Why video game makers need to pay attention to growing market of 50-plus gamers
On a recent Thursday morning, Elmer and Anna Van Zee, who are 91 and 92 respectively, walk hand-in-hand down the hallway of the Steele Lane Community Center in Santa Rosa to a small conference room.
After situating his and his wife’s coffee cups and granola bar snacks on the chair between them, Elmer fires up a golf video game on the Nintendo Wii console connected to the big screen as Pauline Hatakeda, 86, and her husband Duke, 91, arrive. For about an hour, this foursome virtually putts, slices and attempts to get holes-in-one.
“It’s fun to play games with others,” Anna Van Zee said of their regular matches. “Besides getting the ball in the hole, a big challenge is mastering the controller.”
The Van Zees have a gaming console at home and often the Hatakedas join them there for more golf following a lunch outing. Pauline Hatakeda says, “This has helped me understand the game of golf so that I can enjoy it more when I watch it on TV.”
The city of Santa Rosa Recreation and Parks facilities have offered Wii sports for over seven years, first at the Bennett Valley Senior Center and now at Steele Lane Community Center.
“The program has great ADA-compatible options. The players can choose the physical level of their activity, sit or stand, be left or right handed. Not only is Wii user friendly but it has boosted their confidence with technology,” Recreation Coordinator Mickey Remy said.
She estimates about 210 people weekly use the Steele Lane center during the hours designated especially for seniors (between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m.).
THE RISE OF SENIOR GAMERS
Lisa Cini is a designer with 25 years’ experience developing interiors that improve the quality of life for seniors and author of “BOOM: The Baby Boomers Guide to Leveraging Technology.”
Part of Cini’s work in designing for memory care facilities is to “gamify” the environment. For example, she uses color-coding, or creates a movement flow without the dead ends that lead to a patient’s frustration.
“There was an experiment in Stockholm, Sweden, where subway stairs were rigged to play musical notes — think of the big piano keyboard Tom Hanks jumped on in the movie Big — to encourage people to walk up to street level instead of taking the escalator. An amazing 66% more people took the stairs. When you gamify something, you can get a task done because it is fun at the core.”
“What developers need to pay attention to,” Cini concluded, “is the gap between what works for teens and what works for the 55-plus user, because there are billions of dollars involved, bigger than almost all professional sports combined. They don’t need to capture the senior market; it’s already there. They just need to tailor the games to this demographic, so older folks can join in on the fun.”
Given the fact that AARP surveys have found 43% of gamers over the age of 60 play video games every day, the demand from those retirees with time on their hands is clearly substantial.
“We are living in the golden age of video games, and players are thriving,” wrote Stan Pierre-Louis, president of the Electronic Software Association. The industry is thriving too, with sales exceeding a record-breaking $43.4 billion in 2018.