Even before the Internet and the rapid growth and increased access to free video gaming in a web browser, PC owners in the U.S. played games locally right on their desktop. Bundled in with the operating system, games like FreeCell, Solitaire, Minesweeper, Hearts, and Pinball served as the original free-to-play games. Even today, these games maintain a sizable audience – impressive in a world that offers many other avenues to free video gaming on PCs and mobile devices.
PC gaming data from Nielsen’s U.S. metering of home and work panelists provides insights on executable file gameplay, or “.exe’s”, that are launched and played from the desktop. A look at the last six months’ worth of 2011 metered data for the top five pre-installed game titles revealed the following insights.
- The total combined average monthly audience (July-Dec 2011) for these titles was 20.3MM
- Overall, 58% of metered gameplay came from females
- Overall, 88% of metered gameplay came from ‘gamers’ aged 25+
- Pinball and Minesweeper were the only games that showed more than a marginal audience under 25, with 31% and 24% of gameplay, respectively, coming from this younger age range
- FreeCell had the largest average monthly audience over the timespan, with close to 9.4MM unique players each month (Solitaire was 2nd with an average monthly audience of 7MM)
- FreeCell, Solitaire and Hearts resonated highest with the 55+ crowd, with over 50% of players for these three games being part of this older demographic
Another interesting dynamic is the amount of time spent and frequency for playing these pre-installed games:
- The card-based games of FreeCell, Solitaire and Hearts had the highest levels of average minutes of weekly play, with over 150 minutes each for FreeCell and Solitaire and just over 70 for Hearts
- FreeCell and Solitaire averaged seven sessions each per week, while Hearts was closer to six
- Taking into account the average audiences for these three card-based games, and factoring in the time spent playing, over 44 million hours of combined monthly play can be attributed to them
- Pinball and Minesweeper both exhibited lower average weekly play in terms of minutes, 26 and 38 respectively, as well as sessions, two and three respectively.
As new tech and devices emerge, it’s easy to assume that older versions of games, or just old games in general, would fall out of favor. However, old habits die hard, and familiarity with programs and games can have a lot to do with the long tail of gameplay. This particular data for pre-installed games skews heavily towards an older demographic, which presents an opportunity for developers/publishers to perhaps find ways to make their free-to-play games as easily accessible and bundled in as possible for this audience. And for advertisers that want to reach this large demographic, it’s an opportunity to work with device manufacturers and operating system publishers to reach this mass audience if/when these pre-installed games tie-in connectivity or become server-based as the norm. An important question remains though – how do you convert or transition these gamers to other versions of these same games or change their habits in how they access them on newer, or more social formats?