The video/computer games market certainly has evolved over the years. My first introduction to computerized gaming was during my early teens, when my best friend got a Pong system for the family television. We logged countless hours playing this unique version of table tennis—that is, until her mom limited our playing time because she thought we would go blind from the eyestrain, but not before the system permanently damaged the picture on the television screen. (Apparently that Christmas gift was her dad’s idea, not her mom’s.) Next came Pac-Man and Frogger, two arcade games that helped make laundry night during college somewhat tolerable. A few years later, my roommate and I pooled our hard-earned money and bought a Nintendo Entertainment System, and spent many days and nights with our new friends Mario and Zelda. It would be more than a decade later before my interest in video games was piqued once again, this time stemming from the rollout of the sixth-generation consoles (Dreamcast, Xbox, PlayStation 2, GameCube) during the 128-bit era. And before my interest could wane, the current generation of consoles hit the market, along with their cutting-edge titles.
Today, the video game market is dominated by big blockbuster releases, just as the film industry is. Similarly, the games industry is embracing stereo 3D, mobile, social media, and online trends. So, who is the average computer game player today, lured by these trends? Contrary to popular belief, it is not a 17-year-old teen boy who lounges around the house all day drinking soda and eating chips. A more accurate depiction would be someone close in age to that teen’s dad.
Last year, the Entertainment Software Association, the trade association of the video game industry in the US, released its “2011 Essential Facts about the Computer and Video Game Industry.” Some of the information is obvious, some almost surprising. First off, who plays computer and video games? Just about everyone. According to the report, 33% of gamers say that playing computer or video games is their favorite entertainment activity. In fact, nearly three-quarters of American households play video games. Drilling down into those figures, the average player is 37 years old—29% are over the age of 50, 53% fall into the 18- to 49-year-old bracket, while just 18% are under the age of 18. Gamers still tend to be predominantly male (58%), however. Given the age of the typical player, it is hardly surprising that adult gamers have been playing video or computer game titles for quite some time (an average of 12 years), with men playing 13 years and females 10 years.
When it comes time to purchasing games, the average buyer is not an 18- or 20-year-old, either. It is a 41-year-old. And yes, males (52%) are the most frequent buyers, but women are close behind at 48%. What makes these people plunk down their hard-earned dollars for a title? Some of the top reasons why players purchase a certain title include the quality of the game graphics, an interesting story line, a sequel to a favorite game, and word of mouth.
Over the years, a lot of press has been devoted to the topic of video games and violence. On a positive note, nine out of 10 parents seem to pay attention to the content of the games their children play. In terms of percentages, 91% of the time parents are present when games are purchased or rented, while 86% of the time children receive their parents’ permission before purchasing or renting games. What’s perhaps most surprising is that the majority of parents see a positive impact resulting from playing these games: 68% believe gameplay provides mental stimulation or education, 57% believe it helps the family spend more time together, and 54% believe it helps to connect the kids with friends. Despite these numbers, parents are proceeding with caution. Three-quarters of parents see parental controls available in all new video game consoles as useful. Furthermore, parents impose time-usage limits on gameplay (80%) more than any other form of entertainment, even more so than TV viewing (70%) and Internet usage (74%).
Much has changed in the industry over the past several years: the players as well as the games. It’s a whole new virtual world out there, and it’s beckoning people of all ages.