While US videogame sales plummeted at retail this past holiday season – software sales dropped 17% to US$1.3 billion, according to the latest NPD data – a full look at the whole segment reveals some better news.
“If you look at digital downloads of games, they are up,” says Sam Barberie, director of business development at SuperData Research, a New York-based digital analytics firm. “The retail numbers show that games are not performing, but we are filling in the digital side of the market.”
According to its end-of-year report, the US digital games market actually grew 11% in 2013. Total sales accounted for US$11.7 billion, up from US$10.5 billion over 2012.
The report also looks at the digital game market in segments and reveals that 2013 indicated what business model is currently having the most success.
“The fastest growing segment in the US was free-to-play,” says Barberie. “That was up 45% over 2012, which is significant.”
Also on the upward swing were mobile games, a segment that enjoyed 29% growth in the digital realm, and console downloads, which were up 22% over 2012. The rise in mobile can be accounted for in part by the widespread success of Candy Crush, which continues to be a ubiquitous and demographic-spanning phenomena.
On the other side of the ledger were subscription-based games, down 21% over 2012. The volatile swings indicate a market that grew in the last year to include different demographics that were previously overlooked.
“At this point, the traditional market has matured in the US,” says Barberie. “Everyone was fighting over the same number of gamers, but then social and mobile games really added a whole new element to what we think a gamer is.”
Barberie says that the jury is still out on what revenue model will best perform in the coming months.
“The platforms are re-balancing and fighting over each other,” he says. “The subscription model has fell out of favor and free-to-play has sort of taken over for now.”