Their fingers may be stubby, but children seem preternaturally adept at grasping the true function of new technology: games. If you’ve seen parents taking their young children out for a meal lately, you’ll probably have witnessed the child’s inevitable request for a smartphone to play on. Maybe you’ve also heard them utter the cry of a generation: “It’s only 69p!” Or perhaps they’ve simply demanded an App Store password.
No longer restricted to a brief spell of pestering outside a local game shop, children’s access to games is now untrammelled, whether at home on browsers, or out and about via smartphone marketplaces. And this means that our kids are quietly reshaping the entire entertainment industry right under our noses.
Of course, given our medium’s history, it wouldn’t be remiss to expect the driving force behind industry shifts to be men aged 16-34. And yet, according to entertainment consulting company KZero, the single biggest group purchasing virtual goods is children under the age of 15. At the same time, the growth in virtual goods revenue is skyrocketing, rising from $0.9 billion in 2007 to $9 billon in 2011. This year alone, it’s estimated that kids could end up spending a staggering $7 billion on virtual items. At least they can’t leave them lying all over the floor.
It’s not just virtual items that kids are driving sales of either. While there’s no hard data on exactly how many units of Angry Birds were purchased by children aged ten and under, it’s a vast number if the sales of merchandise are anything to go by.
The important point to take from all of this is that we’re witnessing something new. Today’s under-13 market reflects a seismic shift in consumption patterns, perhaps the biggest since TV adverts started to be aimed at children. We’ve raised a generation that’s more demanding, and discerning, than ever before. Today’s youth have had access to touchscreen devices for most of their lives, and Internet access has been pervasive for them. Immediate purchasing systems, such as the App Store, have eroded the concept of delayed gratification.
The impact of this is reverberating well beyond the game industry. Toy companies such as Mattel are facing the prospect of their market being turned upside down. Twenty years ago, the likes of Optimus Prime and Barbie were designed by adult professionals. Now new brands are being generated from the ground up as online games fuelled by the under-13 audience create new demand.