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First-Gen Gamers: Millennials Take Center Stage

Claire Nance, Head of Global Communications & Marketing Strategy

Claire Nance, Head of Global Communications & Marketing Strategy

May 25, 2021

6 minute read

In 2021, the first Millennials will turn 40. Yes, the kids of the millennium are no longer kids, they’re all grown up with their own families, careers, and disposable incomes.

Millennials came of age at a time of huge digital transformation. The last generation to grow up in a pre-internet world, Millennials witnessed the emergence of smartphones, social media, and one-click shopping. They are intimately familiar and comfortable with digital technology, while also remembering a world without it. 

But although Millennials may be considered the last ‘analog’ generation, they are also a generation of firsts - including the first generation to grow up gaming. 

While the roots of video games can be traced back to the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, it was the 1980s that saw the revitalization of gaming with at-home gaming consoles providing families with greater access to this new form of interactive entertainment. For Millennials, this meant they grew up playing classic video game titles, with gaming forming a key part of their childhood and identity. As such, Millennials have spent more of their lives playing video games than any other generation to date. 

Not surprisingly, the proliferation of gaming in their youth has led to millennials developing a unique emotional connection to gaming, one that continues to stand the test of time well into adulthood. Gaming is not just something Millennials enjoyed in their childhood, it remains a core part of Millennials’ lives today, even as they turn the corner into middle age. Their relationship with gaming, and indeed gaming itself, has evolved as they have, staying with them throughout the digital transformation that has largely defined the generation.

Graph depicting the percentage of each generation that plays video games and their growth over time

Millennials, and their younger counterparts Gen Z, are more engaged with gaming than any other generation. And for Millennials, this high engagement has continued well into adulthood. A survey of over 20,000 gamers by Activision Blizzard Media in 2020, showed over the past two decades Millennials have consistently had one of the highest rates of play, with more than 60% of Millennials gaming occasionally or more every year. 

It would come as little surprise that this high level of engagement can be traced back to the age that Millennials first began playing, and the emotional attachments formed growing up gaming. 62.8% of Millennials started gaming at or before the age of 18, almost 32% more than the previous generation, Generation X.  

For Millennials, what’s old is new again. Millennials enjoy the strong sense of nostalgia associated with a pastime they first experienced in their youth. The relaunch of classic gaming titles such as Tony Hawk and Crash Bandicoot in recent years points to this trend. Not only do Millennials have an emotional connection to these games, stories, and characters, but they are also more loyal to the franchises they grew up playing. At a time when so many of us are looking for forms of comfort and reassurance amidst uncertainty in an ever-changing world, gaming provides Millennials with exactly that. It gives millennials a sense of purpose, joy, and connection, with a nod to the familiarity of their youth.

Preferred game genres for Millennials and Gen Z

Millennials may now be all grown up, but their love of gaming remains. From their first introduction to gaming in their youth to the strong pull of nostalgia into adulthood, Millennials are one of the most engaged gaming generations. It is this connection to gaming, coupled with the purchasing power of a high disposable income, that makes Millennial gamers one of the most valuable audience groups for brands. 

Research Methodology: Activision Blizzard Media conducted a quantitative study among adults over the age of 18 who played, watched, or engaged with video games at least once in the past month. The online-based study surveyed 21,168 gamers across the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany. Millennials are classified as those born between 1982 and 2000. Generation X are classified as those born between 1966 and 1981.

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