming provides as a channel for communications”, argues Yap. He adds: “We’re seeing in-game advertising as the fastest growing sector.”

Gaming is a legitimate media channel and advertisers are starting to pick up on that. Stephen Yap, TNS Technology

The percentage of women playing games across all age groups looks healthy. In young consumers, it only slightly lags behind the numbers of male players. Indeed, 96% of eight- to 12-year-olds and 86% of 13- to 19-year-old females play computer games. This compares to 100% of eight- to 12-year-old boys and 97% of 13- to 19-year-old males playing games.  

The figures also remain strong in the older categories – 76% of 20- to 34-year-old women and 67% of 35- to 49-year-old women play games. This compares to 83% of 20- to 34-year-old men and 77% of 35- to 49-year-old men.

Men and women in the 50-plus age group are almost on a par when it comes to playing games, with 41% of 50-plus males and 43% of 50-plus females saying they play games.

The amount of time female gamers spend across all platforms is similar across all age groups. Teenage girls (13- to 19-year-olds) and women aged 50-plus both spend an average of 3.8 hours a week playing games. This is similar to the 20- to 34-year-old age group and the 35- to 49-year-old age category where people spend an average of 3.1 hours and 3.6 hours respectively playing games during a seven-day period.

Yap says: “You’d expect young people to spend a long time on gaming but it’s quite surprising to find a lot of older women spending a lot of time on gaming.”

In some cases, women spend a similar amount of time playing games as reading magazines and newspapers. Female gamers aged between 20 and 34 in the UK, for example, spend an average of 2.4 hours a week playing games, 1.4 hours a week reading magazines and 1.4 hours a week reading newspapers.

Women may also be more receptive to receiving advertising messages through gaming than other media, claims Pfende. “The main reasons that women use gaming is to relax, sometimes to relieve boredom and for escapism,” she suggests.

Social element

Women are also being seduced by the sociability of gaming formats. Rather than being one-player platforms, the social element is now built into gaming with the launch of products such as the Nintendo Wii console that run games designed to be played by the whole family.

Other innovations are also helping turn gaming from a niche activity into a mainstream hobby. As a growing number of media are integrated into games, such as the ability to watch music videos or communicate with other players via consoles, they become more interesting to both consumers and brands.

Yap claims: “Gaming is a legitimate media channel and advertisers are starting to pick up on that.”

Advertisers will, however, need to consider that different gaming platforms appeal to diverse female age groups. Consoles are the most popular platform overall with 73% of women choosing to play games in that way. Online portals are second most popular overall, with 47% of all women using gaming websites. However, women aged over 50 and mothers prefer portals to consoles, claims Pfende, because “they are a convenient way to take some downtime”.

Play bingo

Pfende says many advertisers believe that only a certain demographic uses gaming. “The misconceptions about gaming are vast,” she says. “Assumptions that women only play bingo if they are on benefits or women who enjoy gaming won’t do anything else, such as watch TV or use social networks, are just not true.”

The research also shows that female gamers are even more attractive to advertisers than the average woman because they are more likely to buy branded clothing and trainers, book a holiday online and are more at ease with spending larger sums of money via the internet. 

Statistics like these are tempting more brands to commit to pre-roll advertising around gaming or buy in-game advertising space, Pfende claims:  “The whole mindset has changed. Brands have been experimenting with this format but are beginning to show a greater commitment to gaming.”

While more brands may now be willing to consider gaming as an appropriate media channel to promote products, Yap acknowledges it’s still got some way to go to be considered truly mainstream. However, he predicts: “The popularity of gaming is only going to continue to increase and become as common as watching TV or going online.”

He says that as gaming is a relatively new media channel, this may also prove popular with advertisers who are seeking to engage with hard-to-reach audiences. Yap adds: “Because gaming is quite a nascent platform, people haven’t become sceptical of it.”

 The days of games being the domain of a moody teenage boy appear to be over. Advertisers that are brave enough to enter the world of gaming could potentially discover a large female audience that is more than receptive to their messages.



The frontline

We ask marketers on the frontline whether our ‘Trends’ research matches their experience on the ground


Chris Birch,

founder of video game-inspired fashion brand Joystick Junkies

There’s probably even more women playing games than the research suggests – a lot of women don’t talk about playing games.

We recently did a cast for models who are passionate about playing games. We put the advert out on a casting site that had about 3,000 female models registered. About 800 responded having filled out information about the games they love. It reinforced to me that guys like to shout about how they love games, whereas girls just get on with it.

Advertisers should make sure they don’t assume girls are playing the pink and fluffy games; many women like fighting and role-playing games as well as casual gaming sites. 

Women also treat gaming as a social experience and they will sit there and have a chat. To ignore video games as a way to reach people is sticking your head in the sand. It’s a good way of getting a lot of intimate face time with a wide age range as virtually everyone plays games in some form.


Mat Braddy,

chief marketing officer at online takeaway site Just-Eat

It doesn’t surprise me that women are spending that much time playing games every week, especially with the introduction of consoles like the Nintendo Wii. The statistics about women gamers in the older demographic spending as much time playing games as the younger generation is interesting. It shows how times have changed.

We are experimenting with digital channels such as in-game advertising. Our core market is spread out in terms of class and ages, but there’s a lean towards a youth market who don’t have kids yet. They have very busy social lives. Not all of these people are watching television.

Data shows there are 10 million people in the UK who eat takeaways twice a month and use the internet every day. Of that 10 million people, 3 million are the main console user in the household so it makes sense to experiment with in-game media to reach both males and females in our target market.

Opinion formers within our market are consuming television very differently. They have digital video recorders and are skipping ads. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do TV, but to reach those opinion formers we need to look at how they’re consuming media and look at supporting TV with relevant digital channels, such as in-game advertising.




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