Downloadable PC game sales almost on par with physical purchases

NPD Group has released some surprising figures regarding the current trend in purchasing PC games via digital download.

According to the report, in 2009, sales in the U.S. for digital download purchases hit 21.3 million, trailing behind physical unit buys at a close 23.5 million. At the same time, it was reported that digital downloads for PC made up 48% of unit sales and 36% of dollar sales for PC.

With digital download sales on the rise, it’s no surprise that retail sales would suffer as a result, as NPD also reports a 23% decline in retail sales. In light of the giant shift in sales trends, NPD is looking to find a way to quantify sales made in downloadable content, full game downloads, subscriptions, microtransactions, and mobile sales.

“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 game analyst Anita Frazier, putting the swift and powerful impact of social network gaming in perspective.

iPhone and iPod Touch games aren’t slouching either, as NPD also reported a 30% increase from Q2 ’09 to Q4 ’09 in the two platforms’ usage as gaming devices. NPD goes on to add that 97% of people who downloaded a game app last year also downloaded a free game to go with it.

While the following information may not be a surprise to some, NPD finished their report with rankings for the top digital retailers for frontline (retailers whose main focus is on games that are also offered at physical retail) and casual (those that focus on smaller games employing a try-and-bad or ad revenue model). Both rankings are taken from results shown last year.

Top 5 frontline digital retailers (based on unit % share):

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

Top 5 casual digital retails (based on unit % share)

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

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