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Fewer People Now Playing Videogames

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.)

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.