The world market for video games is growing faster than ever before and sales figures for today's consoles are 30 percent higher than they were for the previous generation of gaming devices, according to a new report from Elspa (the Entertainment and Leisure Software Publishers Association).

In the UK, profits from games sales were double those of the video rental market and 1.4 times more than cinema box office takings. Games hardware sales were also up by 44 percent, with 3.3 million units sold throughout last year.

"This figures clearly demonstrate the commercial strength of an industry rich in creativity and entertainment value," said Roger Bennett, director general of Elspa.

Microsoft is set to launch its online gaming service — Xbox Live — in the UK this week, with trials for Sony's PS2 online gaming services currently under way. Both companies are pinning their hopes on the success of online gaming, with many ISPs hoping it will be a way to tempt people to try broadband.

"It is up to the ISPs to provide tailormade, affordable packages that people are willing to pay for. Only then will we see large numbers of gamers flocking towards these online packages," said a spokesman at Sony.

The UK retained its place as Europe's number one gaming country, with the third largest market in the world after Japan and the US. Total UK leisure sales grew to reach £1,081m in 2002.

Elspa predicts global games sales will rise to be worth $18.5bn (£11.5bn) this year, up from $16.9bn (£10.5bn) last year.