May 19, 2005 11:31 AM PDT
Can games grow beyond the hard-core set?
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need to do more to help game developers and publishers, he said.
"They have given us the technology but not the market," Gibeau said. "They must put those boxes in the hands of women and older adults."
But he acknowledged that penetrating those underserved markets won't happen overnight.
North American for
Vivendi Universal Games
"If you look at boys and girls today, many of them are avid gamers," Gibeau said. "And our research has shown that people do not let go once it is in their blood."
Still, the number of U.S. households with game consoles has remained stagnant--in the 40- to 45-percent range for the last few years, according to research company IDC.
From a financial standpoint, market growth matters now more than ever.
With the new consoles, game development costs will significantly increase, analysts, developers and console makers believe. To alleviate that burden, the industry needs to increase the size of its audience and services around the game consoles.
Online multiplayer games, such as "EverQuest," are another segment many have been waiting to see take off. These games require players to pay a monthly subscription fee, as well as buy the game itself, potentially extending the profit-making life of a title substantially.
Nick Yee, a doctoral student at Stanford University, has spent more than three years studying demographic and behavioral trends in "EverQuest" and other massively multiplayer online games.
Over the past three years, he's seen little fluctuation: The female population of massively multiplayer online games has stayed steadily between about 12 percent and 16 percent of total players, he said. Average age has consistently been about 26 or 27 years old. Players have averaged between 20 and 23 hours of playing a week.
"On the gender ratio, science-fiction-themed games have fewer women than medieval-themed games, which do a little better," Yee said.
Leveraging other popular entertainment markets represents another strategy for pushing games into the mainstream. Historically, movie studios in particular have invested in and worked with game developers. More recently, there has been even more of a concerted effort to work together and share in the revenue.
"We expect there to be an explosion in the continued convergence of music, movies and games," said Philip O'Neil, Vivendi Universal's chief operating officer and president for North America.
The company will also use recording artists, such as 50 Cent, to drive game sales.
Despite these challenges, the market remains on a roll.
"Twenty-eight billion in global revenue isn't too shabby for a 30-year-old industry," Lowenstein said, "and the outlook for continued growth is extremely rosy."
John Borland reported from San Francisco and Richard Shim reported from Los Angeles.
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