One-third of US population plays downloaded games -- Do you?

New report also cautions that digital-only future might be a ways off; just 16 percent of respondents said they exclusively play downloaded games.

A new report from research firm NPD Group--Exploring Digital Gaming--found that 36 percent of individuals in the United States (aged 13 or older) are "digital gamers," meaning they currently play downloaded games on a computer, console, or portable device. It is not clear how this number stacks up on a year-over-year basis.

An all-digital future for gaming seems eventually inevitable, don't expect this transition to happen anytime soon. The report also shows that 16 percent of respondents said they exclusively play downloaded games and not physically purchased products.

The Exploring Digital Gaming study concluded, as you might expect, that the PC is the most popular device by far for digital gaming, with 90 percent of "digital gamers" playing on the computer. Digital gaming on consoles is gaining in popularity, the study found, but it's still far behind the PC; 28 percent of digital gamers said they play downloaded games on a console.

Despite the growth in digital gaming from console gamers, purchase frequency remains moderate, according to the study. Around 67 percent of "primary console players" (people who play on consoles most often) said they purchased digital games more than once a year. However, only 14 percent said the purchase digital games on a monthly basis.

"Most digital players, regardless of device, don't plan their purchases," NPD Group analyst Liam Callahan said in a statement. "They purchase simply when they find something they like. But primary console players do have a greater tendency to purchase at or before the time of release relative to PC players. As more consumers purchase the new consoles (Xbox One, PlayStation 4), we expect to see greater digital spending from digital console gamers as consumers indicated that purchasing these consoles will most likely increase their digital spending."

Regarding purchase preference between formats, 25 percent of respondents of the Exploring Digital Gaming study said they would choose digital and 30 percent said they would choose physical if both formats were offered at the same price. The rest were unsure.

Primary console players said they are more likely to choose physical products in this case at 44 percent. The Exploring Digital Gaming study also interestingly found that primary computer players don't automatically side with digital, as this group was split closely between choosing digital (25 percent) and physical (28 percent). The rest of the group were "indecisive."

Finally, the report concluded that gamers see value in both physical and digital games. 70 percent said physical and digital offer "the same" value for their money.

"The value that gamers see in physical is having an actual disk that can be held, while later being able to trade-in or sell the game," Callahan said. "Digital gamers like the economy of these games: they're either free or less expensive than their physical counterparts, as well as the ease and convenience of acquisition and storage."

The Exploring Digital Gaming study was fielded December 19-January 2 to members of the NPD Group's online panel. It was completed by more than 6,000 people ages 13 and older.

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Discussion

153 comments
tightwad34
tightwad34

No. I won't buy digital games until it's absolutely necessary. I guess I'm just old school, and the industry should recognize the fact that if it weren't for us, it wouldn't be a multi billion dollar industry. But at the same time I understand they need to go with the times and embrace technology and it's rapid development. In the end, I'll do whatever I need to do to keep playing video games, but take it with a grain of salt.

syseong
syseong

Please don't ask me to download XXGB game...
I don't have a super fast XXmbps internet connection.

Samus12345
Samus12345

Digital copies can't be traded or resold and take up more hd space. Make 'em $40 new and I might consider it.

Undertaker575
Undertaker575

Only play downloaded titles if i get it for free on ps plus or if they are severely discounted compared to the physical copy game

KimCheeWarriorX
KimCheeWarriorX

ive been playing only downloadable games on my 360 and pc for years now. i cant remember the last game i actually bought on disc. i got tired of buying a bunch of games and then selling them all when money got tight. this way, i cant sell my games and ill always have them and can re-download them if i ever wanna play them again in case i delete them to make space. i dont know how many thousands of dollars ive thrown out the window throughout my 34 years of gaming from buying and then getting chump change when id try to sell or trade them to a game store or pawn shop. this is a habit that i will continue into next gen, whenever the catalog of games start to pile up. for awhile i refused to do this because ive been sticking carts and/or discs into game systems for decades and when downloadable games were introduced, i refused to adjust to the times and wasted money for a few more years. ive been told that im an odd one because i dont have anything even remotely resembling a cell phone or laptop. i only do desktops and land line phones. old habits die hard i guess.

Boddicker
Boddicker

I prefer mostly physical copies, but I would have no problems at all with future gens going download only.

Squire_Ramza
Squire_Ramza

I like having physical copies and seeing my collection grow, but that's just me.

Thanatos2k
Thanatos2k

The 16 percent that "exclusively" play downloaded games are mobile gamers, which don't count for anything.

Unraed
Unraed

As a PC gamer I'm not sure how I'd get a hold of PC games.  Order them from Amazon and wait 10-15 days from it to come? -- our Gamestop certainly doesn't offer them.  Besides one can get old games, new games, good games, and bad games digitally.  And generally for 66-90% off.  I'm surprised any PC gamers still buy hard copies.

deadpen
deadpen

No cause xbox won't let me put in a bigger hdd.

ZellyPoof
ZellyPoof

PC=Gamefly/Gamersgate/Steam/Origin/GOG/Greenmangaming/Amazon/Gamestop/GetGames/ShinyLoot/HumbleBundle/Desura and probably more.


