Study: Teens' interest in gaming on the decline

Analysts' survey of 700 students around the country yields interesting results about kids' gaming habits.

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There's been a lot of evidence recently of game companies pushing to expand the market beyond the traditional gamer. Games-on-demand services are sprouting up left and right with a casual crowd in mind. Nintendo's Revolution controller was built specifically to appeal to a nongaming audience. Sony's PSP is being positioned in the market as a multifunctional lifestyle device as much as a gaming machine. But for all the attention companies are paying to the demographics they haven't yet conquered, they might be losing their grip on the core market.

A semiannual survey of US teens by Piper Jaffray research analysts Anthony Gikas and Stephanie Wissink found that 75 percent of responding teens in this year's fall survey said their interest in gaming was declining, significantly higher than the 66 percent who responded that way in the spring survey, and the 64 percent from the fall 2004 survey. Almost 78 percent of the teens said they spent less time playing games this year than last, most commonly citing a lack of time as the main culprit.

Other findings tilted in the other direction, as the study found that 79 percent of the respondents had a game console of some kind in their homes, and 59 percent had multiple systems. A little less than 58 percent of the students were at least occasional game players (once a month). The study also reported that a surprising 71 percent of households had a handheld system. (However, a closer look at the numbers casts doubt on that figure. The first question of the survey asked the students which systems their families owned, presenting a list of consoles and handhelds with direction to check all that apply. The results came back with 42.5 percent owning Game Boy systems, 10.9 percent having a Nintendo DS, and 17.7 percent a PSP. Added together and rounded off, those numbers yield the 71 percent figure given in the report. However, that figure would only be accurate if there was virtually no overlap between households with a Game Boy, a DS, or a PSP.)

As for buying habits, the teens' limited-income lifestyles led them to used game retailers (53 percent of gamers bought used, and 60 percent of those went to the merging GameStop and Electronics Boutique). The GameStop-EB combo was strong for all sales, netting 29 percent of gamers' purchases, with Best Buy following closely behind at 28 percent. The Best Buy number shows marked improvement over past surveys, where the retailer only accounted for about 6 percent of teens' purchases in both spring 2005 and fall 2004.

Finally, the survey tested the teens' brand recognition and found that to some extent, content is still king. Almost 75 percent of responding students recognized the Electronic Arts brand, but EA's fellow publishers didn't fare so well. Only Atari and Midway broke the 50-percent recognition mark, with publishing heavyweights Ubisoft and THQ only familiar to about a third of the teens. Activision, the second-biggest third-party publisher in the world, was known to 43 percent of the teens. And while 54 percent knew of Grand Theft Auto developer and publisher Rockstar Studios, only 16 percent had heard of its parent company, Take-Two Interactive.

The survey included nearly 700 students (49 percent female, 51 percent male, average age of 16.7 years) in nine schools from around the country, 470 of which completed the video game portion of the survey. The analysts estimate that 70 percent of the kids responding to the video game portion were male.

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