Nielsen Study: Majority PC Gamers Female, Solitary

By John Walker on April 9th, 2009 at 12:59 pm.

If you could combine the two, you'd become richer than God.

Update: Now with new Nielsen figures on hardcore PC gaming below.

Nielsen’s latest gaming data has been published in the form of The State of the Video Gamer (pdf). Gathering PC gaming data from the “Nielsen MegaPanel”, more than 185,000 PCs were tracked by their system in the US. The findings include that “PC gaming is alive and well,” showing growth, and that females aged 25 and older make up the largest block of PC gamers, responsible for 54.6% of all game play minutes in December 2008.

Those taking part in the MegaPanel have a software meter installed on their machines. The report explains, “When a program is run on a PC, the program name as well as the person(s) using the PC is collected by the meter.” The tool is currently tracking over 1,777 individual PC game titles, and with over 185,000 participants, it’s likely the largest and most comprehensive survey of people’s PC gaming habits. Which makes their findings from December 2008 worth listening to.

We love graphs like others love their children.

“The single largest group of personal computer video game players is females ages 25 to 54, accounting for approximately 29 percent of total personal computer game players… When comparing the demographic segments percent composition to the amount of minutes the group contributed to the total minutes played, the demographic segment of females 55+ clearly stands out. The demographic break of females 55+ accounts for roughly 17 percent of the unique game players, but contribute almost 26 percent of total minutes of PC game play for December 2008.”

Of course, this isn’t the shock news that most the people playing Empire: Total War are grannies. The majority of the games being played that make up these numbers are card games, and most of these are those that come pre-installed with Windows. The report states, “Both males and females aged 25 to 54 tend to play the top title, Solitaire, five times a week for about 30 minutes a time.” Of these lonely card players, the vast majority are white, the men working in professional or management roles, while the women are mostly either homemakers or in administrative professions.

Charts are almost as great as graphs.

Looking at the Top Played Games list, there’s a couple of interesting appearances. Beyond the FreeCells and the Minesweepers, World of Warcraft scores a seventh place finish for both men and women aged 25-54. There’s 1,201,848 male WoW players of all ages in the US alone, and a total of 1.8m players across all sectors, playing an average of 744 minutes played per week per person. Also showing up on the male list in tenth place is Half-Life 2, with 170,968 unique players four years after its release.

Clearly if we wanted to be a successful, mainstream site, all we’d talk about would be World of Warcraft, Second Life and Chessmaster. It’s a good job we’re hell-bent on obscurity, but all three show impressive numbers. Nielsen’s stats show that Second Life is now in decline, with a significant halving of players since February 2008, while World of Warcraft just powers on like an insane bulldozer, always picking up any players it loses during the summer months by the time winter comes around. Meanwhile, PlayFirst’s Chessmaster Challenge is rocketing to almost WoW numbers with around 1.5 million players.

Another graph! It's like maths porn.

Well, no, clearly if we really wanted to be successful we’d only write about the card games that come pre-installed on your PC. Thinking about it, I play about as much FreeCell as I do anything else. It’s time for a rebrand guys.

Of course, what this data really demonstrates is quite how much money there is to be made in the casual games market. With the balance of players now tipping over to show the slight majority to be female, clearly PC gaming has discovered a deeply lucrative market that is far more age and gender inclusive than any before. There are numbers we’d still really like to see, showing the distribution of players across specialist/hardcore PC gaming, and we’ll nag Nielsen to see if we can find out more. And of course, it should be remembered that all the numbers above come from a purely US-based study, and as such there are cultural considerations to be taken.

Edit: Nielsen have got back to us with some numbers focused on specialist PC gaming.

First there’s a breakdown of the ages of World of Warcraft players:

Male 12-17: 11.37%
Male 18-24: 10.71%
Male 25-54 : 27.30%

Female 12-17: 4.38%
Female 18-24: 3.73%
Female 25-54: 24.94%

I think this conclusively proves that women more dramatically lose their cool as they get older. This is why I’m not asked to interpret statistics for a living.

