NPD: 'Heavy Gamers' heaviest spenders

New report from industry-standard research group dissects US gaming public into six subsets, finds smallest group buys most games.

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This just in: Hardcore gamers are hardcore spenders. That's the main takeaway from "Gamer Segmentation II," the latest report from the NPD Group. Earlier this year, the industry-research firm interviewed 11,638 gamers aged 6 to 44 and sifted through their responses. The result? A detailed demographic breakdown of how the estimated 191 million gamers in the US buy and play their games.

In the report, NPD divided gamers into six different segments. Some 33 percent of US gamers are "Avid PC Gamers," who play an average 13.6 hours per week primarily on a PC or Macintosh. NPD found that members of the group were relatively thrifty, buying an average of 1.4 titles per quarter.

The next-largest group is "Secondary Gamers" with 22 percent of the US gaming population. They play just 6.5 hours a week, mainly on a PC or Mac, with only a third owning the nation's most popular console, the PlayStation 2. Secondary Gamers buy an average of only 0.8 games each quarter, the smallest number of any group.

The biggest group of non-PC gamers is "Avid Console Gamers," who make up 20 percent of the US gaming population. They play around 10.7 hours per week on at least one console, owning an average of 1.6 consoles and 0.8 portables.

Avid Console Gamers buy an average of 1.9 games per quarter, just below the two games bought each quarter by the next-largest group, "Mass Market Gamers." Mass Market Gamers comprise just 15 percent of the US gaming public, and play an average of 8.9 hours each week, mainly on the PS2 and PC. Oddly, the section boasts a higher average console ownership, 1.8 consoles, than Avid Console Gamers.

The next-largest group is "Causal Kid Gamers." As the name implies, this is the youngest group, composed almost entirely of children ages 6-12. They own an average of one console and 0.5 portables, primarily the PS2 and Game Boy Advance. Likely due to parental oversight, this group games the least--just 3.6 hours per week--and ties Secondary Gamers' average of 0.8 game purchases per quarter.

Last but not least, the smallest section is the most hardcore of all. Although they make up just 2 percent of the gaming public, "Heavy Gamers" own an average of 2.8 consoles and 1.9 portables. They play a whopping 39.3 hours a week, mainly on the Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii, and buy a budget-busting average of 13.1 games every quarter--or roughly 4.5 games each month.

Though small--numbering around 3.8 million--this last group's spending habits make it coveted by publishers and console makers alike. "Heavy gamers have always been a focal segment for the games industry because they're so deeply invested in gaming," said NPD analyst Anita Frazier. "The potential for industry growth lies with the other, larger groups, and getting them increasingly involved in gaming over time."

Besides buying in bulk, Heavy Gamers are also the most likely to buy games via digital download. However, they are trumped by Avid PC Gamers, who have the highest number of individuals who have purchased over half their games via online delivery. Three of every five Heavy Gamers buy game content via microtransactions like those on the PlayStation Store, Wii Virtual Console, or Xbox Live Marketplace.

Heavy Gamers are also the most likely to play games online, with 83 percent of the group taking on opponents over the Internet. No doubt boosted by the popularity of massively multiplayer online role-playing games, 74 percent of Avid PC Gamers play over the Web.

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