With the ever growing popularity of the console market, especially those connected online, PC gaming’s always been under some sort of doom-and-gloom cloud. Numbers released last week by the NPD Group won’t do much to make things any better -- but are they telling the real story?
According to GameDaily, PC sales in 2008 totaled $701 million, which is down 14 percent from 2007. Before anyone is quick to declare the decreased sales figure as just another nail in the PC gaming coffin, NPD Group tracks retail sales, and even then, not all retailers.
Even copies of retail games sold through online merchants such as Amazon aren’t counted in that $701 million total. Furthermore, games sold digitally through online services such as Valve’s Steam are also neglected in the figure. This means that we’re missing a big part of the PC game sales picture.
Of course, it’s worth noting that console game sales revenue saw growth during time of PC’s downward trend, which does indicate that, at least on the retail side, PC games are slipping.
The hardcore PC gamer, however, is much different than the mainsteam console gamer. First of all, the console gamer is limited to fewer options when purchasing a new game -- it’s either through an online retailer or from a games shop, and even then, the games shop is best for instant gratification. The PC gamer has those two options, but with the addition of digital downloads, which can provide even more immediate instant gratification. Games can often “pre-load” and download to a user’s hard drive and be unlocked for play before stores even open for business on the day of release.
Games bought online also don’t rely on keeping track of physical media, or in some cases, even serial keys. With PC gamers almost required to have a broadband internet connection, the convenience of purchasing through new, non-retail channels is increasingly more attractive.
So while NPD’s numbers showing that PC gaming sales are down are true in one regard, but don’t show that the growth on the online side. Let’s not even get started on the money generated by the World of Warcraft.
However, any conclusion that PC game sales is declining is obviously wrong. They are taking the data gathered and generalizing to a population much bigger than what they sampled.
One conclusion is that PC gaming is collapsing. However, there are alternate conclusions that one can conjecture. Perhaps MMOs are eating up traditional game sales with monthly fees. ($120+/year plus the initial cost of the game and possible expansion packs equals a PC gamer who purchases 3-6 new games a year!) Perhaps digital downloads are taking a bite - such as Steam. Perhaps people are pirating the games instead.
However, without further data on these alternative forms of game purchases, any of the above conclusions are just speculation and nothing more.
Statistics - such a wonderful quagmire. Especially when combined with the modern media, which so often provides insufficient details on how and what data was collected for the numbers spewed to have any real meaning.