Abrupt change in gamer demographics due to survey wording.

Each year, the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) puts out the results of its survey of gamers. In last year and previous years, the surveys showed that a fair amount of gamers were middle-aged, a trend that gave the impression that the gaming market was becoming broader. But this year’s survey found that a third of gamers are under 18 (see above). Kyle Orland at Ars Technica found that this abrupt change was actually due to a change in the wording of one of the survey questions to include handheld systems, phones, and tablets. 

Up through 2011, the ESA screened out the non-gamers from its annual questionnaire by asking each respondent, “Do you have a video game console in your home or do you have a PC that’s used primarily to run video games.” In 2012, that screening question was expanded to also include play on “a dedicated handheld system (like a PSP, etc.), a wireless device/tablet (e.g., iPad) or a phone used to play games.” Anyone that played games across any of those devices for at least an hour a week was considered a “gamer” for the survey, while those that played at least ten hours were labeled “serious” gamers (even if they were just playing Words With Friends for those ten hours).

The expanded universe of “gamers” captured by the newly worded question creates “survey data that is more fully reflective of everyone who is playing games at this point,” ESA Vice President Dan Hewitt told Ars Technica. It’s also data that paints a very different picture of the overall game market than the one we thought we knew in recent years.