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Last Updated:  Saturday, 22 February, 2003, 08:31 GMT
Online gaming growing rapidly
Screen-shot from online game EverQuest
Role-playing games such as EverQuest are popular
Online gaming is proving a winner across Europe as surfers turn to the net to play a variety of games.

Nearly six million Europeans visited an online games site during January - more than double the figure from the same time in 2002, according to net measurement firm Nielsen/NetRatings.

The games played range from simple card games through to multi-player arcade games and large-scale role-playing games such as EverQuest.

Sites such as neopets which combines games and community elements are also popular.

Broadband is key

Germany and France are leading the pack when it comes to online gaming. Even third-placed Holland is outstripping the US.

What we've seen is a big rise in broadband take-up and online gaming is one of the sectors these high-speed connections are best suited for
Tom Ewing, Nielsen/NetRatings
Britons, however, are not so keen, with just 1.1 million surfers indulging in net games.

An improvement in gaming technology has partially driven the surge in uptake, according to Nielsen/NetRatings analyst Tom Ewing, as has the health of the games market in general.

"The sector as a whole has been strengthened by the sales of current gaming consoles, which include broadband and online gaming in their development plans," he said.

Events such as the upcoming launch of Xbox Live in Europe will also boost the concept of online gaming he said.

But it is broadband that is the real driver.

Men dominate

"What we've seen is a big rise in broadband take-up and online gaming is one of the sectors these high-speed connections are best suited for," said Mr Ewing.

There is great commercial potential in the sphere of online gaming. Surfers in the Netherlands spent over two hours a month on gaming sites, making them an excellent bet for advertisers.

It will also be good news for mobile operators, who are relying on Java-based mobile games to help drive the take-up of multimedia handsets.

Men still dominate the online gaming world with 2.5 times as many male as female visitors on average.

In the Netherlands, a well-established broadband and gaming market, women are fast catching up however, a sign that gender differences may break down over time.

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