Japanese game companies target elderly

By Mie Sakamoto, Kyodo

Posted at Dec 26 2012 10:45 AM | Updated as of Dec 27 2012 02:33 AM

TOKYO -  In graying Japan, game arcades are no longer the preserves of young people, with operators seeking out new customers among the rapidly growing number of elderly people.

Capcom Co. is one such operator finding business opportunities in the senior market. The game company started holding an event for people aged 50 or older to play games at its arcades nationwide from the spring of 2012, hosting it four times so far and drawing more than 800 people.

Attendees, sometimes accompanied by their children and grandchildren, play crane games, pusher games and arcade games free of charge with the assistance of arcade staff so even first-timers can enjoy them.

"I often come here with my son to play medal games," said Seiichi Koyanagi, a company employee in his 50s who participated in an event held in December at a shopping mall in Inzai, Chiba Prefecture. "It is a good way to kill time without spending much money," he said.

Shinya Takahashi, manager of Capcom's arcade operations team, said about 30 percent to 40 percent of customers at the company's game arcades on weekdays are people aged 50 or older, in line with the aging of society.

"Game arcades were initially places for kids, and then for families," Takahashi said. "They are now for seniors" in addition to their usual customers.

"The ratio of senior customers will definitely rise in the future due to the aging of the population structure," Takahashi said.

Sega Corp. has also seen more elderly people visiting its game arcades, mainly located in shopping malls.

"What is positive for our industry is that elderly people are visiting arcades in the daytime on weekdays, when we see few customers," Managing Director Shigeru Yamashita said. "Though they don't spend as much money as young people do, we are very grateful."

Visits by elderly people are also often social. "Game arcades seem to have become a place for elderly people to communicate with others," Yamashita said.

According to a government estimate, the number of people aged 65 or older in Japan was up by 1.02 million from a year earlier as of Sept. 15, 2012, reaching 30.74 million and passing the 30 million threshold for the first time.

The number accounts for a record 24.1 percent of the population, up 0.8 percentage point, it shows.

Koya Miyamae, economist at SMBC Nikko Securities Inc., said the consumption of households headed by people aged 65 or older is estimated at about 70 trillion yen annually, accounting for around 30 percent of total spending.

"As the number of people in the market for seniors grows, it is natural for companies to turn to them in order to make money," Miyamae said. "As people's needs change, companies are capable of stimulating demand in unexpected fields," he added.

Game arcade operators are not the only ones trying to develop businesses aimed at the elderly in areas not usually considered suitable for the age group.

NTT Docomo Inc. has launched a smartphone version of its "Raku-Raku" (easy-to-use) mobile phone targeting the elderly. Demand has been favorable since the launch in August, with sales of about 300,000 units in the first three months.

"The product is drawing high demand for a smartphone targeted at selected users," an NTT Docomo spokesman said.

The smartphone features a newly developed touch screen that can accurately differentiate between a finger stroke and a tap, making it easy to use even for customers unfamiliar with touch panels, according to Fujitsu Ltd., which developed the product.

It is also equipped with a special telephone receiver to deliver clear sound quality for customers with hearing difficulties, Fujitsu said.

"When Fujitsu and NTT Docomo asked 573 users of conventional mobile phones whether they wanted to use a smartphone, more than 40 percent said, 'yes'," citing such reasons as wanting a big screen to make it easier to read contents, said Fujitsu spokesman Naoki Mishiro.

"The results became a final push for us" to develop the smartphone model of the product, he added.

In the field of sports, Konami Sports & Life Co. started offering new programs at four of its sports clubs in October specially for people aged 60 or older who do not usually engage in heavy exercise but want to stay healthy amid rising medical expenses.

"We felt that supply for exercises for elderly people has been insufficient, though there are many customers who want to get mild exercise in order to prevent lifestyle-related diseases," said Shigeyuki Homma, general manager at Konami's public relations office.

Konami's new programs, which will be offered in classes of 15 to 20 members, include aerobic exercise such as walking and mild exercise using balls and tubes, as well as training muscles used in everyday life, it said.

"They are still young mentally, but we need to provide programs that are different from conventional ones," Homma said. "We aim to meet our customers' hope of staying in good health all the time."