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Summary:

The typical picture of an online gamer may be a teen lacking in social skills, but players of “social games” on sites like Facebook are different. According to a recent survey of players in the U.S. and UK, the average social gamer is a 43-year-old woman.

Rightly or wrongly, many people have a picture in their minds of the average online gamer, and it probably involves someone not yet old enough to vote, huddled in their parents’ basement killing dwarves with mystic powers in games like World of Warcraft. A growing category of what are called “social games,” however, appeals to a much different demographic, according to a recent study. The study — sponsored by PopCap, creator of popular social games such as Bejeweled and Insaniquarium — looked at game players in both the United States and the United Kingdom, and found that the average player of these online social games is a 43-year-old woman.

More than 24 percent of those who responded to the survey (full results in PDF form here) said they regularly play social games, a category that includes Facebook games such as Farmville, Mafia Wars and Happy Aquarium. According to survey company Info Solutions Group, that level of response suggests a total social gaming population of approximately 100 million. Social gamers were defined as those who said they play games on social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace at least once a week. The market for social games has been growing so quickly that companies that make them, such as Zynga and Crowdstar, have become investment and acquisition targets.

Social gaming seems to appeal to a much older demographic than traditional video games, perhaps in part because social games are easier to play for short periods of time, are largely free, and don’t involve sophisticated equipment or gratuitous violence. According to a recent survey by Royal Pingdom, the average age of social networking site users in general is also older — the largest single group is between 35 and 44 years of age. More than 60 percent of Facebook users are over 35.

The PopCap study showed that 55 percent of all social gamers in the U.S. are women, as are almost 60 percent of those in the UK. The average age in the U.S. is 48, which is substantially older than the 38-year-old average in the UK, and 46 percent of American social gamers are 50 or older, compared with just 23 percent in the UK. Only 6 percent of all social gamers are age 21 or younger.

According to the survey, women make up the majority of avid social gamers, with 38 percent of female social gamers saying they play social games several times a day, vs. just 29 percent of males. Women are also more likely to play social games with their real-world friends than men are (68 percent vs. 56 percent) and are nearly twice as likely as men to play social games with relatives (46 percent vs. 29 percent). The vast majority (95 percent) of social gamers play multiple times per week, and nearly two-thirds play at least once a day.

The largest single group of social gamers — 41 per cent of those surveyed — work full time, while 13 percent are retired and 11 percent are homemakers. In terms of educational background, less than half of those who play social games in the U.S. are college graduates. One-third of those in the U.S. earn less than $35,000 a year while 17 percent earn between $35,000 and $49,000; 21 percent make between $50,000 and 75,000 and 21 percent earn more than $75,000 a year.

Other points of interest from the study include:

  • More than 60 percent of social gamers say their average session lasts more than half an hour, and 10 percent say it lasts 3 hours or more. About a third (35 percent) say their consumption has increased over the past three months, compared to 10 percent who said it has decreased.
  • Facebook is by far the most popular destination for social gamers, with 83 percent of those surveyed saying they play games there, compared with 24 percent who play on MySpace, 7 percent on Bebo and 5 percent on Friendster.
  • Social gamers spend 39 percent of their time on social networking sites/services playing games, compared with chatting with/messaging friends (17 percent) and playing solo games (15 percent). Nearly half (49 percent) said that when they connect to social networks, they do so specifically to play social games.
  • The most popular games are Farmville (69 percent of those who play it say they play once a week or more), Bejeweled (65 percent say once a week or more), Texas Hold’em Poker (63 percent) and Cafe World (61 percent).
  • A little over half (53 percent) of social gamers say they’ve earned and/or spent virtual currency in a game, but only 28 percent have purchased virtual currency with real-world money and only 32 percent have purchased a virtual gift.

“This study establishes social games as a fast-growing and quickly maturing pastime for an enormous portion of the population,” Robin Boyar of Thinktank Research said in a statement. “With more than 80 percent of social gamers stating that playing social games strengthens their relationship with friends, family and colleagues, social gaming reinforces the core appeal of social networks.”

Related posts from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):

How the Next Zynga Could Reinvent Social Gaming

Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user Olivander

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  4. I think the use of “Social” in titling these games is inaccurate at best. I know it’s become an accepted practice, but the term implies that these games are being played together with other people, and that’s not always true.

    I think a more accurate term to describe these games is “casual” games. They require little effort to learn, are easy to control, can be played in short bursts without penalty, and offer continual play or quick finishes without needing to save. That’s a casual game by definition.

    1. That’s a fair point, Chris — casual is a good way of putting it as well. At the same time though, games like Farmville and Mafia Wars have a pretty heavy social component to them.

    2. I think you missed the context of “social” in the phrase “social gaming” Cris. Originally, the intent was to imply that gaming online had taken the place of other social interactions by allowing people to ‘play together’ via their social networking sites.

      They’re not social as in “require simultaneous group play” – we call those MMPORGs ;)

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