Consoles=Xbox Live/PSN/Gamefly/Gamespot, did I miss any others? Seems like more options to get game downloads on pc versus console.


The title of the report is misleading though, 6000 people interviewed over a 2 month period and that's their definitive proof of 1/3rd of the country.

theKSMM
theKSMM

I think they've gotten the numbers right, but they're reading the tea leaves wrong.

Digital games have flourished on the PC for a couple of reasons.  One is the proliferation of Steam, GOG, GameFly, Humble Bundle, and a number of other services that have some of the best sales in the industry.  The second is that PC games aren't sold in very many retail locations anymore.  GameStop allows you to pre-order PC games, but that can be done more easily online.

For a long time the biggest knock against digital games was the DRM, but then game publishers started putting even worse DRM restrictions on their disc-based software.  And digital stores like GOG and Humble started releasing games DRM-free, which actually tilted the advantage in favor of the digital downloads over physical copies.

Many console players, however, have only recently begun hooking up their consoles to the Internet. But the download sizes of the games is usually huge, large enough that it might be faster to drive to the store and buy the disc. And the paltry size of console hard drives means that storage is always an issue if you want to keep more than eight to ten games at a time. Plus, console makers have just started having Steam-like sales on games. In many years prior, buying a digital copy of the game was actually more expensive that buying physical, as if that makes sense.

So while I believe the trend is definitely moving toward digital, I think it is happening for different reasons on the PC and consoles fronts.  Personally, I really like having a neatly arranged collection of physical disc cases that I can display and peruse, but it does take space and require some management. With digital downloads, I don't have to manage the space on the bookshelf as new games come in, and I never accidentally buy the same game twice. (Yes, I have done that a few times before.) And there's nothing to accidentally lose or damage. But I'll only buy downloadable games from well-established vendors that won't go belly-up and take my digital purchases with them.

commando1992
commando1992

There's really no point not using Steam (and rarely Origin) for PC, given what a terrible attempt Gamestop does with PC in its stores, barely half a shelf of PC games, if anything at all. 

roman4545
roman4545

Well yeah, I play downloaded....demos games before buying retail physical one....  So that 1% goes to digital haha... and im still sticking and always be with physical !

cirugo
cirugo

Of course I do.  There's hardly any alternative for PC games anymore.  That said, I will not buy nor play it if it requires me to be online and is not an MMO.

hadlee73
hadlee73

Publishers and companies that put out game consoles have made a complete joke of digital distribution so far. It still often costs more to buy a downloadable game instead of a boxed retail copy. I prefer digital downloads myself but can't justify buying games that way half the time because of the cost.

Shantmaster_K
Shantmaster_K

I'm sticking with physical copies until they are no longer. I like seeing my wares on my shelf. 

Penguinlord1
Penguinlord1

For me, digital only makes sense on PC because of digital distribution services like Steam that have frequent sales, and are overall good platforms to use. Consoles on the other hand, physical copies are still the way to go if I had to choose. Console digital sales in general suck, either the discounts are nowhere as good as Steam, else the games being discounted are years old already. Plus I think thats one of the main advantages of a console to begin with. Just buy a game, pop it in, and play. If I HAD to download a game, and install it no matter what on console, then I would never use one to begin with because the main advantage for me is gone: I would just buy the game on PC.

adders99
adders99

why would I buy it digitally when I can get it much cheaper at a store.

twistidfate
twistidfate

Digital is only cheaper via steam and select titles when Sony gets out done good ps+ sales. If they want digital to succeed not only do they need to do something about hard drive space, but the big 3 and EA need to stop gouging $60 out of each consumer for new digital games. If it's $60 for both physical and digital, I'm going physical, there's more value. Sony seemed to understand this at one point. When the Vita came out, they said digital copies of the Vita games were going to be cheaper than physical, that lasted what, a month? And one of the top release day games, Uncharted Golden Abyss, didn't even get the discount. If they want my money for digital games, they need to start charging no more than $40 for new games, $60 is too much for physical even.

twistidfate
twistidfate

I don't understand how they can take a study of a select number of people and count them as a full community of gamers. If they wanna take an actual study, they should stop that little bogus 100 man surveys and have the big 3, as well as stream, origin, etc have their customers do the survey and come up with a result from the full community rather than a small group. 100 or so people can not possibly account for the millions of gamers out there.

kidkadaj
kidkadaj

I only buy digital if that's the only way to purchase the game.

Hurvl
Hurvl

I only play downloaded games, with the exception of a few old retail games, but I also only play on PC, so I fit with the statistics. The last time I went into a store and bought a game it was the first Witcher (and before Enhanced Edition was announced). If the physical and digital were at the same price, I think I'd still buy the digital, because I'm lazy and don't want to handle a dvd before I can play the game. There's also no used sales market for PC games. Not that I ever buy games that I'll then get rid of, but still.

cpt0bv1us
cpt0bv1us

How come I wasn't interviewed? Am I not part of the population? 

Jasbro
Jasbro

Digital games are definitely the future, they are cheaper and easier to distribute to consumers since all they need to do is download the file. 

