Who Is Today's Gamer? You Have No Idea

Once the Domain of Cellar-Dwelling Teenage Boys, Video Games Hook Fans From All Walks of Life

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YORK, Pa. (AdAge.com) -- Can you guess who's at the control of this video-game screen? If you said a teenager, you're only 17% right. In fact, it could be a senior citizen or a young kid, a fan of global multiplayer fantasy games, or a sudoku fiend. Online gaming, in particular, attracts a varied crowd of players.
Look again. Who do you think plays video games?
Look again. Who do you think plays video games?

While console play tends to have more limited ad opportunities, the possibilities in online gaming are endless. Online media offers placement flexibility -- marketers can easily craft programs to run only during certain times of the day and only on certain games, or quickly switch out creative if it doesn't seem to do well or if the product changes. But first you have to know who is playing.

An NPD study released last week, "Online Gaming 2007: The Virtual Landscape," profiled online gamers in an attempt to understand just that, along with where and what they're playing. We used those new stats to craft these demographic profiles. With some $200 million being spent in advertising on gaming, you'd better know your player. Prepare for a few surprises.
Real-world purchasing is still the most common way to buy content, but in this case, it's the potential for digital shopping that is compelling. More than 40% of online gamers indicated they were likely to download content onto next-generation consoles, while 25% said they were likely to do the same on their computers.
While massively multiplayer online games get the most attention, the games that really draw crowds are card, puzzle and arcade games. The casual genre is the favorite of 44% of players, followed by family-entertainment at 25% and multiplayer online at 19%.
Fans of Texas Hold 'Em constitute a strong audience. More than 17% of gamers said gambling and casino games were their favorites, ranking the genre behind massively multiplayer games and ahead of shooter games in overall popularity.
Online gamers are used to playing for free. "There are a lot of free games out there to play online, particularly on the PC," said Anita Frazier, who headed up the NPD study, adding that she herself plays free web sudoku. "The challenge for the industry is to keep coming up with innovative ways to convert these folks into paying customers." Historically, conversion rates have hovered at 1% to 2% for the traditional free-trial-to-paid-premium strategy. Advertising is increasingly being implemented as a more lucrative and creative revenue model.
The fact that lots of young kids play video games online isn't exactly shocking to any parent who has lost control of her laptop for a Nick Jr. marathon playfest. What is surprising though, is that the elementary-school set makes up the biggest group of players. That's right, kids ages 6 to 12 account for 20% of all online gamers, more than any other demographic. Remember when marketers were alarmed by the revelation several years ago that young males spent more time with video games than TV? With stats like this, can the playground set be far behind?
Xbox 360 owners are more likely to play online than any other console owners -- 54% -- and, at 7.1 hours a week, they also spend more time doing it. While it's a relatively new platform, the Xbox 360's online domination is not a total surprise, especially considering Microsoft's aggressive push of the Xbox Live service. Wii owners come in last in time spent online, but they're actually more inclined to do it. More than three-fourths of Wii owners have tried online games
Portable-game-system sales have soared in the past two years with the debut of next-generation-systems Nintendo DS and Sony PSP. And with those devices came built-in WiFi for online play. Some 41% of portable players are age 13 to 17. They do play online games, but spend fewer hours per week online than console or PC gamers. But as hand-held sales skyrocket, expect wider opportunites for online marketing to on-the-go gamers.
More than 42% of the total online gaming audience today is female. However, women differ from men in that they play games mostly on PCs. Still, any mass audience of females -- the ones who influence almost all household purchase decisions -- shouldn't be ignored.
Online gaming is actually the opiate of the middle class, with average household income hovering between $35,000 and $75,000. Makes sense. Once a consumer owns a PC, the jump to online gaming involves minimal extra cost and tech know-how.
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