Gender isn't the only diversity issue: Gamers and developers are getting older, says Anna Marsh

No longer a young person's game

Gender isn't the only diversity issue: Gamers and developers are getting older, says Anna Marsh
Anna Marsh is design director at Lady Shotgun Games, a co-operative of freelance game developers.

Recent discussion on 'diversity' in the game industry has been mainly focused on gender.

Personally, I've never really had a problem with being female in games, but growing older has made me wonder about ageism.

This month I've been really enjoying doing guest lectures for several game design courses around the UK. Not only has the students' enthusiasm been fantastic, but it's also been super nice to feel appreciated for my experience and knowledge, rather than feeling like a dusty old dinosaur.

About ten years ago – when I was 30 – I remember having a conversation with a fellow game designer of a similar age to me that went something like this:

Me: How's it going?

Him: Good, but I'm going to have to get a real job soon.

Me: This is a real job.

Him: Yeah, but, come on – I'm over 30. Can you imagine being a 40 year old game designer?

Dystopian futures

Shortly after this conversation, my boss at the time, who was slightly younger than me, admitted that he couldn't imagine hiring the candidate he had just interviewed for a game design position because the guy had been in his forties.

This wasn't a junior role either, but one that required experience. I had a shudder imagining a kind of game designers' Logan's Run – getting booted out on my backside and becoming totally unemployable at the age of 39.

Well, here we are a decade later I'm still a game designer, and so is my doubting friend, not to mention a bunch more friends in the industry I've been making games with for years.

The assumption when I started out was that game designers would eventually graduate to producers if they didn't burn themselves out along the way with overtime and stress. But as unbelievable as it seemed when we were in our twenties, game design has turned into a job-for-life.

Youth dollars

Probably the biggest reason that growing older as game designers was daunting for us at the time was that the 'target demographic' for every console game we ever worked on was "16 – 25 year old males".

The further we got away from that, the less relevant we became. How could we possibly anticipate what 'the kids' wanted as we approached middle age?

Although gamers in their forties have grown up with games, the age of the console target demographic has not increased much, which is not that surprising.

All but the keenest of console gamers will probably find that life intervenes with their game playing as they get older – bills have to be paid and children looked after – unless you really want to live alone for the rest of your life.

It's not so easy to splurge £300 on a console and then a regular £40 on games, or to find large chunks of spare time to play them, so the bulk of console consumers are younger people with less responsibilities and more spare cash and time.

Shifting demographics

Now though, we have new ways to play. Tablets have been adopted by a far more diverse audience than consoles – a recent Flurry Analytics report highlighted that two thirds of tablet owners are over 25, and that the average user spends 67 percent of their time on tablets playing games.

There's a whole lot of people older than the traditional console demographic consuming games on mobile devices, and as people's tastes change and develop as they get older, they're probably interested in a whole range of different game experiences.

Being middle-aged in the mobile games industry is pretty reflective of the demographic. Like most of my older colleagues I still enjoy a good console game when I can, but I spend much more time playing games on my iPad.

It's convenient to download games whenever I like and play in short snatches of free time – while waiting for my daughter's school bus, for instance, while my better half is hogging the telly, during commutes...

Ripe old age

And yet, age still seems to be something of a sticking point in the industry.

A friend of mine recently graduated from university, where he studied as a mature student. When he went to interview for an assistant producer role, the interviewer openly asked him if he felt going in at the bottom "at his age" would be a problem – he's a whole 35 years old.

The annual '30 under 30' lists - while doing a great job of celebrating fresh talent – can also be a depressing reflection of our youth-obsessed culture. If you haven't made it to the big league by the time you're 31, it seems to say, forget it.

Not everyone will be a Peter Molyneux, Jane Jensen or Cliff Bleszinski by the time they've hit 40 – in fact, the majority of people won't. But that doesn't mean they're irrelevant.

The amount of stuff I've learned from experience about how to design a great game has been far more useful to me than anything I ever learned in education. I know I'm a much better designer now then I was when I started out – because of, and not despite, my age.

With competition for jobs becoming more fierce, it's quite possible that many of today's graduates may spend years just getting that first shipped title under their belt, so to add the pressure on them to succeed by the time they're 30 seems destructive.

Let's not forget also that the retirement age is also rising – the future may well see us designing games at 70, never mind 40.

Market maturity

There's room for both young and old talent in the industry, and on mobile especially there's room for games and experiences that appeal to young and old players.

There's a large market out there for games that appeal to an older demographic. It may currently be filled with casual games such as Candy Crush Saga, but just as the film and book industries create movies and novels to appeal to mature audiences over a range of subjects, so there's room for us to start creating a variety of mature games.

And who better to start designing those experiences than us older developers! So be nice to us – we're a potential goldmine.
To find out more about Lady Shotgun Games, have a look around the company's website or follow it on Twitter

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