The global video game business is sprinting towards a $40 billion annual take with last year’s U.S. market alone bringing in a healthy $19 billion.
The average age of a gamer today is 33, according to the Entertainment Software Association, but over one quarter of gamers are older than 50. New gamers are entering the market as young as three years of age and a new audience of lapsed gamers is also expanding the demographic.
Casual games are also evolving. According to Comscore, over 200 million people play casual games online worldwide. In the U.S., over 60 million people, a third of the online population, play online games at least once a month. In Europe, over 40 million consumers play online casual games: in certain countries close to half of the online population plays casual games.
“Over the last three years, the casual games market has exploded,” says Beatrice Spaine, vice president of marketing for EA-owned Pogo.com.
“Once more, there are hundreds of sites where users can play and or download casual games. Some sites are mass market; others attract mainly children or teens and young adults. Companies are able to monetize their audience in multiple ways through advertising, downloadable games, subscriptions and micro-transactions. The rapid increase in Internet and broadband penetration has boosted the number of people playing games online and the quality of online and downloadable games.” Once relegated only to PCs, casual games have now spread to next generation consoles through Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network Store, as well as to Wii, portable game players and even cell phones.
There are an estimated 1 billion mobile handsets in circulation worldwide, of which 85 percent are game enabled.
Mainstream gamers that have made hits of innovative new titles like Super Mario Galaxy and Brain Age have been receptive to and have driven new forms of game play. One needs to only look at the explosive sales in the music rhythm genre, which didn’t even exist before Harmonix introduced Guitar Hero and its most recent franchise, Rock Band, to see how fast things are evolving.
With these vast new audiences, the game industry has found a new avenue of revenue in product placement and in-game advertising, with advertisers turning their focus to gamers, just as gamers have tuned out of prime time television viewing and spent more hours in front of their TVs gaming and PC’s.
Sports has become another niche in the MMO space. Game developer Netamin has created ESPN Ultimate Baseball Online, a game that replaces overpriced athletes and licensed teams with real players. For those weekend athletes who’ve moved away from friends or grown too old for the real diamond, this game offers the chance to congregate online, compete in full league seasons and win real prizes. Other sports like football (Football Superstars) and golf (World Golf Tour) have also made the MMO leap, with the key selling points being the opportunity for sports fans to bond with friends and to try out authentic courses virtually.