Why the shift online means the gaming industry needs to offer a great experience to all players
Gaming has grown rapidly, both before and during the pandemic. In 2020, growth of 20% pushed direct and indirect industry’s revenues to $300 billion. Part of the growth has been driven by millions of new gamers swelling the community’s ranks. And one thing is clear–this fast-expanding community is increasingly playing and interacting online, making gaming one of the biggest and fastest growing social networks. It’s also forcing the industry to evolve fast from selling games to providing continuous experiences that will keep players entertained and coming back for more.
Gamers spend two-thirds of their time playing video games online–with real players over the internet.
Nearly 3 out of 4 gamers expect online gaming to be a larger part of their gaming experience in the future.
The evolving gaming universe
The decisive shift online is changing the face of gaming, bringing new expectations about the experiences and social interactions players want – expectations that may differ from those of gamers that have been playing for longer. This can create friction. It can also create an opportunity for game platforms and content ecosystems to differentiate in end-to-end experiences.
To realize its full potential and build up the number of long-term paying gamers, we believe the industry must balance the needs of its newest adopters with the expectations of gaming loyalists–the most lucrative gamers of all.
This is the second in a series of three articles exploring gaming’s explosive growth. In this article we explore some of the challenges that such rapid growth, and the shift to gaming online, generates.
Why is this so important? Because, as other social platforms have found, the behaviors of a few can have an unequal impact on the many. And the bigger online gaming communities become, the greater the potential for any negative experiences to be amplified. Like all successful online services, gaming companies need to differentiate themselves through the quality of customer experience they provide. Any negative experiences could have severe economic impacts for gaming providers.
When “trash talk” becomes inappropriate behavior
Let’s be clear, competitive gameplay is one of the reasons gaming is appealing to so many people. And given the competitive nature of many popular multi-player games, it’s probably no surprise that combative behavior is, for many, part of the experience.
The world of online, competitive gaming has for a long time been an unconstrained area with few limits on expression. And it follows that many gamers (44%) see gaming as a safe outlet for saying what they want, regardless of who else is around. But not everyone is so comfortable. For example:
say they have experienced threats (e.g. aggressive or toxic voice or text chat)
say they have experienced gender-based bullying (e.g. sexist comments)
say they have experienced hate speech (e.g. racism, homophobia, transphobia)
In our research one in four gamers admitted to toxic behavior or bullying, although it’s likely even much higher than that, particularly among specific gaming genres. Among those that admit to such behavior, nearly half consider it to be a standard element of gaming. Making it a highly complex area for gaming companies to navigate.
One of the challenges for gaming companies is that players who admit to negative behavior are often also the biggest spenders. Among high spenders (those who put up more than $200 per month on games, in-game purchases and subscriptions), 37% admit to this negative behavior versus only 19% of low spenders (those who spend less than $25 per month).
But what about those on the receiving end? Nearly 40% of gamers say they experience bullying during games either daily, weekly, or monthly. And 80% say they want to play games with no bullying or toxic behavior. It’s a big gap that raises an important question for the industry: how to meet these expectations of positive gaming environment for all players?
Virtual world, real consequences
Gamers' perceptions of these issues will always vary, sometimes to extreme degrees. But just talking to gamers reveals a reality that can’t and shouldn't be dismissed: it’s clear that many are not happy with the current state of play.
She/Her, 22, Leicester
“Somebody must have hooked onto the fact that I was a girl and they said that I wasn’t a good asset to the team.”
He/Him, 27, London
“I personally have been a victim...when playing group teams, other members of my team get annoyed and start being racist based on my name and race.”
She/Her, 20, New York
“Women who play video games are often verbally abused or molested online.”
He/Him, 20, Cardiff
“I usually get bullied for the way I speak. People, mainly males, pick up on the fact that maybe I’ve got more of a feminine voice.”
Our research shows that gamers increasingly want companies to take action–almost 70% of them want companies to do more to prevent unacceptable behavior than they’re doing at present.
of gamers want companies to do more to prevent toxic behavior and bullying.
of gamers think companies are doing the right amount to prevent toxic behavior and bullying.
How do they want companies to step up? Gamers have a whole menu of suggestions. More active moderation would be welcomed by many, with 70% of gamers saying they are more likely to play games that are moderated.
Other suggestions include suspension (or even outright bans for the most extreme cases) of players for inappropriate conduct, through to censoring of explicit material within in-game chats and recording and analysis of in-game voice communications. More than half of gamers (54%) believe gaming companies should be actively promoting anti-bullying to their customers.
And this is where the industry is heading. Take Roblox, for example, a gaming platform built around young people, which prioritizes teaching kindness, empathy and teamwork skills to its communities. Moderators on the platform, augmented by AI, machine learning and chat filtering, help to create a safe experience for users.
More generally, we’re seeing the industry come together to share best practices and tools that promote digital civility. As Dr. Kimberly Voll, co-founder of the Fair Play Alliance says: “When we look at the root causes of why these behaviors emerge, when we know there’s a possibility of friction or mismatched expectations, we as game developers can invest in reducing the chance of that happening at the beginning, before a game gets off on the wrong foot, before it descends into frustration and folks start taking shots at each other.”
And new technology-based approaches are being launched all the time. One recent idea comes from the University of Washington’s Global Innovation Exchange (GIX). The team at GIX created Temper, a hardware, software and cloud device that notifies a gamer of potentially toxic behavior and can halt a game if the behavior is repeated.
The good news in investing in approaches like these? Gamers will reward positive steps companies take. They’ll engage and play more.
of gamers are more likely to play if the game is moderated to eliminate toxicity and bullying.
of gamers are more likely to play if the game provides easy methods to report toxicity and bullying.
And the bad news? As we’re seeing on social media platforms, allowing bad actors to continue unchecked could have consequences on the platforms. That might be in the form of greater scrutiny from outside the industry. Or it could come from gamers who just decide enough is enough and take their entertainment dollars elsewhere.
If their concerns remain unaddressed, continued negative experiences will diminish people’s enthusiasm for gaming. And they will–and do–take action in response. Thirty-seven percent of women and 32% of men have quit a video game because of bullying. And more than half of all gamers know someone else who has quit.
Word gets around too. Four out of ten gamers say that they have spoken negatively about a gaming company because of how the company responded to concerns about bullying.
The experience imperative
Gaming experiences are increasingly becoming similar to those on social media platforms, where attracting and retaining users are key drivers of success. Fostering healthier and more inclusive gaming spaces is not only the right thing to do–it can also become a clear differentiator.
The industry is engaged in this important area, and actively working to make experiences better. It’s a challenge, of course. After all, this is a very dynamic market, with gamers playing across many different platforms, often concurrently. And, unlike social platforms, many of these gamers are paying customers.
Learning from the experience of social media platforms could be useful. There’s an opportunity to take advantage of solutions and approaches across AI, moderation, enhanced transparency and increased industry collaboration.
In the next installment in this series, we’ll be focusing on some of the innovative solutions and approaches that we believe can help gaming companies to address gamers’ concerns in a market that is changing fast. In doing so, they’ll help to build an even bigger – and more inclusive – industry which creates space for everyone to play.
Senior Principal – Accenture Research
Paul leads global research for Software & Platforms, creating trends assessments and developing proprietary thought leadership.
Managing Director – Strategy, Software & Platforms, Global / Atlassian Alliance Lead
Christian works with Communications, Media and Technology leaders to design business strategies that lead to high performance.