The term casual game is a way to refer to a category of games that have evolved around the wishes of the non-hardcore gamer. They commonly have characteristics of early arcade games; extremely simple game play, can play in short bursts, and typically no plot. But the demographic that spends the most time online playing these games might be surprising to some.
Just to put things into the proper prospect and why this is important considering the following figures. According to a recent Nielson NetRatings report over 46 million people a month visit online game sites. This works out to be over one third of all Americans who have online access. The estimated annual sales of casual games is reported at $ 281 million and projected to reach over a billion dollars by 2011 according to DFC Intelligence. This represents a large and growing market.
According to popular belief you may believe that males or teens rule the online market. In this case you would be wrong. Middle-aged women (35-49) in fact hold this honor. For example approximately 66% of MSN gamers are female, RealNetworks reports between 60-70%, other portals also report similar percentages. They not only represent the largest demographic that they also spend the most time playing. A study conducted for AOL shown female gamers over 40 spend approximately 41% of their online time gaming vs. 26% for men.
With this information at hand companies have gone about to try to satisfy this core audience. Some of the first wildly successful casual games were very gender neutral. Think of Tetris, Bejeweled or Zuma. Some recent games you would assume were developed specifically targeted for women. For example, titles like Cake Mania, Carrie the Caregiver , or Dream Day Wedding come to mind. Microsoft has also stated this demographic as one of the driving forces for developing Xbox Live Arcade for the Xbox 360. They understand if they want to reach this audience that they needed to bring this type of game to their platform.
So what is the motivation of these gaming gals? One recent study may give us some indication. Over 60% of casual game players say they play as a way to relax, 53% say they play to relieve stress, and 42% cite them as a way to keep mentally sharp. Of course let's not forget one other possible obvious reason; they're simply fun to play!
So, as it turns out women are in fact the real gamers online. Savvy online game portals and developers had better take this into account if they plan to succeed in the future.