How Developers are Ignoring an Emerging Market
You are getting old. Whether you’ve just reached the threshold for Mature rated games or you’re celebrating your 29th birthday, someday you’ll be in your golden years and looking for ways to pass the time. Even if your love of video games stays with you through the years (and why wouldn’t it?), you may find that your passion for gaming is less accessible to you after a few decades.
Video games were created to be fun for everyone, but it turns out that “everyone” may only include people below the age of 50. Not only do video game protagonists tend to be on the younger side of 30, but video game controls are unwelcoming to anyone that may be experiencing arthritis or muscle cramps: two common ailments of an aging population.
Players Are Growing Up
The age of the gaming community continues to rise as the people who first fell in love with video games get older. According to a study conducted by the ESA (Entertainment Software Association), the average gamer is 37-years-old and 27% of gamers are 50 or older. These are already significant numbers, and it seems likely that the number of elderly gamers will only continue to rise.
As current gamers frolic through the ravages of time, they’re likely to find themselves as in love with video games as ever, but without the ability to play them. CDC research has found that 36 percent of adults older than 65 have some form of disability, and many of these handicaps can directly impact a gamer’s ability to play. 23 percent have an ambulatory disability–which makes most motion control games inaccessible–, 15 percent have hearing disabilities that can make games without subtitles difficult/impossible to follow and 9 percent have some kind of visual disability that can hinder their ability to see what’s happening on the screen.
Despite the fact that more than a quarter of gamers are elderly and thus at increased risk to suffer from these disabilities, most game developers do shockingly little to accommodate these needs. When a big-name developer does release a game with seniors in mind, the content is often boring enough to put the player to sleep.
Content for Seniors Suck
The most common type of game that is accessible to seniors is the genre of brain games. Not only does this genre lack any sort of entertainment value, but there have been no studies that actually show them to be useful in keeping seniors sharp or alert. These games are being sold due to fear of mental decline, not for any sort of enjoyment for the player. When did video games become about fear instead of fun?
Of course, these injustices come in addition to the fact that elderly video game protagonists are next to non-existent. When older people are featured in video games, it’s either as the unreliable codger or the wise old sage, and neither one is fair to people who have lived diverse and full lives. While they may lose smooth skin and the ability to enjoy rap music, there’s no reason that the elderly should lose their ability to be fully-realized people.
If there can be adult playgrounds for seniors to enjoy themselves, there’s no reason that video games–an industry built on fun–shouldn’t be able to give the elderly a place to enjoy themselves. Luckily, while AAA developers seem to be sleeping on this issue, indie games are making headway in releasing new titles that will account for seniors with disabilities.
One of the benefits of indie studios is that they’re much more likely to reach audiences that are ignored by more mainstream developers. This has certainly been the case with older gamers who have found themselves neglected by big-name releases but embraced by indie titles. Sound too good to be true? Just look at the pledge and mechanics utilized by Mega Cat Studios.
According to their pledge, MCS creates retro games that are accessible to people with disabilities. These include simple fixes that other developers often overlook, such as remappable keys or changeable font/color for closed captioning. All of this is in addition to their content being in the retro-style, which many older gamers are fond of. Good luck finding a mainstream developer that takes that much consideration for anyone that isn’t a 20-something, able-bodied white man.
While the inclusion that MCS incorporates is commendable, it isn’t that shocking from an indie studio. Indie developers have to listen to their audience if they want games to sell, and since elderly gamers are more than a quarter of that market, it’s only natural that indie games be accessible to them as well.
The Big Picture
Most game companies may not take proper consideration for elderly gamers, but that doesn’t mean you’ll ever grow too old to settle arguments with controllers. Indie developers have been bringing attention to aging gamers who all too often get ignored by AAA companies. When game developers make relatively simple allowances for elderly gamers, everyone gets the opportunity to enjoy themselves the old-fashioned way: by pwning some noobs.
How do you think developers could better tap into the elderly gamer market? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.