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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 September, 2004, 09:59 GMT 10:59 UK
UK turning into nation of gamers
By Alfred Hermida
BBC News Online technology editor

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People in the UK are buying and playing more games than ever before, with video gaming fast becoming a mainstream entertainment activity.

Over the last six years, the UK market for games grew by 100% and was worth a record 1,152m in 2003, according to a report by analysts Screen Digest.

"The future of entertainment is games," said Roger Bennett, director general of the games trade body, Elspa.

The study was released to coincide with a series of gaming events in London.

Older gamers

The gaming industry has reason to celebrate as it gathers for a hectic week.

The Screen Digest study shows that video games have become part of the fabric of entertainment.

Graph showing spending on entertainment
It found that more than 25 million consoles or handheld gaming devices were sold between 1995 and 2003. This amounts to one for every household in the UK.

Over the same period, more than 280 million games were sold, enough for every home to own 11 titles each.

"It is no longer a kids' market," said Mr Bennett, boss of Elspa, the Entertainment and Leisure Software Publishers Association, which commissioned the report.

"It is mainly an adult market. The average PlayStation 2 player is in their twenties," he told BBC News Online.

"And there is evidence that more and more women are getting into games."

Mass market

The Screen Digest study shows just how far gaming has come in just a few years. Between 1997 and 2003, spending on games grew much faster than on other forms of entertainment like film or music.

Roger Bennett from Elspa
Gaming is a mass market entertainment format, comparable to any other
Roger Bennett, Elspa
The games market increased by 100%, compared with a 30% rise in cinema takings and a 4.5% drop in music sales.

In 2003, Britons spent 1,152m on games, more than ever before, and far more than on going to the cinema or renting videos or DVDs.

Part of this is due to the relative high cost of video games. Best-selling games such as the Grand Theft Auto series sell around a million copies in a year, bringing in gross retail revenues approaching 50m.

By comparison, the top selling album in 2003, Dido's Life For Rent, sold 1.2 million copies, generating 14m in gross revenues.

"Gaming is a mass market entertainment format, comparable to any other," said Mr Bennett.

They are way too reliant on young-demographic-oriented formulae.
Anonymous Developer, London

"From an economic perspective, it is bigger than the box office, bigger in terms of exports than film or TV. It is not only economically valuable to UK PLC, but it is also important to note that the UK has a very large stake-holding in a global market."

In 2003, gamers across the world spent 10.1bn ($18.2bn) on their hobby. Screen Digest predicts this will increase to 11.7bn ($21.1bn) by 2007.

"Our research suggests there is plenty more scope for strong sales within the current console cycle," said Ben Keen, chief analyst of Screen Digest.

"However, innovation is the cornerstone of the games industry and we expect the launch of exciting new handheld machines to give the market a huge boost ahead of the next generation of TV-based consoles."

Games fest

Over the next five days, London is hosting two major trade shows and conferences for the gaming industry. The public can get a taste of the titles coming up at the GameStars Live show.

Graph showing European spending on games
The Docklands is playing host to a new trade show, the Electronic Games Network (EGN) and a complementary developers conference, as well as the GameStars event.

At the other end of London, in the west, is the established ECTS trade show and the Game Developers Conference Europe (GDCE).

The confusing mass of competing shows and acronyms is a sign of the strength of the UK games industry, according to Mr Bennett.

"There is every reason for an event in Europe which demonstrates the success of the industry, the huge creativity of the industry and its success and provides a shop window," said the boss of Elspa.

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