SuperAwesome Gaming helps brands navigate the complex and fast-changing youth gaming ecosystem. Managing Director Nick Walters recently sat down with us on #Kidtech to explore the evolution of digital experiences for young audiences, including how this has influenced the way kids (under 13) and Young Teens (under 16) now expect to engage with content. Read more to learn how your brand should be thinking about reaching young people in today’s digital landscape.

How have digital experiences for young audiences evolved over time?

Kids’ virtual world experiences served as a foundation for the metaverse

According to Walters, web-based virtual worlds for kids like Club Penguin and Moshi Monsters were the building blocks for the metaverse as we know it: a shared, virtual experience where users can seamlessly move between environments and platforms in new and exciting ways. Those web experiences marked the first time that kids could interact — both with each other and the online worlds themselves — by playing games, participating in activities, personalizing their avatars, and socializing. This level of interactivity fundamentally changed the way younger audiences expect to engage with content.

Mobile made gaming more accessible (but less engaging at first) for younger players

The launch of the iPhone in 2007 and the introduction of modern mobile games like Angry Birds and Candy Crush created a “fork in interactive experiences for kids”, explained Walters. Due to technological limitations, these games did not initially encompass the same level of social connection and interactivity. For this same reason, multiplayer web experiences struggled to translate to mobile.

“As a result, you get this interesting bifurcation where mobile gaming goes down a very specific kind of branch where it’s not terribly social. It’s very casual. It’s not that immersive,” Walters described. “Your average time for a kid playing a mobile app is actually quite short.”

Today, gaming is both immersive and accessible  

No longer limited by technology, today’s most popular games are immersive, cross-platform experiences, meaning that they can be played on a console, PC, or mobile phone. Gaming audiences have grown and diversified because players no longer need to buy specific tech to play a particular game. This combination of interactivity and accessibility has led to a surge in youth gaming; over half of all kids in the US have a Roblox account.

“You [initially] had a mismatch between where people were and where the really interesting things that you could do were available,” said Walters. “Improvements in the quality of the devices enabled us to bring those back together. And suddenly you had great creation tools available to loads and loads of people. And that I think has led to a real Cambrian explosion.”

Trends and milestones in the kids gaming ecosystem
Young audiences are driving the metaverse. Learn more in our free report: How the kids gaming ecosystem has changed.

How are youth gaming behaviors shaping the digital media landscape?

Younger audiences now expect to interact with content in both passive and active ways, in real-time. Brands must think about the breadth of their current ecosystem and determine how they plan to expand its scope to meet the needs of these audiences, which may include integrating IP into gaming worlds. 

Likewise, young people want to see the game worlds, features, and characters they love embedded within the content that is so prominent in their day-to-day lives. “You’ll begin to see characters, or stories, or settings come from games and go out into narrative storytelling settings,” Walters anticipates. For example, we’re seeing major streaming platforms begin to borrow from the gaming world and incorporate interactive features to foster shared virtual experiences.

Getting started with your under-16 gaming strategy

Today, a gaming strategy is essential to engage youth audiences, but determining the right approach can be difficult. “When it comes to kids and Young Teens, the world of gaming can be even trickier to navigate than the general market landscape,” shared Walters. 

A successful approach, said Walters, begins with a clear understanding of your goals, starting with whether you want to use gaming as a promotional tool or pivot your offering entirely to deliver digital play experiences. However, to be most effective, your gaming strategy must complement your brand and product. 

“If you don’t have a deep IP…you’ve got to think about other ways to reach an audience through gaming,” explained Walters. “Gaming is still important but then you probably don’t want to try and build a deep immersive play experience, that’s not what your brand is or your product is about.”

Want to learn more about the under-16 gaming ecosystem?

Propelled by the digital habits of younger audiences, the gaming ecosystem has become so much more than a place to play games. Listen to the full episode below to learn more about how kids are driving the metaverse and how SuperAwesome Gaming is helping brands navigate this changing landscape.