Online gaming attracts more women than men

Nielsen study tracks booming genre

Video games remain largely a male-dominated pastime, but women account for two-thirds of the growing number of people who are playing online games, according to Nielsen Interactive Entertainment's third annual Active Gamer Benchmark Study.

Nielsen's extensive survey of demographic, age and gender trends in the video game space found that as of August, about 117 million people in the U.S. qualified as "active gamers," meaning they spend at least one hour per week on a gaming device. That's up from 112 million last year. Of the active gamers, 56% play games online, and 64% of those online players are women, according to the study.

Teenagers still comprise the largest chunk of the active gamer universe at 48 million, followed by players in the 18-24 age range (17.5 million). About 15 million active gamers are 45 or older.

Nielsen researchers say the increasing age and gender diversification in the active gamer demo stems in part from the expanding world of video games available online and on mobile devices.

"Gaming is no longer confined to just the house or to one console," Nielsen Interactive Entertainment senior vp Emily Della Maggiora said. "And as the industry has evolved over the past 10 years to provide a variety of ways for consumers to game, they have embraced elements like portability, casual gameplay and virtual environments -- essentially, gaming can now be a part of your life that grows with you."

The study also shows that while gaming remains a part of consumers' lives as they age, they approach it with a different mind-set.

"We call them 'family focused,' " Della Maggiora said. "This is a group that was once avid gamers; they have been playing games on average for 14 years, though now with life-stage changes -- having a mortgage, kids, marriage -- their focus falls on to their family. So, while gaming is still a part of their life, it is not consuming them, and they turn to games to relax and kill time."

According to the report, active gamers spend upward of five hours a week playing games socially, a pace led by teenagers, who are socially involved in gaming about 13 hours per week.

While women are dominant among online gamers, men still outnumber women in the overall video game space by more than 2-to-1 (70%-30%). Older females make up the largest percentage of casual gamers, usually playing online card and puzzle games. Thanks to casual games and the emergence of massively multiplayer online games, 64% of active gamers play on a PC. About 24% of active gamers engage in gaming on their mobile devices.

Active gamers generally average about 14 hours a week on their consoles, while they often play as many as 17 hours a week on such hand-held systems as Nintendo DS and PlayStation Portable. About one-quarter (24%) of active gamers also play on their mobile phones. The majority of active gamers also own at least a console and one other platform, with the level of cross-ownership between consoles and hand-helds more than doubling (7% to 16%) between 2005 and 2006 to date.

During the past six months, active gamers purchased an average of four games and five DVDs. 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 have 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 one-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.

The video-game industry is undergoing a transition from current- to next-generation consoles, with Xbox 360 on store shelves since November and Nintendo Wii and Sony PlayStation 3 shipping next month.

"Next-generation gamers are looking for compelling, innovative and unique gameplay experiences that not only deliver high-end quality gaming but also allow a communally connective environment, and the Xbox 360 has delivered on both," Della Maggiora said. "Nearly eight out of 10 Xbox 360 active gamers say that the Xbox 360 has lived up to its next-generation gaming promise of quality gameplay, rooted in superior graphics and sound quality. And nearly 50% of active gamers with Xbox 360 are on Xbox Live, while another quarter (26%) say they are planning on subscribing soon."

Surveys for the 2006 Active Gamer Benchmark Study were conducted online from July 3-9 with 2,200 active gamers ages 13 and older who owned a gaming device and played games at least one hour per week.