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Fewer People Now Playing Videogames

Wednesday, 5 Sep 2012 | 5:11 PM ET

Bad news for traditional gamers: 5 percent fewer people are playing games than a year ago, according to a new report from the NPD Group.

Eric Piermont | AFP | Getty Images

Some 211.5 million Americans play videogames, 12 million fewer than a year ago. And as people spend more time on their mobile devices, the way people are playing is changing too — gamers are shifting away from traditional consoles to mobile and social games.

The big winner: mobile games. It’s now the largest gaming category, 22 percent of all gamers, a 9 percent increase from last year. In second place: digital games, both paid and free. Now 16 percent of gamers play digital games, a 4 percent increase. (Read More: The Most Anticipated Videogames of 2013.)

Bad News for Video Game Makers
According to the NPD Group, there are 12 million fewer video game players compared to last year, reports CNBC's Julia Boorstin. Gamers are shifting from traditional console games into mobile and digital games, she says.

The loser: what NPD calls “core” gamers, who dropped 2 percent to 21 percent of the gaming population.

The problem: The shrinking core gamers pay the most on games — an average of $65 in the past three months. That’s more than the average $48 gamers spend, and the $16 spent on digital games. So that means the shift to mobile and digital is bringing down the overall gaming spend. (Read More: Game Over? US Videogame Sales Drop for 8th Straight Month.)

This could be good for Zynga, and perhaps also Facebook, if they can host that mobile game play and take a piece of the revenue. Electronic Arts, which is known for its traditional games, is also investing heavily in this mobile space, while Activision Blizzard , also looks to derive more of its revenue from digital. (Read More: Can 'FarmVille 2' Save Struggling Zynga?)

Another reason console gaming — along with physical game sales — are lagging is the fact that we’re at the end of a console cycle. We’ll see whether the introduction of new consoles can change consumer habits, or whether the rise of mobile gaming is a trend that can’t be reversed.

—By CNBC's Julia Boorstin
@JBoorstin

Questions? Comments? MediaMoney@cnbc.com

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  • Working from Los Angeles, Boorstin is CNBC's media and entertainment reporter and editor of CNBC.com's Media Money section.