Who Are Gamers in 2022?

Despite readily available evidence to the contrary, the world’s population of “gamers” still has a hard time shaking off preconceived notions about those who inhabit its ranks. Indeed, some may never let go of the idea that gamers are just lonely, anti-social, often toxic young men wasting their lives in someone’s basement.

Those who care to look even millimeters beneath the surface know better. The pool of people who play games has become wider and deeper than ever before, and many parts of the community are a force for good in the world. Our very own “Good in Gaming” series highlights many such examples, and one only has to look as far as the annual Games Done Quick speedrun marathons to see millions of dollars raised for important global causes.

Enter NewZoo, a purveyor of market data and insights that help game developers, publishers, marketers, and more understand the actual demographics of the gaming space. Through various reports they produce throughout the year, NewZoo provides data about who is playing games, what games and genres are being played, and motivations for playing. The all-important “Who” is the focus of their Gamer Segmentation Report and of this piece, where we will break down the different “Personas” that Newzoo says make up the gaming population.

When I last wrote about this particular report in 2020, NewZoo had identified 9 different personas to help their customers understand the nuances of who they were trying to reach with their services and wares. Each segment is looked at through the lens of what they play, what they watch, what they own, and how they socialize within the community. This year’s report has renamed a few of the segments, so we will go down the list of nine and uncover the details of who is actually participating in the hobby we all love.

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The Ultimate Gamer

As the name suggests, these are the apex gamers, the people who live and breathe the hobby. Making up just 4% of all gamers, they own every system, play regularly on all of them, and invest heavily in the newest tech to play all the latest games. They have disposable income to use on the hobby and choose to allocate their free time to follow their passion. When not gaming they are watching content and keeping up on the latest news in the industry and as it pertains to esports. The average age of those in this persona is just over 28, but the largest number of people in the group fall into the 10-15 age range. Gender is also covered here, with 71% identifying as male, 29% as female, and less than one-half percent as non-binary.

The report also dives into the genres each persona chooses to play, and perhaps surprisingly, adventure games lead the list here, with 71% of those surveyed saying they play these games regularly. The battle royale genre, which seems to take up the vast majority of the digital ink in the gaming press, comes in at a close second with 69%, with the shooter genre at 66%. Strategy and Racing fill out the top 5.

Understanding why these personas play games is also crucial to the efforts of those wanting to design for and market to them, so the report delves into this as well. For the Ultimate Gamer, the top reasons are almost equally important: overcoming challenges with tactics and strategy, experiencing the best graphics, exploring detailed game worlds, completing all of a game’s tasks, and experiencing a deep storyline were all cited by 89% or more of those surveyed as being the reasons why they play.

For those looking to link the conventional wisdom of the past to the current data-driven understanding of the hobby, this persona would be the “hardcore gamers” and “early adopters”. They are the most likely to be standing in line at midnight for new consoles, pre-ordering PSVR2 and the newest Elite-style controllers, and playing the kinds of games that might befuddle more casual gamers.

The All-Round Enthusiast

This second persona is similar in form to the Ultimate Gamer, playing games across a wide range of systems and genres. The report notes that this group is likely to be full-time workers, so their available time to sink into games is less but the hobby is still an important part of their lives. They have the income to buy Day 1 releases and the hardware needed to play them. They mix other interests into their lives more evenly than do the Ultimate persona, but they still consume content and keep up with the goings-on in the industry as part of their enjoyment of the hobby. These Enthusiasts make up 5% of the gaming population.

The genre preference for the Enthusiast persona nearly mirrors that of the Ultimate Gamer, with only the fifth spot changing to RPGs, the only time this genre shows up in any persona). Exploring detailed game worlds ranks as their top reason to play, with tactics/strategy and storytelling taking the next two spots. Interestingly, the feeling of adrenaline and excitement from playing games is almost equally important to this group. Having the latest tech and best graphics is fifth here, reflecting this persona’s lesser need to stay at the top of the technological heap.

This persona skews very slightly younger, at just under 28 years as the average, but they share the similarly large grouping of 10-15 year-olds in their midst (and a nearly equal set of 31-35 year-olds). Females make up a slightly larger percentage at 31%, with men at 69% and non-binary at 0.7%.

