What do people do when times are tough? History suggests they look for escapes. Some go to the movies, some eat candy and some indulge in sin. And some play video games.

The healthy growth in the video game market has not been dented by the recession according to Nielsen’s newly-releasedState of the Video Gamer‘ report, which looked at console and PC video game usage in the United States for Q4 2008.

Nielsen’s data shows that gaming on consoles, computers and mobile devices was still going strong in the last quarter of 2008. Nielsen also looked at usage trends. Key data points:

  • Males ages 12 to 17 tend to be the most active gamers. Their consoles of choice are the PlayStation 2 and Xbox 360.
  • The PlayStation 2 gets the most usage in terms of total minutes but is on a downward trend and Nielsen projects that it will lose the top spot later this year.
  • Females aged 25 and up account for 46.2% of all PC game players and over 54% of total minutes spent. The most popular PC games are card games; Microsoft Solitaire is the most widely-played game with 17 million players in December.

The aspect of Nielsen’s report that will be of interest to media and marketing folks is the analysis of console players’ television consumption habits. According to Nielsen, the most active gamers using PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 are “less likely to be watching prime time TV“. That is, of course, because they’re busy playing games during prime time.

That doesn’t mean that they’re missing out, however. They are still consuming non-prime time programming and time-shifting prime time programming.

The implication for marketers is clear: avid gamers are a segment of the population that is increasingly difficult to reach via television advertising. I think most of them know that, which is why we’ve seen so much interest in video game advertising over the past several years.

The problem with video game advertising of course is that it’s still a relatively unknown quantity. Obviously, well thought out ‘product placement’ is likely to be the most effective form of in-game advertising and fortunately many marketers are familiar with product placement because it has been employed in television and motion pictures for many years.

That said, product placement is a different beast than traditional television advertising and it has its limitations so it will be interesting to see how various brands that need to reach the video game generation implement their video game ad strategies.

Photo credit: mawel via Flickr.