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Social gaming: When games become social networks for Gen Z and Millennials

In a recent Deloitte survey, 40% of Gen Z and Millennials said they socialize more in video games than in the physical world. Games, particularly mobile games, have become the new social networks for these generations and the even younger Gen Alpha. Examining preferences and behaviors, let’s dive into how mobile games are transforming to meet young players’ expectations with evolved social features.

The current state of social gaming

An industry analysis revealed that between 2023 and 2029, the social gaming market’s total revenue is anticipated to grow at a CAGR of 16.01% to reach almost US$76.8 billion. The main driver of this growth? It’s the advancements in smartphones that are geared toward mobile gaming apps. This is great news if you’re a mobile gaming app developer or marketer.

Already, social gaming is coming to the forefront as developers realize they can incorporate more social features into their gaming apps to improve retention rates. For example, hypercasual developers are pivoting to create hybrid gaming apps because—among increased opportunities for monetization—they offer more advanced social and gaming features than traditional hypercasuals.

How younger generations are driving social gaming

Gen Z and Gen Alpha both prefer to engage with games on their mobile phones compared to other platforms, at 69% and 73%, respectively. But Millennials' love of mobile gaming outpaces both, with nine out of 10 preferring mobile gaming. As we dig deeper into the latest research, we uncover the emergence of social gaming as a massive driver of the affinity for gaming these generations have.

Favorite gaming subverticals are multiplayer

When we zoom in on preferences for gaming genres, it becomes clear that many younger players prefer the gaming subverticals that allow them to interact with others.

Over 40% of Millennials chose massively multiplayer online (MMO) games as their favorite genre. Gen Z also opts for multiplayer games, with their favorites being battle royale and sandbox games.

Motives go beyond gameplay

As discussed in our guide Play to win: Using gamification to give your app an unbeatable edge, more apps are tapping into gamification elements like competition and social recognition to engage users further.

Fostering a sense of community

Today’s young gamers look to social gaming for belonging, with 44% of Gen Z and 48% of Gen Alpha declaring that they engage with games in other ways beyond gameplay. They like visiting online gaming communities, following gaming channels, listening to gaming podcasts, socializing with other gamers, and attending gaming conventions. Even half of Gen Zers claim they use games to hang out without playing the main game.

Filling emotional needs

Beyond being time-fillers, video games are becoming a main support for many users' emotional needs. A 2023 survey reported that 76% of Millenials and Gen Zers agree with the statement, “Video games allow me to feel like I am part of the story, rather than just watching it.” Another 50% believed online experiences were “meaningful replacements” for in-person experiences.

Blending realities: Gaming turns into real-life social events

Mobile gaming apps are moving beyond the smartphone screen to real-life events at expos, battles, and esports events. Considered one of the most well-known events, the 2022 edition of the League of Legends World Championship had over 18,000 real-life participants and was watched by 5.15 million people.

Similarly, mobile gaming esports has catapulted into unimaginable popularity in recent years. In fact,  6% of male teens desire to become esports stars. Battle royale games like PUBG Mobile or Brawl Stars are taking the competitive nature of gaming to another level, with the latter growing prize pools up to US$1M. We anticipate significant growth in the eSports space.

Another prime example of a game promoting real-life interactions is Pokémon GO. While many of us are familiar with Pokémon GO for its ability to push us to walk outside during the pandemic, the game’s popularity didn’t decline with the pandemic. Users continue to meet in person to catch Pokémon at Pokémon GO Fests, this year held in popular cities like London, Osaka, and New York City.

Pokémon GO Fest London 2023 is a social gaming event

The monetization potential is high

The most convincing aspect of social gaming is its high potential for monetization. Generation Z and Millennials are also the most likely to make in-app purchases, at 62% and 61%, respectively. In fact, 17% of Gen Z makes daily gaming in-app purchases. But when we drill down to see these users’ spending habits, we note they are for social gaming features.

These are the top gaming items generations spend their money on.

Millennials: Spend the most on gambling.

Gen Z: Spend the most on in-game currencies.

Gen Alpha: Spend the most on gear for their avatars.

Top-earning games rely heavily on social features

The top-grossing mobile games worldwide at the end of 2022 were Honor of Kings, which generated US$2,223.8 million in 2022, and PUBG Mobile, which earned US$1,725.3 million. What do both of these titles have in common? Their social features of rankings, challenging other players, gifting other players in-game items, and multiplayer modes. Gaming app developers, take note!

Millennials are the current cash cow of gaming

While Gen Z is often considered the most desired generation for most app verticals, Millennials are reported to be the largest untapped demographic for the gaming market. This generation spends more hours per week gaming than Gen Z and Gen Alpha, and they have listed gaming as their number one interest. Given that Millennials are stepping into promotions and growing their purchasing power, they also potentially have more cash to spend and a willingness to spend their income on gaming.

It’s time to enhance your app’s social gaming experience

Gaming app developers, now is the moment to add social gaming to your features development list. Below, we’ve summarized the main points from this article that you can use to inform your plans.

Key takeaways:

  • Millennials are the largest untapped market in gaming. Get after ‘em!
  • Ask how your app is meeting users’ emotional needs.
  • Incorporate more social features like activity feeds, chats, and guilds.
  • Ensure users feel a sense of belonging and community within your app.
  • Consider participating in gaming podcasts, channels, and conventions.

And if you need help measuring the success of your new social gaming features, Adjust’s mobile measurement and analytics platform is here for you. We’ve helped other gaming apps improve ROAS by 50%, increase revenue by 30%, and successfully optimize iOS campaigns. To get a firsthand look at how Adjust can empower your app’s growth goals, request your demo now.

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