Can games grow beyond the hard-core set?

Industry hopes next-generation consoles lasso fans outside the standard 18- to 34-year-old male demographic.

LOS ANGELES--As the booming game industry seeks to become the dominant entertainment medium, it's tottering between appeasing its loyal hard-core audience and targeting neglected groups such as women.

"We need a cultural shift so that young girls and women feel that playing games is not a testosterone-monopolized hobby reserved for their boyfriends and husbands," Douglas Lowenstein, president of the Entertainment Software Association, said Wednesday during a press conference at the Electronic Entertainment Expo.

Statistics, Lowenstein said, indicate that the industry has done a good job meeting the needs of its key group--men between 18 and 34 years old. But women and older adults still haven't grasped game play as eagerly as their male counterparts.

What's new:
The game industry is eyeing ways to expand to underserved markets. "Burying our heads in the sand or adopting a bunker mentality is an immature response," said the ESA's Douglas Lowenstein.

Bottom line:
To be the top entertainment player, the game industry has to lasso aficionados outside the standard 18- to 34-year-old male demographic, experts say. Will advanced features in the next-gen consoles help the industry reach its goal?

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"Somewhere between online checkers and 'Halo' is a sweet spot that the industry has to tap in order to significantly grow its market," said Michael Gartenberg, an analyst with Jupiter Research.

The game industry's struggle to reach underserved markets has left many people with the impression that games, like professional wrestling, simply aren't mainstream entertainment. That perception, however, has gradually changed as the industry has grown to a point that some now suggest it will become bigger than the better-established movie industry.

Including hardware and software sales, the game industry has overtaken box office movie sales. But counting DVD movie sales and rentals, as well as other merchandise related to movies, such as toys and clothing, the $48 billion movie industry far outpaces the $28 billion game industry.

Manufacturers of the much-touted next-generation consoles--Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony--announced this week that they have included features such as video chat; backward-compatibility to older, mainstream arcade video games; and online commerce features, in part to attract underserved groups to their new systems.

It's not that women are totally excluded from the game industry; ESA data indicates that they make up a third of the console market and about 40 percent of the PC game market.

"But we also know that many of these women are casual gamers who might invest more time and dollars into this form of entertainment if we produced content they could more easily embrace," Lowenstein said.

Frank Gibeau, senior vice president of American marketing with game publisher Electronic Arts, said new console features may improve the devices' chances of reaching the mass market. But console makers

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