NPD numbers don't track the myriad ways that people are buying games, and THQ CEO Brian Farrell says it's these enormous gaps that are making the industry look weaker than it is.
Farrell thinks that the downturn that seems to be plaguing the videogame industry has less to do with people buying fewer games, and plenty to do with an over-reliance on data from research company NPD, and the incomplete picture that data paints.
Farrell said that the figures from NPD don't take into account anything other than physical sales, and even then, not all of them. Using upcoming title MX vs. ATV Alive - a game with a low retail price point and a focus on DLC for generating revenue - as an example, he said that NPD would only track the number of copies sold, and not make any note of the potentially tens of millions of dollars such a business model could make.
In the same vein, he said that THQ sales on Steam were fantastic, but they were never reported by NPD. He also noted that NPD didn't include the revenue from MMO subscriptions, meaning that the bulk of the money generated by the likes of World of Warcraft was being ignored.
Farrell stressed that he wasn't criticizing NPD, but said that until it - or some other organization - took digital distribution into account, people were only looking at a portion of the industry, rather than the whole thing. He said that while boxed sales might be down, in THQ's experience, people were actually playing more games than ever before.
Farrell raises a good point: Steam has around 30 million users who might as well not exist as far as NPD are concerned, not to mention the Xbox Live and PSN games that aren't being counted. Even with these extra sales, however, there's no guarantee that the videogame industry would be seen to be growing. Still, a slower rate of contraction means that it will be easier the industry to bounce back in the future.