While heavy gamers make up only 2 percent of the U.S. gamer population, which according to NPD Group is 191 million strong, they buy eight times more than the average player. So the casual gamers and new gamers are attractive targets for the industry because they represent a huge opportunity for growth.
"Gaming, while popular and growing, is far from saturated. It's an industry that is ripe for growth but to do that the game publishers are realizing that they need to produce different kinds of content," said Anita Frazier, an industry analyst with the NPD Group.
Moves by filmmakers to tap into the game industry demonstrate a confidence in this growth potential. At E3, Electronic Arts, Inc. and Steven Spielberg previewed their partnership to create three video games.
And Disney, the parent company of ABC News, will invest $130 million this year in product development at its four game studios.
"People who like games are also big consumers of entertainment in general. Gamers are everywhere. Everyone likes to play games, but not everyone knows it yet," said Graham Hopper, executive vice president and general manager of Disney Interactive Studios.
With major franchises like "Halo" and "Grand Theft Auto" enriching the $39.8 billion-dollar industry, developers are now willing to take a chance on reaching untapped audiences. Plus, simpler games are cheaper to produce.
All these factors mean that while this year's E3 may not have reproduced bombshell announcements from years past, it is special because there has never been a better season for a new gamer to jump in and try gaming.
"There's a tacit acknowledgement that people are playing all sorts of games, and I think for too long this industry has been focused on one type of person, one specific gaming preference. So I think this is a leap into maturity for the gaming industry," said George Jones of GamePro Magazine.
Going after the casual gamer: A snapshot of some of the major exhibitors:
The huge success of Nintendo Wii and Nintendo DS is credited with proving to the industry that nongamers will play if offered a simple device and a relatable topic.
So, true to this successful formula, this week Nintendo announced Wii Fit, an exercise game that contains aerobics, yoga poses and games like a hula-hoop and downhill-ski competition. Gamers play by standing on the new Balance Board, a super-smart accessory that allows the user to control movements on the screen by interpreting their movements on the board through sensors on all four corners.
"Fit was really recognition of a trend that as the populations age — both here in the West and in Japan — that fitness was something that people were concerned about, and the question was how can we bring a fun element to it," said George Harrison, Nintendo senior vice president of marketing.
One-third of Nintendo's $7 billion in annual revenue is from sales to customers who are older than 35. Casual and new users can expect to see more offerings in the self-improvement and self-development game category, which includes the popular Brain Age game for Nintendo DS.
While Microsoft introduced the heavily anticipated titles "Halo 3," "Grand Theft Auto IV" and "Madden NFL '08" for Xbox 360 at E3 this week, new games for the casual user also shared the spotlight.