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PC Digital Sales Approaching Retail

by Adam Biessener on Jul 22, 2010 at 08:27 AM

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Industry tracking firm NPD Group today released the findings of a survey that show that PC games are selling nearly as many copies via online distribution channels as they are at retail.

The company's monthly sales charts have always only incorporated retail sales. Finding out that nearly half of PC gaming software sales are unaccounted for in those numbers is enlightening, to say the least.

NPD used its ongoing consumer survey methods to collect information about their purchasing habits, and extrapolated the data to find that 48% of total full-game sales are through digital channels, as well as 36% of the dollar value of sales.

The shocking numbers aren't massively inflated by social and casual gaming, either -- we're talking about Half-Life and Call of Duty as much as Bejeweled here. NPD found that "frontline digital retailers" (i.e. Steam) increased their share of the market in 2009. The firm points toward the growth of free social and mobile gaming as a key driver in the relative decline of the social games sector. "The popularity of social network gaming increased from Q3’09 to Q4’09 as 4.8 million more people played games on a social network in the U.S.," said NPD analyst Anita Frazier.  "This demonstrates how consumers can now experience casual types of games through myriad vehicles, broadening the competitive landscape."

The survey also uncovered a 30% growth in the use of iPhone and iPod touch as gaming devices, and that an overwhelming 97% of people who downloaded a game app downloaded a free one.

The top five "frontline" retailers from the NPD survey, in order, are:

  1. Steam
  2. Direct2Drive
  3. Blizzard
  4. EA

Ouch for Stardock's Impulse platform. Anyone surprised that World of Warcraft is basically on there twice?

On the casual side, the top five are:

  1. Bigfish Games
  2. Pogo
  3. Gamehouse
  4. iWin
  5. Realarcade

It would appear that rumors of PC gaming's demise are greatly exaggerated, according to the numbers anyway. How does this NPD report jive with your own experiences?