According to leading marketing information provider, The NPD Group, U.S. retail sales of online-capable console video games exceeded USD 1 billion in 2003, a 167 per cent increase over 2002. The number of units sold in 2003 exceeded 23 million, a 182 per cent increase over the previous year. Since the category's introduction in 2000, online-capable console video games have sold over 33 million units, bringing in over USD 1.5 billion.
Almost all of the growth in the online-capable console game category has occurred in the past two years. Sales of these games, which include titles for Sony's Playstation 2, Microsoft's X-Box and Nintendo's GameCube, have seen the majority of sales in the shooter and sport games super genres, with sport games leading the charge. In 2002, sport games commanded 69 per cent of the online-capable video games market, while the shooter genre captured 22 per cent. In 2003, sport games claimed 51 per cent of the market, while shooter games remained at 22 per cent. However, other genres began forming the online-capable video games landscape in 2003 with racing games taking 15 per cent and role playing games taking 4 per cent.
With every new year comes renewed hope from developers working to bring their online worlds into the homes of console gamers. And though a lot of money goes into the development of online video games, most software developers are careful to offer both online and offline gameplay options with every title, which in turn gives the consumer the final word on how the game is to be played.
It's important to note that the increase in sales for online-capable games does not mean that the masses are moving to online gameplay, said Richard Ow, senior industry analyst, The NPD Group. In some cases, consumers aren't necessarily aware they're buying games with online capabilities, but whether they're aware or they aren't, the onus falls in the laps of the software developers to provide games with multiple playability features.
Most online-capable video games offer two methods of play: the player can choose to play the game offline; or, with the proper Internet connection and/or subscription service, the player can go online and play with hundreds or thousands of game players in real-time.
The challenge to the console gaming industry can be more attributed to the expanding demographic, explains Ow. According to The NPD Group's Consumer Panel, more than half of the console gamers are 17 years old and younger, which means these gamers, who do not have access to credit cards, must rely on their parents to fund their online gaming habits. This is one of the reasons why most development teams tread cautiously in the world of online gaming. However, by providing first-rate titles with rich graphics, compelling content and online as well as offline capabilities, gamers of all ages and income levels can take advantage of these games.