The data, which come from a survey released Monday by the consulting firm Frank N. Magid Associates, lay out the challenge that awaits Microsoft and Sony as they prepare to showcase their newest devices at the E3 gaming industry convention this week in Los Angeles.
The proliferation of smartphones and tablets expanded the demand for games. The percentage of weekly online gamers has shot up to 70% from 50% two years ago, shortly after the launch of the iPad, according to the survey.
"We’re becoming a gaming nation that has embraced games on tablets and smartphones at a rate no one was really expecting," said Andrew Hare, a senior analyst with Frank N. Magid.
But whether console manufacturers can tap into this new segment of consumers is the multibillion-dollar question that will begin to be answered this holiday season. Fifty-three percent of weekly gamers use their tablets or other mobile devices while 42% turn to their consoles weekly.
"Clearly, smartphone and tablet gamers are radically changing the face of gaming today,” Hare said. "They are more likely to be women, slightly older and more racially diverse. This represents a continued opportunity for publishers and developers to create games that appeal to the unique sensibilities of these new gamers."
Tablets, in fact, have overtaken smartphones in a span of two years. At 70%, tablet owners are twice as likely as smartphone owners to regularly play games on their device.
Tablet owners are also more lucrative for the industry. During the last year, tablet owners paid for an average of five game apps, according to the survey. Smartphone owners downloaded an average of three.
The Magid survey found that console ownership is somewhere in between, with about 50% of households having one. Microsoft and Sony have been able to withstand the flagging sales of their old consoles and recent games by offering add-ons and other content that are downloadable over the Internet. About 2 of 5 console owners buy downloaded content and spend an average of $57 a year buying them.
Though surveys have found that gamers prefer CDs and DVDs of games and content, the Magid figures highlight gamers' reluctant acceptance of the switchover to content stored entirely on hard drives.
“Even though a few still like to brand (the downloadable content as) evil on the forums, the data suggests that gamers are embracing additional content more and more as a way to extend their relationship with their favorite games," said Nathan Nanzer, Magid's vice president for gaming.
Barely a quarter of console-owning respondents said they planned to spend more on games this year, up just 4 percentage points from last year, despite the forthcoming releases of the newest Xbox and the PlayStation 4.
The firm said it polled a nationally representative population of 2,400 people aged 8 to 64 years old who had access to the Internet.