Player Profile

The face of Australian video gaming in 2009.

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The profiles and behaviours of Australian gamers are seemingly ever-changing. The Interactive Australia 2009 (IA9) study provides insight into our country's current gaming habits, player behaviours and choices, as well as analysing how gamers compare with non-gamers. GameSpot AU has hand-picked the statistical highlights from the IA9 report, released today, and asked one of the report's authors, Dr Jeffrey Brand from Bond University, to share his thoughts about Aussie gamers. For more information, check out our news story on the report here.

IA9 is based on a national random survey of 1614 households. Adults responded to more than 75 questions in a 20-minute online survey. The survey was fielded by Nielsen Research in July 2008. Of the 4852 individuals studied, 3162 (68 per cent) were identified as gamers.

GameSpot AU: Gamers in Australia no longer prefer to play their games on a personal computer, despite 90 per cent of the households surveyed owning a PC. Consoles are now the preferred gaming platform, with 43 per cent of the households surveyed playing their games on an installed console, compared to 30 per cent on PCs and 18 per cent on handheld devices. PlayStation 2 consoles were installed in 33 per cent of homes, followed by the Nintendo DS Lite (18 per cent of homes) and the Nintendo 64, Dreamcast and PlayStation 1 (17 per cent of homes). Why are consoles becoming so strong?

Dr Jeffrey Brand: There are many explanations for the rise of consoles. One of these is the fact that the number and competition between consoles has delivered a wide range of features, lower relative costs, and more competing titles. Another reason is the simplicity of using consoles compared with using PCs. Yet another reason is the diversity of the gaming population; the audience for games is more diverse and much larger than it was a decade ago. Although almost everyone who plays games has a PC and has probably played games on a PC, consoles are simply more accessible.

GS AU: Computer and video games have become part of a normal media mix in households around Australia. However, the IA9 study found that out of all households surveyed--gaming and non-gaming--computer and video games were second last in a list of favourite media preferences, behind using the internet, watching TV and DVDs, reading books and newspapers, listening to music and the radio, going to the movies and reading a magazine.

JB: The patterns of media habits demonstrate that whilst computer and video games feature in nearly all homes across Australia, they are not yet installed in the same proportions as traditional media like television, radio and recorded music. In homes where games are installed, the level of engagement they require means they are not the 'default' choice for people who want to switch on and get a quick media fix.

When you take out the preferences of non-gamers, games move up the list of preferred media. In Australia, only among gamers, games rank fifth among the 11 choices we provided in the survey. In households with multiple gamers, games rank third.

GS AU: All gamers and non-gamers surveyed in the IA9 report were asked about preferred leisure activities. The most popular preferences were dining with family and friends, playing with children and pets, going shopping, visiting cafes and pubs, and gardening. Playing sports and enjoying outdoor activities like fishing, camping and surfing were equally popular amongst gamers and non-gamers. What does this say about the similarities between gamers and non-gamers in this country?

JB: Gamers are pretty much like non-gamers in their non-media habits. Gamers are normal and shouldn't be seen outside the context of the rest of their lives. One stereotype about gamers is that all they do is play games. That's ridiculous. It's like saying readers only read books, TV viewers only watch TV. What we are able to show through this study is that games are part of our complex and rich culture.

GS AU: The average age of gamers in Australia has moved up to 30 years, up from 28 years in 2007, and 24 years in 2005. The IA9 report predicts that the degree of change will slow as the average age of gamers approaches the average age of non-gamers who are 40 years of age. Just three years ago, the gap between gamers and non-gamers was over 20 years, an entire generation. Today, the difference between the two has narrowed to within a generation.

JB: Older Australians are playing computer and video games and the implication is that games are becoming more diverse and meeting more entertainment needs. The average age of Australians today is 36 years. Once the playing of video games is something that is common across all ages, the average age of gamers will be the same as the average age of non-gamers and, therefore, the average age of all people in this country. The gap is closing.

Increasingly older Australians are picking up controllers and playing video games.
Increasingly older Australians are picking up controllers and playing video games.

GS AU: Of all the gamers that participated in the IA9 survey, 46 per cent were female. Female gamer representation has increased from 41 per cent in 2007 and 38 per cent in 2005, numbers that are consistent with research conducted in Europe and North America. According to the report, the rate of equalisation has increased. At the present rate of change, is it likely that Australian gamers will be equally male and female by 2010?

JB: This statistic has increased because there are now more titles of interest to female gamers, from family titles to life simulators. When any innovation spreads through a population, it is often taken up first by one part of the population and then spreads to others. Games have the reputation of being the domain of teenage boys. It was a poor and uninformed view in the 1980s and it certainly is a poor view today with 46 per cent of all gamers in Australia being female.

