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New research published by Ofcom confirms cultural importance of video games

Submitted by on Monday, 31 May 20106 Comments

New research published by Ofcom this month shows that the number of UK adults playing video games increased again in 2009.

The report shows that over a third of the UK population now plays games in some form or another, and this has led TIGA, the trade association representing the UK games industry, to renew call for the government to recognise the sector’s cultural and economic importance with financial support.

Being the data nerds that we are, we here at Attitude Towers have poured over the 89 page Media Literacy report to bring you the most interesting findings, and to offer our thoughts on the likelihood of the coveted tax breaks becoming a reality.

The biggest thing to come out of the report has to be that a third of the population are playing games – 36% to be precise. For some of us dinosaurs here at PS3 Attitude who remember a time when gaming was very much a niche hobby that is a simply huge figure.

Even more interestingly, and contrary to our initial suspicions, the findings suggest that that average isn’t just being wildly inflated by everybody’s Auntie playing Farmville on Facebook.

In fact the survey shows that 27% of the adult population play games on a console hooked up to the TV, which is a massive increase of 7% over last 2 years. Conversely a mere 14% of adults in the UK play games on their PC or laptop – a figure that has actually decreased 3% since 2007.

It is also worth bearing in mind that it is 36% of the entire adult population. If you change the demographics to remove pensioners and Alan Titchmarsh from the equation then the numbers are even higher still, with a whopping 64% of 16-24 year olds being gamers.

Even more surprisingly a very healthy 58% of 25-34 year olds manage to fit in time for gaming around work and family commitments, once again proving the perception of gaming as a childish hobby hopelessly incorrect.

And while we are using demographics to disprove stereotypes, the report also shows that the term ‘girl gamer’ is obsolete as at an overall level the percentage of gamers is the same regardless of gender. The results do show however that guys are more likely play on consoles (31% vs. 22%) and generally play for longer (5.2 vs. 3.4 hours a week).

The report also reveals that 13% of the adult population play games online at least once a week, 24% of all adults in the UK would consider themselves as ‘regular gamers’, and the average amount of time each person spends gaming is 4.3 hours a week.

Unfortunately there is not much in the report that relates directly to the PS3. The report predominantly focuses Media Literacy in general as opposed to gaming specifically, and when it does look at gaming more closely we can’t help but feel that Ofcom show a slight lack of expertise and knowledge in the area.

Take for example the different types of gaming device that they recognise in their question on ways of playing games.

The first three of the seven choices ‘Games console & TV’, ‘PC/Laptop’, and ‘Hand held games player’, are perfectly reasonable. But we are completely bemused by the four remaining choices which are ‘Mobile phone’, ‘MP3 player’, ‘Portable media player’ and ‘PDA’.

All four options are ‘new for 2009’ apparently. But we can’t work out where an iPhone/iPod, for example, would fit into those four categories. We’re even more confused as to why Ofcom felt the need to posthumously include PDA this year (for those of you who were wondering, a staggering 0% of people polled played games on a PDA).

More importantly, which category would the N-Gage go under?

That said, an interesting PS3 related fact that did come out of the study is that one in ten of the adult population uses their games console to surf the web, a figure rising to one in five among 16-24 year olds. This points to more people than we realised utilising the PS3’s built-in internet browser.

Most importantly, and shortcomings aside, the report gives a great insight to the position our hobby currently occupies within UK culture, and that includes the negatives.

It may for example dismay you to learn that 25% of the population has some ‘concerns’ regarding gaming, of which the main concerns are related to ‘offensive content’ (18%). Predictably the level of concern tends to increase with age, with over 45s more concerned that those under 24 (38% vs. 15%).

However believe it or not this is a step in the right direction as the level of concern has actually fallen in the past 2 years from 30% in 2007. Gaming also generates less public concern than other comparable mediums – far less than the Internet (61%) or Television (39%) do.

The findings also suggest that the amount of concern over content in games is not affected by whether or not you actually play games, with the levels of concern among those who play games being identical to the levels of concern among those who do not.

So a recap then. Gaming is rising in popularity across the adult population. Over 50% of people aged 25-34 enjoy gaming, proving that it isn’t just for kids. Likewise concern over the medium is actually falling since 2007, despite fairly regular vilification in the press.

But the burning question for many remains – in light of the sectors surge in popularity, will the new coalition government deliver the much touted tax breaks for UK developers?


TIGA at Downing Street. A tax break for the industry would be like Christmas come early for gamers. (You're fired - Ed.)

You may remember at the start of the month we ran an article on great British developers in which we showed some of the great games and studios that could be under threat, as 44 companies in the sector went out of business between July 2008 and July 2009.

In it we mentioned that conservative MP Ed Vaizey had promised to support the industry, but that there was some doubt surrounding these claims. Now he is the new Culture Minister he has the power to honour this promise, but doubt must persist given the decidedly ropey state of the UK’s finances.

Now we may not be Michael Pachter (at least not yet) but we’d say the signs were fairly good.

TIGA yesterday commented favourably and hopefully regarding Culture Minister Ed Vaizey and Chancellor George Osbourne, and Dundee West MSP Joe FitzPatrick has also today lent his support in writing letters to three cabinet members including George Osbourne urging them to work with TIGA to support the sector.

This favourable Ofcom report will help too, as it will certainly be respected by those in Westminster.

So what does everything think of the report’s findings? The comments are open if any of the findings have surprised, pleased or shocked you, or if you have your own predictions regarding the tax-break saga.

Or, if you like lengthy official documents, the Ofcom report can be found here for your viewing pleasure.