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Nielsen: VR/AR awareness has nearly doubled among US population

One in ten Americans plans to buy PlayStation VR, 9% want Project Scorpio, 12% want Nintendo Switch

The latest instalment of the annual Nielsen Games 360 Report shows a dramatic increase in public awareness of virtual and augmented reality.

According to the research firm's survey, 51% of the general population in the United States has heard of at least one VR or AR device - almost doubt the 28% that responded this way in 2016. Naturally, awareness is higher among those who consider themselves gamers, up from 37% last year to 63%.

The Nielsen report is based on a survey of more than 2,000 people based in the US, all aged 13 or older. The firm also stipulated a 50/50 split between male and female respondents.

Samsung's Gear VR was the most familiar device to Americans, with 34% of consumers saying they'd heard of it - up from 12% a year ago. Nielsen attributes this rise in awareness partially to the smartphone manufacturer's marketing push to give away a headset with many of its mobile devices.

Awareness of PlayStation VR, which launched back in October, has risen from 10% to 26%, while one in four respondents had heard of Oculus Rift, up from 16% last year. The success of Pokémon Go was also cited as a factor in the rising awareness of augmented reality.

When it comes to purchase intent, PSVR led the way among gamers with one in ten claiming they "definitely or probably would purchase" the device. Sony's headset was tied with Gear VR in terms of the general population, with 7% planning to buy each device.

Men are most likely to own a VR or AR device, making up 57% of people who already have access to a headset. Furthermore, 69% of people who plan to buy a headset are male.

Both virtual and augmented reality were identified as noteworthy trends in the report, along with rising interest in eSports.

Looking at more traditional forms of video games, 47% of those who identified as gamers prefer consoles as their primary device, vs 26% of people who prefer mobile devices and 27% stalwart PC gamers.

Among the console players, 62% also use smartphones and tablets for video games - although this has dropped from 66% last year. In fact, Nielsen noted a general "levelling off" of the growth seen by mobile gaming in the past few years. The number of people that use two devices to play games has dropped from 40% to 38%, while the amount of three-device players has dropped from 18% to 16%.

PlayStation 4 leads the way in terms of purchase intent amongst the console: 21% of gamers and 15% of the general population plan to buy Sony's latest console. This outstrips the purchase intent for the more recently launched PS4 Pro, which stands at 15% among gamers and 11% overall.

The recent launch of Nintendo Switch has clearly made an impression on people, with 16% of gamers and 12% of the general population hoping to pick one up. Microsoft's Project Scorpio, the upcoming mid-cycle successor to the Xbox One, fared well with 13% of gamers and 9% of the general population intending to purchase - not bad for a console of which we know so little.

In fact, 11% of the general population said they were aware of Scorpio - although Nintendo Switch doubles this at 22%. PS4 still leads in terms of awareness with 69% of the general population saying they had heard of the device. However, this is more than three times the amount of people that are aware of the PS4 Pro, which stands at 21%.

The report also took a look at the split between digital and physical preferences. Nielsen notes that 69% of console gamers still prefer discs to downloads when it comes to new purchases, while 75% of PC gamers prefer digital.

That's not particularly surprising but the report also reveals that PC players who do prefer physical games spend more on new titles per month than console players, with an average spend of $20 vs $13.60. And, oddly, console players who prefer digital are outspending their PC compatriots at $17.50 vs $12.90.

It was also established that digital-centric players are spending more time playing video games. Console gamers who prefer digital dedicate an average of 7.2 hours to gameplay, while physical fans spend 6.1 hours. Over on PC, this is higher amongst digital players (8.8 hours) and lower among physical (5.5 hours).

The games industry does seem to be past the digital tipping point. In this week's investors call, Electronic Arts not only told shareholders that full game downloads accounted for a third of all unit sales, it also believes this will increase to 40% on console by the end of the year.

Last month, it emerged that digital sales represent 74% of the US games market.

64% of the population were identified as gamers, although the criteria for this is not absolutely clear. Nevertheless, this marks a 1% increase since 2016, continuing a trend that has seen this figure rise from 58% in 2012.

Video games were defined as the fourth most popular use of leisure time in the US, accounting for 12% of people's free time. It was outperformed by social activities with family and friends (15%), general internet and social network use (22%), and TV and movies (24%).

You can find even more insight in the full report here

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