Opinion: Pay no attention to the ‘battle’ between physical and digital games market

Ahead of this year’s market report, a prominent UK games industry veteran asked me how we would be presenting the data.

‘Is it a case of: The boxed market is still huge,’ he asked. ‘Or that digital is killing the High Street?’

I hear it a lot. The never-ending, tedious physical vs digital argument. Tell me if you’ve heard any of these: Steam has become a graveyard for indie developers. GAME’s time is running out. Only the lucky can succeed on iOS and Android. Boxed distribution is broken.

Yet for all that, the data on the front page of this issue speak of an industry in wonderful health across the board. So many people get hung up on the down arrows and seem to ignore the ludicrously high numbers sitting next to them.

Yes, physical boxed sales did decline last year. But factor in pre-owned game sales, and you’ll see that consumers still spent in excess of 1bn on discs. In fact, you can add another 160m of points cards on top of that, too.

Sticking with the physical retail market, we have obtained a valuation on the PC gaming hardware sector for the first time (thanks GfK). 138m was spent on gaming mice, keyboards, monitors and so on, and if you combine that with console hardware and accessories sales (including a growing toys-to-life market), and you’ll discover that just short of 1.2bn was spent on games hardware and accessories in 2015.

So if you are one of those publishers or developers who have long dismissed the ‘broken’ physical games market, then maybe it’ll be worth your while looking again.

Likewise, for those out there that believe the mobile sector is only for the lucky, and launching a game on Steam is like navigating the M25 during rush hour, perhaps its time to find a way of getting lucky, and developing some tricks so you can avoid all that traffic. Because the combined digital games sectors are now worth just shy of 1.9bn.

The UK games market is bigger than ever, and there are opportunities in all areas. That doesn’t mean it’s easy; whether you’re selling through GAME or Xbox Live or Steam or iOS, there are some real challenges to overcome. But if that 4.2bn market valuation tells us anything, it’s that the hard work and pain can pay off handsomely.

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