However there is a pretty major flaw with digital that i feel needs addressing before we can truly leave physical disks in the past alongside the VHS tapes, and thats harddrive space, games are getting bigger with each year ranging from 20gig up to 50gig not including future patch's and DLC, cloud saving might be a possible solution but it definitely needs to be addressed somehow, buying more hdd's shouldnt be the answer i mean who wants all the PC space taken up by hdd's, and consoles having their limited spaces as well.

Ragnawind
Ragnawind

I still just play physical games. I only get digital if a FULL game is released digital-only, like some Vita and PSP games lately, and with PS+ games I don't have yet that I want to play.

djentmaven
djentmaven

If companies want us to start going digital start discounting the price. PC offers most new games at $10 less. With coupons I just got Lord of Shadows 2 for PC for $40 brand new. Start rotating discounts like steam. I am def going all digital with my ps4. It does stink I have to upgrade the HD. 2TB should cover anyone's needs.

kill3rdank
kill3rdank

Gamestop would be wise to use this console cycle to prepare for the streaming future--avoiding the same death as Blockbuster.

Baconelite
Baconelite

I prefer discs on consoles but digital on PC. Mainly because my PC doesn't have a disc drive lol.

Barighm
Barighm

Kind of hard to avoid it when so many digital titles go for like $5 or less these days.

Kinguard73
Kinguard73

Yep games on disks please. I don't want to give another company like Microsoft the idea I don't want to own the property I bought.

deth420
deth420

Yep, all digital for me. I have been playing games, for over 26 years (yes im old). I have many console's, and stacks of games, they take up a lot of space. 

I went digital a few years ago, when I switched to pc, and haven't looked bank. last physical copy of a game i got, was skyrim.

VenkmanPHD
VenkmanPHD

The only digital games I buy are ones I know I will never trade in.

GTA
Skyrim
Sonic
Max Payne 3

Things of that nature. Everything else is a disc buy so I can trade it in once I beat it or get too bored with it.

That being said, a large number of disc games I buy are so good I trade them in and spend the money on the digital version.

Jacanuk
Jacanuk

Last time i went into a specialist gameshop was 5 years ago since why would i use a expensive shop when i get even a physical copy cheaper online in a netshop.



Zloth2
Zloth2

@Thanatos2k Nope.  I almost never buy physical copies of games and my phone can't play games at all.  The rare times I do get physical copies is either as a gift from somebody else or when Amazon has the physical copy on sale but not the digital copy.

theKSMM
theKSMM

@Unraed This is a good point. One of the things that first led me to digital music was the fact that it was the best / only way to get certain older tracks.  You can't go into Target and find one-hit wonders from the '60s, for example, but you can find them digitally.

Same thing with games.  Not only have GOG and Steam revived certain older games, but they've done the hard work of making sure they're compatible with newer versions of Windows. If you want to re-play Duke Nukem 3D or Daikatana, it's much easier to go digital than look for a physical copy.

Zloth2
Zloth2

@Unraed Yeah, and its feeding on itself.  We buy more games digitally so retail stores stock fewer PC games, so we buy even more games digitally...

Zloth2
Zloth2

@ZellyPoof If the 6000 people are a good, random sample over the whole nation then yes, that's pretty good proof.  It's called "probability & statistics."  (Also, you forgot Best Buy.)

hystavito
hystavito

@ZellyPoof  I'm not an expert on statistics but I know there's a bunch of explanations and such regarding sample sizes and how they can represent the much much larger population being studied.

hystavito
hystavito

@theKSMM  I agree with a lot of your points.  For console games, when they are new or pre-order anyway, you can almost always find a better deal for a physical copy because the digital one will simply be the standard retail price and will not drop for quite some time.  On the other side, stores run their own special promos and sales all the time.


I feel like the console makers are trying push us into digital, while on the PC said we are making the choice often based on price, and as you say the dwindling number of retail locations where you can actually buy PC games.  I guess a lot of indies and early access and such are further helping this as they are simply not available any other way.  Everyone wants us on digital because it allows them more control of the software, higher margins, etc.  However, on the PC we at least get better pricing, whereas on console it's often worse.

theKSMM
theKSMM

@kill3rdank GameStop's profitability these days doesn't come from selling new games.  It comes from buying used games for pennies on the dollar and then selling them at 90% of their new cost.  They won't give up that revenue stream fast enough for them to avoid the digital tide once it really starts rolling.

thekorican
thekorican

@DarkLight748 Will the PC Mater Race be in the new Pixar movie with Lightning Mcqueen?

theKSMM
theKSMM

@deth420 I made the same point in a comment above.  I love seeing a well-organized collection, but storing it, moving it, and making space for new games gets to be a lot over the years.  And heaven help you if you have a fire / flood / baby / catastrophic event that wrecks your discs...

Sohereiam
Sohereiam

@Jacanuk Have been doing the same for the last 7 years here, besides walking around the streets on Brazil in the last few years have become very dangerous.

theKSMM
theKSMM

@hystavito @theKSMM I hadn't even considered your point about indie titles. I mean, would we even have Super Meat Boy or Don't Starve or Hotline Miami if they were required to pay a publisher and distributor more than half of their revenue?