Nielsen Studies The "Active Gamer"

Nielsen Entertainment today announced partial results from two separate studies that will be published tomorrow: Benchmarking the Active Gamer and Benchmarking Mobile Entertainment.

Both reports surveyed over 2,000 respondents in North America during September 2005 who were "engaged actively in either video games or in their use of mobile services." According to Nielsen, an "active" gamer is one who owns a console and spends at least one hour per week playing it. A number of topics were covered in the studies, including purchase intent, spending and behavioral patterns, genre preferences and more.

Widening demographic

In the Benchmarking the Active Gamer study specifically, perhaps the most interesting discovery is that the demographic of game players is starting to expand. Nielsen found that males in the 25-34 range and Hispanics "represent the most valuable emerging market for video games." This group now has higher budgets for entertainment, and as such there is a greater potential for increased video game spending.

Furthermore, while men outweigh women 76 to 24 percent when it comes to MMO games, in the casual online games market the split between genders is almost even -- 49 percent women vs. 51 percent men. Speaking of MMOs, online gaming is becoming increasingly common and the importance of MMOs is growing. Nielsen found that 57 percent of active gamers have played online. The free casual online games have drawn the most interest, but 21 percent also said that they have played MMO games.

Games as part of the cultural experienceNot only is the demographic getting broader with the online segment growing, but Nielsen also found that active gamers in general are spending more time playing games. The study shows that 25 percent of a gamer's leisure time is now spent playing a game, and males in particular play (on average) 12 hours a week. This is valuable time for marketers that many gamers used to spend watching TV, and it shows why in-game ads will no doubt become more and more relevant as companies try to advertise to this demographic.

"Games are a part of a broader number of people's leisure time, as evidenced by the findings in our study. Playing video games, once considered the domain of teen boys, has evolved into a medium that is now capable of reaching expanding demographics of gamers, including females, Hispanics and older players," commented Michael Dowling, General Manager, Nielsen Interactive Entertainment. "As games continue to increase its share of entertainment leisure time, it's quite possible playing video games will assume a significant role as a common cultural experience, in the way that movies and television do today."

Patience with next-gen

Interestingly, although there is much hype for the next generation of consoles (the Xbox 360 goes on sale tonight at midnight), many gamers seem to be taking a wait and see approach, said Nielsen. Roughly 50 percent of active gamers stated that they intend to wait for both Xbox 360 and Sony's PS3 to be on the market before they make a purchase decision. That could mean that many active gamers could stick with the current-gen systems until late 2006 or early 2007.

That said, Nielsen also found that people who own and prefer the original Xbox are more likely to buy an Xbox 360 than those that own and prefer PS2 are to buy the PS3. Although it's always difficult to read clearly into these things, this finding could suggest that PlayStation diehards may be more willing to make the switch to Xbox 360 in the next generation, or may purchase both systems; either way it would seem like a positive step in brand penetration and awareness for Microsoft's Xbox business.

Mobile appeal

As for the mobile games sector, it seems that active gamers are slowly but surely warming up to playing on their cell phones. According to Nielsen, 18 percent of active gamers have downloaded a game to their cell phone and almost two-thirds said that their experience was either good or excellent. Furthermore, in terms of mobile gaming there seems to be less distinction between genders. Women and men shared the preference to play board, card and puzzle games on their cell phones.

"The inter-connection between video games and mobile devices is undeniable given consumer demand for flexibility. High technology adopters are more likely to use the Internet, use their cell phones and play video games spending greater amounts of time and money on these media. The details revealed in these reports raise actionable items for marketers and developers alike and the result is clear: 'emerging' media, they are no longer. Games and Mobile entertainment have arrived as powerful channels to consumers and influencers of our culture," concluded Andy Wing, President and CEO of Nielsen Entertainment.

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