Family gaming is on the rise and has an untapped potential for developers, hardware manufacturers, and subscription services. That’s according to a recent report from Newzoo. According to its analysis, of the 68 percent of households that have children, the parents and kids all play games together. Likewise, family gamers are more likely to play a gamut of genres, not just puzzle or casual games. The report also mentioned that family gamers tend to spend big. In terms of PC gaming, 16 percent of family gamers spend bigger compared to 12 percent of all other gamers.
Of the market leaders, Nintendo maintains a strong grip on this market owing to its family-friendly stance. Nintendo consoles have long been known for emphasizing co-op play with family and friends. Likewise, cutesy mascots and characters have become the norm. Kids love them while adults are reminded of fond childhood memories. Newzoo also surmises that family plans, which Nintendo offers, could work well for other console passes such as Xbox Live and PlayStation Plus.
However, despite the untapped potential, PC gaming lags far behind when it comes to family entertainment. Here are the reasons why.
1. The Interpersonal Personal Computer
By its very definition alone, the personal computer emphasizes individual control and ownership. It is exclusive to your usage and management. The best example would be when someone tries to use your PC to play some games. There might be some occasions wherein you had to quickly clear your browser history or ensure that your Facebook, Paypal, or Steam accounts aren’t tampered with.
We place a lot of emphasis on our personal computers because of this idea of personal space, personal ownership. This device is ours. There might be a few instances when someone else can use it but, it will probably need to be monitored.
Conversely, consoles with multiple controllers immediately suggest group play. There are no self-imposed barriers to entry and comparatively fewer security concerns outside of their respective digital stores.
2. All Work And No Play
Even budget-oriented gaming PCs can cost far more than consoles. Given cost and space considerations, it’s unlikely that families will invest in multiple computers for gaming when everyone can just sit in front of a single console. So, there are generally two predominant reasons why adults get PCs for the household: work and homework. Do you need to analyze the stock market while reading your email and social media? Check your PC. Does Little Johnny need to do a book report? Go do that on the PC, Little Johnny.
In households that only have one computer, PC gaming takes a backseat compared to tasks from your job or school. As a result, many see PCs as work devices rather than gaming ones. Since someone else has to use the computer, your best bet to continue playing games would be on your console or mobile device.
3. Comfort Zones And Comfy Chairs
There have been numerous efforts to bring PC gaming to living rooms, with the Steam Link, the Nvidia Shield TV, and a handful of small form-factor computers being prime examples. However, none have gained a major presence in comparison to console systems. Although desktop computers and laptops can be hooked up to televisions, and there are hundreds of local multiplayer games available, PC gaming is largely a one-person-per-PC experience. As a result, PC gaming setups tend to be more personalized while consoles are set up for living rooms.
Comfort means that everyone who wants to play or watch you play will have access to a seat. They’re not merely standing behind you or trying to find a stool. Ease of use and accessibility also come into play. Sitting down next to you on a couch in front of a large screen television is far more inviting than having to peer over your shoulder or crowd around a computer monitor.
4. Gadgets Galore And Co-op
If there’s one thing that emphasizes multiplayer/co-op gaming in the household, it’s controllers. A show of hands for those who bought a PlayStation, Xbox, or Steam controller for PC gaming? Quite a number, I would surmise. Next, how about those who bought extras for Player 2? Aww shucks, what do you mean they can just use the keyboard?
Yes, we can tell that this situation has happened numerous times in countless households everywhere. Let’s say you find a two-player, co-op game. One person uses the controller, the other uses the keyboard. If you don’t have controllers, then one person is using the WASD keys and the other’s using the numeric keypad or arrow keys. Oh, joy! Let’s be honest, that just doesn’t make for a wonderful gaming experience, does it?
The only way for your family member to get the full experience is to get a second controller and maybe wireless adapters, and those are additional expenses on top of the PC itself. Games such as the Jackbox Party titles can use smartphones as controllers, but there aren’t nearly enough games like them. Sure, you could bring your controllers over from your console to your PC, but it’s far easier to just load up a game on the device it’s already connected to.
5. Family-Friendly Doesn’t Always Mean Multiplayer
Games such as Cities: Skylines, Planet Coaster, and The Sims, and Farming Simulator offer family-friendly experiences, but unless you set up awkward hot seat arrangements, they’re also solitary ones. They often relegate parents to sitting behind their kids, monitoring their gameplay without necessarily playing alongside them. Meanwhile, multiplayer games such as Minecraft only offer split-screen on consoles. Also, features such as copilot mode, where two controllers are linked to act as one, haven’t made their way to PC yet.
Xbox’s awesome “Copilot” mode is the perfect way to play #SuperLuckysTale with your family (especially your little ones)! Two people can share control of Lucky and help each other through the trickier parts: https://t.co/A5K6zRSDqA pic.twitter.com/XjtNTAy9gT
— Super Lucky's Tale (@PlayfulLucky) November 21, 2017
Perhaps the best games that can bring the family together are those that support cross-platform play, which includes Fortnite and Rocket League. But I’ll admit that it’s not exactly using the PC for family entertainment the same way consoles are.
For the most part, there isn’t much reason to treat PCs as family gaming devices. Nintendo rules the family-friendly genre because of how it designs and markets its games. Kids and adults go ga-ga over Mario, Yoshi, Link, and Kirby. Meanwhile, most kids will probably think of Gordon Freeman as Uncle George from Miami. Steam has a slew of titles in the family-friendly genre, but the vast majority of them are available on other platforms.
6. Understanding The PC Gamer
Esports has been booming in recent months. First-person shooters, MOBAs, and battle royale games have taken the world by storm. Unfortunately, many of the most popular games aren’t exactly child-friendly. Outside of Fortnite’s cartoony graphics, very few shooters can cater to kids, and parents are likely to keep these titles away from the little tykes until they’re older.
MOBAs are a different mix since they’re not as violent and kids certainly play them. But unless the parents are already dedicated players, they’re not likely to join in a League of Legends or Dota 2 match for the family game night.
Even though the report from Newzoo assumes that family gamers can be core gamers as well, it’s not purely definitive. Hardcore PC gamers may upgrade, mod, and otherwise customize their rigs for personal enjoyment, not necessarily so others can enjoy it. Quite a number of users will probably just focus on maximizing gaming performance for themselves while letting the kids have a go at consoles or tablets.
PC Gaming For The Family
Even when the opportunities are there to try out various games, there still needs to be some realignment between what kids enjoy and what the adults are familiar with (and vice-versa). When someone says, “Let’s just play Mario Kart,” there’s very little guesswork about the game and its content. That’s not always so for PC gaming.
Even though it’s an untapped market with unlimited potential, family gaming remains just beyond the reach for PCs. That said, there are a few shining examples here and there. Humble Bundle has a slew of games from their Humble Monthly offering that caters to various needs and dispositions. Fortnite and other games with cross-play provide fun for the entire bunch no matter the system. Likewise, technologies such as VR may become a key ingredient as they become more commonplace.
For the most part, however, PC gaming needs to step up to cater to family gamers everywhere. Whether it’s hardware companies imagining PCs for interpersonal use or developers creating more couch co-op games, there needs to be a way to creatively emphasize that PCs are great for family entertainment.
The moment parents decide to buy or upgrade a computer so that everyone in the household can play instead of turning to consoles, that’s when we know PC gaming has tapped the family gaming market.
I’m a small business owner who’s also writing on the side, contributing in various websites under the Enthusiast Gaming umbrella — Destructoid, Flixist, Daily Esports, PlayStation Enthusiast, and PC Invasion.
My Steam library has 1,131 games at the moment so we definitely have a lot of things to talk about.