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Number of video gamers continues to grow

The number of U.S. individuals actively playing video games continues to skyrocket, with a new study finding that as many as 135 million people – or 44 percent of the total U.S. population – played games on a regular basis in 2011. This represents an increase of 241 percent over 2008, when the equivalent number was just 56 million.

Most of the new gamers are casual gamers and have been attracted to the gaming world by social or free-to-play games through new and convenient platforms such as smartphones and tablets. This move to online or mobile gaming is also fundamentally changing the video game industry, with gaming companies focusing less on the sale of boxed games and more on building communities and developing ongoing relationships.

The study by market research firm Parks Associates defines video gamers as “individuals in a broadband household who play at least one hour per month.” With 80 percent of U.S. gamers playing social (Facebook) or free-to-play games, the computer or laptop has now become the preferred gaming device across all age ranges. While the traditional gaming console is still popular among 18-34 year olds, the portable game player has been overtaken by smartphones and other mobile devices.

While social games are increasingly popular, they present a significant challenge for developers and publishers. According to the Parks study, most social game titles monetize only 5-10 percent of their active player base. However, social games can provide impressive amounts of user data, which can then be monetized indirectly through advertising. The move to online gaming has also helped publishers extend the initial purchase price of games by offering subscription-based services or various upgrades.

Not surprisingly, the popularity of mobile gaming has increased as smartphone adoption has become more widespread. While just 7 percent of gamers downloaded mobile games in 2008, that number increased to 18 percent in 2011. The increasing popularity of tablet computers has also fueled the growth of mobile gaming; in the third quarter of 2011, 71 percent of adults and 79 percent of teens who owned tablets played a game at least one hour a month.

The report suggests that mobile gaming will be the key to continued expansion of U.S. gaming over the coming years. Smartphones and other mobile devices can utilize built-in payment systems like iTunes (iPhone) and Google Wallet (Android) to facilitate in-app purchases, which may make it easier to persuade this broadening population of gamers to part with more money.

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