If one were to ask an everyday American what comes to mind when thinking about “video gamers and food,” one of two stereotypes would likely emerge — a man-child, his apartment in disarray, munching casually away on chips and energy drinks, or an unhealthy, socially awkward teenage boy playing in his parents’ basement, eating the most insalubrious and unwholesome food imaginable.
Like most stereotypes, these only vaguely resemble the actual realities of video gamers and the kinds of food they eat. According to the Entertainment Software Association, the average gamer is 35 years old and, surprisingly, 41 percent of gamers are women. Just as food and eating occasions come with their own kinds of diverse rituals, cultures and customs, video gamer cultures similarly exhibit a wide diversity of subcultures, communities and behaviors.
As video games become a mainstream form of entertainment, this increasingly means that there is no singular kind of “video gamer” out there. Marketing experts do not speak of a “TV watcher,” “radio listener” or “moviegoer” as their target audiences but instead think of targets in more granular terms.
We suggest a similar approach to video gamers, as targeted efforts at various subculture gamer groups directed through specific video game industry channels and developments will likely yield higher gaming consumer engagement with food products, especially with overlooked populations that fall outside of the stereotypical “hard-core male gamer” group. While energy drinks and microwaveable snacks remain some of the most visible categories advertising to this young, predominantly male demographic, this market sits largely on the periphery in terms of food trends, which increasingly are moving away from processed foods, as well as drinks with added sugar.
Video gaming naturally lends itself to snacking behaviors. When playing socially or when totally immersed in the experience, meals can go completely out the window. Because gaming typically requires significant focus over an extended period of time, food geared toward gaming should ideally be:
· Quick to eat
· Not messy to eat (e.g., no cheese dust on fingers)
· Convenient to hold and consume, without falling apart
Processed classics will always be present in food eaten while gaming. Given food trends in snacking that are especially prominent among Millennials, however, we suspect that the emergent focus on less processed snacks that provide more natural alertness and slow-burning energy will make its way into snacks eaten while gaming as well.
Our research here at The Hartman Group has found that, contrary to popular assumptions, energy drinks are consumed only during 4 percent of all adult gaming occasions. (By comparison, coconut water is drunk during 7 percent of all adult gaming occasions and fruit juice is consumed during 19 percent of all such occasions.)
Furthermore, innovations in meeting gamer needs for convenience, such as digital food ordering now available through the Xbox interface, can play into other food trends among Millennials, a population that not only grew up on games but is now playing games with their children. Millennials are increasingly seeking out food that is global in flavor, delivers freshness-quality cues and speaks to a more natural means of achieving satiety, mental focus and energy — all necessary requirements for staying at the top of one’s game.
As video games go mainstream into popular culture, it is a salient moment for food manufacturers and retailers in seizing stomach share early on within an ever-growing marketplace.
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As leaders in the study of American food culture, The Hartman Group has been tracking how Americans shop for food since the 1990s. From one-stop shopping to multichannel shopping to online markets and click-and-collect, we continue to track consumers’ evolving perceptions, needs, habits and relationships with food retailers. New to the 2017 report is a special section on the expansion of the discount grocery channel, the emerging fresh-format channel and smaller-footprint retail formats.