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Online Gaming Is Booming, Not Boring

The number of unique visitors to online gaming sites grew 17% year over year to almost 217 million worldwide, according to a new ComScore survey.

Far from being bored to death, gaming enthusiasts appear to be thrilled with online gaming. The number of unique visitors to online gaming sites grew 17% year over year to almost 217 million worldwide, according to Internet metrics company ComScore.

Such figures seem at odds with the sentiment expressed by Electronic Arts CEO John Riccitiello, who in a Wall Street Journal interview Monday lamented the lack of creativity in the gaming industry.

"We're boring people to death and making games that are harder and harder to play," he said.

Riccitiello's dour assessment of the computer gaming may be more of a reflection of his own company's performance than anything else. EA saw its number of monthly worldwide unique visitors, as measured by ComScore, drop from 30.5 million in May, 2006, to 21.2 million in May, 2007, a 30.5% decline.

While online traffic doesn't correlate directly to the company's game software sales, it does provide some sense of the broad troubles confronting EA, which failed to anticipate the popularity of Nintendo's Wii console and also faces escalating game production costs as a consequence of pursuing a Hollywood-style strategy of sequels and cinematic spectacle at the expense of quality writing and game play. (EA's Spore, to be released late this year or early next, represents an obvious exception.)

Outside of the big budget, hit-driven world of shrink-wrapped blockbusters, gaming continues to thrive.

"With one in four Internet users visiting a gaming site, playing games online is extremely popular," said Bob Ivins, executive VP and managing director of ComScore Europe, in a statement. "The fact that these Web sites are pulling in over a quarter of the total worldwide Internet population shows what a global phenomenon gaming has become."

What Riccitiello seems to have missed, or perhaps sees and doesn't want to admit, is that the gaming industry is moving to the software-as-a-service model. As a consequence, fewer computer users are likely to bother with expensive boxed games and the burden of downloading, installation, and maintenance. The popularity of online game sites like Yahoo Games (52.7 million unique visitors in May) and MSN Games (40.3 million) suggests that rather than licensing blockbuster properties like The Lord Of The Rings, gaming companies should aim lower and make sure they have the rights to titles like Pac Man and Tetris.

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