Moreover, while gaming has conventionally been thought of as a solitary experience, the new study reveals that Active Gamers spend upwards of 5 hours a week playing games socially, led by teenagers who are socially involved in gaming about 7 hours per week.
The research also shows that although teenagers continue to comprise the largest percentage (40%) of Active Gamers, more than 15 million of these gamers (almost 8%) are now 45 years or older. While women make up nearly two- thirds of all online gamers, men still outnumber women in the overall video game universe by more than two-to-one.
Among the study's other key findings:
- Though older females make-up the largest percentage of casual gamers, active gamer teens and young adults also comprise a considerable portion of this market, with more than half playing casual games an hour or more a week.
- Demonstrating a loyal fan base, the majority of Active Gamers who say they usually pre-order a title, or buy it the first day of its release, choose Role Playing games. But while such games typically are thought of as catering to the older gaming audience, they are the most popular genre among active game playing teens.
- With next-generation gaming building steam, what will drive Active Gamers to these advanced console platforms will be the desire for better graphics and richer game play experiences.
"The Active Gamer 2006 Report comes at a pivotal time in the evolution of the video game industry," said Emily Della Maggiora, Senior Vice President of Nielsen Interactive Entertainment. "The expansion of next generation hardware and technology in the marketplace is simultaneously delivering new ecosystems of social exchange, interactive entertainment, media experiences and advertising models. We see everyday how important online gaming is in terms of connecting people and bringing communities of gamers together. From a simple battle in Halo to a more immersive communal experience, online gaming has the power to unite gamers across the street and/or around the world."
PC-Based Online Gaming Makes a Comeback
Just a few years ago, talk within the gaming industry speculated whether the personal computer could survive as a viable gaming system and successfully compete against console giants and handhelds. Nonetheless, PC-based gaming recently has evolved into a platform that provides a unique gaming experience for vastly different gaming audiences.
Among casual gamers, for example, online games offer simple and engaging encounters that are attracting both existing and new gamer audiences, especially older women. Plus, the growth in broadband access has helped redefine Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMOG) that let communities of gamers connect in ways that consoles and handheld platforms can't match.
Even so, handhelds, like online games, have themselves experienced the most growth year-over-year, thanks to innovative software and hardware, plus expanding multimedia options.
Examining the Forces Driving the Growth of Video Gaming
This Nielsen Entertainment study examines the dynamics influencing the growth of the video game industry. Analyzing recent attitudes, activities and purchasing behavior of more than 2,000 consumers over the age of 13 who play games at least one hour a week, the new research identifies several compelling factors, including changing demographics within sectors of the Active Gamer population and the resurgent popularity of PC and handheld games.
Video Game System Ownership and Usage
Given the penetration of personal computers in U.S. households, it is not surprising that 64% of Active Gamers play on PC-based systems. These systems offer users connected experiences through Massively Multiplayer Online Games that other platforms cannot match. Personal computers also are the platform of choice for players of casual games, especially among women, 64% of whom play video games online.
Among the console universe, Sony's PlayStation 2 dominates overall ownership at 59%. This is followed by nearly matching levels of ownership between Microsoft's Xbox (33%) and Nintendo's GameCube (30%). With Microsoft's Xbox 360, the newest console entrée into the market, having 15% ownership among Active Gamers. Notably, there is large cross ownership among Active Gamers and systems. The majority of Active Gamers also own at least a console and one other platform, with the level of cross-ownership between consoles and handhelds more than doubling (7% to 16%) between 2005 and 2006 to date. This is due, in large part, to the Nintendo DS and the Sony PSP and the unique gaming experiences they provide to millions of gamers
But unlike consoles, handheld ownership among Active Gamers is significantly more gender balanced. Furthermore, there is surprising power in portability. Active Gamers generally average about 14 hours a week on their consoles, while they often play as much as 17 hours a week on handhelds. About one quarter (24%) of Active Gamers also play games on their mobile phones.
Video Games as an Entertainment Experience
During the past six months, Active Gamers purchased, on average, four games. Of those, 90% were bought in retail stores, with the remaining 10% purchased online. On average, Active Gamers spend 47 hours playing each individual game they've purchased.
But video games must compete for wallet share and clock time with other forms of entertainment. Active Gamers spend an average of $58 a week on entertainment, $16 of which goes to video games. They also average about a quarter of their weekly leisure time (13 out of 55.3 hours) playing video games. After gaming, music is the second most popular activity among the majority Active Gamer groups, though it is tied for first among females at nine hours.
Surveys for the 2006 Active Gamer Benchmark Study were conducted online from July 3rd to July 9th with 2,200 Active Gamers, who were 13 years old or over, owned a gaming device and played games at least one hour per week.
To help get a better understanding of the gamer and their thoughts, emotions and social groups the report included two additional methodologies. First is an immersive behavioral segmentation analysis, where the research identified and defined 5 distinct groups of gamers. Second is a qualitative element where focus groups were conducted that serve as ancillary support and aid discovery to the quantitative findings.