Gamers Today – A View Through Search

If search existed in 1980 when Pac-Man was released, what would gamers or potential gamers have searched for?  Surely Pac-Man, “the most famous arcade game of all time,” according to Wikipedia, would’ve had massive search volume?  Perhaps gamers would have looked to see where they could play, get cheats to help advance levels, find the cheapest retailer to buy t-shirts, or gather information on other games slated for release in that same genre?  This of course would have depended on the assets Namco made available and the stage of the game’s lifecycle. Much has changed since Pac-Man. While advancements in video game technology over the past 30 years are widely known, changes in consumer engagement throughout the purchase path are less evident.

As much as I would love to pontificate on the intent and awareness of the typical 1980’s gamer, I am a data-driven Googler and will therefore share with you what we actually know about gamers today. What we’ve learned by analyzing game-related search activity over the past 3 years is that gamers search differently throughout each phase of the gaming journey – awareness, launch, and post-launch – and the purchase path is lengthening as publishers increasingly release assets in the pre-and-post launch phase. The purchase path as we see it through the lens of search is illustrated below.  In comparing the 2010 path versus 2008, we see the most significant growth in people searching for “trailer” and “demo” terms during pre-launch and “DLC” terms post-launch.  We’ll leave the 1980 curve to your imagination….

Note: Represents core gaming, not casual or online.
Source: Google internal data.

Also noteworthy about Pac-Man was that it opened up video gaming to a broader audience. Gamers first exposed to gaming via Pac-Man may have typed queries including “new casual games” or “arcade games” into the search browser to find additional content in the newly created genre.  The difference between the 1980’s and today (well, one of them) is that the gaming ecosystem wasn’t well enough developed to fully engage the new audience (largely due to the transition from arcade to in-home console gaming) whereas today it is.  With the proliferation of platforms over the past few years, gaming has become significantly more accessible. The number of video game genres has grown, and within the casual gaming genres, we now see robust search activity on terms that express intent to find a breadth of content within each genre.

In 2010, the strongest query growth on Google for generic terms in casual gaming came from categories including:

–          Basketball (+47% YoY)

–          Football (+43% YoY)

–          Soccer (+41% YoY)

–          Games for girls (+76% YoY)

–          MMOs (+26% YoY)

–          Disney games (+23% YoY)

While there are highly successful individual titles in each of these categories, gamers are increasingly searching to find new games in these genres.

In core games, however, the trend is different. The growth in search activity is not in genre terms, but rather in game title terms. We analyzed search activity for title terms of the top 15 games of 2010 and 2009 (e.g. “Call of Duty,” “Black Ops,” and “COD Black Ops” among other high volume variations) on Google and YouTube. In 2010, average search activity per title increased 24% on Google and 28% on YouTube, yielding a 25% increase in overall search activity.

Source: Google internal data.

Deeply understanding how consumers research and purchase games present significant opportunity for publishers to capture potential gamers. For more information, please see our white paper “Kinecting the Click.

About Debra Schwartz:
Debra is the Industry Analyst for the Media & Entertainment sales vertical, covering the gaming, film, television, and publishing sectors. Debra has published several papers on Google and YouTube search trends which were quoted in The Wall Street Journal as well as media trade publications.