(Credit: Getty Images)Gaming, in some ways, seems bigger than ever. An explosion in mobile titles, the sheer size of blockbusters like Call of Duty and Halo, and a seamlessly endless barrage of requests from Facebook friends to join them in games points to a growing, healthy industry.
But new data from the NPD Group, the market research company behind the industry's monthly sales charts, finds that the number of players is on the decline in the U.S. -- and it's falling faster than you can imagine.
Today, there are an estimated 211.5 million gamers in the U.S. That's still a mighty impressive figure (roughly two-thirds the population of the U.S.), but it's a 12 million drop from a year ago — or 5 percent, if you're into statistics.
Only mobile gaming and digital gaming saw an increase in players, climbing 9 percent and 4 percent, respectively, according to NPD. Everything else, including core gamers, was down.
It wouldn't be unreasonable to assume those core gamers have migrated over to the PC, given the success of Diablo III and the rapidly aging console systems. However, NPD reports the number of 'Avid PC' gamers has also shrunk.
And ultimately, those core gamers are the most important to publishers.
"Given the long lifecycles of the current consoles and the increasing installed base of smartphones and tablets, it's not surprising to see a slight decline in the Core Gamer segment," said NPD analyst Anita Frazier. "It's the revenue contribution of the Core Gamer segment that continues to outpace all other segments, and remains vital to the future of the industry."
Over the past three months, the typical game purchaser spent an average of $48 on physical games and $16 on digital games on the PC, console and portable industries combined. Core gamers, though, spent $65 on physical products.
27 percent of the core crowd also says it has purchased additional content via microtransactions in the past three months. That's nearly twice the amount of the mainstream player base.