Study says teens aren't the prototypical players

The acne-ridden teenage slacker gamer has long been a media cliche, but new demographic data shows just how far off those assumptions were.

Today’s average gamer is 34 years old, according to a study of 1,200 households by the Entertainment Software Assn. The most frequent game purchaser is 40 — old enough to remember the early days of Atari.

The age range of these frequent gamers offers some surprising new insight into how the industry is evolving.

Nearly half of all gamers are between 18 and 49. More surprisingly, more than a quarter of the gaming population is over 50. That percentage has jumped by 7% in the last five years — and 16% since 1999. That’s due, in large part, to Nintendo.

The Wii was instrumental in bringing back lapsed gamers who had once played vidgames but lost interest in the hobby as titles became too complicated. But it also managed to attract older players for the first time. Many senior citizen homes use the Wii as a social activity. And independent seniors are buying the console as well.

Whole generations have now grown up with videogames as a regular part of their lives. The average adult gamer has been playing computer or videogames for 12 years.

They’re also passing the hobby on to their children. The ESA reports that 48% of parents play videogames with their kids at least once per week. And 67% of American homes either own a console, such as the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Wii, and/or use their PC to run entertainment software (meaning anything from casual games like “Bejeweled” to more traditional titles like “World of Warcraft”).

While players are still more likely to be male than female, it’s not as wide a gap as many imagine. 40% of all gamers are female. And women over the age of 18 make up a larger portion of the game-playing population than boys under 18 — beating them by a 13% spread.

As for those perceived lack of social skills, it appears gamers may be more outgoing than many think. Sixty-four percent prefer to play games in person with others — a 5 point jump from two years ago.

The ESA survey, conducted by Ipsos MediaCT, did not study the average play time of gamers. But a recent survey by the NPD Group (which tracks videogame sales) found the typical player spent 13 hours per week playing games — a 42 minute increase over last year’s figures (Daily Variety, May 28). Core gamers — those players who are the most avid fans of the industry — spend an average of 48.5 hours per week playing games, though that segment typically skews younger than the average.

Online gaming is, of course, huge as well. While large-scale games such as “World of Warcraft” grab the headlines, those players only make up 14% of the online gaming population. The vast majority — some 42% — play family friendly games, such puzzles, cards and trivia titles.

Bottom line: Gamers not only are older and more mature than many people assume, they’re also more affluent. While average individual income levels haven’t been assessed, the broad figures speak volumes.

The videogame industry boasted U.S. software sales of $10.5 billion in 2009. Add in the sale of game systems, and that number jumps to $19.7 billion — nearly twice as much as U.S. box office receipts.

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