Gamers 50-plus are now 52.4 million strong, and they’re embracing gaming because they feel it’s time well spent, according to a 2023 AARP Research study.
The representative national survey examined how much 50-plus gamers spend, what devices they use, how often they play, their overall satisfaction with gaming, and the range of diversity in their motivations and styles of play.
Gamers 50-plus credit gaming with being beneficial to their lives. It helps them have fun and relax while also staying mentally sharp and being challenged. Older gamers invest both their time and money — on average, 12 hours of play per week and $49 within a six-month time frame — on their gaming. In 2023, older adults’ continued interest in gaming could lead to $2.5 billion in biannual spending on digital and physical game content (in-app purchases, virtual items, customization features), accessories (headsets, controllers, microphones), and hardware (gaming consoles, handheld devices).
How Often They Play
The study found that 45% of people 50-plus are gamers. Among these gamers, 45% say they spend time gaming every day. Notably, women lead the way in daily activity, with 52% playing every day vs. 37% of men.
Older adults’ interest in gaming grew noticeably in 2016 and spiked during the COVID pandemic. Today, interest remains fairly consistent; however, about one in three of adults in their 50s (30%), women (30%), and Black adults (37%) say they play more now than they did two years ago. The average number of hours played across devices per week has increased 40% since 2019, up from an 8.5 to 12 hours played per week, not necessarily more frequently but for longer periods of time.
Who Plays With Whom
Solo play is most popular with 81% of those surveyed playing alone. But many remain connected: two-thirds (68%) communicate with other players through in-game chats, texts, app messaging, or by phone.
When they do play with others, 50-plus gamers’ most common play companions are children or grandchildren (20%). Other companions include adult family members (14%), in person with friends (12%), random people online (10%), siblings (5%), parents (3%), and colleagues (2%).
Older gamers use a variety of devices and not always the newest ones. They are as impressed with Play Station or Xbox consoles as they are with the Nintendo Switch. They take advantage of the life span of Gen 8 consoles but also use the replacement Gen 9 consoles introduced in 2021. Some 50-plus gamers still use a Wii.
Mobile continues to dominate game play, accounting for over half of all 50-plus gamers’ preferred devices. Even though smart speakers and smart TVs join the ranks, the No. 1 gaming device for those 50-plus is still the smartphone, with 84% identifying it as their gaming device of choice and three in ten (30%) exclusively using their smartphones for gaming.
Making a Comeback
More than one-quarter (28%) of older gamers use gaming consoles, up from 13% in 2019, suggesting that they are becoming more popular among this group. Screen-free smart home devices are another potential new horizon for gaming as 21% use smart home tech to game, up from 2% in 2019. In the meantime, 53% use computers, tablets, and laptops; 8% use other gaming systems; and 4% use portable devices. From 2019, spending on gaming accessories grew from 11% to 15%, while spending on content dropped slightly from 51% to 47%, and hardware spending stayed the same at 38%.
What They’re Playing
With staying sharp in mind, the top genres are consistently puzzle and logic games at 73%, followed by card and tile games (69%), word games (58%), brain games (37%), trivia and traditional board games (32%), and gambling, casino, or poker games (31%). Still played but less popular are arcade, educational, strategy, and shooter games.
Mind teasers and brain challenge-based games lead the way. Matching games are significantly played the most by this group with 48% identifying them as the type of puzzle/logic games they play on any device. Number placement logic games ranked second at 32%, and finding hidden objects came in at 25%.
With the immense popularity of Wordle, word games have become their own genre. A new phenomenon coined the “Wordle Effect” took over social media and popular culture in 2022, stemming from increased search traffic to online dictionaries checking five-letter Wordle word of the day answers. The AARP study notes that 36% of age 50-plus gamers identified word games as their favorite.
Why They’re Playing
Those 50-plus engage in gaming for a range of reasons, although most involve fun, mental fitness, and well-being. The top six reasons are:
- Have fun, 86%
- Relax, 79%
- Stay mentally sharp, 78%
- To be challenged/solve problems, 74%
- Reduce stress, 71%
- Pass the time, 70%
How Devoted Are Older Gamers?
