Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Gamesspacer
View All     RSS
October 31, 2014
arrowPress Releases
October 31, 2014
PR Newswire
View All

If you enjoy reading this site, you might also want to check out these UBM Tech sites:

Nielsen: U.S. Gamer Budgets Shifting To Leisure Activities, Mobile
Nielsen: U.S. Gamer Budgets Shifting To Leisure Activities, Mobile
February 18, 2011 | By Kris Graft

February 18, 2011 | By Kris Graft
More: Console/PC

Research firm Nielsen said U.S. video game buyers are spending a smaller amount of their budget on video games, and putting more money towards cell phone entertainment and leisure activities.

U.S. retail game sales were down slightly in 2010, the firm said, and among video game buyers, gaming's share of entertainment spend per household dropped slightly to 8.5 percent in 2010 from 9.3 percent in 2009.

Meanwhile, entertainment budget share among game buyers for leisure activities like dining out, shopping and going to a park rose to 25.1 percent in 2010, up from 20.4 percent in 2009.

"These decreases [in game spend and other categories] took place even as household leisure budgets increased by 9 percent from 2009 among video game buying homes," said Nielsen via its official blog.

The firm pointed out that while entertainment budget share of video games decreased slightly, the actual amount of money spent on video games was nearly the same year-on-year.

Aside from video games, other activities that saw budget share declines among U.S. video game buyers included seeing movies at a theater, buying or renting feature films on disc-based video, buying subscription/premium TV packages, buying music and buying print media.

Nielsen noted that while video game budget share slid and cell phone entertainment share rose, some gamer dollars could simply be moving from non-mobile video games to mobile video games.

"The same logic may apply to the other categories that experienced slight declines in share. The screen is shifting but the content may be the same," said Nielsen.

The firm said video game buyer households made up 26 percent of U.S. homes in 2010, up slightly from 24 percent in 2009. Nielsen categorizes a video game buyer household as one that spends $1 or more per month on gaming.


Chart via Nielsen

Related Jobs

The Workshop
The Workshop — Marina del Rey, California, United States

Activision Publishing
Activision Publishing — Santa Monica, California, United States

Tools Programmer-Central Team
Vicarious Visions / Activision
Vicarious Visions / Activision — Albany, New York, United States

VFX Artist-Vicarious Visions
Magic Leap, Inc.
Magic Leap, Inc. — Wellington, New Zealand

Level Designer


Erik Hieb
profile image
I don't buy it either. I think people use the term Gamer way too easily now and anyone with a cell phone that has Bejeweled on it is getting labeled as a gamer these days and that a lot of people are getting counted that probably shouldn't be. That's the equivalent of saying someone who goes out and plays catch with their kid is a Baseball player or someone who can cook their own food is a Chef. Some of them might be baseball players and chefs, but I certainly know I'm not a chef or a baseball player just because I can feed myself and my dad played catch with me as a kid.

I am, however, a gamer. And I don't believe that buying casual games on your cell phone counts as being a gamer. They're just people who happen to be playing a few games on their phone.

Ben Pitseleh
profile image
I agree completely, except for one caveat. The video game market is changing, and casual games are growing exponentially right now. I am not arguing that casual gamers are taking over the industry or that casual games will replace traditional games, but I am saying that there will continue to be more and more casual games (until it hits it's plateau) and therefore there will be more people playing them (both gamers and casual consumers) which means a decent amount of revenue due to them. It is part of the industry now, substantially so, that it needs to be addressed and included.

So my point is that I agree that the statistic is probably skewed due to the definition of a gamer, but the gaming world's perspective is also skewed if it says that casual games are of lesser importance. Sure this statistic is representative of some portion of the industry, it just isn't clear at this time how much that is. That is what I want to know.

E Zachary Knight
profile image
I am going to have to disagree with you. Mostly because your argument against casual gamers as being gamers is pretty ignorant.

Yes, everyone who plays catch plays baseball. They play according to a standard set of rules found in the game of baseball. Some people play at different levels of the game, but they are all still playing baseball to a degree. So you have your Major Leagues, Minor Leagues, college Baseball, High school, Junior High, Elementary, T-ball, Backyard and Catch. Everyone who plays in any of those capacities is a baseball player.

Same goes for cooks and chefs.

Same goes for gamers. Just because someone does not play video games for 3+ hours a day does not make them any less of a gamer than those who do. If someone decides to play a bit of Bejewelled on their Cell phone during a commute rather than check their email, yes they are a gamer because they chose to play a game rather than doing something else with that time. If that is the only time they play said game, they are still a gamer.

DanielThomas MacInnes
profile image
The phrase "leisure activities" is vague enough to cover many things, whether it's going out to dinner or running around the nearby lakes. I would have to guess the economy is the major culprit here. The housing crisis, budget woes, high unemployment, and a seeming political paralysis (if the politicians aren't sitting on their hands, they're trying to burn everything to the ground) - all of these factors would have a notable effect on discretionary spending. So it's not just a video games issue, as sales of CDs, DVDs, TV and movies are down across the board.

