Gen Z gamers are poised to shake up the media and entertainment industries for good

April 19, 2021, 3:30 PM UTC
“Video games offer fans a very different kind of experience than traditional media and entertainment,” the authors write. “Games are interactive, they offer rewarding challenges, and they’re increasingly social.”
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With awards season in full swing, our thoughts turn to cinema—but some people could take or leave the movies. Among younger folks, it’s gaming season 365 days a year. The older you are, the less you might realize how gaming is captivating U.S. consumers.

Although a majority of consumers still prefer watching TV and movies at home, gaming is the favorite media and entertainment activity for Generation Z, people born between 1997 and 2006. For them, watching TV and movies at home ranks fifth, behind listening to music, browsing the Internet, and engaging on social platforms. Gaming’s appeal spans generations: 87% of Generation Z, 83% of millennials, and 79% of Generation X are playing video games on smartphones, gaming consoles, and computers at least weekly if not daily.

If current trends continue, gaming could draw more audiences away from streaming TV and movie consumption. The global video gaming industry is massive, at an estimated $162 billion and growing at 10% annually. Traditional media and entertainment companies may want to ask themselves: Are we prepared for a possible future shaped by gaming-happy Generation Z? 

Video games offer fans a very different kind of experience than traditional media and entertainment. Games are interactive, they offer rewarding challenges, and they’re increasingly social. Our recent survey found a strong majority of Generation Z, millennials, and Generation X agree that during the COVID-19 pandemic video games have helped them stay connected to other people and get through difficult times.  

Amid lockdowns, games have empowered people to solve puzzles, vanquish fearsome enemies, collaborate with allies, and compete against foes. Increasingly, gamers can enjoy the same immersive stories and astonishing special effects that appear in movies. But here, not only do the players get to become the charismatic heroes, they’re often sharing these experiences with others. 

Although it was already growing strongly, gaming has been amplified during the pandemic. Indeed, according to our survey, more than half of Generation Z, millennials and Generation X agree that video games have taken away from other entertainment time. How much will this continue after COVID-19? As streaming video services work to retain their audiences against mounting competition, video games and the social and streaming networks around them offer ways for media and entertainment companies to reach more consumers and stay in the conversation.

What to know about the gaming wave

To help better address the gaming market, media and entertainment companies should consider these factors:

There are more subscriptions in the mix. Gamers have only so much time and money. While 78% of consumers surveyed describe themselves as frequent or occasional gamers, we found that 45% of all those surveyed now subscribe to a paid gaming service. When consumers are juggling their basket of entertainment services, will more of them prioritize their gaming subscriptions? If younger generations favor gaming over TV and movies, they may be less inclined to absorb more fees from streaming media providers. 

Gaming platforms know their audience. Games have access to a lot of data about user behaviors. They can know what games you play and how often, how much expertise you’ve developed, and what games you’ll likely choose next. They have beta programs and launch events, and they stay engaged with players through social media and streaming. More now track sales of digital content through their own virtual storefronts. Traditional media and entertainment companies might long for such perspective on their audiences.   

Gaming is personal. Some players gravitate to action and adventure; others like sports, role playing, simulations, or digital board games. Experiences on smartphones can be quite different from those on consoles or PCs. Media and entertainment companies should understand the nuances of each gaming category, tailoring business models to segments and preferences. 

Gaming is social. Although traditional social media can be a gateway to gaming, many top multiplayer games are cultivating their own large and robust social networks without support from traditional social media platforms. Increasingly, they’re hosting their own global media events beyond gaming. Gaming companies have also successfully integrated social streaming and chat services into their ecosystem.

Gaming is a broadcast ecosystem. With social streaming, video games are also spectator sports. Media and entertainment companies are realizing the value of top streamers who have amassed their own large audiences around gaming content. It’s a very different model of engagement. Whether they hope to access social streaming audiences or experiment with social features on their own services, media and entertainment companies should explore social streaming to connect with audiences who may be closer to independent streamers than video celebrities and franchises.  

Gaming platforms have yet to fully embrace advertising. Advertisers typically buy space near games based on an understanding of their audience, but they typically don’t have the level of data that game companies do. This knowledge gap could be an opportunity for media and entertainment companies to nail the right mix of channels, content, and ad tolerance. Getting ads in games may be a taller order. Be forewarned: A load screen ad on a mobile app may provoke little anger compared to an ad placed inside a popular game world. Brands should carefully consider where in the gaming ecosystem they can reach the right audiences with the right ad tolerance.

Media and entertainment companies: It’s your move

With growing competition from gaming, media and entertainment companies can foster more enduring relationships by mixing the right blend of content, advertising, and social influence across video, music, and gaming, provided they understand the nuances across channels, genres, and demographics.

A good first step would be studying the dynamic and multifaceted entertainment habits of Generation Z and designing new, personalized experiences to attract them. Brands and companies may need to move fluidly across different media, social aggregators, and trending topics while supporting relationships that better address mounting data privacy and transparency needs. 

Leading media and entertainment companies will likely remain at the center of our entertainment lives, provided they understand the growing reach and influence of video gaming. 

Kevin Westcott is vice chairman and U.S. technology, media, and telecom leader at DeloitteJana Arbanas is vice chairman and U.S. telecom, media, and entertainment sector leader at Deloitte.

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