Bingo. The word conjures up a familiar image – old ladies huddled around tables in a hall, waiting for their numbers to be called with daubers and bingo cards at the ready. But since the turn of the millennium, this preconception of bingo players is starting to crumble with the surge in popularity of the online version of the game – particularly with one generation: Generation Y, or millennials, born between 1980 and 2000.
The first online bingo game is thought to have been launched in 1996 at Gamesville – this game, called Bingo Zone, was a free version of the game that was funded by advertisers. Players would be able to play without spending money, and the prize pot was funded by players watching full-screen adverts. In 1997 the average age of a Gamesville site user was 32, quite a bit younger than the supposed typical bingo-playing demographic: “We never set out to get bingo players to surf the Web,” said Steven N. Kane, founder of nineCo, the company that created Gamesville. “The stereotype is that bingo players are all grannies in church basements. But lots of people like to play bingo.”
So even as early as the 90s, it was apparent that not all bingo enthusiasts were in the stereotypical demographic. So what is the appeal behind online bingo for millennials and younger players? Firstly, it’s easy to play. All you have to do is buy or acquire bingo cards, and then stamp out your numbers when they come up – when you get a line, or a full house, or cover the pattern on the card, you just shout ‘bingo’ to win. And with online bingo it’s even easier – you don’t even have to leave your house, and there’s no worries about missing your numbers, because your computer will stamp them off and call bingo for you. So now, bingo is more accessible to a wider range of people, with smartphones allowing users to play bingo everywhere – even on the move. Most bingo sites are optimised for mobile and tablet use, so it’s easy to play the game wherever you are. The fact that the games are called automatically means that you don’t even have to be watching the screen to win – perfect if you want to watch Netflix or browse Facebook in another tab. You can even buy tickets for games that play while you’re away from your laptop – so if there’s a special game with a particular prize you’ve got your eye on, you can pre-buy tickets for the game and you don’t even have to be sat at the computer while the game takes place!
It also seems that many online bingo sites are specifically targeting the millennial generation with their themes and prizes. Take Girly Bingo, for example – this site is themed around makeup, with a gold and pink colour scheme that seems to be aimed at the same demographic that watches shows like Keeping Up With the Kardashians and The Only Way is Essex – millennials. More specifically, millennial women – which would make sense, considering that about 80% of online bingo players are female. So clearly the aesthetic of the site makes a huge difference, which makes sense. In fact, it’s not just emulating the style of celebrities that seems to be a technique – sites like BGO, for example, have real celebrities advertising for them – in BGO’s case, they have Verne Troyer, best known for his role as Mini Me in Austin Powers.
The social aspect of bingo is likely to be another reason why millennials are drawn to the game – the chat function on many bingo sites is similar to other instant messaging applications such as Facebook Messenger and Whatsapp – but with fellow bingo-loving strangers. It’s entirely optional to join the conversation, but players who do may find that they can play chat games with the hosts to win prizes like bingo bonuses or points towards the next VIP level. This makes online bingo appealing for a wider range of people – fancy a chat with your game? Join in! And if you don’t fancy talking to anyone, you don’t have to – and there are no worries about sitting alone in a bingo hall with no-one to talk to! The idea of playing bingo on a computer or tablet may also be more appealing to a generation who grew up playing on desktop PCs and games consoles, and the concept of paying for bingo tickets while also having access to free games resembles pay-to-play apps such as Candy Crush – another game popular with people under 30.
It doesn’t stop at online bingo. In November we reported on a student who won a car in her first ever game of bingo on a night out with friends – is bingo becoming the new go-to activity for university students who don’t fancy clubbing? We’ve also seen how Mecca Bingo are trying to appeal to a younger age group with their revamping of bingo calls, by switching out the traditional phrases for pop culture references and 2010s slang. Depending on your point of view, this may seem like a clever ruse to widen their appeal among young people, or may be akin to your dad dancing terribly at your thirteenth birthday party in an attempt to be ‘down with the kids’. With the boom of social media networks like Twitter and Tumblr, internet slang is birthing and dying faster than ever – so naming a whole range of bingo calls in this way may not be the greatest idea, as it’s likely to be outdated as soon as it’s proposed.
Bingo clearly isn’t a dying game, with new sites opening every month and player numbers increasing all the time. And if the number of younger players continues to grow, it’s possible that the old-grannies-playing-in-a-church-basement stereotype might die out completely. The internet and growing popularity of bingo sites means that virtually anyone can join in the game, and with everybody hidden behind computer screens, there’s no worry about being judged by age or gender. Bingo’s player demographic has evolved considerably from past years where it was rare to see a face under 40 in a bingo hall, to a more diverse spread in ages – and it’s all thanks to the internet.
[Photo credit: Optician Training]