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For Susan Matta, her three dogs and two cats serve not only as companions, but also as a dress rehearsal to having children. The 28-year-old attorney from Lansing, Mich., who shares responsibility for the pets with her fiancé, says that having pets is a lot like raising children. “It is essential to communicate with your spouse or significant other so that you aren't giving your pets mixed signals,� Matta says. “Couples should have at least one pet before they have kids.�

Matta spends about $2,780 annually on her five pets, fills their stockings at Christmas time and boards them in pet suites with TV sets. She and her fiancé are among the 62 percent of households that include at least one pet. In our cover story, “Animal Magnetism,� on page 30, Senior Editor Rebecca Gardyn tells us how demographics and shifting lifestyles have created new consumer markets for pet-related businesses. Traditionally the habitat of the married-with-children set, pet ownership today cuts across a number of demographic groups. Writes Gardyn: “Young couples are acquiring pets as a means of testing the waters of parenthood. At the same time, married Baby Boomers are filling their empty nests with dogs, cats and birds. Moreover, single households, primarily those headed by Boomer divorcées and seniors, are also finding comfort with furry companionship.�

Last year, Americans spent an estimated $29 billion on their pets, a figure expected to rise to $34 billion by 2005. Increasingly, as consumers demand higher quality products and services for their pets, a number of markets are poised for growth, including veterinary services and pet-care centers. Just as “convenient,� “customized� and “healthful� have become buzz words in the development of human products and services, so too are they the primary shapers of the pet industry, says Gardyn.

Meanwhile, Americans are seeking creature comforts of a different kind with online gaming. As writers Pamela Paul and Hassan Fattah point out in “Gaming Gets Serious,� on page 38, this former ambit of teen males is increasingly becoming representative of the general population. More women and older people are participating in online game sites such as and What's more, they are a professional lot: About 35 percent of online gamers earn $50,000 to $100,000 annually, according to comScoreNetworks, a Reston, Va.-based firm that measures online game use. Says Paul: “These demographics signify a major opportunity for game makers, console manufacturers and gaming Web sites.�

Moreover, as online gaming generates mass appeal, the biggest business opportunity may lie in advergaming — the interactive advertisements that merge online games with product placement. Sponsors of advergaming sites such as Nabisco's Candystand are betting they can build brand loyalty among players, and eventually reap the rewards when gamers become online buyers. As more Americans get hooked on everything from Counter-Strike to WarCraft III, they are proving that games can be serious business indeed.

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