In our latest issue of Destinology, The Fight for Attendance: The Attraction of the Non-Attraction, we explored the success of impermanent attractions such as festivals, sporting events, tabletop games, streaming television, and exercise, and offered tactics for destination managers to adopt some of these strengths.
As with every issue of Destinology, numerous insights and studies get left on the cutting room floor. In this post, I’ll present some of the additional research we uncovered as it relates to video games, expanding upon the tabletop game research.
In the article “A Critical Hit,” we discussed how tabletop enthusiasts love board games for how they teach life skills like strategic thinking, learning to win and lose, organization, resource management, pre-planning, and for the promise of high initial investment followed by long-term, varying repeatability. Much of the same can be said for video “gamers,” representing two billion people worldwide (Newzoo) and 63% of American households with at least one regular (more than three hours weekly) gamer. Similarly to die-rollers, more than half of frequent gamers play with others, and feel that video games help them connect with friends – spending on average 6.5 hours per week playing with others online. Parents have been changing their tune in recent years from the mid-‘90s fear of violent video games, with 68% saying video games are a positive part of their children’s lives, and 62% of them playing video games with their children at least weekly.
That’s most likely because many gamers are parents. The average age of today’s gamer is 35 years old, teetering at the upper edge of Leading Millennials, with 59% men and 41% women. Gamers on average have been playing for 13 years, 48% of them regularly playing social games. Where computers introduced the concept and consoles once dominated it, mobile games continue explosive growth with 36% of gamers playing games on smartphones, 31% on wireless devices, and 17% playing on dedicated handheld systems (like GameBoy).
One of the initial ways that destinations have capitalized on this $18.4 billion market, in the United States alone, is eSports. For the uninitiated, eSports is the live showcase of individuals and teams competing in popular video games, often to local audiences numbering in the thousands and online audiences in the hundreds of thousands. In 2016, the global eSports industry awarded $93.5m in prize money to more than 13,000 players over the course of 3,877 tournaments. For some of the most popular games, such as StarCraft 2, DOTA 2, and Overwatch, these tournaments appeal to the popular southeast Asia video game market, with China accounting for nearly a quarter of all global video game revenue ($24.4b in 2016).
The Seattle Center, akin to St. Louis’s Forest Park, Chicago’s Millennium Park, or New York City’s Central Park, annually hosts the international DOTA 2 Tournament, both within the Key Arena basketball complex and in the open air of the surrounding grassy knolls. The city’s Museum of Pop Culture annually partners with one of the West Coast’s most popular video game conferences, PAX West, to host gaming tournaments, showcase indie game developers, and welcome guests into its Indie Game Revolution exhibit.
(Nindies Night at PAX West 2016, Museum of Pop Culture)
As the kids of the ‘80s and ‘90s have grown up, they’ve left the cacophony and blinking lights of traditional game arcades for their towns’ top watering holes – but many of the cabinet arcade games have simply followed them down the street. While places like Dave and Busters and Gameworks pioneered arcade games paired with food and beverage – a grown-up version of Chuck-e-Cheese’s – more intimate bars like Chicago’s Logan Arcade, St. Louis’s Start Bar, or L.A.’s Eighty Two provide classic arcade and pinball games to
Millennials and more, coupled with craft beers, snacks, and tournaments.
Some video game developers are branching towards experiential education on their own. Montreal-based Ubisoft recently released the latest entry into their history-delving adventure franchise, Assassin’s Creed. Unity, set in Cleopatra-era Egypt, has the protagonist uncovering mysteries, exploring tombs, and solving crimes. Shortly after the core game’s release, the company released a non-combat “Discovery Tour” version of the game, in which players can walk around Ancient Egypt and interact with interpretives and stories which teach about the era’s history, culture, and science – without the skill and time required to play the game’s central story.
The industry as a whole has not avoided recent criticism, however. Several organizations have received gamer disapproval for microtransactions, small purchases (several dollars) made within a video game (base games are often >$60.00) which can lead to advantageous abilities over other real players within a game. In addition, these purchases sometimes don’t guarantee these desired items, and are based more on chance. The issue has escalated to a point where legislators, such as Belgium’s Gambling Committee and Hawaiian State Representative Chris Lee, have begun pushing for legislation to ban these “chance purchases” (“loot boxes/crates,” in parlance), proposing that they are a form of gambling.
Video gaming is a massive, social market with gamers looking to connect over their shared passion, and attraction managers have the opportunity to take a close look at how to integrate this hobby and its associated events and culture into their own destinations.
(Most figures from the Entertainment Software Association’s “2017 Essential Facts about the Computer and Video Game Industry.”)