Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Gaming the Attention Economy: how gaming has changed entertainment consumption habits

By Claire Nance, Global Head of Industry Marketing and Communications, Activision Blizzard Media 

Gaming’s growth over the last few years has been exponential, with one-third of the global population playing video games. It has evolved from an activity once viewed solely through the lens of teenagers to something now understood to be enjoyed by a diverse audience across a variety of game types, genres, and devices.

A unique combination of factors has fuelled this growth. More inclusive and accessible design methodologies have enabled gaming’s reach to expand across multiple audiences and demographics. From the gaming-device-in-your-pocket accessibility of mobile games to user-friendly plug-and-play console games and hardware, it has never been easier to game. These factors, coupled with the generational impact which sees today’s heads of households having themselves grown-up gaming, have transformed gaming into an entertainment mainstay and a staple of consumers’ media consumption diets. 

However, gaming isn’t just establishing itself as part of audiences’ entertainment habits; it is transforming them. 

As we see increased frequency and engagement with gaming, we also see a shift in how traditional media is consumed. With gaming now at the audience’s fingertips throughout the day, there has been a significant move away from entertainment as something to be consumed only during ‘prime time’ hours in the evening towards something audiences can engage with at different touchpoints throughout the day. Entertainment is no longer an activity enjoyed as a singular experience. Today’s audiences are consuming content, especially gaming, throughout the day across multiple devices at a time, with the second screen increasingly acting as a focal point for attention.

This behavior shift was evident in recent research conducted by Activision Blizzard Media, which surveyed over 2,000 US adults to better understand their entertainment consumption habits. The study found that gaming is a regular part of the weekly diet for two-thirds of respondents, with 84% of those aged 18-34 years engaging with gaming at least weekly. As noted, gaming is not just an evening activity for these audiences – it is something enjoyed throughout the day above more traditional forms of media such as live TV, streaming TV, and streaming video.

The rising importance of gaming is even more pronounced in the aforementioned younger generations. Although all ages enjoy gaming, those aged 18-34 years show the strongest interaction with gaming at different touchpoints throughout the day. Identifying the entertainment consumption behaviors of younger generations provides an important glimpse into the future of media adoption and the evolution of entertainment habits. We see some of these shifts becoming evident in those aged 35-54 years – many in this group have grown up with gaming and show consistent engagement with gaming throughout their lives, especially in comparison to traditional media such as TV. 

Changes in media consumption extend beyond simply the time of day that entertainment is consumed. At a time when entertainment choices have never been more abundant, consumers are increasingly engaging with multiple forms of entertainment simultaneously and switching between these experiences with regularity. The idea of second screening is not a new one, with 85% of respondents surveyed by Activision Blizzard Media revealed to be watching TV with another device in hand, but what stands out is what they are consuming on that second screen: instead of scrolling through social media or browsing the internet, audiences are using their second screen to game. 

Focusing on those who engage with gaming specifically, the research shows that gaming is the number one second-screen activity, with more than half of this group using a mobile device to play games while watching TV. As noted above, this is partly due to gaming’s emergence on mobile, enabling a seamless second-screen experience that was previously harder to achieve with PC and console gaming. The ‘second screen’, once thought to be a deeper way into traditional entertainment, may at times draw more attention than the ‘first screen’ to become the primary focus of attention.

Gaming has long been a key influencer of how audiences understand and interact with future technologies, which holds true for media consumption habits. As engagement with gaming continues to grow, so will its role in shaping these future behaviors. For marketers, the key lies in better understanding the gaming audience – their motivations, need states, and habits – to better identify the opportunities to engage and activate with audiences in a meaningful and impactful way.

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