The study broke down gamers 50-plus into five segments ranging from those less passionate about gaming to those most passionate. The groups were given identities based on why they play, how often, and what they enjoy most — Dabblers, Mainstreamers, Indulgers, Enthusiasts, and Immersives.
This group represents 15% of 50-plus gamers. They are least passionate about gaming and play infrequently on their PCs or phones to pass the time or relieve boredom. Even though they enjoy puzzle, card, and tile games, they have no desire to play more often.
This is the largest group of 50-plus gamers, representing 35%. Mainstreamers have the highest concentration of mobile-only gamers. They may play every day, but they don’t feel very passionate about gaming. They’re in it more for the enjoyment, challenge, and mental stimulation. Wordle is very popular with this group.
This group plays daily on mobile phones and tablets for enjoyment and mental stimulation. They may have a sense of guilt about too much play time, but many find throwing in some casino games into their puzzle, card, and tile games, helps to reduce stress. This group represents 23% of 50-plus gamers.
These folks, representing 19% of older gamers, are passionate about gaming and like to become engrossed in energetic and active games. Action, adventure, and fantasy or role-playing games (RPG) help fill their evenings. This group looks for strong storytelling and compelling gameplay.
At only 7% of 50-plus gamers, this group is the smallest segment size but most passionate about gaming. Immersives identify as gamers. They are at the forefront of gaming trends and find social interaction integral to their choices of genres like fantasy and make-believe. They’re the only segment where a console, rather than a smartphone, is their top choice of gaming device.
Ease of Play Matters
Ease of play is the most popular feature among all five groups. In order, this is a key priority for Enthusiasts (57%), Mainstreamers (55%), Indulgers (45%), Immersives (41%) and Dabblers (37%). Other features include opportunity to improve over time, scaling of difficulty, set level of difficulty, variety of play and competitive ranks or tiers.
Older Gamers See Meaningful Play as Beneficial
While players of all ages enjoy gaming for the relief from stress and anxiety, those 50-plus feel gaming is beneficial as they get older, with three in four (77%) seeing play, such as gaming, as an important aspect of healthy aging for them. As for what motivates this group, passing the time still leads the way (54%), followed by mental acuity (39%), pleasure (46%), emotion (23%), immersion (13%), social connection (11%), challenge (10%), and self-improvement (9%).
When it comes to challenge, respondents like games that build in intensity over time and require competitive skills. Ease of playing ranked high (49%), while other preferred features include an opportunity to improve over time (35%), variety of play (21%), competitive ranks or tiers (18%), ongoing storylines or narratives (12%), and social aspect of gaming (10%).
However, 50-plus gamers see ads as a nuisance; for this age group and others, ads impact the enjoyment of the game. Among the other major frustrations: having to watch ads to make progress or make a purchase to continue, and the number and type of notifications in the game.
Games Designed Without Older Gamers in Mind
Seven in 10 (69%) older gamers feel that games are not designed with them in mind. Another 66% said video games are designed with no thought to players 50-plus. Many said the games can at times be too complicated to understand and others noted they need tutorials to play effectively. From not seeing themselves reflected in game marketing (69%) or within the games themselves (64%), older players feel like an afterthought to the gaming industry.
AARP Research used NORC’s Foresight 50-plus Panel to survey a nationally representative sample of U.S. adults ages 40-plus who own a gaming-eligible device and play video games on that device at least once a month. The survey was conducted June 23, 2022 to July 13, 2022. Data were weighted using population benchmarks from NORC’s population survey for age, gender, division, race/ethnicity, education, housing tenure, household phone status, age x gender and age x race/ethnicity. Survey length — median gamers (32 min.); nongamers (7 min.). Sample = 7,885 completes (5,953 50-plus gamers/2,630 40-plus nongamers).
Kakulla, Brittne. The 50-Plus Gamer of Today and Tomorrow. Washington, DC: AARP Research, April 2023. https://doi.org/10.26419/res.00585.001