In March, the NPD Group reported that massively multiplayer online game sales outstripped their non-genre competitors in 2008. Now a new report suggests that growth of online gaming is by no means limited to the massively multiplayer segment.
As of May 2009, 87.1 million people were gaming online in the US, a 22 percent increase over the previous year, according to a study done by comScore in May 2009. Analysts found that although the number of Internet users remained mostly stagnant--up just 2 percent over last year--Web users are flocking to online games.
The industry-tracking group attributed the growth to "the reality of economic challenges" as gamers with thinning wallets turn to cheap and free online games. According to the report, browser-based game portals drew in the most online gamers, with Yahoo! Games attracting 19.4 million unique visitors. EA Online was second at 18 million, and Nickelodeon Casual Games at third with 14.8 million.
The study found that stand-alone online game applications weren't as popular as many of these browser-based portals, with MMOG giant World of Warcraft lagging as the 21st most popular online locale with 2.2 million US-based visitors. The nearest single-game competitor to WOW was Java-based RuneScape at 155th, with 202,000 players.
Some online titles saw significant changes in player population in May over the previous year. NCsoft's 2004 comic-themed MMO role-playing game City of Heroes rose by 49 percent, Korea's third-person shooter GunZ plummeted by 41 percent, and the fantasy MMORPG RuneScape climbed by 43 percent. World of Warcraft saw a modest gain from 2008, increasing by 10 percent.
This year's data is only part of a growing trend favoring online gaming, according to comScore director Edward Hunter. "Online gaming continues to be one of the top gaining categories over the past year, growing at 10 times the rate of the total US Internet population and reaching nearly one out of every two Internet users," he said.
Although more gamers may be playing online, they may not be clocking in more hours than they have before. On June 29, the NPD Group reported the amount of time gamers spend playing online has remained the same relative to last year. On average, 38 percent of a gamer's playtime was spent playing online, it stated.