Gaming is continuing to buck the economic downturn, but top-selling games are crowding out smaller titles according to research published today by the US Entertainment Software Association (ESA).

Computer and video game hardware, software and peripheral sales climbed to $21 billion (£14.5 billion) in 2008, with entertainment software sales comprising $11.7 billion (£8.1 billion) of that total figure - a 23% increase over the previous year.

However, superstar games such as GTA and Guitar Hero are hogging the increases. In 2005, the top 20 games accounted for just 9 per cent of sales. Last year's top 20 games took 15 per cent of gamers' money.

Consoles are king

Nearly 300 million games were sold in America last year, with the majority of those (190 million) for consoles, 80 million for handhelds and just over 29 million for desktop PCs.

In 2008, family-friendly video games once again dominated the market, with games that the Entertainment Software Rating Board rated "Everyone 10+" and lower accounting for over half of all sales.

Games rated "T" for "Teen," meanwhile, accounted for 27 per cent of all sales, while "Mature (M)" games made up just 16 per cent of the market.

Online gaming exploding

At the same, comScore also release figures showing a sharp increase in online gaming over the last year.

86 million Americans now play games online - an increase of 27 per cent over a year ago - while the time they spend playing games has jumped an incredible 42 per cent. Americans now spend nearly 5 per cent of their time online playing games.

Yahoo Games ranked as the most visited site with 19.5 million visitors (up 20 per cent), followed by EA Online with 15.4 million visitors (up 21 per cent), and Disney Games with 13.4 million visitors (up 13 per cent).

Online gamers watch an average of 127 ads each month.