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Nielsen Targets Video Game Habits

27 Apr, 2004 By: John Gaudiosi

Males ages 8 to 34 spend more time playing video games during prime time TV hours than they do watching TV, according to a new report by Nielsen Interactive Entertainment called “Video Game Habits: A Comprehensive Examination of Gamer Demographics and Behavior in U.S. Television Households.”

With the information from this report, which was commissioned by video game publisher Activision, Nielsen Entertainment is now stepping into the burgeoning video game space.

The company already tracks 17 different media types, and Michael Dowling, general manager of Nielsen Interactive Entertainment, hopes to institute proprietary technology that will allow the video game industry to track consumer's video game usage in great detail. Within a year, Dowling said, Nielsen will be able to provide video game companies and corporate America detailed accounts of the playing habits of gamers.

One of the focal points of the new report is the growing desire of advertisers to reach the elusive male demographic of ages 18 to 34. Male video game players in that age group watch even less TV than non-game playing males the same age. TV used to be the best approach, but video games have drastically altered the landscape over the past few years, and TV ratings have plummeted. The report found that males ages 8 to 17, even those who are active gamers, still watch as much TV as non-gamers.

The survey, which polled a representative national sample of 1,000 males ages 8 to 34 from Nielsen TV households, is the first step in a new initiative that will let game companies supply advertisers with audience measurement metrics to help them assess the effectiveness of in-game advertising.

The research found that 75 percent of television households with a male ages 8 to 34 owned at least one console video game system. Nearly as many males surveyed enjoy playing video games (29 percent) as watching TV (33 percent) during their free time. Male gamers spend an average of 9.8 hours watching TV compared to 12.5 hours playing games during the course of a week.

The average male gamer plays video games five times a week for at least 30 minutes per session. Nearly half of those surveyed (45 percent) played for 60 minutes per session and 19 percent played for 90 minutes. Gamers are very active, as 80 percent of those surveyed had played a video game in the last week.

A breakdown of the time of day spent gaming revealed that gamers' peak playing hours are between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. on week days (an average of 4.5 hours spent playing each week), but gaming is an all-day affair. Prime time gaming after 8 p.m. came in second with an average of 4.2 hours per week, and gaming before 4 p.m. ranked third with 3.8 hours per week. Over the course of a weekend (Saturday and Sunday), gamers played for an average of four hours over the two days.

Among the study's key findings were that 27 percent of the active male gamers surveyed noticed advertising in the last game they played and that more than 70 percent of “heavy” gamers like games to feature real products for added authenticity. Also key in the survey is that gamers of all ages are investing serious time into playing a particular game. Males ages 18 to 34 spent an average of 41.7 hours playing through the last game they purchased, compared to the 28.5 hours average that males ages 8 to 17 spent on their last game.

“Our research supports the idea of video game audience measurement,” Dowling said. “The study we conducted with Activision shows that not only are a solid proportion of gamers consciously aware of advertising in the games they play, but they also have positive perceptions of these advertisements in terms of recall, perceived realism of the games and beneficial impact in deciding which products to buy.”

“The video game industry is one of the fastest-growing entertainment businesses today, and video games will soon be as mainstream an advertising medium as television,” added Bobby Kotick, CEO of Activision. “Given the tremendous popularity of the medium, we wanted to take a leadership position in generating a standardized method to measure advertising metrics in video games. Additionally, the need for a metric to measure in-game advertising is particularly great, as we are beginning to see older male gamers 18 to 34 defect from TV.”

Dowling said that by establishing an independent third-party measuring service, there will be no more debating within the game industry or with advertising companies about a game's demographics or how much time an individual spends on a particular game. He said that although Activision funded the report, the door is opening for the entire video game industry to benefit from both this research and an ongoing Nielsen tracking service.

Dowling said the service could be up and running within a year, assuming that both the advertising community and video game publishers agree on this standard. The technology is already in place and is currently working in prototype boxes. Dowling said that games would be encoded going forward to allow for portable devices to track the habits of a new panel of gamers through Nielsen's National People Meter Service.

“In 2003, companies spent between $7 billion and $9 billion on TV advertising aimed at the 8- to 34-year-old male demographic, compared to $10 million spent on in-game advertising,” Dowling said. “If a game publisher wants to benefit from this huge growth opportunity, it will be best served if its games can be compared side-by-side to movies, TV and print.”

In addition to tracking the amount of time a gamer plays a game, the service will allow game publishers to see how far a gamer has played into a game, which could be beneficial from a development standpoint. And in-game advertising will be tracked accurately, especially given the non-linear nature of many games and the ability to explore a game's world through multiple paths.

Video game companies like Activision and Electronic Arts are leading the way with innovative in-game advertising campaigns. As the survey noted, gamers do not want to see ads before playing a game (35 percent voted against this), but they are in favor of product placement, with 35 percent of those surveyed buying the products that were featured in a game.

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