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Are video games America's new pastime?

Are video games America's new pastime?

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Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

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SALT LAKE CITY -- The average gamer is no longer a 16-year-old mouth-breather playing Mario on his Super Nintendo. With games reaching out to casual and older gamers, gamers are playing lots of different games — not just platformers and shooting games. The way games make money is changing too; free-to-play and downloadable games are becoming a bigger piece of the gaming pie. A pie that, if you were to taste it, would probably be apple.

Almost half of Americans play video games, and they’re more likely to be a middle-aged woman than a teenage boy. Perhaps because of this shift in demographics, 39 percent of total gaming hours are spent on casual gaming websites and games on social networks. Those hours your co-worker spends on “Farmville”? It's gaming on a social network. Smartphones are becoming increasingly popular, and a third of gamers use smartphones or tablets to get their gaming hours in. Mobile devices are now more popular than MMOs as a “platform” for gaming.

Almost half of Americans play video games, and they're more likely to be a middle-aged woman than a teenage boy. -ESA

Console games are still a favorite of about half of gamers, even though it is the most expensive way to play. However, console game sales are down; there are plenty of games available to play for free. More game publishers are going with a free-to-play games model; "Team Fortress 2" is now free to play, and "World of Warcraft" recently became free to play until level 20. These game companies are still making money through advertising revenue and in-game items that cost real money.

The Internet is making it easier to buy games, especially since gamers can start downloading purchased games right away. Downloads for PC/Mac games have shot up 60 percent, which is unsurprising, considering the rise of multi-platform downloading through sites like Steam and Direct2Drive. Many publishers are coming to prefer selling though downloads, since if customers don’t have a physical copy of the game, they are unlikely to sell it used or to return it because of a defective CD. Games with a niche audience take up little “shelf space” in an online game store, making it easier for indie games to sell copies without having to deal with big-box stores. Some methods of downloadable distribution require each player to own a copy, which also helps increase sales.

The future of gaming sees social and mobile games that are bigger and better than current games, with multiplayer capabilities that extend beyond sending your friend in-game currency. Games will be cheaper and more convenient to buy through downloads, pushing down sales of used and physical copies of games. Newer consoles will have more hard drive space to make downloads easier but will have hardware that can do things that PCs can’t, like the 3Ds. The free-to-play models will continue in popularity, decreasing psychological barriers to begin playing time-intensive games.

Rachel Helps is an eternal English master's student with a passion for old books and video gaming and a bachelor's degree in psychology. See for more of her gaming articles.

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