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


  1. RAY16 - November 28, 2011 1:03 am

    Oh my god, this arti­cle actu­al­ly has line breaks. My mind has been blown.

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

    Good arti­cle. Now how to get all them xbox 360 soft core penis lick­ers to under­stand this so they say that pc gam­ing isnt “dead”?

  3. Peter - December 9, 2011 11:57 am


  4. Peter - December 9, 2011 12:19 pm

    I’ve been pro­duc­ing few planes at this cool play­er-made hang­out I found

  5. Peter - December 9, 2011 12:26 pm

    I’ve been pro­duc­ing few planes at this cool play­er-made hang­out I found

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. thsoundman - December 25, 2011 7:09 pm
    Here is a ref­er­ence for quot­ed states for 2010

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

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

  10. 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.


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