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.