Retail PC games sales decline 23 percent in 2009

By on January 19, 2010, 2:45 PM
Even with a December sales performance that “broke all industry records,” U.S. videogame sales slipped 8 percent last year over the $21.4 billion generated in 2008. Aside from portable hardware sales which experienced a 6% increase in revenue, every other category experienced a decline, among which retail sales of PC games suffered the biggest drop with revenues of only $538 million in 2009 according to NPD.

This equates to a 23% decline versus the $701 million generated in 2008, which in turn was down 14% from a year earlier at $910.7 million -- and that 2007 total was a 6% drop from 2006 so you can see the trend here. However, those figures don't account for digital distribution or subscriptions.

So while the industry as a whole has grown by more than 250% at retail alone in the last decade, the decline on the computer front doesn't necessarily mean PC gaming is dead -- quite the contrary some argue it is by far the most prevalent gaming platform and that it's definitely evolving to a more online market. Unfortunately, despite being aware of this, NPD is still not tracking game sales through nontraditional channels.




User Comments: 29

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Vrmithrax Vrmithrax, TechSpot Paladin, said:

What I'd love to see sometime: A comparison between sales figures in the PC/Console arena and the number of releases (and/or developers) for said platforms. Might be interesting to have some hard numbers behind what is available, and how many development houses are actually supporting the PC side. Consoles tend to get all the flashy exclusives, then they get to PC eventually (if at all), and people wonder why PC game sales lag.

treeski treeski said:

Just want to put my continued support for PC gaming!

Relic Relic, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

NPD is outdated like Nielsen imo and I hope in this decade they finally realize it and start moving forward. But I still think even with digital distribution PC gaming declined this year. I really would love to see digital sales numbers but sadly those are kept private for obvious reasons .

Nevertheless I still believe the PC platform hands down is the BEST gaming system and by far most consumer friendly being open platform and all. Consoles however will always have an edge simply because they are easier and the masses enjoy that.

Guest said:

People will be forced to cut back on their purchases whether it's PC or console gaming when they are unemployed or under-employed. Unless we have been under a rock, we are still in a recession.

Timonius Timonius said:

"Unfortunately, despite being aware of this, NPD is still not tracking game sales through nontraditional channels."

NPD better get their act together. I believe the future of PC gaming solidly rests in online retail (as most of my local game stores practically shun windows and definitely mac games). If you plug in the digital distribution and subscriptions you'll definitely see an increase (ie. look at WOW).

KG363 KG363 said:

Wow, NPD is just releasing numbers that trick people into avoiding PC gaming. I don't think that is their intention, but I fear that is what is happening. They need to track digital sales and subscriptions. They are providing unreliable information.

Guest said:

That sounds about right... when you compare the price of a retail PC game versus the price of it online. I stopped buying PC games at retail when publishers decided that charging AUS$105 for a game was ok. Who the F*** is going to buy a game for the much when you can find the same game for $20-30 less online.

And PC publishers wonder why there's a - perceived - decline in the PC game market. You'd think they'd realise by now that more quantity sold at a lower price is more important than selling less units at a higher price.

gwailo247, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

Last game I physically bought was Empire Total War. Only to find out three things.

One is that you still need an internet connection and Steam to play it, making the physical disk merely a convenience to load the game an hour faster.

Two is that on release it was buggy and need to be patched.

Three is that when you're sitting at home fuming about your game waiting for a patch, you will invariably find it on a special sale in the next few months, and can get it for much cheaper than what you paid for at release.

This happened to most of the games I bought this year in varying amounts.

Guest said:

Cdwhenry New Holland PA USA wrote-

Another reason for the lack in sales is the fact that most of the PC titles are ports from console games. And most of those games are no better then the consoles. I feel that most of these PC titles seem to be dubbed down. I put money into my computer because it is the best platform for gaming. I hope that these companies soon realize that if they screw the PC gamer over by giving us inferior console carts, we'll stop buying the games. Also if the games are being designed for 3 year old console hardware, why should I go and buy the top of the line videocard. This designing for the console and then port the game to the PC will in the long run, hurt the Hardware manufacturers.

captaincranky captaincranky, TechSpot Addict, said:

On Being the First Kid on the Block to Have Something.....

Last game I physically bought was Empire Total War. Only to find out three things.

One is that you still need an internet connection and Steam to play it, making the physical disk merely a convenience to load the game an hour faster.

Two is that on release it was buggy and need to be patched.

Three is that when you're sitting at home fuming about your game waiting for a patch, you will invariably find it on a special sale in the next few months, and can get it for much cheaper than what you paid for at release.

This happened to most of the games I bought this year in varying amounts.

Well, you can't be an early adopter and then moan about being a victim also. That's like having your cake and pounding it in your *** too. So "man up" and just get used to the "implantation" of the "magic price wand". Oh, and find a comfortable cushion to sit on while you're playing your new game. There's bound to be some tenderness right near where your wallet used to be.

Guest said:

Those stats don't consider that most of the best PC games are available for download, and not at a brick-and-mortar establishment. I go to Best Buy, GameStop, or some other place and see nothing but Call of Duty, WoW, or crap for PC games. Most of the PC game I have are from online sources.

Fry's usually has a pretty good PC stock, though. Online is still the best, and you can get either downloads or mail-order (or both!).

Route44 Route44, TechSpot Ambassador, said:

People will be forced to cut back on their purchases whether it's PC or console gaming when they are unemployed or under-employed. Unless we have been under a rock, we are still in a recession.

This. With a few exceptions along the way, almost everything is "down." The retail market across the board in December was down.

dustin_ds3000 dustin_ds3000, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

Steam all the way

captaincranky captaincranky, TechSpot Addict, said:

People will be forced to cut back on their purchases whether it's PC or console gaming when they are unemployed or under-employed. Unless we have been under a rock, we are still in a recession.
Silly me, I thought it might have something to do with "Daemon Tools".

xempler said:

These stats are misleading and useless unless you account digital dstribution like Steam...which alot of people are using nowadays. Whoever is running these numbers fails horribly at his job.

yangly18 yangly18 said:

got to admit, I am one of thoes people that helped out in this decrease in computer games being purchased.

chivenyc said:

How to fix it:

1. Don't cut back on quality (voice acting, console-porting, story lines)

2. End pay-to-play like WoW. The only company that benefits from it is Blizzard. Everyone else suffers from it; other game developers, non-WoW gaming communities. If everyone stopped playing WoW, then COD4, COD5, BF2, MW2, CSS would be so much better. There would be more servers, more players, more clans, more competition, more revenue for gaming hosts, and an incentive for game developers to release good multiplayer titles. Blame Blizzard.

It's all about digital distribution now, not retail. Steam and xfire ftw.

Vrmithrax Vrmithrax, TechSpot Paladin, said:

chivenyc said:

How to fix it:

1. Don't cut back on quality (voice acting, console-porting, story lines)

2. End pay-to-play like WoW. The only company that benefits from it is Blizzard. Everyone else suffers from it; other game developers, non-WoW gaming communities. If everyone stopped playing WoW, then COD4, COD5, BF2, MW2, CSS would be so much better. There would be more servers, more players, more clans, more competition, more revenue for gaming hosts, and an incentive for game developers to release good multiplayer titles. Blame Blizzard.

It's all about digital distribution now, not retail. Steam and xfire ftw.

So, you are saying that if WoW became free to play, less people would play it and play more of the other games? And that would somehow make the game development companies change their minds and release games on the PC first (or concurrently) rather than on the consoles first, with PC releases coming later (if at all)?

Blizzard didn't invent the pay-to-play MMO concept, they just are the most successful example of that genre. And if surveys and market summaries like the one in this article actually counted subscription fees (as well as online sales), the PC gaming market would be far shinier than this dismal, skewed and limited statistical representation makes it out to be.

TomSEA TomSEA, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

Another caveat is that 2009 wasn't the greatest year for games, period. There just weren't that many good releases. 2010 has a slew of highly anticipated games that will be making a difference.

And as others have stated, unless you include digital distribution sales along with monthly subscriptions for MMORPG's, these figures are pretty meaningless.

chivenyc said:

Vrmithrax said:

chivenyc said:

How to fix it:

1. Don't cut back on quality (voice acting, console-porting, story lines)

2. End pay-to-play like WoW. The only company that benefits from it is Blizzard. Everyone else suffers from it; other game developers, non-WoW gaming communities. If everyone stopped playing WoW, then COD4, COD5, BF2, MW2, CSS would be so much better. There would be more servers, more players, more clans, more competition, more revenue for gaming hosts, and an incentive for game developers to release good multiplayer titles. Blame Blizzard.

It's all about digital distribution now, not retail. Steam and xfire ftw.

So, you are saying that if WoW became free to play, less people would play it and play more of the other games? And that would somehow make the game development companies change their minds and release games on the PC first (or concurrently) rather than on the consoles first, with PC releases coming later (if at all)?

Blizzard didn't invent the pay-to-play MMO concept, they just are the most successful example of that genre. And if surveys and market summaries like the one in this article actually counted subscription fees (as well as online sales), the PC gaming market would be far shinier than this dismal, skewed and limited statistical representation makes it out to be.

