Gen Z is the first mobile-first generation, states Tapjoy’s latest report

Zoomers love mobile games.
tapjoy research the mobile gamer gen z 2021
Gen Z is the first mobile-first generation, states Tapjoy’s latest report

New research from Tapjoy, a leading mobile advertising, and app monetization company, shows that members of Generation Z are extremely tuned in to the mobile ecosystem. More than three-quarters of Gen Z, defined as those born between 1996 and 2010, claims to have gotten their first smartphone before the age of 18, compared to only 49% of Millennials. Now reaching adulthood, Zoomers represent billions of dollars in buying power and a largely untapped opportunity for advertisers, as shown in Tapjoy’s latest report, Modern Mobile Gamer 2021: Generation Z Edition.

The Modern Mobile Gamer: 2021 Gen Z Edition
The Modern Mobile Gamer: 2021 Gen Z Edition

As the latest installment in Tapjoy’s Modern Mobile Gamer series, the Generation Z Edition surveyed 7,103 US-based mobile gamers between the ages of 18 and 24 to discover a number of valuable insights. For instance:

  • Gen Z is the first mobile-first generation: 22% of Zoomers got their first smartphone at age 10 or younger, and 61% got theirs between the ages of 11 and 17. Almost half replace smartphones every 2-3 years. Their favorite mobile activities are games, social media, and entertainment such as streaming apps like Netflix or Disney+.
  • Zoomers love mobile games: 86% use mobile devices as a gaming platform, compared to 42% who use console/handheld devices and 38% who play on a PC. During the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, 66% reported downloading more gaming apps, compared to 59% of Millennials and 56% of Generation X. Gen Z’s favorite games to play are Action/adventure, Role-Playing Games, and Puzzle/Match-3.
  • They’re big shoppers on mobile: 68% of Zoomers shop on their mobile phones 1 – 4 times a week. Sixty percent of them frequently purchase to-go food or delivery, and 57% make frequent retail purchases on mobile. Their preferred ways to make purchases on mobile are on branded apps and e-commerce storefronts, through rewarded offers in mobile games, and through Instagram ads, respectively.
  • Gen Z loves brand content: Gen Z is avid followers of retail brands on social media, with a particular affinity for clothing and fashion brands: 65% of Zoomers follow clothing and fashion brands, compared to just 52% of Millennials and 40% of Gen X. Zoomers are also the most likely generation to prefer humorous brand content. Gen Z also shows a strong preference for short videos, with 66% listing it as a preferred content type compared to 63% among Millennials and 59% for Gen X.
  • They prefer rewarded mobile game ads over social media and search advertising: 53% report engaging with rewarded mobile game ads — compared to 38% on Instagram, 23% on TikTok, 22% on Facebook, 17% on Twitter, and 16% on Google Shopping.
  • They’ll engage with brands in exchange for value: More than half of Zoomers have discovered at least one new product on their mobile devices through content such as short videos, memes, and social posts. They dislike search result ads and non-skippable video ads, preferring to engage with rewarded ads in mobile apps.

Tapjoy’s research and analysis also found that the COVID-19 pandemic had a lasting effect on Generation Z. Nearly three quarters reported playing more mobile games in 2020, and 55% found mobile games “more fun and engaging than expected” during the pandemic. Their top pandemic products were clothing and apparel, to-go food, and beauty/hygiene products, while their top pandemic subscription services were streaming, home goods, and meal kits.

Lauren Baca, Senior Director of Marketing at Tapjoy says:

“Generation Z is incredibly engaged in every facet of the mobile ecosystem. Unlike older generations, they’ve never really known a world without smartphones. They’ve been playing mobile games since they could hold a phone, and their first instinct when buying something new is to reach for that device. They’ve also grown up in a world where ads are often optional, so they’re very particular about the marketing and branded content they engage with. They value humor, shared values, ads that respect their time, and those that provide a value exchange, such as rewarded ads in mobile games. Advertisers have the opportunity to tap into the most mobile-centric generation yet — they just need to adjust their strategies.”

The data in Modern Mobile Gamer: Generation Z Edition was gathered from surveys run on the Tapjoy network in February 2021. Responses were filtered to include all respondents who identified as United States residents between the ages of 18 and 24. This report is the first in a series of four Modern Mobile Gamer e-books featuring key insights on Zoomers, Millennials, Generation Y, and Parents, due out later this year.

What gaming platforms does Gen Z use?

In 2018, mobile gaming overtook PC and console gaming for the first time, generating $70.3B in revenue or 51% of the global market. This latest consumer research from Tapjoy indicates that the trend is accelerating as 86% of Gen Z users claim to play mobile games. Gen Z was also the most likely of all generations surveyed to enjoy other gaming platforms, including PC and console, indicating that their appetite for games is generally high. This correlates with other studies that show young adults to be the most avid gamers.

Another reason for the predominance of mobile games over other platforms is the general accessibility and affordability of smartphones. According to Pew Research, 85% of Americans now own a smartphone, with young adults leading the charge at 96% adoption. Cross-platform games like Fortnite and Minecraft have also surged in popularity with titles like these topping the App Store charts. The cross-platform trend gives Zoomers license to engage with their favorite IPs in various contexts.

Which apps does Gen Z engage with ads on?

68% of Zoomers shop on mobile phones 1-4 times per week.
68% of Zoomers shop on mobile phones 1-4 times per week.

Among Gen Z consumers, video is king. Social and mobile platforms that include video ads are far more likely to see engagement. 66% of Zoomers claimed to like brand content that came in short video form. 54% liked social posts, while just 13% saw the appeal of sponsored content. 54% also expressed a penchant for memes. When we cross-reference this data with ad engagement across social platforms, a clear trend emerges. Platforms known for video ads like Instagram and Tik Tok showed strong appeal. Meanwhile, channels that are less visual or rely on sponsored content, like Google Shopping ads ad Twitter, lagged behind in this portion of the survey. Facebook is an interesting case because although it is home to videos, social posts, and other favorable content, it is facing a crisis in consumer trust.

Gen Z consumers rated rewarded mobile game ads as the most likely ad channel with which they would engage. This trend aligns with the prevalence of mobile gaming among the Gen Z demographic. As Tapjoy surfaced in a previous report, consumers are more attached to mobile games than social media, indicating a stronger overall affinity. 69% of US consumers said they would rather give up social media apps or TV than mobile games. The pandemic also solidified the role of mobile games in peoples’ lives. Over 2020, App Store downloads grew 35% year-over-year. A study from this same time period directly linked gaming to positively affecting peoples’ moods. Mobile games are also becoming an increasingly social platform as more users across all demographics engage in multiplayer games. In contrast, Gen Z consumers increasingly speak to the tension social media adds to their lives, claiming it makes them feel anxious or even depressed. According to a 2019 study, 61% of Zoomers are considering taking a break from social media, which 24% considering quitting because of negative self-esteem. Rewarded mobile game ads meet Gen Z consumers in a more positive frame of mind with visual, engaging, privacy-first content.

To download the complete report, please visit this website.

About Tapjoy


Tapjoy is a leading mobile advertising and app monetization company. Our platform empowers advertisers to connect with over 1 billion monthly active users through value exchange advertising that drives awareness, engagement, and the metrics that matter most to their overall growth. Meanwhile, companies such as Scopely, Glu, Ludia, and many of the Top 200 grossing app publishers trust our platform to monetize their content, grow their audiences, and reward their users. Founded in 2007 and headquartered in San Francisco, Tapjoy is a global organization with offices in Santa Barbara, Boston, London, Beijing, Tokyo, and Seoul. For more information, visit Tapjoy’s website.

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