Sales Figures

November 27, 2011

Understanding The Numbers: PC vs Console Sales Figures

Recently I have seen a great deal of confusion when it comes to understanding sales numbers between Consoles and PC.   Compared to 10 years ago there have been some major changes in the PC gaming industry, changes I consider for the better personally.  The biggest change in the PC gaming industry is the shift towards digital distribution.

 

Digital distribution began to pick up around 8 years ago in 2003 with the release of Valve Software’s digital distribution client steam.  This was really the first time you could get major PC releases online and be able to access, download and purchase them entirely digitally.  While it was slow to start the DD industry has taken off.

 

According to Techcrunch as of 2010 it was estimated that over 57 percent of PC gaming sales are done digitally and that number has only grown.  It’s even more evident as you see the PC gaming sections in retail stores that used to be two or three rows now just a small section of the shelf that’s poorly labeled and hard to find.

 

Personally I think the shift to digital distribution services such as Steam, Impulse and GOG has been a godsend for the PC gaming industry consumer and developer alike and here is why.  The developer no long has to worry about printing costs, distribution fees and all the costs that come along with providing a physical copy of a game and those costs are astronomic.  The average retail copy of a $50 dol¬lar game sold at a retail store brings in a net profit of about $8 where as a game sold on Steam for the same price brings in about $35 dol¬lars.  This price can vary depending on the development costs but all the same the profit difference is clear to see.  This also allows developers to more easily ensure their games are patched and up to date without having to walk consumers through the process.  Anyone remember updating Half-Life?  Enough said.  This in turn translates to savings for the consumer as we have seen with some of Steams amazing sales over the last few years; it also provides the consumer with additional convenience of not having to go pick up their game from a store, wait in lines, etc.  I know for I almost never buy my PC games in the store anymore unless there is a good deal on it AND I can get it to activate on Steam or another respective service.  Additionally when you purchase a game on a Digital Distribution service you do not have to worry about losing your game due to damage which has happened to me several times.

 

Going back to the point of the article… why are those pesky PC vs Console sales numbers so confusing and cause so much debate across the net?  The answer is simply that sales numbers listed in places like VGchartz do NOT include digital sales numbers.   This is because distributors like Steam, GOG, Impulse and Origin rarely if ever release their sales numbers on their digital sales.  The numbers you see in places like VGChartz are only retail sales or sales made at a Store like Best Buy, Gamestop, Walmart, etc.  These do NOT include Steam, Origin, etc.

 

As of right now I think we can realistically assume that that around 65% – 75% of PC game sales are made online.  Let us look at a couple of recent releases such as Battlefield 3 with the following sales numbers from VGchartz:

 

Xbox 360: 2.2 million
PlayStation 3: 1.5 million
PC: 500,000

 

If we follow that 75% of sales were made digitally the sales numbers look quite different:

 

Xbox 360: 2.2 million
PlayStation 3: 1.5 million
PC: 2 Million

 

While this number is not exact I think it’s a fair assumption that the majority of PC Battlefield 3 sales were sold online instead of from a retailer.  The new figures above puts the PC version of Battlefield 3 on par with the Xbox 360.

 

Let us also take a look at Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim which saw the largest concurrent number of players ever at one time on steam at over 300,000 which for a single player game is staggering:

 

Xbox 360: 1,997.215
PS3: 969,454
PC: 555,554

 

Following the same logic from above the numbers look like this:

 

Xbox 360: 1,997.215
PS3: 969,454
PC: 2,222,216

 

Which puts the PC as the top selling platform for the Skyrim. I’ve also heard it said that numbers playing the game listed on Steams website only generally represent 15% of the total number of players who actually purchased the games.  If you apply this logic to the 300,000 people playing the game concurrently at release then Skyrim sold over 3 million copies on the PC putting it far ahead the 360 and PS3 versions combined.  Not bad for a platform that is supposedly dead.  Having said that it’s hard to back that number up without some hard numbers from the distributors and until we see those numbers there will always be a debate as to which platform is the best selling.

 

While there is more Piracy on the PC platform sales numbers are still sales numbers and the people who pirate the game are going to pirate is no matter what system you put it on.  I’ve seen how easy it is to now pirate 360 and PS3 games and with the growth of the Console industry we will only see those numbers increase.  Hackers will find a way to pirate and distribute games no matter what system it is on because… they can.

 

Many look at VGchartz and proclaim the death of PC gaming but fail to look at the big picture of how the industry has shifted when comes to the PC as a gaming platform.  That statement simply isn’t true and considering that PC digital sales net 4 times more profit per sale then their retail counterparts we can also argue that they are more profitable than their Console counterparts.

 

Why write this article?  I wanted to clarify the confusion when it comes to interpreting sales numbers when it comes to PC vs Console sales and right now the majority of sales on PC are done online not in a retailer. Because of that we cannot look at the PC gaming platform the same way we did as little as 8 years ago because the way business is now done in the PC gaming community is completely different.

 

Source: VGchartz, Techcrunch

 

 

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