NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Social-networking sites are grabbing all the headlines about what's new in digital media, but new research from Nielsen Entertainment shows that video games are increasingly being used as a way for consumers to meet and bond with fellow players.
Active gamers now spend upward of five hours a week playing games socially, led by teenagers, who were socially involved in gaming about seven hours per week. As a result, the social elements of video games are becoming an increasingly important part of the overall gaming experience.
Nielson found that, as of August, about 117 million people in the U.S. qualified as active gamers, and 56% reported playing games online as opposed to playing on consoles such as Sony PlayStation or with handheld devices. In the entire group, men outnumbered women by more than 2-to-1.
Marketers spent $56 million last year on in-game advertising and product placement, according to research firm Yankee Group. Yankee expects that number, which includes ads placed in both online and console games, to reach $730 million by 2010.
"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," said Emily Della Maggiora, senior VP, Nielsen Interactive Entertainment.
The gaming gamut
Popular online games cover the gamut from serious team games such as "Halo" to "casual" games such as "Tetris." Older females make up the largest percentage of casual gamers, usually playing online card and puzzle games.
The research, which tracked the activities of some 2,000 consumers over the age of 13 who play games at least one hour a week, also shows that although teenagers still account for the largest percentage of active gamers -- 40% -- more than 15 million active gamers, almost 13%, are 45 or older.