SAN FRANCISCO, California – One of the driving themes at GDC 2011 is the growth of casual games beyond the traditional gaming audience. Today, nearly half (46 percent) of social gamers are at least 50 years old and dominated by women, according to recent social gaming research from casual game developer Popcap Games. The average social gamer in the U.S. is a 48-year-old woman. In fact, 20 percent of social gamers were 60 or older. Social gaming is a fast-growing pastime for older Americans.This discovery reveals an interesting trend among older Americans and opens up a new opportunity for game developers.
Baby boomers are paving the way for ‘next generation’ online gaming sites. They enjoy playing multi-player games in real-time with new online friends – it’s the hip new way to socialize, especially since daily face-to-face human interaction may be limited due to mobility and health problems. Social gaming sites have been a long-time favorite among the younger generations, but now aging Americans are taking a deep interest and companies are developing new websites to address unmet social needs.
As the American population continues to live longer, social isolation and limited mobility are becoming more common among the older population. Baby boomers and seniors proactively seek companionship, social interaction and community online now more than ever, and have been surfing the Web for social networking sites like Winster.com to fulfill unmet social needs.
“Many people visit our site on a daily basis and spend several hours socializing with like-minded friends,” says Michelle Kaplan, Co-founder of Winster.com, a social networking site that appeals to older gamers. “Our games are designed to stimulate positive social interaction because people are encouraged to help each other earn points. They play games with each other, and never against each other.”
Winster was designed to address the natural human desire to cooperate with others, but in the novel form of an Internet game site. By combining the fun of online games with a web-based social network, Winster is helping older adults strengthen their own social networks to lead more rewarding lives.
“I’m in a wheelchair and pretty much homebound,” said Gail Davis, a 55-year-old from Chattanooga, Tennessee. “Before I came across Winster on the Internet, I didn’t have too many opportunities to interact with real people. The site has been a lifesaver for me, so many friends and so much fun!”
Davis’ story is just one of tens of thousands of Americans who are finding a new way to form rewarding relationships online. Since its launch in the fall of 2006, Winster has developed ten cooperative games — from Slot Social to Spell Squad, and has attracted over two million players.
“Maintaining relationships with friends and family at a time in life when mobility becomes increasingly limited is challenging for the elderly,” says Dr. Sherry G. Ford, an associate professor of Communications Studies at University of Montevallo in Alabama. “Increased Internet access and use by older Americans enables them to connect with sources of social support when face-to-face interaction becomes more difficult.”
Studies show that people who are more socially engaged and mentally stimulated stay sharper longer. According to a study by the American Journal of Public Health, which studied the relationship between social networks and dementia, 18 percent of women with low “social network” scores developed dementia, while only 10 percent of women with stronger social networks did.
“We’ve reinvented the social club through online games,” says Kaplan. “By combining the fun of playing group games with the power of the web to bring people together, we are creating a new type of positive social experience. And if people are happier, healthier and more engaged in their lives because of Winster, then we’re on to something special.”