NPD: Digital downloads beat out retail PC game sales in first half of 2010

The Internet is a kind of a big deal. The latest research to support such an earth-shattering assertion comes in the form of an NPD report which found that during the first half of 2010, digital downloads for PC games far outpaced brick-and-mortar sales. Within that span, NPD survey estimates found that digital PC sales in the U.S. reached 11.2 million units while sales of physical PC games came in at 8.2 million.

This follows another recent report which showed that in 2009, sales in the U.S. for PC digital downloads hit 21.3 million units, trailing slightly behind physical PC unit sales of 23.5 million.

The report also includes a ranking of the top digital download services through the first half of 2010. Steam sits atop the core games category, with Direct2Drive, EA, and rounding out the top five. Big Fish Games is the big fish in the casual category, coming in at number one. A noteworthy disclaimer, which points out, is that since the NPD does not have access to download services’ sales figures, they use “weighted and projected” consumer surveys to identify the most successful sites.

Impulse, which notably did not make the top 5 core category, recently contested NPD’s digital distribution figures, saying that the findings aren’t a “reflection of reality.”

Despite the digital divide, physical unit sales are still the money makers given the higher price points. According to the NPD, games sold at physical retail have greater market share by dollar revenues than those sold digitally – 57 percent to 43 percent, respectively.

Year over year, all PC games revenue from both digital and physical retail shelves are down 21 percent, with a 14 percent drop in unit sales. Anita Frazier, NPD analyst, chalked up the decline to the growth in social network gaming. “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.”

I guess there’s only so much money to go around after you factor in the going rates for poop in FrontierVille nowadays.