Consumers spent $3.33 billion on games outside of retail (e.g. digital downloads, social/mobile games) in the U.S. and key European markets during the fourth quarter of 2011, the NPD Group reports.
$2.04 billion of that was spent in the U.S. alone -- equaling almost half the $4.5 billion amount NPD reported for total packaged software sales at retail (including titles for home consoles, handhelds, and PC) in the States during the October to December 2011 period.
The non-retail category includes full-game downloads and downloadable content purchases, as well as a variety of other channels: used games, game rentals, subscriptions, social network games, downloadable content, and mobile games.
In the previous quarter, U.S. consumers actually spent more on non-retail games
, $1.64 billion, compared to the $1.3 billion they spent on new games at stores during the July to September months.
Non-retail sales for Europe's three largest video game markets came out to $1.29 billion, $508 million of that coming from the UK, $461 million coming from Germany, and $320 million coming from France.
"It's fascinating to see the nuances in consumer behavior across geographies," says NPD analyst Anita Frazier. "Clearly these other forms of content acquisition do not follow as consistent of a trend as we see with the established box product business in the U.S."
NPD's "U.S. Games Market Dynamics" report tracking video game sales is available on the firm's site