True, people wouldn't stop playing WoW if it became free. But the way I think about pay-to-play is that you bind yourself to a game to make it worth, "I just spent $15 on it, so I have to play WoW for a whole month, and nothing else" kind of thing. Would there be less people playing WoW if it was free? No, but they would be more likely to play something else. Just look at some xfire profiles of people who play WoW. That's all they play, nothing else. What's the incentive for companies to release games for PC if there is very little chance the players will play their game. It's a waste of time and money for them. Now take me for example.

http://www.xfire.com/profile/thund3rbolt/

Is there a reason for the companies to make games for people like me? Hell yeah!

Now, I don't want it to turn into another PC vs Console thing, but considering that PC gaming is superior in almost every way (except for cheats), games should be released on PC first, not the other way around like MW2.

EXCellR8 EXCellR8, The Conservative, said:

PC gaming may have been superior at one time, but with console sales skyrocketing and developers targeting the bigger audience it's not likely to return to the throne. on top of that, having to update your hardware every few years is a huge turn-off for most people and console gaming is just easier (i.e. no complete installations, no driver updates, no interruptions, no compatibility issues etc...). Sure, I still favor gaming on PC but at the end of the day it's easier to pop in a new game for PS3 and start playing right away without having to worry about how it will run or what i may need to update.

captaincranky captaincranky, TechSpot Addict, said:

PC gaming may have been superior at one time, but with console sales skyrocketing and developers targeting the bigger audience it's not likely to return to the throne. on top of that, having to update your hardware every few years is a huge turn-off for most people and console gaming is just easier (i.e. no complete installations, no driver updates, no interruptions, no compatibility issues etc...). Sure, I still favor gaming on PC but at the end of the day it's easier to pop in a new game for PS3 and start playing right away without having to worry about how it will run or what i may need to update.

Yes, it is a logical sequence to connect an "***** box" to the "boob tube".

This coupled with the fact that the Xbox, (allegedly), burns up long before it becomes obsolete.

Guest said:

I'm not surprised looking at shops like Game which has a tiny little section that's tucked in the corner for PC games! Then they overcharge £5-£10 more than online websites or distributors like Steam. One of the biggest problems for PC games I find is console ports. They focus way too much on consoles for games and their crappy controllers, I'm just hoping the new AVP doesn't end up like this and destroy the feel of the whole game.

Vrmithrax Vrmithrax, TechSpot Paladin, said:

chivenyc said:

True, people wouldn't stop playing WoW if it became free. But the way I think about pay-to-play is that you bind yourself to a game to make it worth, "I just spent $15 on it, so I have to play WoW for a whole month, and nothing else" kind of thing.

Well, then how do you explain Dungeons & Dragons Online, which experienced a resurgence and gained popularity when it went free to play? Or the ongoing appeal of Guild Wars, which has been free to play from the beginning?

I play a few MMOs, have had 1 or 2 active at a time since before they were called MMOs, and I can tell you that I still take time to play good release title games on my PC. Sure, you can find studies where complete WoW nerds play nothing BUT WoW, but I'd gather you could also find plenty of gamers who dabble in it and play games on their consoles as well. MMOs aren't the root of the evils killing PC gaming, it's ease of development and larger market shares that lure the developers to the consoles and away from the PC side. And, of course, the ever-present worry about piracy and DRM that haunts anyone considering PC gaming (the DRM security companies make sure to keep piracy on everyone's mind so they can keep their clients).

Honestly, if you actually looked at raw numbers in dollars spent on consoles and console games, vs PCs and PC games (including upgrades and sub fees for MMOs), you'd probably find that the PC isn't nearly as bleak as it's made out to be. And if you looked at numbers of hours spent gaming, I'd bet the PC places high up on the list. But the MMO is where the PC is shining right now, like it or not. It's keeping people glued to the PC, keeping a good active game-capable piece of hardware present, which PC gaming developers need to be in place before any sale of their product can ever happen.

Relic Relic, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

Oh an Xfire user .

chivenyc said:

Vrmithrax said:

chivenyc said:

True, people wouldn't stop playing WoW if it became free. But the way I think about pay-to-play is that you bind yourself to a game to make it worth, "I just spent $15 on it, so I have to play WoW for a whole month, and nothing else" kind of thing.

Well, then how do you explain Dungeons & Dragons Online, which experienced a resurgence and gained popularity when it went free to play? Or the ongoing appeal of Guild Wars, which has been free to play from the beginning?

