The perpetual worry of the big budget video game industry since the market crash in 2008 has been the erosion of the most profitable section of the gaming industry, the console game market. People are buying smartphones, tablets, and downloadable video games in droves, but with each passing year they buy fewer game consoles and packaged games on discs. This is actually excellent news for the creative life of video games; it means that game development, access to games, and the games themselves are getting cheaper and thus more accessible, which in turn grows the audience. It also means that the giants of the industry like Activision, Electronic Arts, and even console makers like Sony have uncertain futures. Just look at what happened to THQ for proof
The tide may be turning, but the US console and big budget PC game markets still generates the largest share of cash in the worldwide video game industry by far. US game sales alone (including digitally distributed titles) totaled nearly $15 billion across 2012 according to the NPD Group, down 9-percent from the previous year. An argument can be made that the drop in sales was reflective of less games being released – there were 29-percent less skus released in 2012 than in 2011 – but the drop in sales causes serious problems for the industry regardless of any possible mitigating circumstances.
On Thursday, the NPD Group released new data that illuminates who is actually spending that money. This consumer group, the “core” gamer, is the financial lifeblood of the traditional video game market, and the group that guarantees developers will spend millions making games like Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, Tomb Raider, and BioShock Infinite. The core gamer is defined in this instance as someone that plays most genres, and spends more than 5 hours per week gaming on a Mac, PC, PS3, and/or an Xbox 360. Core gamers make up 14-percent of the gaming industry, or roughly 37.5 million people in the US – although approximately 14-percent of Americans above the age of 9-years-old play core games on PC, Macs, and consoles, but they don’t meet the requirements listed by the NPD.
Who are they? They’re mostly men. The research firm found that while the total gaming audience is split evenly between men and women, core gamers are overwhelmingly male. 71-percent of core gamers are men, to be exact, and even though the majority of them are male, the total group across both genders represent a significant portion of the US population. On average, core gamers are around 30-years-old.
As expected, based on sales data from the past few years, the core gamer is spending a less on games than they used to. About 10-percent more of NPD’s sample group said they lowered their spending on games in the last year, compared to those that said they spent more in 2012.
The report also highlighted a shift that is good for publishers, but bad for companies like GameStop. Core gamers are spending the most on brand new games, around double what they spend on used or digital games. The NPD also suggests that the digital side of things has huge potential for growth, as many core gamers report they have not yet begun to purchase digital content.
“Digital purchasing among core gamers has plenty of room to grow,” industry analyst for the NPD Group Liam Callahan wrote. “While many core gamers indicate they are purchasing full games and digital add-on content frequently, there are those that stated they have never purchased digital content.”