It’s no secret that the video game industry has, along with the rest of the world, been hurtling headlong into a digital revolution. For many gamers – particularly those for whom the PC is their platform of choice – the idea of getting the latest video game on a disc from an actual retail store is rapidly becoming archaic, especially since it’s generally not possible to trade in or buy pre-owned PC games.
In fact, many indie game developers don’t even bother releasing physical copies of their games, since doing so is largely a wasted effort in a time when digital downloads have come to dominate the market. The PC has continued to thrive as a gaming platform, with PC sales exceeding console sales in 2013, but just exactly how popular are PC digital downloads compared to physical disc sales?
The answer, according to PCR, is “extremely.” A new report states that 92% of PC game sales in 2013 were digital downloads, and analyst DFC Intelligence predicted that this number will only increase further over the next few years. Meanwhile, MCV reports that in the UK, digital sales revenue across all platforms finally overtook physical sales for the first time, with £1.18 billion ($1.97 billion) generated by digital sales compared to £1.015 billion ($1.7 billion) generated by physical sales.
With digital sales dominating to this extent on the PC – and the PC sections of retail stores seemingly shrinking a little more every year – the PC market is reaching a point where only AAA publishers still release PC games on disc, and even then additional content like DLC is distributed digitally. This raises the question of how much longer it will be before even the biggest publishers decide to phase physical copies of PC games out altogether.
Although being able to proudly display a shelf (or several shelves) full of video games still has its appeal, primarily to GameStop, for many gamers this is outweighed by the practicality of being able to have all their games stored digitally. With a digital distributor like Steam it’s possible to maintain a massive library of games without having to buy a bigger apartment to keep them in, and uninstalling and reinstalling a game with a couple of clicks certainly beats digging up and dusting off the disc every time you want to play it.
While digital distribution is definitely here to stay, the arrival of Sony and Microsoft’s new consoles will almost certainly affect the balance of PC vs. console sales this year. It will definitely be interesting to see what the numbers look like at the end of 2014.