I play a few MMOs, have had 1 or 2 active at a time since before they were called MMOs, and I can tell you that I still take time to play good release title games on my PC. Sure, you can find studies where complete WoW nerds play nothing BUT WoW, but I'd gather you could also find plenty of gamers who dabble in it and play games on their consoles as well. MMOs aren't the root of the evils killing PC gaming, it's ease of development and larger market shares that lure the developers to the consoles and away from the PC side. And, of course, the ever-present worry about piracy and DRM that haunts anyone considering PC gaming (the DRM security companies make sure to keep piracy on everyone's mind so they can keep their clients).

Honestly, if you actually looked at raw numbers in dollars spent on consoles and console games, vs PCs and PC games (including upgrades and sub fees for MMOs), you'd probably find that the PC isn't nearly as bleak as it's made out to be. And if you looked at numbers of hours spent gaming, I'd bet the PC places high up on the list. But the MMO is where the PC is shining right now, like it or not. It's keeping people glued to the PC, keeping a good active game-capable piece of hardware present, which PC gaming developers need to be in place before any sale of their product can ever happen.

I can not say anything about D&D or Guild Wars because I never played it, and don't know a thing about their communities. I bet they are fun games, just like WoW. I also agree that MMO is best played on PC, but I think PC FPS has much larger foothold solely based on the number of hours played according to the xfire statistics.

I understand it is more appealing for the companies to release on console rather than PC; less piracy, single set of hardware makes developing a game much easier, efficient, and cost effective. Then all they have to do is make a crappy port over to PC, just like Infinity Wards did with Modern Warfare 2.

Guest said:

It's amazing how many gamers want to give opinions on what's happening without any research or proof.

PC game sales are down 40% in 3 years - and gamers really think it is being made up by digital sales? 40%?! That's millions of units!

But i'll tell you why that's not true - through research that I have done, that any gaming media could do, but cannot be bothered to.

Firstly, every month last year I checked out Steam's, D2D and Impulses top 10 charts and compare that with the NPD charts. Took 5 minutes a month.

Then, using Gamespot as a test site, I checked how many PC games they reviewed in 2008 then 2009. I then averaged the review scores given in 2008 and averaged the review scores given in 2009. Took 30 minutes.

This is what I found:

Generally, excluding 'exclusives', digital services had indie, retro and special offers in it's Top 10's. For example, last year, when Steam carried the X-Com games for the first time, they went to the top of the Top 10 chart, overtaking any NPD titles that were already in the chart. Overall, it's obvious digital sellers are not doing huge numbers by virtue of the titles in their monthly charts. So whereas Borderlands got to No.7, Killing Floor got to No.1. In 10 of the 12 months, there was only 2 or 3 titles that were also in the NPD chart. This research shows that digital retailers predominantly sell titles that do not sell at retail at all. These are indie titles, retro titles (5+ years old) and special offers for titles 1-2 years old.

With regards Gamespot: In 2008 it reviewed 102 PC games and the average review score was 76%. In 2009 they reviewed 78 PC games (an almost 30% decline) and the average review score was 68%! This shows fewer PC games released and a lower quality for those PC games that were. Two reasons for a decline that no one talks about.

One last point. NPD covers only full price $20+ games. It does not include reduced priced or budget label games. This mean it could well be that will fewer lower quality PC games, more gamers are waiting for games to be reduced to become 'value for money'

The reason Steam doesn't give out sales numbers is because people would then see how LOW they were and then the truth would be known of what a state PC gaming is in.

I have been a PC gamer for 20 years. I have never played console. In the 90's I spent 8 years working in the PC games market in both the UK and USA. I don;t say the above because I am happy about it. I say it so we can start having a conversation/debate about this PC gaming decline. As long as the media and gamers, with no proof/research at all, put their heads in the sand by saying this 40% decline over 3 years has been taken up by digital distribution, then this coming disaster is going to be all the worse and arrive all the quicker.

My research above may not be perfect, but at least I have tried to base my comments on the facts, and I have been willing to spend my time to research to come to my point of view. I have not just come to decisions based on what others have said and by wishful thinking.

Guest said:

I personally don't even buy PC games anymore because console buys are just safer. With PC gaming, I'll have to upgrade my hardware every year or every other year to play the latest games, but with a console I know that they tailor the game to fit my system and I don't have to worry about what I can or cannot run. To get me back into the PC gaming market some drastic steps would have to be taken. A start would be to see that every PC game have a playable demo available so I can see beforehand how well my PC can handle it. I would also like to see games offer a wider range of video setting because it seems these days that lower settings don't really seem to do much for performance. I know there are lots of people out there like me who simply can't afford to buy the high-end $1500 computers that are going to last more than a few years. Sales will likely continue to decline in these hard economic times because It doesn't matter how great your game looks if half your audience can't run it.

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