Who plays mobile games?

Player insights to help developers win

Allen Bevans
Jun 14, 2017 · 6 min read
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We used to think ‘gamers’, now we think ‘players’

It can be easy to think of people who play games as belonging to one of two extreme groups — the ‘hardcore’ gamers living and breathing complex, highly skilled games, and the ‘casual’ gamers playing low skill, non challenging games. These extremes are also associated with a range of demographic assumptions and stereotypes, like “hardcore” gamers being young and male, and “casual” gamers being old and female. The reality is a majority of players fall somewhere between these two extremes along the game playing spectrum. At Google Play, we found referring to ‘players’ rather than ‘gamers’ helps us consider the entire spectrum of gaming behaviors, instead of extreme behavior stereotypes.

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“Hardcore” and “Casual” can be useful shorthands, but they’re often overloaded with stereotypes that don’t line up with reality. Most players fall somewhere between these two extremes along the game playing spectrum, and most games combine features that can be categorized as “casual” or “hardcore”.

The role of games in a player’s life, and player’s social behavior, drive the most similarities and differences

Our first challenge when considering the spectrum of players was to create some form of order. How were these millions of players similar or different in terms of their attitudes, needs, and behaviors when it came to mobile games? In our survey of over 20k mobile game players across 8 markets, we asked a series of questions about different aspects of their game playing: how they find out about games, what’s important to them about games, how and when they play, how gaming fits into their lives, etc. We found the questions that truly differentiated groups of players from each other centered around their social behaviors and their passion for games.

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The 5 segments of players mapped relative to each other along the dimensions of Gaming Passion and Social Behavior

1. Demographics are not the primary drivers of difference.

Once we identified the five segments based on these dimensions, we started to learn more about them in terms of who they are and how they behave. It is really important to highlight that while there are demographic differences between these segments, these are not the primary drivers of segment differences. Too often segmentations like this primarily differentiate segments in terms of life stage or gender, which can hide key commonalities and differences across dimensions that really matter. While there are slightly more younger ‘connected enthusiasts’, or older ‘passive players’, the dominant age profile for both segments is between 26 and 45 years old. Likewise, there is only a slight male bias (just over 50%) for ‘connected enthusiasts’ and ‘playful explorers’.

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A summary of key demographics and drivers for each segment

2. The player segments use a range of channels and influencers to discover games

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A summary of key game discovery influences for each segment

3. Player segment does not equal one genre

When we asked players about the types of games they play, we saw similarities across all the segments. Puzzle games are universally appealing, as well as strategy games (except for the ‘passive players’). We did see some specific clusters of game types for certain segments.

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Proportion of each segment that plays a mobile game genre

4. Motivators of engagement go beyond just relaxation and boredom

Relaxation and boredom relief are universal motivators to keep people playing mobile games. However, we see some other more actionable drivers of engagement that vary across segments. In particular, the ‘connected enthusiasts’ are all about making progress, testing their skills (both personally and with others), and ‘rewarding’ themselves with the pleasure of game play. ‘Playful explorers’ and ‘influenced players’ also see playing games & making progress as a reward, but are less focussed on testing skills compared to others. ‘Tentative followers’ and ‘passive players’ are less likely to focus on the pleasure of game playing.

Implication for developers

  • Consider the various gaming needs of your players. Unless your game is highly targeted towards a specific demographic group, don’t fall for demographic stereotypes. Instead, think about the different gaming needs being met by your game and the key experiences your game provides.
  • Take player differences into account when designing your game or adding new features:
  1. Be informed: Get feedback from the right segments of players.
  2. Be concrete: Articulate how a feature will change specific aspects of these players’ experience, and why that is important to them.
  • Tailor engagement strategies to motivate your target player segment(s). ‘Connected enthusiasts’ love leaderboards and challenging their community while ‘playful explorers’ are more interested in personal progress. Use the game content that is the most meaningful to your players to help them love playing your game.

What do you think?

Do you have questions or thoughts on understanding mobile gamers? Continue the discussion in the comments below or tweet using the hashtag #AskPlayDev and we’ll reply from @GooglePlayDev, where we regularly share news and tips on how to be successful on Google Play.

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