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117 Million Active Gamers Play Online, and 64% Are Women

Nielsen Entertainment today released its third annual Active Gamer Benchmark Study, which shows that the social elements of video games are becoming an increasingly important part of the overall gaming experience. The research found that among the roughly 117 million Active Gamers in the U.S. in 2006, more than half (56%) play games online, and that 64% of all online gamers are women. Moreover, while gaming has conventionally been thought of as a solitary experience, the new study reveals that Active Gamers spend upwards of 5 hours a week playing games socially, led by teenagers who are socially involved in gaming about 7 hours per week.

The research also shows that although teenagers continue to comprise the largest percentage (40%) of Active Gamers, more than 15 million of these gamers (almost 8%) are now 45 years or older. While women make up nearly two- thirds of all online gamers, men still outnumber women in the overall video game universe by more than two-to-one.

Just a few years ago, talk within the gaming industry speculated whether the personal computer could survive as a viable gaming system and successfully compete against console giants and handhelds. Nonetheless, PC-based gaming recently has evolved into a platform that provides a unique gaming experience for vastly different gaming audiences.

Among casual gamers, for example, online games offer simple and engaging encounters that are attracting both existing and new gamer audiences, especially older women. Plus, the growth in broadband access has helped redefine Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMOG) that let communities of gamers connect in ways that consoles and handheld platforms can't match.

Even so, handhelds, like online games, have themselves experienced the most growth year-over-year, thanks to innovative software and hardware, plus expanding multimedia options.

This Nielsen Entertainment study examines the dynamics influencing the growth of the video game industry. Analyzing recent attitudes, activities and purchasing behavior of more than 2,000 consumers over the age of 13 who play games at least one hour a week, the new research identifies several compelling factors, including changing demographics within sectors of the Active Gamer population and the resurgent popularity of PC and handheld games.

Given the penetration of personal computers in U.S. households, it is not surprising that 64% of Active Gamers play on PC-based systems. These systems offer users connected experiences through Massively Multiplayer Online Games that other platforms cannot match. Personal computers also are the platform of choice for players of casual games, especially among women, 64% of whom play video games online.

Among the console universe, Sony's PlayStation 2 dominates overall ownership at 59%. This is followed by nearly matching levels of ownership between Microsoft's Xbox (33%) and Nintendo's GameCube (30%). With Microsoft's Xbox 360, the newest console entrée into the market, having 15% ownership among Active Gamers. Notably, there is large cross ownership among Active Gamers and systems. The majority of Active Gamers also own at least a console and one other platform, with the level of cross-ownership between consoles and handhelds more than doubling (7% to 16%) between 2005 and 2006 to date. This is due, in large part, to the Nintendo DS and the Sony PSP and the unique gaming experiences they provide to millions of gamers

But unlike consoles, handheld ownership among Active Gamers is significantly more gender balanced. Furthermore, there is surprising power in portability. Active Gamers generally average about 14 hours a week on their consoles, while they often play as much as 17 hours a week on handhelds. About one quarter (24%) of Active Gamers also play games on their mobile phones.

During the past six months, Active Gamers purchased, on average, four games. Of those, 90% were bought in retail stores, with the remaining 10% purchased online. On average, Active Gamers spend 47 hours playing each individual game they've purchased.

But video games must compete for wallet share and clock time with other forms of entertainment. Active Gamers spend an average of $58 a week on entertainment, $16 of which goes to video games. They also average about a quarter of their weekly leisure time (13 out of 55.3 hours) playing video games. After gaming, music is the second most popular activity among the majority Active Gamer groups, though it is tied for first among females at nine hours.
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