As an “older Millennial”, I’m sometimes amazed at the similarities and differences in gaming habits between my generation and “Generation Z”. And, before I continue, I want to say that these labels are confusing – I can’t even say “Generation X” without thinking of Triple H and Shawn Michael throwing around crotch-chops. And “Baby Boomers” sounds like an amazing title for an Android game – like, how far can you launch babies from a cannon? Oh my God, I’m adding that to my idea list (the one I never get around to doing anything from – it’s a Millennial curse).
Projectile infants aside, I look at the gaming habits of Z-Generation with a bit of awe and wonder – because they’re doing exactly what I was doing in the mid-90s, only with much cooler tech. Online MMOs, for example – titles like Ultima Online and Everquest were launched while I was still in grade school, and these were huge advancements for PC gaming. Before that, we had MUDs, which were text-based MMOs – which were my personal addiction. I spent an unholy number of hours typing ‘kill goblin’ over and over into a Telnet screen.
And now, kids today are basically doing the same thing – only in much fancier graphics. But the big difference between then and now, is that kids today have the tools to create their dream worlds. I mean, creating game modifications in the 90s was a thing reserved for the most genius amongst us. You could spend a month creating a level for Unreal Tournament ’99 using UnrealED. Want to create your own track for Microsoft’s Motocross Madness 1998? Enjoy hours of playing with gaussian blur levels in Photoshop 5.0, to get the bump maps just right. Create your own MUD? Goodbye real life, hello hours of C++ debugging.
Gen-Z has also really latched onto game streaming, using platforms like Twitch. They can broadcast their gameplay live to a potentially immense audience and watch other streamers. In fact, some Twitch streamers have become celebrities of sorts, earning massive endorsement money from brands associated with the gaming industry.
Streaming also paved the way for esports, which is more popular than ever, thanks to Generation Z’s affinity for watching other people play video games. Global esports industry revenue is projected to reach 1.6 billion USD by 2020, and there are already numerous 24-hour esports channels for various cable television networks.
To understand why things like live-streaming and esports have become so popular amongst Generation Z, we need to understand the influence of social media on the gaming habits of Gen-Z. ROKO Labs conducted a survey regarding how youth discover apps, and 62% responded that they discover new apps / games through a friend. This is, of course, completely normal and no different than previous generations, as world-of-mouth has always been a primary driving force. The key difference is in the fact that app developers have latched onto this, and many offer referral rewards, usually in the form of free in-game content.
Think of it like this – 13 year old Billy plays a new Android game, and discovers that there are referral rewards. So he sets up a Twitch channel to broadcast his gameplay on the internet, and gets 100 viewers to watch him play this game, and maybe 30 of them sign up for the game using his referral link. Now Billy’s got a bunch of free stuff in the game, just for letting others watch him play it. So the Z-Gen has been really incentivized to be much more social about the games they’re playing.
One “drawback” of Gen Z, at least for developers and markets, is how short this generation’s attention span is. Back in the 90s, video games were an investment – $50 for Street Fighter for the Super Nintendo meant you were going to play Street Fighter until your parents bought you a new game. Today’s children can install 50 Android apps in the span of 10 minutes and play each one for a couple minutes at a time. That’s not even an exaggeration – Generation Z has an attention span of 8 seconds.
Ironically, Gen Z is also twice as likely to be impulse buyers – this is partially why we’ve seen such a proliferation of casual, IAP-heavy games. Mobile developers are catering to the 8-second-attention-span generation, and it’s working (for the most part – those of us who value experience over instant gratification are suffering).
So in a nutshell, the gaming habits of Gen-Z seems to be “install, purchase something, play for 8 seconds, uninstall.” While broadcasting it live and making hundreds of dollars in ad revenue. What a great time to be alive, you lucky little smirks.