As the eShop platforms become increasingly important to Nintendo, while rivals also promote their online stores, we're seeing more and more gamers 'going digital'. Even with Nintendo's account system being linked to hardware, increasing numbers are happy to enjoy the convenience of downloading retail games, taking away any need to store or swap out discs and carts; within the Nintendo Life team there's at least one member that's gone practically 100% with retail downloads.
It's a tricky topic though, especially with plenty of gamers still preferring physical copies and having a box and media to call their own; there are wider issues too, such as the debatable instability of anything owned as a download — cases of Nintendo removing ill-gotten 3DS retail software remotely, regardless of whether it was entitled to do so, highlight how fragile this download ownership, which is arguably more akin to leasing, can be. Nintendo can't, without hiring some collectors, take your physical copies away from you.
Regardless of pros and cons, data from the NPD Exploring Digital Gaming report suggests that gamers in the U.S., across multiple platforms, are increasingly moving to retail downloads. Of more than 6,000 people surveyed, aged 13 and older, 36% say they now play downloaded games on PCs, consoles or dedicated gaming handhelds such as the 3DS. A more telling figure is that 16% say they only play downloaded games, no physical retail. Another surprising figure is that of those presented with a choice between the download or physical copy of the same game at matching prices, 25% would choose the download; 30% would opt for the physical copy, while the remaining 45% were unsure. One qualifying statistic is that of those polled, only 28% of "digital gamers" download games on consoles, as the PC is the dominant market for this area: two-thirds of console owners state they download multiple games a year, but only 14% do so on a monthly basis.
NPD analyst Liam Callahan also suggests that many download purchases can be relatively spontaneous, rather than planned ahead of time. What do you think of these statistics? Is that 16% figure of those completely ditching physical retail about right, do you think the pendulum will swing to a point where the majority of games will go download-only? Let us know in the comments below.