Two factors are dovetailing to create growth in the pre-teen gaming market.Firstly, there is the traditional migration down the demographic that comes about as a generation of hardware enters its second, third and fourth years.
Secondly, the popularity of the Wii plus the Move and Kinect peripherals mean that games can now be simpler – and more instinctive than ever – to control. Simplicity, in fact, is a virtue like never before.
A third background factor, of course, is the long-term and ongoing mainstream adoption of gaming as all-pervasive popular culture. The audience is broader than ever – younger as well as older. This isn’t just a window opening up in this generation’s cycle – it’s a permanent shift and a major opportunity.
Rachael Grant, brand manager at Ubisoft, says: “I think the market for younger consumers has been consistently growing for a couple of years now, and this has very much been a focus for Ubisoft.
“The Imagine range led the trend for a variety of games designed specifically with the younger consumer in mind. Now, more than ever, this audience is a very important part of our business and the industry in general – and this will continue for us into 2012.”
She acknowledges the influence of Kinect and Move, saying that “they are making gaming more accessible to wider groups of consumers” and adding that “they are expanding on the experience that Nintendo has created with Wii”.
One of Activision’s senior brand managers also pays tribute to Nintendo, saying that the motion controllers from Microsoft and Sony both “provide greater opportunities on top of the revolution that Nintendo Wii started”.
Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment’s UK sales and marketing director Spencer Crossley agrees, arguing that the Wii taught a family audience to expect motion control ahead of fiddly buttons.Warner, as a group, is packed with properties that are perfect for pre-teens, but the publisher also thinks creatively and forges external alliances to boost its presence in the sector. Crossley says: “Games for younger players have always been a staple part of WBIE’s portfolio and none more so than our hugely popular range of LEGO video games, developed by the legendary TT Games. These are the gold standard in the kids games sector.
“We also launched the critically acclaimed Scribblenauts series for DS, Game Party: In Motion as our first Kinect title and The Lord of the Rings: Aragorn’s Quest as our first Move title. “We’ll also be publishing Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster for Kinect late in the year, which our retail partners are tremendously excited about already.“Our release schedule shows that whilst quality games linked to quality entertainment franchises will always do well, there is still room for the launch of new IP in this sector.”
Interestingly, at Disney, UK country director Matt Carroll believes that whilst the audience of younger gamers is growing, it is not being driven by traditional consoles: “My sense is that today the number of games for young consumers has reduced on traditional gaming platforms as we know them, but there is an increase in the number and variety of games on different and emerging platforms such as apps on mobile or sites like Facebook.
“Parents by and large are now much more comfortable providing controlled access to gaming via the web for a broad arrangement of interactive entertainment and games such as Club Penguin, whilst mobile phones and social media networks are increasingly providing access to games for the younger teenage audiences. This has resulted in increased popularity and prevalence of both types of games.”
He adds that whilst Disney was delighted with the success of Toy Story 3 last year, and has high hopes for Cars 2 and the recently announced Disney Universe, “gaming on next-gen consoles still appeals mainly to the hardcore”. Carroll continues: “For younger demographics, I feel that both the pricing and the poor economy has had a major impact in delaying the adoption of these platforms to a more mass market audience, an audience that was seen earlier in previous cycles.
“Functionality improvements such as Kinect and Move are welcome innovations, but they do not replace lower prices to drive penetration. The danger for the ‘traditional games industry’ is that younger consumers turn to new formats, above all mobile, as they feel these next-gen consoles remain out of reach.”
So, is that Disney calling for price cuts? Do we have our headline? Maybe not.
“The first parties have a very tricky balancing act to maximise the business from their consoles – so to that end they need to do what is right for the long term sustainability of the industry – and third-party publishers benefit hugely from the long term view.
“Any price move would generate huge interest and attract new audiences, but I would say they should choose the timing that matches when consumers will have the intention to buy, such as during the Christmas period.”
At Activision, European marketing manager Ian McClellan talks up the prospects of Skylanders: Spyros’ Adventures, focusing on the fact that the content, even the very concept, was created with kids in mind: “This is one of the key challenges when you are creating a game for young consumers – you need to make sure you are delivering something new and different.
“In particular, you need video games that allow kids to use their imaginations. With Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure we are doing just that. What we have created is not only a great video game, but also the opportunity for kids to collect a range of physical characters and bring them to life – that has never been done before.”
A different approach is also needed when it comes to marketing – and, where possible, cross promotions seem key.Carroll says: “It’s important, when marketing to a younger and family audience, we utilise and complement activity and initiatives from other areas of the Walt Disney Company.
“For example, last year we launched the Disney Rewards scheme to games, which extends our DVD/Blu-ray/Music programme and allows us new platforms to communicate to core Disney audiences.”
At Warner, Crossley talks about taking the approach in-store: “We’ve had tremendous success with our grocer partners, particularly targeting mums with great POS materials and promotions.
“As a global entertainment giant, we’re also in the unique position of being able to drive franchise-wide campaigns cross-divisionally across our film, home video, digital distribution and our consumer products divisions.”
At Ubisoft, Grant speaks up for the hands-on consumer option: “It can work really well as it gives kids an experience which they take away with them and which might influence their decision when pestering parents when they get home.
“They are able to have a taste of what the game has to offer, which hopefully will leave them wanting more. And this also allows your title to stand out in their mind especially when it comes to picking from a whole host of other video games available to them.”
There are no precise figures, of course, on the size of any ‘kids games’ market – and it would be very tough to even precisely define the parameters. But it’s clear that, whether on traditional consoles or via social networks, through browser gaming or on smartphones, more and more pre-teens are accessing content that falls under the widening umbrella of the video games market – and that publishers are taking them seriously.