News Article

U.S. Download Sales Increase, But Physical Games Drop in Popularity

Posted by Thomas Whitehead

Downloads get closer to overtaking physical retail

The times are definitely changing in the video game retail industry, as the latest NPD figures covering 2012 sales in the U.S. emerge. In general the results reflect the trends reported by Nintendo in its financial results, but the figures also show just how vital the download gaming market is becoming; this is an area that Satoru Iwata says will be increasingly important to the company.

Accounting for physical software sales, used sales, rentals, and digital software sales (console hardware and accessory sales aren't included), U.S. consumers spent a total of $14.8 billion on video games last year, a total drop of 9% ($1.54 billion) from 2011's $16.34 billion. The under-pressure used game market drew $1.79 billion, while new physical retail games earned $7.09 billion; digital content (which includes downloadable games, additional DLC, subscriptions, mobile games, and social games) brought in $5.92 billion, as it gets increasingly close to catching up with traditional boxed games. Tellingly, new physical retail sales represented a drop of 21% on the equivalent 2011 figures, while the digital content category's figures represent an increase of 16%.

Although estimates, these figures not only reinforce the results returned by Nintendo, but emphasize the continuing march onwards of downloadable games and content. Nintendo made notable and important strides in that area in 2012 and is on course for its best ever year in the download market, but the sooner POS (point of sale) download content cards and similar products arrive en masse to retailers in the West — they've been a success in Japan — the sooner Nintendo can get a bigger slice of the industry's fastest growing market.

Many still prefer the traditional use of physical media, of course, so we'd like to know your purchasing habits in the polls below, as well as what you think of these results and trends in the comments section.

On which games format do you spend the most money? (226 votes)

I still spend the most on boxed retail games


I mostly buy download retail games


I spend more money on download-only games


A mixture of all of the above


Please login to vote in this poll.

Would you be interested in POS (point of sale) cards for Nintendo download products? (185 votes)

Yes, I want the option of buying this content in stores


No, I'd much rather just use the eShop directly


I would use both the eShop and POS cards


I'm not interested in downloading games at all


Please login to vote in this poll.


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User Comments (60)



Savino said:

Games with large focus on multiplayer I tend to buy digital, since I will not get rid of the game in a near future... Games single player only I buy physical because I can resell them later.

Nintendo Games is a huge problem and I am going both! One never opened physical version and a download one for fun!!



Kamalisk said:

I barely touch physical PC games anymore because of Steam. Only occasionally do I get collectors editions because of the STUFF. I often buy a digital copy too though, as that is more convenient.

For the WiiU I have bought all my games online, and plan to do so in the future. No need to find out the shops don't have something in stock yet, or they sold out, and I can change games easily from the menu without needing to change discs.

So glad they got this part right for the WiiU, surprised to see Nintendo is the first console maker to do so, never really expected it from them!



EaZy_T said:

I still like getting 'boxed' games, but there are some download only titles I just couldn't pass up.



idork99 said:

POS cards in retail stores will be an awesome idea if the retailers are willing to offer sales. That way, one will have the option of paying full retail price from the convenience of the eShop or go to your local store and purchase the POS card at a discount price. Even saving $5 would be enough to persuade me to go to my local retail shop.



SkywardLink98 said:

The only retail download 3DS game I have is Fire Emblem Awakening, and the only reason I got it is because it was sold out.



AJWolfTill said:

Hey out of interest, if you buy the point of sale cards for an 18 title such as AC3 or ZombiU are you still restricted to stupid o'clock download times? Or does buying the code in stord bypass this restiction?



RetroBillyT said:

I have bought the last two major 3DS releases as downloads- NSMB2 and Paper Mario. I really like the convenience of having everything there on the console. If the WiiU retail games were a bit cheaper (say £39.99) I would definitely go download-only on WiiU as well.



Tate24 said:

Only problem with downloadable game is when get bored! Stuck with it. At least with retail game you can trade it in:). That why never buy downloaded games.

Plus in Liverpool I can pick up retail for faction of price charge in eshop instead £39.99 I pay £24 to £30 which saves me money.



sillygostly said:

I would probably buy more downloadable games if the prices were more reasonable. $69.95 is abhorrently expensive for a 3DS title considering that Wii U games are available for the same price (if not less) in Australia.



MrWalkieTalkie said:

Retail games I buy in retail box form as often as possible and for download-only games, I download obviously. I want to save as much data as possible on my systems for download-only games while retails will just be retail games not taking up space on my systems.



XCWarrior said:

I buy retail whenever I can. I like physically owning the game, and being able to show them all off on my shelves. Can't do that with digital games.

