Digital Videogame Sales Overtake Retail Sales in Q2, Sort Of

Videogame heavyweights have been preparing for this moment and probably even fighting it.

But the day — or more accurately, the quarter — has arrived, when consumers spend more on digital games, such as mobile, social and console downloads, than they do on more traditional formats, like console games, according to the NPD Group.

UPDATE: I need to clarify that the category, which includes digital sales, also includes used sales and rentals, so it’s not purely digital sales that are exceeding retail sales, analyst Anita Frazier says. So while digital is absolutely growing, it’s not quite bigger than physical purely on its own.

In the second quarter, NPD estimates that digital revenues totaled $1.74 billion, exceeding the $1.44 billion spent on physical sales. That compares to the first quarter when the split favored physical sales of $2 billion, which topped digital sales of $1.85 billion.

While physical distribution in retail stores and packaged goods may be shifting to digital distribution over broadband connections and wireless airwaves, overall spending seems to be level.

In the second quarter, total videogame sales, including hardware, content and accessories, was estimated at $4.5 billion, which represents an increase of one percent compared to the same period a year earlier.

The NPD Group has not been tracking digital versus retail sales for very long, so it is unclear if this is the first time this has happened, or if the split will be permanent, but generally the trend is that digital revenues are growing while traditional retail sales are falling.

The shift for some incumbent videogame makers has been difficult to stomach.

Many debate the value of shifting from producing a $60 game sold at retail to producing mobile and social games, which frequently rely on a free-to-play model, where users have the option of playing without paying anything.

Others have embraced the concept, believing that the transformation will take place no matter what, or that it will grow the pie of people playing games.

To be sure, the market is just as confused about this period of disruption, leading values to be all over the map.

For example, privately held Zynga, which has filed to raise $1 billion in an IPO, was valued at $14.05 billion in August by a third party, according to a recent filing.

That makes the social games leader more than double the value of publicly held Electronic Arts, which has a market capitalization of $6.8 billion.

Meanwhile, Electronic Arts has been investing heavily in both mobile and social gaming, and, for instance, currently has the second-most popular game on Facebook.

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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus