The Future Of Gaming By The Numbers

Steve Anderson : End Game
Steve Anderson
The Video Store Guy
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The Future Of Gaming By The Numbers

Recent information emerged from the NPD Group, running down just how much Americans spent on video gaming in 2012, and the numbers have some very interesting stories to tell in their own right. But what do these stories have to say about the future of gaming? Based on what we're hearing, quite a bit.

The NPD Group's numbers, which came out earlier today, show just what Americans spent on gaming software. By software, this includes physical media as well as digital downloads, and it also examines rental services as a part of that, as well as DLC and piece downloads along with full games. Hardware of any type, including accessories, is excluded.

In general, Americans spent a hefty $14.8 billion on games in 2012. Sounds great--and it is in isolation--but that's down nine percent from 2011, in which they spent $14.8 billion. So what made up that drop? Well, one of the biggest issues was a lack of physical game sales. Physical games sold fully $2.03 billion less than they did in 2011, owing to a likely combination of fewer major names overall and something of a retraction in gaming overall with the likely emergence of new systems later this year.

However, digital sales went up from the year before, from $5.09 billion in 2011 to $5.92 billion--almost a full billion more--in 2012. That's not enough to bring up the total from a serious hit at the retail gaming level, but still.

Some might project at this point that digital gaming is the future. Gains in the midst of a bad economy are always a noteworthy point, but there are several other factors going into the total that make for an interesting whole. While the bad economy is having something to do with it--many digital games are $20 or less, compared against $60 for physical releases--a lack of compelling triple-A titles against previous years likely had something to do with it. Sure, there were some such titles out there, but compared to previous years, the numbers were quite a bit down. Meanwhile, smaller games and indie developers kept right on rolling, taking advantage of what they could get while hopefully keeping an eye toward the future.

The potential rise of the next generation console releases--which may well start off fairly soon if Sony's surprise meeting goes off as planned--is another factor to consider. We know total numbers of triple-A titles have been on the low side for some time now; they may well be biding their time until the new platforms start to emerge. After all, why make a ton of games for the last generation when the new generation is emerging? It's a fine line for developers to straddle--they don't want to lose out on business this year, yet what's the sense in putting a lot of effort into games that would be overshadowed by the latest and greatest's launch titles?

It's really too early to call these trends just yet, but it's a safe bet that digital distribution isn't going away. It's yielded quite a bit of success in its own right, though the next couple years--especially if the new consoles emerge--will likely tell the full story much better than the transition years we're looking at right now.

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