Updating U.S. and the U.K. research from 18 months ago, PopCap Games found that 118.5 million people now play social games at least once a week, 71 percent more than the previous report. Out of everyone online, 41 percent of them have played a social game during the previous three months.

People also are much more likely to spend real money on in-game content, a segment up 86 percent to 31 million players.

More people are playing them than before as well. About 35 million of those now playing social games – 30 percent of the total – were not playing them last time the study was done. The ages are balancing out, too. Players under 30 years old jumped from 19 percent to 30 percent of all social gamers. Therefore, even though the average first-time social gamer is a woman older than 50, the overall average social gamer’s age has gone down to 39 from 43 previously.

Most people know that females outnumber males on these games, but the differential is now only 10 percent (55 percent to 45 percent).

Once people discover the fun of social games, they really get hooked on them. About 68 percent (81 million people) play at least once a day, 41 percent (49 million) play multiple times every day, and 17 percent play at least six hours each week.

Information Solutions Group conducted this research exclusively for PopCap Games. The report examines play habits, attitudes and regional/demographic differences among social gamers, who represent the fastest-growing segment of the video game industry.

Based in Seattle, PopCap was founded in 2000 and was acquired by Electronic Arts in July. It has a worldwide staff of more than 500 people in Seattle, San Francisco, Vancouver, Dublin, Seoul, Shanghai and Tokyo. PopCap is best known for Plants vs. Zombies, Bookworm, Zuma and Bejeweled, the latter franchise of which has sold more than 50 million units.

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Download the 2011 PopCap Social Gaming Research report here [PDF].