And according to panelists from the OMMA Gaming session "The Demographics of Play: Who Is Gaming Where and When," marketers that want to fully harness the power of games need to rethink their ideas of who gamers are and what constitutes a game.
For example, console gamers have traditionally been considered to be males ages 18-34 (and in some cases even 18-24). But in May 2008, Nielsen found that three-fourths of Nintendo Wii usage came from players between the ages of 6 and 34. In contrast, the game giant's previous console, GameCube, which launched in the U.S. in 2001, only attracted players ages 2-17 three-fourths of the time.
Even the demographics of virtual worlds are starting to shift. According to Michael Wilson, CEO of Makena Technologies, parent company of There.com, the virtual world consistently attracts more female users than male. "Last month, 58% of our registered users were female," Wilson said. "They come because we've created a safe, welcoming, PG-13 environment, which is also very brand-friendly." Indeed, companies from Coca-Cola and Scion to CosmoGirl have tapped into There.com to reach its atypical gaming audience.
The panelists alluded to a number of factors driving the shift in gamer demographics, from more powerful, feature-rich consoles to media hype and brand affinity. According to Mike Ayer, VP of sales at Crispy Gamer, the bundling of features like DVD players and downloadable content in consoles has helped broaden the market.
"Look at the recently announced Xbox-Netflix venture," Ayer said, speaking of the deal that would allow Xbox 360 owners to download movies when the console is connected to the Internet via Xbox LIVE. "It's one more function in an Xbox that will push a reluctant mother worried about violence and misogyny to buy her kid a 360."
And while parents had always been involved in making game platform and title purchase decisions, Ayer said that family-friendly platforms like the Wii were encouraging them to seek out games for their own enjoyment.
Meanwhile, the former "hardcore" gamers are growing up, and a slew of younger players are entering the space--which, according to Edward Hunter, comScore's director of gaming solutions, bodes well for advertisers. "There's a lot of maturity in the 18- to-34-year-old market, as they're aging into the 35-and-older demo, with a lot of that growth skewing male," Hunter said. "You also have a host of new players entering the 7- to-14-year-old space, and then more turnover into the 18- to-24-year-old set." And Hunter said that the new breed of 18- to-24-year-old players isn't as opposed to in-and-around game ads as their now maturing counterparts.
Ayers also said that media hype continues to contribute to the expansion of player demographics. "The Halo launch was tied to so much hype that it grew into the biggest media launch in history," he said. The Xbox shooter garnered $170 million on its release day--more than previous record-holders "Spiderman 3" and "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows." Ayers said that the news about the game-breaking sales records, as well as gamers waiting in line to buy it had even non-gamers curious. "People were on the sidelines saying, 'I haven't played a game since ColecoVision, but I want to try this,'" he said.
The panelists also said that the increasingly social nature of console and PC games was also fueling increased game usage. And Wilson said that brands themselves even served to draw gamers in. "One of the reasons 'Virtual Laguna Beach' or the 'Virtual Hills' is so popular is because fans of the shows want to go where Lauren hangs out, or see what her house looks like," he said. "Sometimes the brand creates the gaming demand."