Why teens are dumping console games for mobile

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Because I am an old man, I have no idea how and where today's teens spend their money. (My sources tell me that the popularity of sock hops and drive-in movies have waned precipitously in recent years.) The latest edition of Piper Jaffray's semi-annual Taking Stock with Teens survey reveals that while fashion, food and beauty care remain key categories of interest, spending on portable devices continues to grow as well: Eighty-six percent of U.S. teens say they are likely to purchase a smartphone for their next mobile device, up from 83 percent last fall and 81 percent a year ago. Roughly a third of teens already own Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone, up from 17 percent a year ago, and 40 percent of teens expect to purchase an iPhone within the next six months. In addition, 34 percent of teens own a tablet, increasing from 22 percent in the spring of 2011; 70 percent own Apple's iPad, followed by Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android-based tablets at 19 percent and Amazon's Kindle Fire at 11 percent.

Teens make up 33 percent of all videogame players, and given how many own smartphones and tablets, it's no surprise that mobile gaming is gaining in popularity within the youth segment. Gamasutra reports that 63.5 percent of teens told Piper Jaffray they're willing to play games on their mobile phones, compared to just 33.4 percent as recently as a year ago. At the same time, conventional console gaming is falling out of fashion: Almost two-thirds of respondents expressed declining interest in console gameplay, up from 63.5 percent 12 months earlier. Pricing no doubt plays at least a small role in teen preferences: On average, gaming represents 7 percent of teen spending. Mobile games, with their multitude of 99-cent price tags and freemium options, stretch the dollar far further than console titles.

But the Piper Jaffray survey also reveals a deeper, far more significant reason: Teens say that console games don't offer the same opportunities for social interaction as mobile titles. Some respondents even maintain that games without a social component are "a waste of time." That's why Piper Jaffray cautions investors against betting on a console comeback, at least in the immediate future: "We expect traditional packaged goods game sales to continue a decline during the next two years as gamers shift to digital offerings," the report states. "While a console refresh in 2013 or 2014 will breathe new life into the industry, the new systems will face unprecedented competition from tablets, smartphones and connected TVs." 

The Piper Jaffray survey illustrates that mobile social interaction isn't simply a passion for teen consumers--it's a full-blown obsession. A new infographic created by mobile firm Location Labs reveals that teens between the ages of 12 and 17 send and receive an average of 2,108 text messages per month, with 63 percent sending texts during the school day and 65 percent firing off messages in the middle of the night. That's on top of 835 minutes of talk time per month (about 15 calls a day), 6.5 new mobile contacts per month and 11 new app downloads each month. Mobile interaction is simply synonymous with all facets of contemporary teen life, and content providers targeting the demographic must respond accordingly. If not, it's game over.--Jason

P.S. FierceMobileContent will not publish April 6 in observance of the Good Friday holiday. Publication will resume Monday, April 9. See you then.