The Community Gamer

This next persona represents 6% of the gaming population, and true to the label, their favorite part of gaming is the community aspect. Interestingly, they play games less than the first two groups and place a correspondingly lower importance on tech as well. But their desire to watch online gaming content and participate in community activities matches that of the Ultimate Gamer persona. These are the people you find on Steam community pages, commenting on articles about the latest news and their favorite games, and discussing various topics on Discord servers. They see these aspects of the hobby as part of their identity.

The average age for this persona is very similar to the first two, just under 28 years old, but the largest subset of people here are in the 21-25-year-old range. Females make up 36% with males at 63%, and this persona has the largest percentage of members identifying as non-binary, at 1.7%.

Though Adventure games and Battle Royale still occupy the top two genre slots here, two new genres make an appearance. Sticking with the community theme, Arcade games and the MOBA genre take the third and fourth spots here, with Shooters coming in fifth. Similarly, there are two new entrants in the reason to play metric; exploring detailed game worlds and completing tasks still take the top two spots, but the third is the desire to come up with creative ways to accomplish tasks and win the game. Building something of their own in a game world occupies the last spot in the list, the only time it appears across any of the personas.

Photo by Eren Li from Pexels

The Solo Gamer

This persona, making up just 5% of the gaming population, is essentially a less-involved version of the Ultimate and Enthusiast groupings. As the name suggests they lean toward single-player games, and will spend money to increase their immersion in those games, but they tend to consume content at a much lower rate. If they aren’t playing games, they aren’t likely to be watching streams or searching out information on the industry. They find the games they like but don’t tend to drift far afield from them, instead choosing to enhance their experience with those types of games. They might be more likely to buy a VR headset or souped-up flight stick setup to increase their enjoyment of a game like Microsoft Flight Sim or Resident Evil 7.

Not surprisingly, this is the first persona to see the Battle Royale genre slip to third place in the preferred list, but otherwise, their preferences mirror those of the Ultimate Gamer, as do their motivations for playing the games they do. This is also the oldest group so far, with the average age just over 30, though their largest age group is again the 10-15 age range. This persona sees another increase in female representation, with 37% to 62% male, and the second-most non-binary gamers at almost 1.5%.

The Mainstream Gamer

We’ve arrived at one of the biggest personas, with 23% of the gaming population fitting into the Mainstream category. This group places much importance on actually playing games, but spends very little on those games because they see so many options in free-to-play games and subscription-based services. They also spend comparatively little on hardware, playing first and foremost on mobile devices. They won’t spend a ton of time watching content or participating in the community aspects of the hobby, choosing to use their time in the games themselves.

Mainstreamers account for the largest percentage of female gamers yet, with 40% compared to 59% male, and 1.4% identifying as non-binary. The average age here is just over 29, with the largest grouping once again the 10–15-year-old age group(seeing a trend yet). Battle Royale regains its second-place finish as the genre of choice, with more casual Arcade games finding the Top 5 as well. Their reasons to play find two new entrants for the report, with high-score chasing and slowly getting good at games puncturing the Top 5.

Call this one the “Microsoft” persona, because whether it’s CoD Mobile, Warzone, or Game Pass subs, the Redmond monolith is trying to corner this market.

The Time Filler

Fully a quarter of all gamers fall into this persona, and as you may have guessed, they are likely to be found playing quickie games like Candy Crush on mobile devices. They play when they have a few minutes to kill, during their commute or while they wait for an appointment. They don’t care about hardware or consuming content, as this is about the only time they play or think about games.

This is the second oldest average for a persona at almost 37 years, and their largest group by a factor of almost 2-1 is the 51-65 age range. So much for gaming only being for young people. For the first time, women overtake men in the persona, at a rate of 58-41%. High-score chasing is their primary reason to play, and their top two genres are, obviously, puzzle and matching games.

Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko on Pexels

The Popcorn Gamer

The largest single persona at 29%, these gamers spend comparatively little time actually playing, but they voraciously consume streaming content and esports competitions. When they do play, their focus is on casual games, but they overwhelmingly prefer to watch Twitch and YouTube streams and videos as well as linear TV. As such, they don’t care much for hardware or the online community aspects of the hobby. In-line with what they are likely to be watching, their favorite genre to play is Battle Royale, and their top reasons to play are overcoming challenges with strategic thinking, and score chasing.