The smart phones are rising, and this could be interesting. We're getting to the point where everyone has a smart phone that goes online, plays videos & music, and plays pretty sophisticated video games. I remember what cellphone games looked like back in 2004, when the Nintendo DS launched. Nintendo's handheld was a quantum leap over the tech on the phones. Today? That gap is just about erased.

I could see a scenario where video games on smart phones & tablets reach a tipping point, and become serious competition for the dedicated consoles and portables. I think it's going to be far more difficult for Nintendo and Sony to convince buyers to invest in a 3DS and PSP2. There's only so much room in your pockets, and if the iPhone and Android can keep us just as entertained....well, wouldn't that be interesting? And have I mentioned the lousy economy?

As always, everything comes down to the games. Whoever can come up with great new video games will win this next battle. It seems as though we're entering a transitional period, with 3DS and PSP2 on one hand, and the next generation of Android, iPhone and iPad on the other. I'm just waiting for something new and cool to come along. Minecraft and the Just Dance games were great....what's next?

Right now, my go-to games consoles are the Saturn and Genesis. I've been having a blast playing Street Fighter Alpha 2 and Daytona USA and the EA Sports classics from way back. Maybe it's just age and nostalgia, so as always, your mileage may vary.

Sylvester O'Connor
profile image
Extremely well thought out answer. You pretty much put everything into words that I couldn't and wanted to say. I agree with you so much. And also, as you said, with the economy, why should someone go buy a PSP2/3DS, when I can still play great games on my Iphone/pad/smartphone that I already own. I think the portable market is becoming really stiff among these companies.

In regards to rivaling home consoles, I think that at some point, people will be spending much more on portables than home consoles. Not for nothing, but according to the numbers, the enjoyment and complexity with some PS3/360/WII/PC games will always be at there. But the fact that people are on the go today working multiple jobs means that there is more time spent on the road than at home. Even worse, the amount of Triple-A games that are coming out is becoming multiplied. There was a time that you expected at least 5 AAA games for the year. Last year alone you had over 7 that spanned each platform. This year will be no different as it will increase to 8 or 9 with the inclusion of the Uncharteds and Elder Scrolls.

People just don't have enough money and time to buy and play everything. Thus another domino effect of why Used games are rising in popularity each year. Last year alone, about 38% of people's cash was spent on used games. Gamestop is starting to become more competitive as well in dropping their prices faster to compete with online sellers like Amazon and Ebay. They also just recently started allowing people to purchase their games at a cheaper price online, then you can go to an actual Gamestop store and pick up and pay there with the online price. So for every action there is a reaction.

And in regards to gamers, this report doesn't differentiate hardcore or casual. All they look at is the numbers and see that games are selling on portables and smartphones more than on home consoles. It should be interesting to see how sales go with some of the blockbusters that are going to be coming out this year.

Tim Tavernier
profile image
I agree with the part that the "leisure" part is a bit vague in this survey.

But I would not over-estimate the gaming prowess of smart phones and tablets. These devices are far more akin to PC's then consoles, and the PC never managed to dethornes dedicated gaming equipment. Other survey data has already shown that these smart phones and tablets are the most used for doing 1 general thing, the largest majority of people don't do more then 3 general things on them. Videogames are at spot number 4 of those general activities. So, as with the PC, a certain percentage of these smart phones and tablets will be used for gaming, but this will probably be (dynamically fixed) around 20%.

The growth of the apps-games isn't because these games reach new audiences, the growth happens because the smartphone/tablet market grows, sucking in people who already used their PC/laptop for gaming but are now ditching that and replacing it with a smartphone/tablet. Some apps-games are exceptions ofcourse, like the Sims and WoW are exceptions for the PC, but general...don't go overblowing it. This suction-growth offcourse does and already has opened the door for the forming of new teams and companies, but they should not over-do it as well. I already recommended that they should build up financial reserves from their success and look out for other opportunities.

@Sylvester, the amount of AAA-games has actually declined sales-wise if you leave out the Wii. Fewer AAA-games (budget wise) actually become social phenomenons compared to later generations. The amount of AAA-games, budget-wise, has increased but this can be seen as a bad sign. It shows the industry is actually consolidating and betting on one kind of product and market (much like Hollywood does). This also proven if you just compare the amount of games a bit well-known third party released on the PS2 last-gen and the amount of games released this gen, you will see significant drops in quantitiy (except Nintendo for some reason, Nintendo has released/published more games for the Wii by now then on the GameCube).

The lower conversion rate of AAA-games becoming social phenomenons shows another weakness in the traditional industry: a lack of quality. But then quality defined by the general market... not the vocal Internet minority. Used games are rising because of the drop in quality. People keep games they like, but with the lower quality this generation, people discard their copies faster.

Andrew Swain
profile image
If I'm anything like regular people, they may also be in a gaming slump.

Lately, there has been nothing to peak my interest. Everything is sequels or "this game + this."

There is nothing to play right now, and the only games I am looking forward to are

Deus Ex, Diablo 3 and Skyrim, and those are just because of how much I loved the previous

titles and want a new experience with them.

