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Digital distribution overtakes retail PC game sales

by Pete Mason on 21 September 2010, 14:19

Tags: Valve, NPD Market Research

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This day has been a long time coming, but NPD announced this week that digital sales of PC games had overtaken boxed sales in the US in terms of pure volume.

The figures show that for the first half of 2010 (January to June) approximately 19.4 million PC games were sold.  Of these, 11.2 million, or 57.7 per cent, were attributed to digital downloads, with the remaining 8.2 million units being physical copies.  This is the first time that digital distribution has accounted for the lion's share of PC games sales.

Unsurprisingly, Valve's Steam platform led the charge with the highest share of mainstream - as opposed to casual - game sales, followed by Direct2Drive and  Interestingly, the official World of Warcraft site took the fourth place, followed by developer Blizzard's online portal.

However, the numbers were reversed in terms of revenue, with boxed copies accounting for 57 per cent of sales.  The analysts put this down to the higher price normally charged for boxed games, though we'd attribute the discrepancy to the abundance of deals run by digital services that routinely see prices slashed.

It wasn't all good news, though, as total PC game sales saw an overall decrease of 14 per cent year-on-year, with revenues dropping by around 21 per cent.  According to NPD analyst Anita Frazier, the decline is a result of "the expansion of social network gaming as well as the continued expansion of free game options".

In terms of casual games, retailer BigFishGames held the top spot, with Gamehouse and iWin rounding out the top three.

HEXUS Forums :: 19 Comments

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Well personally I buy most games once they are cheap, and generally when steam has a sale they go cheaper than they are in the shops. Where as if I can't wait for a new release steam is generally more expensive eg I have dead rising 2 pre-ordered for £17.95 with an online retailer for a physical copy in the post.
I agree with Percy. I don't care for online distribution (though I know some others love it, for reasons that are valid to them), and I will not pay top dollar to get games on release, when I can get them for a fraction (and fairly often, a small fraction) between a few months and a year or two later. But that's me - I'd rather wait and often pay anything from £1.99 to £4.99 than buy on release and pay maybe 10 times that, or more.

Nevertheless, I'm not surprised that digital distribution has overtaken physical, and sadly, from my perspective anyway, it's probably a trend set to continue.
My problem is that I'm a sucker for a deal. I've bought a ton of games (many of which I've barely played) because Steam had them on sale.

Outside of the offers, though, Amazon (or Game, Play or any other e-tailer) often sells games for about the same. Given the choice of a digital copy and a boxed copy for about the same price - or even a few pounds more - I'll always go the boxed copy. Call me old fashioned, but I just prefer to have something in my hand at the end of the day, even if Steam is a lot more convenient.
My only problem with boxed copies is that I seem to be physically incapable of throwing then away, or even selling them on. And I'm now faced with a fairly serious storage problem. :D

But it's like books …. electronic copies may have some practical advantages, especially when travelling, but it just ain't the same having an e-book as a ‘proper’ printed one. And if I have a problem storing games, you ought to see my book collection. :Oops: :embarrassed::embarrassed::embarrassed:
I'm a fan of steam for it's ease of use and often it's quicker to download a game overnight than wait a couple of days for delivery.

It will normally go for the cheaper version though, unless steam is just a couple of pounds extra as i see that as worth it if it means i could play the game in a couple of hours.

The only major niggle i have with steam is their preloading release times.
Take the F1 game out on Friday. I've preloaded it but it won't be unlocked till 6pm!
Can't see the logic in that. Whilst if I'd brought it from game it would be here come 10am with the post. (Would have brought it from game but i can't find the PC version anywhere online apart from steam)