Secondly, Nielsen have given us some information on who is playing shooters, a representatively hardcore PC gaming genre. There’s a little bit of statspeak to penetrate, but it shows that once you remove the card games, hardcore PC gaming is dominated by male players, although with a significant female audience.

“If I look at a genre like ‘shooter’ as a more hardcore classification, looking at the players in the heavy tercile demographic breaks only (top 500 demo blocks we define by education/income, etc) males are just above 360,000 players and females are just over 75,000 players. The age break that dominates for most of these players is 25 to 54.”

In the chosen sample, it shows that roughly one in six FPS players are female.

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104 Comments »

  1. Gap Gen says:

    Hang on, people actually play Second Life?

  2. Snuffy (the Evil) says:

    Never heard of it. I’d suppose if they’d gotten it out more and more people heard of it there would be a clear male majority.

  3. TooNu says:

    shite. Windows games like Solitare and minesweeper are on a PC so class as PC gaming but is it really? I say no, no it is not.
    If the original DOOM came with windows like Solitaire and Minesweeper my opinion would be different.

    [Good GRIEF, snip - Ed]

  4. Pidesco says:

    Wait, what? I’m 28, and just mentioning games is about the perfect way to not get any from women in my age bracket. I’ve never actually met a single woman my age who plays games, PC or otherwise. It’s childish, apparently.

  5. schizoslayer says:

    Play is probably not the best word for it. It’s more like a virtual representation of Facebook and I know people that effectively “Play” Facebook.

    I “Play” Second Life for example. But what I actually do in it is build stuff. Most people use it to just chat and socialise and most of those people are indeed women.

    Of course then there are the sex people.

  6. schizoslayer says:

    @Pidesco The problem is you mention games that men like. You can pick up chicks if you talk about Minesweeper and Solitaire instead of Grand Theft Auto or Half Life.

    Hell my mum is completely addicted to ZooKeeper.

    Also Solitaire and Minesweeper are definitely games and definitely PC Games. I personally have never figured out how to play Hearts or Spider Solitaire though.

  7. Grogmonkey says:

    Most of those people are obviously not using Vista, otherwise Mahjong Titans would be well up that ‘Top 10′ list.

    Man, I love that game.

  8. danielcardigan says:

    “Windows games like Solitare and minesweeper are on a PC so class as PC gaming but is it really? I say no, no it is not.”

    I disagree. Solitaire and Minesweeper are absolutely PC games. Go too far down that road and Defense Grid suddenly isn’t a PC game.

    What gets me is that I’m totally unfamiliar with Chessmaster Challenge or Great Escapes Solitaire.

  9. James G says:

    If I understand the methodology correctly, Half-Life 2 will encompass pretty much all Source games, as all run as HL2.exe.

    Oh and, @TooNu, I’m very tempted to tell someone to STFU (ahem) and it isn’t the women that you so lovingly describe as ‘man hating dykes.’

    @Pidesco Its probably a case of what circles you move in. I know plenty of female gamers, several of them on the PC. I’m not talking about odd rounds of Peggle either, I’ve had discussions with them about Portal, Psychonauts, Baldurs’ Gate, Mass Effect, Half-Life etc.

  10. Cooper says:

    TooNu troll is a troll.

    Also, this just confirms what we already know – that Solitaire is a massive time sink?

    I’m not sure any figures about pre-packaged MS games are all that important. So, people play minesweeper when bored ‘cos it’s there on the PC. Well done, that sure earned them their fees…

    Anything on the growth in flash games and other casual games which imply an active seeking out of game playing would be more interesting…

  11. Duoae says:

    I kinda skimmed through the article after it was announced that:

    Those taking part in the MegaPanel have a software meter installed on their machines.
    The tool is currently tracking over 1,777 individual PC game titles, and with over 185,000 participants

    What this tells me is me is exactly what I expect to see – women tend to engage in social activities (whether they be experiments or whatnot) more often than men. Also, i don’t know about other gamers but i tend to not want extra programmes running in the background slowing down the performance of my PC…. nor do i want personally identifiable data being transmitted to a third party.

