Online gaming is becoming a major force on the Internet, with the number of players doubling to 3.7 million in the US alone between 1997 to 1998.
And, according to Anya Sacharow, analyst with Jupiter Communications, who spoke at the Gamexecutive Conference in San Jose on Tuesday, by 2002, 27 million people will be playing games online.
While online gamers are mostly adults today, this is about to change radically. According to a Jupiter survey, online games are currently the third most popular Internet activity for children under 18, after using email and search engines, and future market growth is also likely to come mainly from younger players.
By 2002, children under 18 will outnumber adults on online gaming sites by far, Sacharow predicted, in stark contrast to the traditional adult male audience for computer games. And this age difference will lead to differences in behaviour between the two categories.
While PC gamers tend to go for strategy and role playing games, the most popular online games are card games and trivia games.
But by 2002, almost 20 per cent of online players will not be sitting at a computer, but at an Internet enabled game console. As a result, the next generation game consoles from Sony, Nintendo and Sega are all expected to have some level of Internet support.
The one problem for enterprises hoping to cash in on the online gaming boom, however, is that consumers expect online games to be free.
Sacharow predicted: "Most consumers intend to spend zero dollars online [on games]," but "pay per play" models will have limited online appeal and online game sites will have to live off subscriptions and advertising.
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