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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  7. thsoundman - February 16, 2012 9:10 pm

    You know I keep seeing people saying the data is wrong and your stats are wrong but I’ve yet to see any math that speaks to the countrary. I don’t mind being wrong but you gotta support your statements to the contrary. Stating something is wrong doesn’t make it so just as saying something is right doesn’t make it so.

  8. Blurtex33 - February 16, 2012 4:34 pm

    So many fallacies and wrong info in this article. For shame TGB.

  9. thsoundman - December 25, 2011 7:09 pm

    Here is a reference for quoted states for 2010

  10. thsoundman - December 25, 2011 7:09 pm

    Simple… the stated sales of PC gaming only covers retails sales. Those sales are 500k. Retail sales are the only sales numbers that are recorded in these stats. You basically just proved what i was saying. Those sales numbers do NOT include digital sales numbers. So if online sales make up 75% of the total sales numbers and the retails numbers were 500k we multiply by 4 to get 2 million. It’s simple math really.

    Secondly the US has popular console success but it’s the only country where console gaming is that popular. I should also note that the only game that has sold billions worth of merchendise is Call of Duty franchise.

    Third and finally PC gaming revenue sales in 2010 were 16.2 billion… sooo you are are some 16x off the mark on your statement. I’m not sure if your a fanboy or just don’t understand that math. Either way you are wrong.

    It’s not that I don’t think console gaming is dying or is less popular because it is more popular but PC gaming is not dead… it’s far from it actually. The ease of which gamers can get their products has made it that much more accessible.

    • Name (Required) - February 20, 2014 2:07 pm

      Consoles are mostly based in retail sales while PC has went on and become more of a digital marketplace. It’d be more interesting to compare digital sales on PS3/XBox360 to PC.

      PC gaming revenue and total amount of sales can only be wrong in that sense if you are assuming every game is $60.

  11. Bob - December 25, 2011 10:15 am

    How do you go from 500,000 sale to 2 million? Even if an additional 75% of purchases were made online your numbers are making up 300% sale increases.

    And those same numbers you quote do not account for online retailers. Face the facts. In the US alone console gaming is measured in billions…PC gaming is measured in the hundreds of millions.

    • HybridHalo - October 18, 2013 12:57 pm

      Man, what a fantastic maths fail. I’ll explain for you, though.

      Let’s call X the total number of games sold and Y is the amount sold in retail, with Z being the amount of games sold in digital distribution. We know that Z (digital distributed games) makes up 75 % of X.

      So if X (total) is 100, Z (digital) must be 75 and Y is 25. Now you can see why there is such an increase in numbers when you factor Z into Y’s statistics, Z is 3Y.

      I hope that clears it up for you, It appears you were getting confused and thinking that Digital Sales were 75% of retail sales, rather than *all* sales.

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  15. AiR - December 6, 2011 8:37 pm

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