    Maybe that’s a sexist attitude to have (?) and i’m making a huge assumption, but i think women, in general, are more socially-minded and would like to contribute to something. I, as a man, tend to be more insular and to not expose myself in these ways – especially when it’s not a scientific study.

    Also, how are they pulling out millions of players numbers for games when their userbase is less than a quarter of a million? Are they extrapolating? Looking at the numbers from solitaire that’s 25 women per household/tracked PC and 16 men in the 25-54 age group (if we take 185,000 tracked PCs)… upping this to 250,000 (which you can be sure they would have put a higher number if it was significantly higher) that’s 18 women and 12 men per tracked PC. Looking at the linked PDF doesn’t show any explanation as to how they get these figures… however, i’m guessing that “unique players” means that they count the same person as many times as they use the game…. which is technically incorrect and should be labelled as number of times played or unique play instances and not unique players – which, of course, corresponds to an actual human.

    Am i missing something really obvious here? I just can’t make sense of the information they’re presenting.

  12. schizoslayer says:

    All over the internet you can see Nerds exploding as they get told that girls play more games than they do.

    This is awesome.

  13. Tei says:

    And this why I love “The Man of the Moon”. There are somethimes you have to make jokes only for yourself and your friend, and ignore demographics.

  14. malkav11 says:

    What this data shows is that getting preinstalled with Windows does wonders for your figures.

  15. Steve says:

    I really doubt this is entirely accurate. They’re basing their numbers off people who have installed their software, right?
    I don’t think anyone smart would install it – hence the huge numbers of WoW players, I suppose.

  16. a rob amongst many says:

    Haha nice on Steve. Buuuuurn!

  17. Xercies says:

    What a surprise that female gamers are not actually gamers at all but are just playing Solitaire. Yes that was very sexist of me.

  18. Mejwell says:

    I’m pretty sure playing Solitaire makes you a ‘PC gamer’ in the same way that playing GTA IV makes you a mass-murderer.

  19. cyrenic says:

    Don’t trust statistics from Nielsen, particularly for PC games. Their TV numbers are questionable enough, their video game numbers are a joke. I’ve dealt with the company before, and they are completely incompetent when it comes to technology.

    The high level picture they’re giving is probably accurate (Solitaire and WoW are popular, whodathunk!?), but any of their granular data is probably flat wrong.

  20. MadTinkerer says:

    This surprises me not in the least. Ever since I became a Game Design major, my Mom has had more time to play games than me. It’s all Popcap and Popcap-type games.
    But she doesn’t consider herself a “gamer” despite Bookworm Adventures and Puzzle Quest being pretty hardcore in their own way.
    What we need is more World War 2 propaganda posters like the ones showing strong but feminine welders, only these ones would be for women gamers.

  21. Kieron Gillen says:

    (I’ll admit: That we should re-widen the definition of PC Gaming is one of the reasons why I wanted to do RPS.)

    KG

  22. Iain says:

    @Mejwell:

    So you’re only a PC gamer if you’ve jacked cars and murdered prostitutes on GTA, then?

    See, this is what I love about ‘hardcore’ gamers. They’re such an open-minded, welcoming bunch. I wonder if these figures have been adjusted for all the women who pretend they’re guys online so that they don’t get sexually harassed…

  23. redrain85 says:

    I really do believe these statistics are hopelessly flawed. Their sample is nowhere near large enough, and more importantly these people were volunteers who had to download and install software to track their gaming habits.

    I have a hard time imagining the majority of gamers tending toward the hardcore would want to download software that adds more clutter to their machine, or willingly allow their activities to be tracked. It’s an invasion of privacy they’d want to avoid.

    The results are likely skewed toward casual players, simply because those are the only people who wanted to participate.

  24. Barts says:

    A perfect excuse to boast:

    my girlfriend, apart from being one heck of a sexy cat, is also a gamer. Used to play a lot of computer games when she was alone (alone as in not dating anyone), not so much now.

