Digital Game Revenue Wasn’t Enough to Offset Broader Industry Declines in Q3

Revenue from mobile and social games, among other categories, is growing, but not at a fast enough clip to offset the declines witnessed in the traditional games market.

The NPD Group released a new report today that calculated the amount of money Americans are spending on games from the nontraditional market. That includes a lot of digital content, such as subscriptions, digital downloads, social games and mobile games, but also used games and rentals.

In the third quarter, it found that the amount spent on that “other content” totaled $1.64 billion.

While significant, NPD said it wasn’t enough to offset lower revenue from the traditional game market. NPD defines the traditional market as packaged goods sold at retail. In the third quarter, that totaled $1.3 billion.

“New physical retail sales had a rough third quarter,” said Anita Frazier, an analyst with NPD. “Increases in sales from some of these other monetization methods, and full game and add-on digital downloads in particular, only partially offset the decline see in the new physical retail channel.”

She said the overall market, including hardware, totaled $4.2 billion, down 11 percent compared to the same period a year ago.

For companies like Electronic Arts, which is investing heavily in mobile and social games and is placing big bets on online content, like today’s release of Star Wars: The Old Republic, the results of these monthly and quarterly reports are unrepresentative of the trends they are seeing.

“Everything is growing. If you look at the total interactive business, it’s a $50 billion market internationally, and that’s up double digits. That’s where we play,” said EA’s President of Labels Frank Gibeau. “We find it frustrating because it doesn’t tell the whole picture.”

In the second quarter, EA’s digital revenue, which includes downloadable console content, mobile and social — was up 30 percent year over year.

Even a company like Activision, which has been slower to develop games on Facebook and mobile, said that during the second quarter, revenue from digital channels — mostly downloadable content — increased 27 percent year ove year, and accounted for 37 percent of the company’s total net revenue.

For all-digital companies, like Zynga, which went public last week to raise $1 billion, its impact hardly seems to register.

“I think that ultimately we are an interactive entertainment company, not a packaged goods company,” Gibeau said. “We are platform and channel agnostic. The physical channel is a great channel and it’s going to be around longer than people think. … We are fine with that model, but then, when you bring that game home, you should be able to connect to the larger online world.”


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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work