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Smartphones now seen as "equal" to consoles as preferred gaming platform

New research from PlaySpan and Magid points to some interesting data on consoles, mobile and free-to-play

The mobile gaming world has exploded in the last few years, and with the rise of free-to-play games and cheap apps people may be giving less attention to consoles. Whether or not the rapid mobile adoption will take away from consoles in the long-term remains to be seen, but according to new research from Frank N. Magid Associates and Visa-owned PlaySpan, at the very least, more and more gamers in America view the smartphone as their preferred platform of choice.

According to Magid's online survey conducted in December, roughly 80 percent of all consumers in the US are now gamers, and the research firm attributes the growth in the gaming population to the increase in smartphone ownership. The survey found that 35 percent of respondents said consoles were their top gaming platform, but right there with consoles were smartphones, as 34 percent said that mobile was their preferred platform to game on. This was followed by tablets at 11 percent and computers at six percent. Dedicated handhelds like the 3DS or PS Vita barely got any attention at three percent.

Interestingly, the real discrepancy here is one of gender. Smartphones may have caught up overall, but for males consoles are far and away the top platform still. 49 percent of men said they prefer consoles, compared to 18 percent of women, while 45 percent of women said they prefer smartphones compared to 25 percent of men.

One of the big allures of mobile is free-to-play, and in fact, Magid found that 110 million Americans prefer free-to-play than pay-to-play (77 percent of gamers are spending more time with free-to-play). And the gender differences once again were pretty significant, especially in terms of how gamers spend money.

Importantly for publishers and developers looking to optimize their games, the study found men were nearly three times more likely than women to cite pay-to-play or subscription based games as their favorite. Furthermore, among individuals playing free-to-play titles, men were three times more likely than women to make in-game purchases, averaging $13.38 and $4.84 per month, respectively. The most lucrative demographic was the 18-24 age group where men were paying an average of $30.59 a month on in-game purchases.

"The shift in free-to-play games is becoming the norm in the gaming industry and this survey reinforces that trend," said Robert Crawford, vice president of Frank N. Magid Associates. "We're seeing free-to-play game revenue outpacing pay-to-play games when looking at the long-term average spend per year. It's important that game developers recognize this change and be able to monetize it through new free-to-play gaming platforms."

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James Brightman


James Brightman has been covering the games industry since 2003 and has been an avid gamer since the days of Atari and Intellivision. He was previously EIC and co-founder of IndustryGamers and spent several years leading GameDaily Biz at AOL prior to that.