GS AU: The IA9 report shows that when it comes to education, income and employment, both gamers and non-gamers have similar profiles. Roughly half of those surveyed are in full-time work and roughly two in 10 in are in part-time work. However, gamers are more likely to be employed and more engaged in study. Overall, higher levels of employment and educational involvement translate into modestly higher annual household incomes among those who play computer and video games compared with those who do not.

JB: My argument is that games are a normal part of Australian homes. They are not part of special or 'different' homes. If my argument is true, then demographic indicators like education, income and employment should show that game and non-game homes are similar. So this is really just another way of presenting the evidence.

GS AU: The average Australian adult has been playing computer and video games for 11 years. Those between the ages of 26 and 35 are the longest-term players, having played from childhood. When it comes to reasons for playing video games, the top two reasons given by people were having fun (27 per cent) and relaxing (26 per cent). Passing time and being challenged were also popular explanations for playing. What does that say about Aussie gamers?

JB: Games are played publicly, socially and privately. The public and open nature of gaming is partly due to handheld computers and consoles. However, I do think the concept of adults playing games on handheld consoles is a relatively new phenomenon. It's caused by the increased range and sophistication of titles for portable gaming and a growing sense in the community that if you're adult and you play computer games, you're normal. Public transport is probably the most iconic of the phenomenon today. Ten years ago, few people had portable computers and handheld consoles were limited.

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GS AU: The IA9 report showed that more gamers are incorporating play into their daily routines. Half of all gamers said they play either daily or every other day. Another 25 per cent play at least once a week and less than 20 per cent play less frequently. Most gamers--35 per cent--said they play for one hour at a time, 25 per cent said they play for half an hour, and 23 per cent play for two hours. Only 5 per cent of gamers play for four or more hours at a time, a statistic that flies in the face of considerable news attention given to 'addicted' gamers. What do those play times say to people who think games are addictive?

JB: Critics of games often cite the problem of addiction for afflicting gamers. Who among gamers would say that we don't want to keep playing once we start? This is true of most leisure activities. But the argument that games are addictive doesn't wash when you look at how Australians use them. An hour a day is normal and those who play for four or more hours in a go make up just five per cent of all gamers, and even these gamers don't play every day.

Most gamers said they played for one hour or less at a time.
Most gamers said they played for one hour or less at a time.

GS AU: As many as 48 per cent of gamers play online, although 12 per cent said they play online 'often'.

JB: Playing online with others is growing, but slowly. Compared with other countries, Australia lags. Presumably this is because our broadband infrastructure is limited and pricing is high, although we didn't ask if this is the view of gamers.

GS AU: In terms of overall patterns of activity preferences, non-gamers are more interested in gardening and exercise, but gamers are more likely to enjoy playing with children, playing sport and attending sporting events. Both gamers and non-gamers listed using the internet as a top activity, yet gamers were more engaged in 'Web 2.0' functions such as social networking, pulling down rich media, downloading content and self-publishing.

JB: My take on the non-media leisure preferences of gamers compared with non-gamers is that gamers like doing and competing. Yes, this may be creative, but it may also be reactive and competitive. We found the same results in 2007 that gamers are more likely than non-gamers to play sport. Then again, when you look at all the activities we asked about, the general trend for the number of people saying they enjoyed those things trended similarly for gamers and non-gamers. I do think gamers both use and enjoy participating online and tend to be more expressive in Web 2.0 media. It comes with the territory. Games represent cutting edge media experiences and link in to other interactive social technologies.

GS AU: According to the IA9 report, female gamers are having a marked impact on the games industry by the choices they are making when they play. Genres such as Family games, that only a year ago represented less than five per cent of total game sales, are now dominating the sales charts. Women made up two thirds of players for the family game genre, and 69 per cent for the puzzle game genre. By comparison, male gamers dominated the first-person shooters, making up 76 per cent of the total audience for the genre.

JB: This is the old nature versus nurture question. It's remarkable to see males and females share many game preferences and then differentiate based on traditional gender stereotypes. There is little question that males like games that require rapid physical response and females prefer 'walled gardens' for creation and exploration. Genre preferences by gender seem to be driven by both traits and social environment. Happily, many genres appeal to both males and females.

GS AU: The IA9 report found that 70 per cent of parents said they were gamers themselves; of this number, 69 per cent of fathers and 67 per cent of mothers stated that their number one reason for playing video games was as a way to spend time with their children. By being gamers themselves, parents said they felt more engaged with their children's gaming behaviours.

JB: Playing video games with children sets up examples, rules and understanding. Laughing and playing together is an important part of forming bonds--there's no question about it. Being a parent is hard, and this extends to the use of video and computer games. Time to eat dinner, time to do homework, and other routines sometimes get met with resistance when kids are playing computer games. But if parents actively participate in game play with their kids, and model the right behaviour such as saving and quitting when the time comes, it's all good.

