The UK video games industry is the largest in Europe and the UK is a world class location for video game development. It's a shame then that many now regard the 1980s, when the industry was in its infancy, as the long gone halcyon days. No wonder, however, when a string of leading studio closures has dominated industry news over the past few years, the latest victim of closure being Sony's studio in Liverpool. Whilst this may be the case, a huge untapped opportunity exists in the UK for new markets to be catered for and for new and exciting games to be conceived - especially for today's youth who have the World Wide Web at their fingertips - Generation Z.
Gaming for this post-Web generation is no longer seen as a past-time for boys. It is with the greater uptake of IT by young females and consequent shift in perception where many new opportunities for gaming exist. It's thanks to initiatives such as the Computer Clubs for Girls (which hosts extra-curricular computing classes related to the interests of young women) and the wave of new girl-centric platforms such as Doll Divine which have been at the forefront on this step-change in the UK.
Yes, that's right - tween girls love gaming and the demand is well and truly there to provide this market segment with the right kind of educational, entertaining and stimulating platforms which both the audience and the gatekeepers, their parents, will approve of and enjoy.
When you hear the word 'tween', do you immediately imagine the stereotype of screaming One Direction super-fans tuning into X-Factor every Saturday night? What is interesting with this age group is that a surprising reality emerges when you step back from the generalisations. The girls of Generation Z wield nearly £30 billion in spending power -- and they're powerful brand champions (just look at how they've catapulted the likes of Little Mix into the global spotlight).
What's more, they're more connected than ever before. Nearly 50 per cent own smartphones. More than two-thirds have access to high-speed broadband, and they consume, on average, a phenomenal 7.5 hours of media every single day, two hours of which are spent on a mobile device. Specifically, recent research has shown that the iPod Touch is the most popular gadget amongst 5-10 year olds, making for truly on-the-go gameplay.
All of this constitutes a lucrative, highly engaged audience for game developers to cater for and create fun, engaging content. What sets the tween-girl market apart, and frankly sets it out as more exciting, is that it's still in its infancy. Already more than 50 per cent of Generation Z tweens are regular gamers, so there is an abundance of business opportunities for new entrants.
Unlike their parents and older sisters, this generation is at a stage when they are yet to join Facebook. This means that they haven't been exposed to Facebook's plethora of native games and apps. As a result, this means there is plenty of space for the next big tween girl franchise to step into the picture. It's here where a mass of licensing opportunities exist too.
But in order to tap into this market, the industry needs to better understand what appeals to this notoriously hard to please demographic. That's why an informed approach to developing for this audience means understanding the behaviour of tween girls, what appeals to them and what ultimately motivates them. Between the ages of 8 and 12, girls are just starting to become aware of and experiment with their appearance, which shows us why beauty, fashion and dressing-up games are immensely popular. They're also interested in imagining and acting out their future lives, making role-playing games a great fit -- particularly those that allow them to try their hand at different careers. Gaming facilitates imagined scenarios in a way that was never before possible - tweens can now step into alternate realities which let them explore and experiment in safe, but simultaneously limitless, worlds of gameplay.
The tween girls market is set to become one of the fastest growing areas of the gaming industry this decade. So how can industry developers best approach Generation Z? More clued up and connected socially than any generation previously, word of mouth is an enormously powerful asset. But what will get the tween girls talking? The answer is high-quality, simple to use creative content that keeps on top of fast-moving market trends. Here come the girls!
Follow Peter Hofstede on Twitter: www.twitter.com/hofstede