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'Extreme' gamers padding video game industry's bottom line

Three percent of gamers are spending an average of 45 hours playing each week and bought 24 games in the last three months, according to an NPD study.

The video game industry had better thank its lucky stars that hard-core gamers do what they do.

According to a report issued Monday morning by industry analyst firm, The NPD Group, the most active group of players, which it termed "extreme gamers," devote more than a full-time job's work week to their avocation. But they don't get insurance benefits for their efforts.

Rather, NPD's "Games Segmentation 2008" report explained, extreme gamers put in an average of 45 hours a week playing games, and, even better--for the video game industry's coffers--bought a whopping 24 titles in the last three months.

True, these committed gamers make up just 3 percent of the 174 million that NPD said play on PCs or Macs or dedicated video game machines. Still, that means 5.22 million people out there are putting in serious amounts of time gaming away. And if you stop and think about the dollars they're spending, if they're buying 24 games every three months, it's kind of breathtaking.

The NPD report identified seven different segments of gamers, including our extreme friends. The others include 9 percent who are "avid PC gamers," 17 percent who are console gamers, 14 percent who are online PC gamers, 15 percent who are offline PC gamers, 22 percent who are "young heavy gamers" and 20 percent who are "secondary" gamers.

According to the report's author, NPD analyst Anita Frazier, the largest group, the young heavy gamers, comprise a group 38 million strong. They tend to favor portable game machines like the Nintendo DS or the Sony PSP, while the extreme gamer spends most of his or her time plopped down in front of a Microsoft Xbox 360 or Sony PlayStation 3.

Still, Frazier reported that PCs are still the single-most popular gaming medium.

The report delved into cross-ownership, producing some interesting, if a little confusing, data.

For example, someone who has a PS3 is more likely to also own another next-generation console, like the Xbox 360 or Nintendo Wii, than those who started with either of the latter machines. And, 45 percent of PSP owners also have a DS, while just 21 percent of DS owners have a PSP as well. I'm not great at math, but I think that means there are a lot more DS owners out there. Perhaps I'm wrong.

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One intriguing fact in the report is that fully 14 percent of games purchased overall were digital downloads. I would have thought that indicated a heavy degree of usage of services like Xbox Live, but the report indicates that 27 percent of that downloading activity--the largest share of any gaming medium--was done by PC gamers.

NPD said its report was based on a survey of 20,000 gamers.

What does it all mean? Well, it's hard to tell exactly. But one thing that stands out is the idea that PC gaming is alive and well.

I think we tend to forget that in the age of massive marketing budgets for machines like the Xbox, Wii, and PS3, and the incredible hype for games made for those consoles like Halo 3, Guitar Hero III, Grand Theft Auto IV and so on.

But when Electronic Arts' Spore comes out next month, it will not be available on consoles. It will be primarily a PC game, though versions will be available for the Mac, for the DS, and for mobile phones.

All told, though, the report seems to spell out that the video games industry is relatively healthy, even if those extreme gamers may not be.