Entertainment Consumers Association President Hal Halpin says the NPD Group's research methodology is "flawed."
The market research and analysis firm NPD Group made a rather surprising claim earlier this week, saying that the number of gamers in the U.S. had actually declined by five percent, representing a loss of 12 million people. A study that divided gamers into six distinct segments - Core, Avid PC, Casual PC, Digital, Mobile, and Family+Kid - found that all but Digital and Mobile had suffered serious declines, resulting in an overall slide in the population.
But ECA President Hal Halpin isn't buying it. "If you look at the data holistically - across all platforms and devices - I think it hard to believe that the number of people gaming is doing anything but dramatically increasing," he told NBC. "While I have a lot of respect for the NPD Group and the research that they do, their methodology can be flawed when looking at gamers and gaming in its totality."
Halpin's concerns seem to stem largely from the need to define who qualifies as a "gamer" in the first place. "Years ago, I was fairly regularly asked by the media, 'Who is a Gamer?' and I think that question has been answered by the obvious: it's now easier to ask, who isn't?" he continued. "With the ubiquity of tablets and phones, I'm hard-pressed to even think of someone I know who hasn't recently played a game."
It's never smart to place gut feelings above hard facts, but if the method of data collection is flawed or incomplete, then everything becomes a bit of a crapshoot. Conventional console sales may be in decline, which NPD analyst Anita Frazier said isn't surprising given that we're nearing the end of a very long console cycle, but the NPD's ability to track digital sales is spotty at best, and the seemingly arbitrary distinction between, say, PC and Core gamers, or Mobile and Digital, is just asking for trouble. There's no question that the market is changing, but Halpin said that market research must change along with it.
"I think that researchers are in a quandary, especially now, with how to identify types and categories of gamers," he said. "I don't envy them the job, but researchers truly need to re-think their entire approach to identifying the demographic because the old models just don't work any more."