The average age here is 29, with their largest group being the 21-25 age range, with a fairly even distribution of every age from 10 to 35 years old. There is another fairly even split between genders here, with women at 46% and men at 53%, with one-half percent identifying as non-binary.

The Backseat Viewer and The Lapsed Gamer

These final two personas can be discussed together because they share one crucial similarity: they don’t play games. It sounds weird, but they are still important parts of the ecosystem because they consume content and have at least some intent to start playing again.

Backseat Gamers make up just 3% of the gaming population and are often former gamers who have left the hobby for various reasons such as lack of time or different priorities. But they watch content almost as much as any other persona, which can sometimes spur them to want to play the games they see when watching. Of those surveyed, more than half intend to play again within the next six months. The average age is just over 33 years old, with the largest contingent between 16 and 20, right where many are graduating high school and heading off to the wide world of college or the job market with the attendant responsibilities. There is an almost perfect split with 49% female and 50% male in this persona.

Lapsed Gamers are looked at a bit differently, as they are not considered game enthusiasts. Thus their percentage is measured against the total online population, of which they make up 10%. This group did play games in the past, likely in childhood, but no longer considers games as a part of their lives. Even so, they still have a 20% chance of engaging with games in the future, and more than half of this persona is aware of esports, so companies are wise to consider them in marketing decisions. The average age of the persona is over 42 years old, and the largest group within by a huge margin is 51-65. This is another group that skews more heavily toward females, with a 55% to 45% split.

What Does it All Mean?

So now that we have accumulated all this wonderful data, what conclusions can we draw from it? Two in particular stick out to me: the free-to-play and subscription-service revolution will continue to grow in importance, and the casual/mobile gaming user will become an even bigger target for publishers in the future.

Can anyone blame Microsoft for going all-in on Game Pass and so aggressively pursuing the Activision-Blizzard-King acquisition in light of this sort of analysis? The data shows that 77% of the gaming public, which, depending on whose number you look at, could be upwards of 2 billion people, are most likely to engage with mobile gaming first and foremost and don’t particularly care what hardware they use to play their games. So The House That Bill Built goes out and buys the most prolific creator of mobile games and an enormous publisher owning hundreds of IPs with which to stuff the virtual shelves of Game Pass, all while promising play-anywhere technology. Knowing they are looking at numbers like this, don’t expect them to change course any time soon.

Much to the chagrin of at least some portion of their fanbase, Sony appears to be on the same track. What little talking they do about their plans these days, much of it has been focused on all the live-service games they have in the works, ten of them at last count. They bought the creators of Destiny, for crying out loud, along with mobile-centric game studios, and even recently hired the designer of Fortnite’s monetization scheme to their premiere first-party studio, Naughty Dog. It doesn’t take a fortune teller to know that they plan to create free-to-play games that their fans can pull up on their mobile devices and drop $20 on a skin to play in whatever game Sony creates. With the success of Fortnite and other games of that ilk, is there any wonder why this is where they want to steer the ship?

There will always be a call for AAA, high-production-value, single-player games on shiny new consoles or whatever tech is new at the time. The Ultimate Gamer, Enthusiast, and Solo Gamers will see to that, so all is not lost for those folks. The big names in the gaming space are likely drooling over the thought of bringing gaming-adjacent groups like the Backseat Viewers into the fold on their sides too. So they will never stop nibbling at those personas on each margin of the industry. But with “the middle” representing more than two-thirds of the available eyeballs and wallets, these companies will continue to put their efforts and marketing dollars toward what those players want and hope to reap the billions of dollars that hang in the balance.

By Bryan Finck

I've been gaming since my Dad handed me an Atari 2600 controller in the early 80's. I've been a PC Gamer since CGA graphics were a thing (ask your parents), and a PlayStation lifer since 1997. Currently addicted to No Man's Sky on PS5, Dead Cells on PC, and working my way through Xbox classics on PC Game Pass!

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