Who plays and who pays for mobile gaming?

When it comes to playing games on smartphones and tablets, the demographic breakdown between men and women is pretty even. But in terms of which of those player sets is spending the most, it's a whole different story.

There are currently more than 200 million owners of mobile devices in the U.S. aged 13 and older, Geoffrey Zatkin, co-founder of video game consultancy EEDAR, told attendees at the ongoing Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. Some 142 million of these are active gamers.



Candy Crush
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Candy Crush

That average percentage of devices owners who play games has hovered in the 67-70 percent range for the past three years – even as the number of smartphones sold has increased – and that, said Zatkin, is good news for game publishers.

"We haven't saturated the market yet," he said. "Gamers continue to come."

The large majority of mobile game players are over 18 – with 39 percent over the age of 36, according to the Entertainment Software Association. Some 44 percent are male, said Zatkin, while 56 percent are female.

Of these mobile gamers, nearly 45 percent don't pay for games, according to EEDAR data. Roughly half – some 49 percent – are considered moderate spenders – averaging between one cent and $9.99 per month. Those players make up 50 percent of the industry's revenue.

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The rest comes from just 6 percent of the players – dubbed "whales" after the popular Las Vegas term – who spend $10 or more per month on mobile games.

Over 70 percent of those so-called whales are male, whereas women make up close to 70 percent of the non-paying category. And, perhaps, not surprisingly, the core gamers in mobile (the ones who play the most and spend the most) tend also to be core gamers in other categories.

Zatkin said that could explain the spending habits.

"The gamers of today are entertainment consumers and they're co-opting pretty much any media device and turning it into a gaming platform," he said. "The whales of mobile consist of people who are already used to paying money for games (in other mediums)."

While discovery methods, such as topping the charts or being a featured app, along with word of mouth, drive players to games, the leading influencer is familiarity.

Branded titles – such as new instalments of games people have played before, or mobile versions of hit games on other systems – tend to do better than their competitors, indicating the flood of sequels isn't about to end anytime soon.

When it comes to pulling the trigger on a mobile game, though, it all comes down to the price tag.

"As much as your friend tells you it's awesome, costs are still the leading decider on whether you acquire the game," said Zatkin.