PC Full-Game Digital Downloads Surpass Retail Unit Sales

The first half of 2010 is the first time when digital downloads made up the majority of total PC game sales, NPD reports.

While revenue from in-store purchases continues to trump revenue from digital downloads, according to NPD Group's "PC Games Digital Downloads: Analyst Report," during the first six months of 2010, more PC full-game digital downloads were purchased than physical units.

The first half of 2010 is the first time period in which sales via digital download made up the majority of total PC game unit sales-11.2 million digital downloads compared with 8.2 million physical units purchased at retail. However, games sold at physical retailers continue to maintain a greater share of dollar revenue at 57 percent, versus 43 percent from digitally downloaded games.

NPD said this is attributed to a higher average selling price at retail. Combined sales of digital and physical PC games for the first half of this year were down 21 percent, and unit sales were down 14 percent compared with the same time period last year.

"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," said Anita Frazier, an industry analyst at The NPD Group. "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."

The report segments the PC full-game digital download landscape into two Web-based "retailer" segments (offers games for download and with no physical storefront): casual digital retailers, which often focus on smaller, easily accessible games that typically utilize try-and-buy or advertising revenue models; and frontline digital retailers, which often focus on titles that are also offered in retail stores as physical purchases.

The top five frontline digital retailers from January to June 2010 (based on unit percent share) were Steamgames.com, Direct2drive.com, EA.com, Worldofwarcraft.com and Blizzard.com. Bigfishgames.com led the casual digital retail market for the same time period, followed by Gamehouse.com, iWin.com, Pogo.com and Wildtangent.com.

Information contained in the report sources from two of NPD Group's ongoing consumer services covering the games industry: the Games Acquisition Monitor, a quarterly tracker that measures both digital and physical forms of games acquisition activity, volume, awareness, and usage of retailers and services; and its weekly video games consumer survey. Each week, more than 180,000 individuals are selected from the NPD online consumer panel to participate in one of four weekly studies.

Respondents to the survey report whether in the past week they purchased a PC game on a disc or downloaded the game from a Website directly to their computers. The company noted only digital purchases of games from the above Websites are tracked in the report. Shipped boxed products from these sites are not covered, though the company said information about these could be obtained through its PC Retail Tracking service.