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Video Games in Play
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Video Games in Play

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Charlie Pollak, Nielsen Games

The video game marketplace continues to be an important in-home entertainment option.  Nielsen reports that over half of all U.S. households (54%) claim to own a video game console or handheld system of some kind. The seventh generation of consoles (Nintendo Wii, Microsoft Xbox 360 and Sony Playstation 3) dominates this tally with a combined penetration rate of 41%.

And despite the stereotypes about teenage males, gamers are not monolithic. In fact, 45% of active gamers are female and women account for half (49%) of all Wii owners and 52% of Sony Playstation Portable (PSP) owners.

On the gameplay front, the average U.S. household played roughly 3.36 hours per week via a console in Q3 2009. Combining TV gaming time with online gameplay, Nielsen reports that average time spent gaming increased 5% year-over-year through the end of May 2009, but since June has largely followed monthly averages from 2008.

Dividing Dollars

Like nearly all industries, the video game market has been negatively affected by the economic downturn. From mobile games to controllers, consumers claim to have spent slightly less than last year across all forms of gaming content. Video game-related spending represents 4% of active gamers’ total entertainment spending, but households with boys 9–12 spend more—allocating 6% to video games and households with teenage males 13–17 contribute 5%.

How gamers divvy up dollars is instructive about distribution and monetization strategies in the industry. Active gamers spend half of their game-play dollars on new games and over one-quarter (27%) on used titles. Game rentals or rental subscriptions account for 14% of spending and downloadable content (extra levels, weapons and characters, for example) represents 5%.

Game publishers need not be overly concerned about spending on the secondary market—at least as far as rentals are concerned. Given the vast number of entertainment hours a game can provide, rentals may serve as a stage in the purchase funnel rather than an end to it, which appears to be in contrast to movies. Fully 61% of game renters claim to buy the game if they like it. The same is true for only 27% of movie renters.

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