The international publishing director of 1C Company has rather boldly predicted that PC games will be sold "completely via digital" by the first quarter of 2011 and says that retailers have nobody to blame for it but themselves.
Darryl Still, who joined the large Russian publisher in 2007, thinks the PC gaming market is going digital in a big way. The growth in digital distribution is "phenomenal," he said, and much of the thanks for that ironically goes to the group that will suffer the most because of it: Videogame retailers who give short shrift to the PC market.
"If PC games manage to get listed at retail, then they're rarely getting any exposure because they're appearing at the back of the store," he said. "There is still demand, but retail is forcing PC games out. Digital is fantastic, and we're very pleased with it. But it is not us as the developers and publishers driving products to digital - it is because the options for the PC at retail are so limited."
For proof, Still said people need to simply walk into their local game store and check out the PC section, if there is one at all. The phenomenon is "extra strange," he said, "because there is a much better margin on PC games" than on console releases and the success of digital distribution proves the market for PC gaming is still going strong. "These consumers are now more than happy to click the download button," he said.
"Q1 2011 is my estimate as to when PC games will be sold completely via digital," he continued. "I have seen the predictions that by 2013 more than 50 per cent of our revenues will be earned digitally. But if the PC games market has to wait until 2013 then we are all in trouble."
He acknowledged that some challenges to a digital breakthrough remain, not least of which is figuring out which distribution platforms are going to emerge as success stories. "I feel like I am at the front of an express train, and every week we're adding an extra carriage at the back, which is a digital distributor. We have contracts with 25 of them at the moment, and of that amount six or seven are producing decent revenue numbers," he said. "And this year I know more carriages will be added on and others will be coming off the rails. The issue is we don't know which ones will succeed and which ones won't."
I'm pretty sure that the widespread adoption of digital distribution is facing more issues than just that, not to mention that the first quarter of 2011 is just a year away. Given that recent NPD sales figures found that 90 percent of videogames sold are boxed retail copies, it seems like an awfully tiny window for such a big transition.