PC Game Digital Downloads Dramatically Outpace Retail Sales

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More from 'the writing's on the wall' department, it seems digital download versions of PC games have roared past sales of physical retail units during the first six months of 2010.

We're not talking a couple hundred thousand gap, either. According to U.S. retail (and more recently, digital) sales tracker The NPD Group, PC full-game digital downloads topped a record 11.2 million, compared with 8.2. million physical units purchased at retail during the Jan-June 2010 sales period.

It's the first time that's happened says NPD Group, though there's an important wrinkle: Physical retail games still command the lion's share of dollar revenue, holding 57 percent, versus 43 percent for digital downloads. NPD says that's because retail games have a higher average selling price (probably referring to all those ridiculously expensive knickknack-crammed limited editions).

If you're in retail, that's tough enough news. Here's worse: Digital and physical PC game revenue combined was off 21% for the first half of 2010, while unit sales were down 14% for the same period, year-on-year. Tough news for PC gaming, especially considering year-on-year video game software sales were only down 8% for the same six-month period.

Here's the list of top digital retailers, based on unit % share.

1. Steamgames.com
2. Direct2drive.com
3. EA.com
4. Worldofwarcraft.com
5. Blizzard.com

And the top casual digital retailers, based on unit % share.

1. Bigfishgames.com
2. Gamehouse.com
3. iWin.com
4. Pogo.com
5. Wildtangent.com

Notably absent from the top five are Impulsedriven.com, GOG.com, and Gamersgate.com. I'm a little surprised to see D2D at number two, though less so Blizzard in the top five. Note that StarCraft II didn't release until July 27, 2010, so while I'm not sure what numbers separate the company from Steam, D2D, and EA, with World of Warcraft: Cataclysm shipping yet this year, I wouldn't be surprised if they finish 2010 higher-slotted still.

"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 NPD analyst Anita Frazier. "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."

Note who else doesn't make the list: GameStop.com. They offer digital downloads of PC games, too, but haven't done much (from my vantage, anything) to promote that fact. Selling used games should help them weather these sales tumbles, but once the market's completely digital--a foregone conclusion, since it does away with an expensive middleman--they're probably in serious trouble.

And even used games will only be a commodity while there's still something physically "used" to sell.

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