The exception to this is Steam for PC. Why in the world would I pay $50-60 for a game when Steam will put it on sale for $5 within 12 months of release?

But when it comes to Nintendo products, it's go physical unless its digital exclusive or really hard to find in the case of say virtual console.



TwilightV said:

Normally, I only buy modern download games when they're only available via download. The only exception is when the incentive of a special game like Donkey Kong Original Edition is offered.



nocode said:

I always choose the retail option if possible, and most of the reasons why seem to be no brainers.

-I can lend the game to friends
-I can resell it if I want
-Its easier to get games for cheap (used or on sale)
-It's not tied to one specific console, where it has to be downloaded again if something goes wrong.
-And the collector in me wants to see that box art on my shelf...



Nareva said:

It's hard to justify buying retail download titles at full price. There are several I would consider, like Mario titles, because I would likely keep them forever anyway, but at full price and no ability to lend the game to family/friends, I don't see myself taking that route too often. If Nintendo gave me more incentive, I would definitely switch over to retail downloads and which would probably mean fewer used games as well.

As far as download only games, I have no problem buying.



Nukarmer said:

I live in Ukraine, whose existence is apparently not recognized by Nintendo, because there has never been an official way to buy a Nintendo console or game in Ukraine. So my only option is to buy games digitally. Luckily, this is the way I prefer over any other.



Big_L91 said:

the thing is with downloads is the prices havent dropped since the wii u launched,
I can get zombiU for £30 at my local game shop where as the download still costs £49.99 and to be honest i like to have my games on display.



Sean_Aaron said:

I expect it won't be long until the only pressed discs are those for mass-market titles. Anything remotely niche or a gamble will likely be download-only in a few years just to prevent retail discounts like the ones people are used to.



Wildfire said:

I still prefer the boxed retail games and I only go for digital when they're download-only games.



New_3DaSh_XL said:

I still prefer physical copies of games. Sure, if it's eShop exclusive, like Mutant Mudds, Dillon's Rolling Western, etc, I'll give it a download. But if it's availible in stores, that's where I'm going to get it, no matter how much I intend to play it(even though I intend to play ACNL for a really long time(assuming they ever release a release date... >.<)I'll be getting a physical copy of it.



Schprocket said:

I still gag at the thought of paying full RRP for an eShop 'retail' download when I'm having to pay for the medium through which it's delivered (internet in Oz ain't cheap) as well as the additional storage medium.
One could argue the cost of driving to a store but if I can wait a little for a title, then I can get it posted to me and it's still cheaper than an eShop download.

I'm sorry Nintendo it's close but no cigar from a personal perspective.
You discount the downloadable titles by about 15%, I'll happily forego my double Club Nintendo points, and we'll have a deal...



PinkSpider said:

I tend to prefer downloading digital for my 3ds as it makes the most sense you don't have to carry around tiny little carts, I've lost a few in the past and you always have everything to hand if u download. However I have only downloaded retail games that have long replay value like Mario kart 7, new super mario etc. Can't wait ro have monster hunter and animal crossing on the go



C7_ said:

I'm somewhat of a collector so I don't really buy things digitally if I have a choice, however I definitely like the benefits of online.
If they made online games prices cheaper instead of making it identical to the boxed version though, I would probably make the switch, if only to bypass gamestop's terrible "look it's a new game, $5 extra please" policy. Also, purchases being bound to consoles and not accounts is pretty stupid too.



sharpspiral said:

I would love to download more retail releases from the eShop, but at the moment these are mostly more expensive than buying them in-store.



FineLerv said:

@Kamalisk I'm the same. If a game is not on the e-shop it's a deal-breaker for me. I never want to own another disk. Software is no different to music; People held on to CDs as long as they could, but in the end they had to embrace the changing face of the medium. It's time to adapt.



Rect_Pola said:

Hopefully, legislation (that isn't stupid) regarding ownership will spell things out by the time download does take over. That being said, Nintendo needs to sort out what it means to have a downloading base. The other two had figured it out the basics, so Ninty's present position is getting sad. First, memory is cheap;
stop being tight wads and make their machines have the storageheavy downloading needs. AND establish proper accounts that are tied to users (not the devices) so what we bought safely stays bought without manually wiping our prior systems.



shinesprite said:

I have nothing against downloading, but oftentimes, the depreciating price of retail games makes them just too good to pass up, whereas Nintendo's download rates are by-and-large STAGNANT.
I also have no problem with paying top dollar for a game at launch, but if I don't have time to play 'said game', then I'll pick it up down the road, usually at a discount.