    She had Morrowind with mods installed so that her character would look like a kind of goth fairy (elvish chick with wings and emo makeup). She finished (!) Prince of Persia: Warrior Within. She had meticulously customized cars in Need for Speed Underground II.

    Yes, you can all envy me now.

  25. jalf says:

    @Iain: A better question is, if you haven’t jacked cars and murdered prostitutes in GTA, do you consider yourself a PC gamer?

    Or in other words, yes, a lot of people play solitaire, or a Popcap game or two, but would *they* describe themselves as gamers because of that?

  26. Clockwork Harlequin says:

    I feel utterly unmanned now that I am part of a demographic group that is dominated by females! Eeek! It’s almost as bad as wearing pink. . .
    No really, are Neilsen really that inaccurate? Because the really worrying thing about this study is not gender, it’s age. And the ‘casual gamers’. Think about it: if the biggest audience for PC games is little old ladies hankering for Solitaire II: The Reckoning, the amount of money and effort poured into our favorite games (probably either indie or hardcore, and almost invariably shocking to little old ladies) would decrease. Maybe what will save us is the preinstalled nature of America’s top games. Who in their right mind is going to PAY for Solitaire II?

  27. JKjoker says:

    Im surprised not to see the sims in there, in this country (Argentina) if you see anyone without testicles playing a pc game she is either playing flash games or the sims 1/2

  28. Iain says:

    @redrain85:

    If you think this sample was small, bear in mind that most opinion polls you see on the news have a sample size around the 1000 mark. This is why they tend to be caveated with a huge margin of error, of anything up to 5%.

    Lies, damn lies and statistics…

    But if you subscribe to the belief that the casual game market is significantly larger than the so-called hardcore market, they’re still worth considering. I mean, look at Nintendo’s sales figures and tell me that they don’t make more money out of the casual market than the hardcore crowd.

  29. Iain says:

    @jalf:

    That was kind of my point. They probably wouldn’t because being labelled with the tag ‘gamer’ in most people’s social circles is like being a convicted paedophile. And the attitude and behaviour of most ‘hardcore’ gamers doesn’t exactly help change people’s attitudes. For example, when was the last time you played on a public Counterstrike server?

    Yes. Exactly….

  30. Mejwell says:

    @Iain

    Personally, I think that ‘Gamer’ is a silly sounding word and I think it would be better if people stopped using it altogether. Nevertheless, people who call themselves ‘Gamers’ typically use it in the way any other hobbyist would, in that they participate in the activity just for the sake of it.

    Since I doubt people play Solitaire just for the thrill, reward, and engrossing nature of Solitaire, and also doubt that people who play Solitaire would self-label themselves ‘PC Gamers’, I think this is just a fluff article, and no one should read too much into it.

    And hey, I could be wrong. Solitaire’s new episodic content promises to have a particularly compelling new storyline and art direction: I hear the Kings will blink in the next one!

  31. Steve says:

    Iain: The tag “gamer” is obsolete. Everyone is a gamer in one form or another. It’s not like it was back in the 80′s/early 90′s anymore.

  32. Garu says:

    I do not understand why on earth they would track 25-54 as just one huge demographic. Surely they could have broken it down a little better than that.

  33. JKjoker says:

    @lain: while i agree there is a huge untapped market out there that the publishes let famish and are probably starving for games (which Nintendo hit nicely), the hardcore gamers are the ones that buy more than 1 game per year, or buy more than 1 console, etc…, even if they are less they probably spend more money than the casual group

    Sadly now publishers (and specially Nintendo) are letting the hardcore base famish, (i wonder why they can just tap both, i haven’t played a new game that gave me any level of challenge in a looong time, even worse, now they almost always have the hard mode locked for achievements), however because of this they created a self fulfilling prophesy, if you only produce dumbed down casual games then thats the kind of gamer that will go out and buy your games while the others leave for books or larping, something similar happened with consoles, of course consoles overtook pc, if you release 80% of games for consoles only what choice do they have?

    also, i always laugh at the error margin of statistics, the sample selection is CRUCIAL for the results, yet they almost never consider any error related to that, assuming the sample is perfect and just consider the Gauss bell error, you can completely change the results just by tweaking the sample

  34. Duoae says:

    @Steve: Iain: The tag “gamer” is obsolete. Everyone is a gamer in one form or another. It’s not like it was back in the 80’s/early 90’s anymore.

