It's no secret that digital downloads of video games -- be it on the console or PC -- are growing in popularity. However, the latest numbers may come as a surprise to some.
According to a newly published study by market researchers at the NPD Group, entitled "PC Games Digital Downloads", almost half of the purchases of PC games in 2009 were done online. The survey estimates that 21.3 million PC games were purchased online, while 23.5 million games were sold in U.S. retail stores last year.
That places the percentage of downloads at about 47.5 percent. Overall Steam was the most popular download service, followed by Direct2Drive, Blizzard's direct download system, EA's direct download system, and the World of Warcraft MMO.
Online social network gaming is also on the rise with 4.3 million users jumping on board between Q3 2009 to Q4 2009. Those gains have hurt the casual gaming download market, which was topped last year by Big Fish Games. Casual gaming titles, which typically feature addictive gameplay and shareware schemes of some sort, are slowly losing ground as customers discover free or cheap options on smart phones or social networks.
Overall, the report delivered good news for those in the gaming industry who make PC games. A previous NPD report had shown retail gaming sales to be down as much as 15 percent in June. That report only looked at offline purchases, though. The industry may have actually grown when online purchases were factored in.