Age of average player drops 7 years due to social, mobile media

The videogame industry is in the midst of an evolution, which is having a massive effect on the people playing games.

The influx of social and mobile games has drastically reduced the age of the average videogame player in America, according to an annual study by the Entertainment Software Assn. In 2011, the average gamer was 30 years old — vs. 37 just a year earlier.

At the same time, the age of the most frequent game purchasers dropped nearly as much — from 41 to 35. Nearly 20% are around 41, making them 4 years old when “Pong” was released.

Increased usage of social and mobile gaming platforms has also helped close the gap between men and women.

Women made up 47% of all game players last year (up from 42% the year before), the ESA said.

E-rated titles (the industry’s equivalent to a G-rated movie) are still the top sellers in terms of volume, but it’s M-rated shooters that make the most money. Last year’s “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3″ topped $1 billion in sales in just 16 days.

Overall, M-rated games (the industry’s equivalent to an R) made up 26.5% of all games sold last year, based on units.

While most publishers have gone after older males with action franchises, Activision Blizzard also has scored by targeting the younger set with its popular “Skylanders” franchise, which bowed last year.

Younger gamers could also benefit Nintendo as it launches its new Wii U platform this week, after the original Wii captured the family market with casual games.

More than 200 gamemakers will pour over the numbers as they showcase their newest titles at this week’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), kicking off today in downtown Los Angeles.

Event is expected to attract 45,000 attendees, on par with last year’s confab.

Although digital sales are growing, the biz is eager to reverse an already miserable year of back-to-back monthly declines, with retail sales down 27% compared to the same period in 2011, creating a $1.3 billion shortfall.

Despite the overall drop, though, retail game sales are still outpacing the box office.

The NPD Group reports the industry has sales of $3.6 billion through the end of April (the most recent figures available). As of May, the box office generated $3.4 billion.

Much of the shift in ESA’s demographic figures comes in backend changes to the annual survey’s methodology, reps from the org said.

To keep the study relevant to today’s gaming audience, the trade group expanded its respondent list beyond people who owned videogame consoles or gaming-dedicated PCs and included those who play on mobile handheld devices, like the iPhone and iPad.

Despite the wider range of players, casual games (which are prevalent on mobile devices) were actually played less this year (though they still beat other genres). An estimated 42% of the gamers surveyed cited puzzle, trivia and card games among the type of games they play most often — down from 47% last year.

(Marc Graser contributed to this report.)

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