Editor’s note: Ryan Smith is a longtime gamer and freelance writer who lives in Raleigh, NC. A graduate of East Carolina University with a degree in business and marketing, he has written in the past for WRAL Tech Wire and GameArgus.com. He currently plays Xbox 360 and PC as well as Nintendo DS. For story ideas, tips and feedback, he can be reached via e-mail (ryannicksmith@gmail.com)

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – Nearly 69 million people will be playing social games by next year, according to analysis firm eMarketer.

With the success of social networks like Facebook and the increasing popularity of the video game industry, it isn’t just “gamer” anymore, there are “hardcore” gamers and “social” gamers now.

According to eMarketer, gamers who play only social games are 61 percent female and 39 percent male, taking on games like Farmville, Mafia Wars or Texas HoldEm Poker.

Interestingly, over 40 percent of these casual social gamers are women over age 50.

When it comes to hardcore social gamers, or gamers who have also played core segment games such as RPGs(Role Playing Game), strategy games or FPSs(First Person Shooter), they are most likely male under age 40. These hardcore gamers are also more likely to spend money on these freemium social games with 59 percent saying they planned to purchase social gaming content in 2011 compared to only 23 percent of casual social gamers. Paying money in a freemium game means you can access better content earlier, without having to do any “grinding” or long term acquiring of points/currency to access the same content for free.

eMarketer’s report also concludes that casual social gamers primarily play their social games via a desktop or laptop computer, about 86 percent of the time compared to the 59 percent for hardcore social gamers. Hardcore social gamers have a heavier tendency towards mobile access for their social games on their smartphones or tablets, at about 24 percent of the time compared to 5 percent for casual social gamers.

As an on-again off-again social network user, I have still come into contact with social gaming from time to time as I see some of my network friends playing games like Farmville or Mafia Wars and receiving an invite for them myself. However I am a hardcore gamer and no social game has had enough draw for me so far, but with the Unreal Engine being used with Flash 11 we will probably see some social or casual games that have a heavier punch that attracts gamers like me before long.

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