I'm not even looking forward to Portal 2.

In fact, recently I realized that I used to rent a game every week and have not rented anything in probably a year. I went to Rogers and realized just how abysmal the variety is compared to yesteryear. Back in the days of NES, SNES or N64, there were always 5+ games I had to decide between. Now, I just walk out empty handed.

Everyone seems to be saying smartphones this and iPad that, everyone wants portable games now. I don't think this is the case. People are just experimenting with portable games now because it's different, it's cheap, it's new. Gaming on those devices is really not a pleasant experience, but people are willing to put up with it and support it. Why is that? How many people came up to you in the past while and said "Try out this Angry Birds/Cut the Rope/Words with Friends/Flight Control/PvZ/Peggle/Fruit Ninja?" How many people have said that about any console game, besides the exact same people bugging you to play Blops? Shouldn't that say something? Mainstream games just need to stop sucking. If you don't get out of your slump before your audience does, I don't think they will be waiting around for you.

Carlo Delallana
profile image
Can't speak for folks in the study but as I climb the age ladder i'm starting to look at living a fuller life. That means taking my discretionary budget and spreading it more evenly. I'd say 15 years ago about half my extra cash went to games.

David Fisk
profile image
I haven't touched any of my consoles in months. I have just lost interest. It seems that at least 75% of the games I buy turn out to be major dissapointments. I'm tired of shooters. RPG's are the same thing over and over, and the action adventure games never seem to get it right. I think many other people feel the same way as me, and I have better things to spend $60 on than a new game these days. Even used prices are high. I used to use gamefly, but it was the same thing. Crap game after crap game. Maybe I'm jaded because I've worked in the industry, and I know that quality games can be made, it's just piss poor management that keeps them from being made.

Michael Kolb
profile image
Bioshock 2, Uncharted 2, Mass Effect 2, Supreme Commander 2, GTAIV & Episodes of Liberty City, Assassin's Creed 2, Assassin's Creed Brotherhood, and Dragon Age Origins & Awakening should not be missed. Most are sequels but most get things right that were wrong in the previous titles. Bioshock 2 was a game everyone who loved the first didn't want but it was a good game. Uncharted 2 made plenty of people interested in buying a PS3 bundle more so than God of War IMO. Mass Effect 2 tweaked the original to near perfection. Supreme Commander 2 scaled back the technical requirements while keeping the grand scale of futuristic land/sea/air battles. GTAIV built off the 3D exploration and open world of GTAIII while Episodes of Liberty City felt fresh and even had a better story than the original GTAIV. Assassin's Creed 2 fixed all the things that made Assassin's Creed 1 a chore or a grind. Dragon Age brought RGPs back to the Balder's Gate days along with modern relationships and dialog choices which you would come to expect form a Bioware title.

Those are all sequels (except Dragon Age, one could say a successor to Balder's Gate though) and all are quality games. Games haven't declined in quality and they sure haven't declined in quantity. I used to rent with Gamefly but I was renting games I wouldn't want to buy so I was renting sub par games. Thanks to Steam, Amazon, Newegg, and I've been able to afford a healthy gaming habit and broadening my gaming know how. Mobile games are a break from the big experiences (some would say XBLA and PSN titles act similarly like this) you face on consoles/pc but they'll never replace the core gaming community. True casual gamers, (people that play mobile games, social games and what not), are growing but the average video game player's age is increasing as well. I once had someone tell me I don't play a lot of games anymore because I don't seem to have the time for them as I've gotten older. I think that might relate to how the industry is changing, I'm no analyst though, just my two cents.

Michael Grimes
profile image
My first thought when reading through the article was that maybe this is a sign that the economy is getting better. When people had little to no money, they would tend to spend their entertainment expenses on "stay at home" activities, yet if people are getting out of the house and spending their funds elsewhere, then this is probably a diamond in the rough if anything. True, sequels and the lack of interesting titles out there could be one facet to the overall scope of why gamers aren't purchasing games, but most likely the "leisure" title is not including various genres, demographics etc..... In my personal opinion, app games aren't that enjoyable as I tend to be more of a PC/MMO player; yet as everyone is getting busier in life, they would prefer app games in order to keep themselves busy while waiting at the airport, invest in their education, and go to work.

Ted Simon
profile image
Interesting observations. Love seeing this type of data. But I find it a bit challenging to engage in a debate where the facts are still a bit murky.

The definition of "video game buying household" is so broad ($1 per month...that's $12 per year) as to be non-helpful. As a result, and eith the growth of "casual" gamers, it's difficult to sort out what's really happening under the surface of this study.

It's clear that the marketplace has evolved to a point where there are MULTIPLE consumer segments that offer game developers different potential audiences. I'd be most interested in seeing how behavior is shifting within various subgroups of gamers - e.g., "casual" vs. "core" gamers. There could be important differences masked by the high level of this data, as suggested by the many good observations and comments on this thread. And, its those segment behavioral differences that matter when we are developing and marketing our games.

It's a time of evolution and exciting time. Companies that can dig under the surface will be the ones who unlock the keen insights that will help them succeed in this evolving market.