Lalivero said:

@MrWalkieTalkie The first part is how I feel about it. For regular eshop releases I have no problem downloading them but I definitely prefer to have physical copies of retail games.

On top of that, as has been mentioned numerous times, if you wait even a little while you can generally find games cheaper at retail than on the eshop.

@shinesprite Nicely said.



WanderingPB said:

Im old school i prefer my actual game discs because even though downloading is the future...i doesnt feel like its really mine feels like i rented it until they no longer grant me access to the game i bought from them. At least with smart phones the games r a dollar or a little more but these games are full priced $60 and to not have that actual copy in my hands doesnt quite sit right with me…IMHO



FullbringIchigo said:

things is that's the U.S what about the rest of the world because a lot of the world doesn't like downloading games on consoles because they don't have the infrastructure to support it i know of villages near my town town that doesn't even have the internet (i live in the UK)

america isn't the whole world no matter how much they like to think they are (no offence meant by the way)



DarkLloyd said:

shudders dont like that one bit, will continue to buy physical for as long as it exist, should the day digital happen, will make me turn my attention to the retro market



k8sMum said:


i won't take offence if you don't mind being told that painting with a broad brush just makes for a muddied canvas.

here in the states there are places where the 'net is very poor. not everyone lives in a large city, the country is enormous with much of it being rural. not everyone in the states has a decent way to download games. if they do, they pay more for it than in many other countries. times being difficult right now, i know people who are using libraries and other places to connect to the net as they are no longer able to afford their own connections.

perhaps we're all more alike than different.



Jellitoe said:

Steam changed my mind about Download Purchases. There was a time I would say hell no to download, but the convenience of saying, I want Scribblenauts. Click click, download, done is awesome. Now I wish Ninty adopted another Model so my purchases were more permanent than they are now, like Steam, but heck, still convinient



SCAR said:

I get the download versions. I got COD: BO 2 on disc, because that's the only way it was, and Nintendo Land because it came with it. I don't have to conserve memory, and I would have bought any game full price the day it comes out anyway.



Buzzthebatgirl said:

It's the whole price thing, why pay more for less? Physical still works out cheaper for players due to shops cutting the prices to get more sales. I really want to support download games where all my money going to the developers but I've got to watch my own money too!



Yosher said:

Boxed games all the way. If the download-only games had boxed versions too I'd probably get those over the download versions as well. Plus eShop downloads seem rather pricey (at least the retail download games). 60 bucks to download a game you can buy for 45 bucks in stores and actually get physical stuff with it? Hell to the no. I'll take a boxed disc/cartridge any day of the week over just some downloaded data.



Jellitoe said:

@Buzzthebatgirl Because disk's scratch and get damaged especialy if you have children that might touch those disk, but digital media can last forever.
Also consider wear and tear on the rom-drive
I remember when my son scratched my disk 2 of Tales Of Symphonia and having to pony up another 30 bucks to rebuy.



theblackdragon said:

This doesn't really say much to me without separating out sales of big-name AAA games from littler things like 'Ware titles and $.99 App Store purchases. I can justify spending a few bucks twice over so that both myself and my husband can enjoy a given 'ware title together, but ponying up full price for retail-download games twice over so that both myself and my husband can enjoy them is something I just can't do financially.



UnseatingKDawg said:

If I can get the game at retail, I'll prefer to get the retail. If it's downloadable only, well, I'm not going to argue. The only times I've downloaded retail games on my 3DS is because of the Donkey Kong Original Edition promo (which I will say that Crosswords Plus makes a tad more sense as a download instead of physical), and Paper Mario at Christmas because it was sold out everywhere I went.



Dezsi said:

I really don't understand the point of digital downloading other than the fact that it's faster to get a hold of the game. In my view, for one thing, it just goes to show how impatient some people can be. Or are there other benefits I'm missing here?

A physical copy is so much more. The box, the manual, the fresh smell of it all! Removing the tear-strip, opeing the box for the first time. I may be fanatical, but to me, it's such a big part of gaming as a whole. I actually place the box of the game I'm playing beside the TV. Ah, the ritual of gaming. It is sacred. No, seriously.



gsnap said:

Wii U -physical (unless of course it's an eshop only game). When I'm playing console games, the game basically doesn't come out of the slot until I'm done with it.

3DS -digital. I can't be carrying a bunch of boxes when I go out somewhere.



