Has the Digital Revolution Arrived?

Has the Digital Revolution Arrived?

Earlier in 2010, the NPD Group resolved to take a closer look at revenue from digital video game sales instead of focusing exclusively on the number of games adopted from GameStop and other retail distributors. In December, the group published a breakdown of digital video game sales across 2010. According to the numbers, 29% of 2010’s gaming sales were digital. Of that 29%, 42% were conducted through the App Store or other mobile phone distribution services.

Pretty impressive: Definitely enough to make anyone raise their head and say, “Oh!” Curiously, at the same time, something about the NPD’s roundup feels predictable. Did any one of us ever have any doubt that the digital market is doing extremely well?

What’s more, 29% of 2010’s sales is a heck of a number when you consider how long digital distribution has been available outside of the PC game market. That is to say, not very long at all. Claiming 29% of the market would be impressive if digital downloads caught fire ten years ago. The App Store, arguably the jumping-off point for the widespread practice of downloading games instead of purchasing them, launched two years ago. Can we comfortably say that the digital revolution has arrived?

Even if we can’t say it now, we’ll definitely be saying it by the end of 2012, when the Nintendo 3DS, the PSP 2, and supposedly the PlayStation Phone will have had ample time to build up their own digital download services and prove that Japan is ready to accept new ideas regarding game distribution. The digital market’s rate of growth is almost mind-boggling, and it only stands to grow at a gallop. What will the numbers look like at this point in 2011?

But to repeat a point that’s been made before, the success of digital downloads don’t spell doom for game retail. We will, however, see increased sales, more aggressive online sales pitches (sigh), more games such as Marvel vs. Capcom 3 that attempt to upsell players on added options, more incentives to get folks out of the house and into the store (for instance, download kiosks and promotions that offer rare Pokemon and the like) and a continually-growing used games market. Some retro favorites end up on services like the Virtual Console or PlayStation Network, but a great deal have yet to exist anywhere except in the memories of nostalgic gamers. Sometimes, it’s nice to score a used game from yesteryear and take a break from busy modern games.

There’s also the unparalleled wonder of simply holding a game box, leafing through its instruction book, and taking in that new game smell (or more likely, the smell of cooking and cigarettes from someone else’s house). Long story short: The digital revolution has arrived, but it won’t wholly replace retail for a long time, if ever.

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for 1UP.com, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is About.com’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.

Leave a Reply