    Well, we need a descriptor. People LARP, others are chess players, some are modellers/model builders and yet more are amateur ‘enthusiasts’ or train spotters. The term “Gamer” is just short for Videogamer… yes, pretty much everyone in their lives plays ‘games’ of some sort but not everyone takes a pasttime to the level of enthusiast.

  35. Duoae says:

    JKjoker…. i find it worrying that we both mention LARPing at the same time…… there must be something in the water.

    o_O

  36. Iain says:

    @Steve:

    The concept of a “gamer” didn’t exist back in the ’80s. Playing videogames didn’t nearly have the same kind of social stigma as it does now, either.

    I remember staying up with my Dad playing Lords of Midnight on the Spectrum well into the early hours of weekends (bearing in mind that I was all of about 8 years old at the time) because we were determined to “beat that game”. Twenty-five years later though, you wouldn’t get my Dad playing Empire Total War with me now.

    Back in the 8-bit era, playing videogames was just something people did – it didn’t identify you as part of a social group. That’s a much more recent phenomenon. People love their labels, because it gives people an excuse to categorise and dismiss without actually taking the time to understand the real issues. But that’s drifting off-topic.

  37. Jesucristo says:

    Who is Nielsen?, Leslie Nielsen?

  38. Azazel says:

    So… basically they’re saying that the girls in HR just sit around playing Solitaire all day? Well I could have told you that!

    /goes back to browsing internet gaming forums all day

  39. Rob says:

    I find the Chessmaster Challenge one the most interesting. A solidly if not outstandingly performing series makes a move to casual portals, and reaps the rewards. Indicative of the changing opportunities in the industry mentioned in the post perhaps?

  40. Heliocentric says:

    I’m just going to go chat up schizoslayer’s mum over a game of zoo keeper. But it needs to be said, this is not scientific data. But! People who are willing to install spyware play casual games and wow. This is notable if you manufacture spyware.

  41. Iain says:

    @JKJoker:

    You can’t blame games companies for going where the money is. If you have a game that’s looks better than anything coming out of Hollywood, is three times as innovative as Halo and three times as deep as your average historical strategy game, but it takes $50million to produce and only 100,000 people are going to buy it… that’s not what I call a sound business plan.

    The market for ‘hardcore’ games simply isn’t as viable as it used to be. Nintendo realised this early and opted out of the ‘photo-realistic graphics or bust’ hardware chase, and I think it was a smart move. I don’t think there are really hard numbers on the difference between ‘casual’ and ‘hardcore’ gamers’ buying habits, but if you have 100,000 ‘hardcore’ gamers who buy (say) five games a year on average compared to 2,000,000 people who buy one or two games a year, it’s pretty clear which market makes you more money.

    I can only think of one market within PC gaming that’s still as unabashedly hardcore as it used to be 20 years ago – and that’s flight simulations. But even that’s teetering on the verge of unprofitability – mainly because the flight sim demographic can best be described as aging. Which is why we saw Microsoft shut down their Flight Sim development team a few months ago.

  42. Chris says:

    So, does this mean game publishers will shift from using stereotypical curvaceous women in chain mail bikinis to massively hung men nearly bursting from their cod piece? That, in future Tomb Raider versions, will be watching the ass of Lara Croft’s little known younger brother Layton Croft?

  43. phil says:

    I would be interesting to see similar stats for the Wii, in that it’s marketed to a wide range of demographics but it’s far more self-selecting, with bulk of the user base perhaps more willing to identify themselves as gamers. Perhaps Wii Sport could be the new Solitare.

  44. Butler` says:

    Out of all the people and contacts throughout my life in work, education and personal life, I know absolutely no one that consistently plays the games bundled with Windows.

