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How long before apps overtake physical video game content sales?

After reviewing the payments to suppliers, we can look at the store’s revenue generation rate. With the same assumptions, we have the following chart:

We will have to wait for another report to see whether the recent burst of volume from apps is sustained[1], but the trend shows income from apps narrowing the gap to music. In the last few months apps may have been generating $300 million/month[2].

The blue line above can be interpreted as an arrow aimed at the music industry. We know how that turned out. The red line above can also be interpreted as an arrow aimed at the gaming industry. What are the chances it will play out the same way?

According to NPD, U.S. retail sales of new physical video game content, which includes portable, console and PC game software, generated revenues of $10.1 billion in 2010. That’s $840 million per month. A big number compared to the app business. The trouble is that the figure is going down (-5% from the year before).

If you look at the red line above and its slope, it would indicate that, given time, the App store will overtake the entire physical media gaming industry. The time when that happens will depend a lot on the growth or decline of the physical game media business, but another four years seems a safe bet.

Would this cause the same effect to the industry as digital music had when it replaced physical media? I would say yes. The main reason is that physical media has associated with it a different sales cycle and margin. These factors determine the processes and cost structures of incumbents. Such changes are very difficult to absorb and adapt to.

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Notes:

  1. App sales are highly seasonal as there is a burst of downloads post-holidays.
  2. Apple reports iTunes income in financial reports. In the third quarter it reported $1.2 billion in revenues. This is roughly consistent with the data above given that the analysis excludes iBooks, Movie and TV Show sales and rentals.