Market research firm The NPD Group has released a report called Expanding the Games Market which finds that gamers of all types see videogames as a good way to bond with family and alleviate stress. The report separates gamers into "heavy" and "lighter" categories, which we presume refers to the amount of time they spend gaming and not their respective weights (although the two figures might correspond). While heavy gamers are unsurprisingly more likely to play alone, both types value the power of games to bring families together.

According to the report, 63 percent of the U.S. population plays some sort of videogames. This includes all consoles and handhelds, as well as games on mobile phones, iPods, and edutainment devices for children. The amount of time consumers are spending gaming is basically flat as compared to last year: 30 percent say they are gaming more, 30 percent less, and 40 percent said they spent the same amount of time on games this year as they did last.

Heavy gamers are typically male, 18-34, while lighter gamers are concentrated in the lower and upper age ranges with high female representation.

NPD finds that the rise of casual gaming is attracting new gamers beyond the traditional core crowd.

"The new type of game experiences brought to the market over the past several years are succeeding in reaching a broader audience," said Anita Frazier, industry analyst, The NPD Group. "The challenge for the industry is that consumers are a fickle group, and with the great variety of options pulling at their limited free time, they're going to be easily distracted unless something really compels them to stay with gaming. To reach these less involved consumers, the industry has to work even harder, but doing so can produce great rewards."

NPD surveyed 5,039 members of its online consumer panel between October 11-18, 2007. Data on 2- to 12-year-olds was obtained under the supervision of a female parent or guardian.