Saturday, October 20, 2007

New NPD Report: The Small Child Gamer

Earlier this week, Beth Snyder Bulik at AdAge covered the new NPD Group report on children and videogames, identifying "6" as the new entry age into "serious" gaming. Here's an excerpt of Bulik's article:
NPD Group's annual survey on children and video games, released this week, found that while older kids still dominate in time spent per week on gaming, the most significant spike in hours played occurs between the 2-to-5-year-old and 6-to-8-year-old groups. First-, second- and third-graders spend 75% more time than they used to on gaming, adding an average of three hours per week to their playing time.

"When kids get to the 6-to-8-year-old age range is when we see them turn into more serious gamers. Not only does the amount of time they spend playing games increase the most dramatically, but they migrate from using 'kid' systems to using more portable and console systems as well," NPD Group analyst Anita Frazier said in a news release.

I think that this is the first study I've come across that considers the shift from "kid systems" to regular gaming devices. Fascinating stuff, and I'm surprised it's not something we hear about more often. The article also provides details about kids gaming habits:
The study also found that one-third of children ages 2 to 17 spend more time playing video games than they did a year ago. Half of the kids were classified as light users, at five or fewer hours played per week, while the other half were medium, heavy or "super" users, playing six to 16 hours or more every week.

"At 58%, personal computers have the highest percentage of personal use for gaming among kids age 2 to 17," NPD Group Director David Riley said. "Not only is the PC the most accessible, but because of the dynamic nature of the internet, it tends to be less expensive for marketers than console and portable platforms."

So, it seems that part of what we're talking about here are online casual games, like Club Penguin perhaps, or even BarbieGirls. Bulik, and her interviewees at Ubisoft, are optimistic that this will translate into revenue for the traditional game industry as well, as companies move into the small child market with new casual games for kids. However, she also considers some of the impact this move might have on the commercialization of kids' culture: "While more kiddie playtime does represent opportunity for marketers and game publishers, the increasingly younger demographic and time spent on gaming raises some eyebrows -- and concerns."

She gives some space to Robert Weissman of Commercial Alert, who raises the issue of child obesity and its potential links to gaming -- focusing on in-game advertising! He states:
Advertisers and marketers have penetrated deep into the video-gaming world across all demographics. They're delivering sophisticated, tailored and repeated messages to children that their parents don't even know about," he said.

Bulik's reply is a surprisingly ill-informed defense of the in-game ad industry, claiming:
That may have been true for some marketers -- the most often accused are food, beverage and kids' entertainment brands -- but ad-serving companies that deliver in-game marketing, such as Double Fusion, for instance, are staying out of kids' views.

If there is one area of gaming where ads have run completely rampant it's kids' online and casual gaming. Just because this one marketer "stays away" from kids' games (and adds that they also refuse to in-game advertise tobacco and, hardly supports Bulik's implication that advergaming or in-game advertising to kids is limited in any significant way. The article ends with some lip service to how parents are the real gatekeepers, and that game producers should employ a double marketing strategy, one that targets kids, and another aimed at parents that "emphasize[s] the creative or educational aspects of the game". I wonder if these guys have read Sold Separately? Anyway, way to set up the one critical perspective of this issue as some sort of straw man argument to dismiss...why even bother including an opposing perspective if it's just to pretend that the concerns expressed are unfounded or irrelevant?

Read the complete article here.
Read the GameDaily BIZ coverage here.
Read the original NPD Group press release here.

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