October 26, 2007
Think your kids spend too much time playing video games? You could be right.

From toddlers to tweens to teens, more than one-third of kids in the United States are spending more time playing video games today than they did a year ago. And according to a report from The NPD Group, this trend is particularly pronounced for online game play.

According to the report, PCs dominate as the top system used for gaming by kids of all age groups. They also dominate in terms of number or years used for gaming, with the average child starting to use a PC for gaming at age 6 and continuing on through age 17, which is longer than any other gaming system measured.

The study, which analyzes the dynamics of kids ages 2 to 17 in the video gaming space, sheds light on system ownership and use, distribution of time, genres, sources of information for finding out about new games, purchase dynamics, parental involvement, and more.

The gaming lifecycle starts with kid-oriented systems, moves into PCs for gaming, and continues with Plug & Play and the more established gaming systems. Then, at about age 10, cell phone gaming begins, and the gaming lifecycle culminates with Nintendo DS and PlayStation Portable, and the three next-generation console systems (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii)

Among all kid gamers, approximately half are light users (5 hours per week or less) and the other half are medium, heavy or super users (6 to 16 or more hours per week) -- the implication being that light use and casual content should not be linked exclusively to a younger user base.

Boys are more inclined to play video game systems, especially consoles, while girls are more inclined to play games on PCs, cell phones and kid-oriented systems. Despite girls starting strong on kid systems, however, they eventually fall off the gaming wagon.

When kids get to the 6 to 8 year-old age range is when we see them turn into more serious gamers, said Anita Frazier, industry analyst, The NPD Group. 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. This appears to be a critical age at which to capture the future gamers of the world.

Although males and older kids are more likely to spend more time per week on gaming, the most significant jump occurs from ages 2 to 5 to ages 6 to 8. At this time, kids become more serious about gaming, reflected by spending 3 more hours a week, or 75 percent more time than they used to. Time spent on gaming plateaus at ages 12 to 17 at about 10 hours per week.

Among kids ages 2 to 17 who play games online, an average of 39 percent of time is spent playing games online as opposed to offline. The average time spent gaming online is statistically higher among females, kids ages 15 to 17 and super users (those who spend 16 hrs/wk or more on gaming).

However, it seems there is a disconnect between girls, older users and super users. Although these three groups are all in the same category of spending a higher percent of their gaming time on online, somewhere along the way girls, especially older girls, drop off.

At 91 percent, the vast majority of online gaming among kids ages 2 to 17 is free. Boys and kids in higher income households are more likely to fall into the minority group (9 percent) that pays to play. In addition, the older the child, and the more time that child spends on gaming per week, the more likely that child is to pay for games.