RevolverLink said:

Physical is the way to go for me as far as Nintendo platforms are concerned, unless it's something that can only be purchased on the eShop, of course. Until Nintendo puts a proper account system in place, I just won't feel comfortable buying the digital versions of full retail titles.



ultraraichu said:

I would go for physical games for the main reason being I can buy it months after its release or during a weekly sale (toysrus, target, etc.) at a lower price.

With that said I prefer digital since I don't have to crowd my apt. with a bunch of video games even more, I have the game I want/need with me at all time without puting at least 7 cartridges in my pocket or forgetting to bring a needed one, switching game is a breeze which is good when playing in a crowd subway train, and it can never be sold out.




Good news for Nintendo! Now implement independent user accounts and let people tie their purchases to that account!



Blue_Yoshi said:

I have a few retail games download on my Xbox 360, the only one I plan on getting for my 3DS is perhaps the Bit.Trip Collection as that one has a bigger discount than a used retail copy.



tanookisuit said:

Buying a download game over a physical one is just signing your rights away into a faux purchase which is just a long term rental really. You have no rights to keep it, you have only the limited right to use it until they feel otherwise. Remember TMNT on the Wii being pulled when the license was killed when the property was picked up by Ubisoft from Konami? Or earlier(and they got busted for it) Amazon pulled a few books due to publisher issues on licenses and when they did it, they also wifi erased them off every consumers kindle! If a license moves, a physical copy lasts as you paid your money to have it. What if you have a 3DS and 10 years from now it breaks, Nintendo offers no more repairs(in theory) what do you do with your $1000s in 3DS downloads? Sh*t out of luck, while I could just go on ebay or whatever and buy another system and use my cards.

It's a shame more people don't realize you're giving up your rights uniquely as the game makers get more greedy and control freak happy as they move toward download only. Movies, books, music, you can buy physical still and download, they're open minded enough to give options.



chiefeagle02 said:

For me, it depends. For a game like Gunman Clive, where it's download-only, I'll happily throw the eShop a couple of bucks. However, if there's a retail option available, I'd probably go with that. Even though Bit.Trip Saga is $15 on the 3DS eShop, I think I'd go with the Wii version (which is comparably priced by now).



SKTTR said:

I wanted to switch to download-only with Wii U, but the eShop is missing games like Black Ops II and Mass Effect 3 and many others. Ninja Gaiden 3 and Epic Micky 2 aren't even released on the German eShop, even though both are available on the UK eShop. Also, I can't copy the Nintendo Land disc that came with my Wii U to my Wii U memory, and I don't want to have a collection that is part boxed retail, part downloaded retail, so I'm basically forced to go for 100% boxed retail games again.

I bought many digital-only games (all 8 Wii U eShop exclusives, 131 WiiWare games, 97 Wii VC games, and a couple of 3DS-only downloads) though. If they're exclusive to eShop and not available on retail I have no problems downloading/supporting.



Hardy83 said:

Until Nintendo switches to an account base system instead of their stupid system bases purchases, I'll never buy Nintendo's digital wares.

As for other systems, PC I'm pretty much all digital, PS3 I mix it up. I prefer retail though.



Tasuki said:

I will always prefer physical. The day that video games go digital only is the day I stop playing current gen.



pntjr said:

What is this "buying games on eShop" you speak of? Never heard of it.



M_Jenius said:

@tanookisuit This is exactly how I feel. People just aren't thinking far enough ahead. Xbox Live, PSN, Nintendo Network are not going to be around forever. Even if they around for a long time, it is inevitable that these services will eventually cease to be profitable and will be shut down. Then what? Poof! All those games you bought digitally are gone if your console breaks down or your hard-drive crashes. I know some people don't care, but I like the security of knowing that even in 20 years, I'll still be able to play all of my games even if these services are no longer online or no longer offer access to the content I purchased.



Henmii said:

It seems so far I am with the majority: If I download something I do it via the e-shop. But I still spend the most at retail games. Well, not the past year since things have gone flat on the Wii (and 3DS is also pretty slow), but I guess my retail purchases will go up as soon as I have a new home-console!!



tanookisuit said:

Glad to see at least you got the point there M_Jenius. I still put more time into games of yesteryear than now just because a lot of what is offered these days is the 'safe' stuff I could give a crap about like FPS, sports, W-RPGs, racing, and 3D fighters. As it is right now I'm doing a mix of 2 RPGs which are Tales of the Abyss on 3DS and FF4 Advance on GBA, all the while I'm getting some Cube games back I used to own in the mail recently to mess with too. I also have a decent supply of 8 and 16bit NES/SNES games too and they still work going on 20years later or more and this digital stuff sure won't short of full price re-releases which is unacceptable.

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