Around 70 per cent of parents said they played games in order to spend time with their children.
Around 70 per cent of parents said they played games in order to spend time with their children.

GS AU: Of the parents who expressed a positive or negative position about games, between 90 and 96 per cent said games were useful for learning about technology, mathematics, planning science and for developing general intelligence. Between 80 and 85 per cent said games were useful for learning a language, lessons in life, about work and for contributing to general happiness. For connecting with family and friends, 71 per cent of parents said games were useful. However, many parents did not have an opinion, and decided to remain neutral on these questions. Those without a view were more likely to be non-gaming parents than gaming parents.

JB: We have a deeply embedded culture that separates work from play. Playing video games is seen as separate from learning and working. But we know that just as a business person may play a round of golf with a client to facilitate business, a gamer can play games to facilitate learning. As parents see their children learn how to read better from reading on-screen text, plan better from playing an RTS or know more about a period in human history by playing an historically-based action title, the more they will see that incidental and direct learning can take place. But we shouldn't dismiss the importance of play for its own sake. Much has been written about the role of leisure and play in healthy lifestyles and surely playing computer games fits in.

GS AU: The IA9 report showed that 91 per cent of Australian adults in the study--whether gamers themselves or non-gamers--think that Australia should have an R18+ classification for video games. However, the study also showed that nearly two thirds of all Australian adults are unaware that the Australian classification system has no R18+ for games. Why is there such a knowledge gap?

JB: I think part of the problem is 'out-of-sight, out-of-mind'. Many people simply assume that because there is an R18+ for other media that the same is true for games. If classification exists to inform choices, it should be honest about the full range of options a medium offers. Not having an R18+ for games in Australia fails consumers on that level. The only way to reverse lack of knowledge about classification is to make it relevant and useful. Providing for the full range of material games have to offer by creating an R18+ will not only make the classification scheme more relevant, it will heighten awareness among Australians that some games contain very confronting material not suitable for every gamer.

GS AU: The IA9 is not the first of such reports to give information on piracy. The study found that the average number of computer game titles in Australian gamer households is 26. Of these 26 titles, an average of one (4 per cent) had been pirated or was an illegal copy. However, the report concludes that overseas data and internet traffic data put this number closer to 10 per cent. On this basis, a conservative estimate of game piracy in Australia is that two in 26 of the games in Australian homes are pirated. However, 83 per cent of participants in game households said they had no pirated copies in their library. Most gamers--51 per cent--said they accessed pirated copies from people they know, with 26 per cent coming from online. Of the Australians in the 17 per cent of households with illegal games, 54 per cent rationalise their illegal copies by citing high prices charged for new games, and one fifth cited delayed release dates.

JB: We reported on piracy in past reports but the problem with studying illegal behaviour is getting participants to be honest. I don't have a lot of faith in this sort of measure. We found low levels that appear to be much lower than those reported using other methodologies. Having said this, I think gamers are sensitive to the issue and recognise the importance of supporting the industry.

The average Australian gamer owns at least two pirated games.
The average Australian gamer owns at least two pirated games.

GS AU: Despite continued growth in online sales for many consumer goods, 70 per cent of people in the IA9 study said they purchased games mainly from local retailers. Only 19 per cent said they download games through online vendors, and six per cent said they import from overseas stores.

JB: Remarkably, there is something warm about having boxes of games on your shelf. I am certain that games distribution is expensive and resource-heavy. But consumers still like tangible goods. Yet there will come a day when the dominant distribution channel for games will be online. I guess we'll need better broadband for that to happen though.

GS AU: The IA9 report found that games played on PCs account for 18 per cent of game software unit sales, with more than three million units sold in Australia in the 2007-08 financial year. Of these, strategy games dominate the category, with first-person shooters ranking second among PC titles. Online subscription games such as MMORPGs have grown in popularity and round out the top five PC genres.

On consoles, 82 per cent of all game software unit sales in Australia were attributed to family games, which accounted for 22 per cent of all unit sales in 2007-08, compared with only 5 per cent a year earlier. Action, racing and adventure games remained among the top five genres purchased by Australian gamers, at 20, 13 and 11 per cent of sales respectively.

JB: I link strategy games with PCs naturally because they can be played on a wide range of hardware configurations without the issues that more graphically intense games face. As for casual gaming--something we didn't cover in this study--and family and party games, I think there is a larger issue in play. As gaming is now more mainstream and there are more products in a wider array of delivery options and platforms, the space is open for finer gradations of gaming. There's something for everyone, available anywhere and at any time. There has never been a time when games were more a part of our culture.

GS AU: Dr Brand, thanks for your time.

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