    In fact, I can only recall one person ever playing any of them, and that was a certain friend’s Dad playing Solitaire.

    That includes mum, dad, sister, girlfriends, colleagues (some that work in IT and some in games journo), friends – both gamers and otherwise.

    Just w t f? :p

  45. John Walker says:

    phil – the Wii (along with the GameCube) had the smallest numbers of daily sessions, average usage days and active user percent (whatever that is). “Predominant users of the Wii and GameCube are likely to use these consoles at most once a week and for fewer minutes and the fewest number of sessions compared to the other two groups of consoles.”

  46. JonFitt says:

    I’d say my wife’s a hardcore gamer and has been on and off since the 386/486 days, but she doesn’t play shooters. She’ll eat up RPGs like Oblivion, Fable, King’s Bounty, KOTOR, and likes games like Civ and all the Caesar-like games.
    I also introduced her to The Longest Journey, (and she was pissed when she got to the end of Dreamfall and found out there is no conclusion).

    I’d bet that a huge percentage of those people putting 30 minutes a day into Solitaire would answer ‘no’ to ‘do you play computer games?’.

  47. Mym says:

    The age slices are horrible. I doubt they are adjusted so that each represents the same portion of their sample (they should be), but regardless, a woman age 25 at the time of the survey was born in 1983, was three years old when Super Mario Bros. was released and eight when the Super Nintendo rolled around. She grew up with these things. A woman age 54 was born in 1954, and the 25-year-olds growing up with video games could be her kids.

  48. Andy`` says:

    Rock, Paper, Solitaire?

    The term “Gamer” is just short for Videogamer

    That reminded me of when a friend of mine (far older than me too) claimed Jim was short for Jimmy, but not James. I almost walked out the room (and away from a free beer).

    Nevermind that ‘Videogamer’ isn’t a single word, when chess players, wargamers and tabletop gamers are considered to be “gamers” one way or the other, how can you then exclude that entire group by claiming that the term “gamer” only applies to the field that you’re common with, computerised games?

    I don’t really know what to think of the term “gamer” though. It’s better applied to those enthusiastic about the field, sure, and best applied to those that self-describe them as gamers, but there are a large chunk of game enthusiasts out there that don’t really get why they would be considered ‘gamers’ (for example, if they play alot of flash games or lightweight games). Similarly, there are people who play some of the more heavyweight games that simply couldn’t be described as gamers (eg: they’re happy to play a bit of Halo or Gears of War, and can be reasonably good at them, but usually if they’re with friends or something – it’s not really something they’d usually spend any of their free time doing at all, and they’re certainly not that enthusiastic about games). And it gets worse – you’d expect people who work in QA testing, for instance, would all be considered gamers but I know a guy who worked in QA that didn’t like games all that much, and another who spent a fair proportion of his free time playing Solitaire. And no, they weren’t in the wrong job, they were very good at what they did.

    The term’s almost as bad as ‘gameplay’ in the way it bundles everyone together in a mishmash that nobody truely understands or can make sense of, to the point where anyone can twist the term to their own ends. Don’t like.

  49. Heliocentric says:

    In the ruined united kingdom the 54 year old could be the 25 year old’s grandmother, its america though.

    Just saying.

  50. undead dolphin hacker says:

    Wait, what? I’m 28, and just mentioning games is about the perfect way to not get any from women in my age bracket. I’ve never actually met a single woman my age who plays games, PC or otherwise. It’s childish, apparently.

    God help me, but I know what you’re talking about.

    You know when you’re going out and anticipate taking some chick home with you so you clean up your apartment and all before you leave? I think many men past the age of 20 or so incorporate the hiding of their XBox/Playstation/PC games (it’s socially acceptable to have a Wii, though) into this ritual.

    I’m 23 and I envy the hell out of my 18 year old brother. All the girls he knows play “hardcore” games and no one raises an eyebrow if he’s seen playing some goofy butch space marine game or cartoony anime JRPG.

    Sucks for those of us in our 20s, though — we’re caught on the edge of the generational shift.

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