US PC game downloads surpass retail sales - NPD

Industry tracking firm finds 57% of Windows games bought online during first half of year; brick-and-mortar still more lucrative.

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In July, The NPD Group offered a surprising report on the state of PC gaming, saying that nearly the same number of games for desktop platforms had been downloaded through online channels as were bought at retail in 2009. Today, NPD announced a changing of the guard for PC software sales, as more games were bought in a digital format during the first half of 2010 than purchased at retail.

Valve's online portal Steam is the digital download kingpin.
Valve's online portal Steam is the digital download kingpin.

From January to June 2010, 11.2 million PC games were purchased and downloaded from an online source, according to NPD, compared to 8.2 million physical units sold at retail during the same period. NPD notes that the first half of 2010 is the first time in which digital PC game sales have surpassed their retail counterpart.

"One major finding from this latest report is that the 'big got bigger' in the first half of 2010, with both Steam and Bigfish capturing a bigger share of full-game PC games digital download sales than they did last year," commented NPD analyst Anita Frazier.

Though taking the crown in terms of unit sales, digital downloads still lost out to retail in terms of dollars earned. Retail outlets pulled in 57 percent of revenues during the period, compared to a 43 percent share for digital sales. NPD attributed this discrepancy to a higher average selling price for retail games.

Unfortunately, PC gaming as a whole has largely tanked this year. NPD notes that revenue from both digital and physical PC games is down 21 percent during the first half of 2010, while unit sales have slipped 14 percent during the same period of time. The trend echoes the console and handheld US software retail market, which is down 8 percent this year through August, according to NPD's most recent report.

"The overall decline of PC games when combining sales via both digital downloads and physical retail sales is impacted by the expansion of social network gaming as well as the continued expansion of free game options," Frazier said of the declines.

The NPD survey was based on responses from 8,000 consumers, and the resulting data is "weighted and projected to be representative of the U.S. population ages 2 and older." The industry research firm's normal data comes from a panel of over 180,000 individuals, whose habits are tracked via weekly studies.

Top 5 Frontline Digital Retailers--Jan.-June 2010 (based on unit % share)
1. Steamgames.com
2. Direct2drive.com
3. EA.com
4. Worldofwarcraft.com
5. Blizzard.com

Top 5 Casual Digital Retailers--Jan.-June 2010 (based on unit % share)
1. Bigfishgames.com
2. Gamehouse.com
3. iWin.com
4. Pogo.com
5. Wildtangent.com

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