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Physical video game releases see an increase after a five-year slump

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After sinking to a record-low number of boxed releases in 2015, the gaming industry recovered in 2016 with a renewed focus on physical video game sales, a recent analysis on The NPD Group Blog reveals.

Industry analyst Mat Piscatella notes that gaming retail sales saw a steady decline over the last several years, with 2015 producing a total of 230 boxed releases across all platforms. Retail performance rebounded with 271 physical releases in 2016 and this year promises additional gains for an ailing industry.

Gaming’s increasing focus on digitally distributed titles began to take its toll on retail sales as early as 2010, when 742 unique releases hit retail across all gaming platforms, according to NPD’s research. The next year brought this figure down to 584 titles and 2012 saw a further decline, producing only 424 boxed releases in total.

Piscatella attributes 2016’s sudden recovery to GameStop’s newly introduced publishing initiative and the rise of independent boutique publishers.

“There are fewer publishers, and on average those remaining publishers are bringing fewer games to retail than they were at the start of the decade,” Piscatella explains. “This has resulted in a dramatic reduction in release count; one that just so happens to correlate quite well to packaged retail sales.”

Piscatella continues: “The good news is that the decline in packaged release count stopped in 2016. […] GameStop has proactively taken the steps to enter physical publishing of smaller scale digital games with GameTrust. Its first title, Insomniac’s Song of the Deep, launched in July, was supported with significant presence and promotion at retail and in consumer marketing. GameTrust also has partnerships in place with developers of digital games such as Tequila Works, Ready at Dawn and Frozenbyte.”

505 Games and Soedesco Publishing also led the charge with physical versions of formerly digital-exclusive titles like Rocket League, Terraria, Ziggurat, and Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams. 505’s next digital-to-physical release, a retail PlayStation 4 version of the indie farm life sim Stardew Valley, is due to launch in April.

According to Piscatella, niche publishers and retailers alike now stand to benefit from the increased presence and variety of physical gaming releases.

“What these smaller titles can do is generate additional sales of the games themselves while at the same time driving traffic to the video game aisle,” Piscatella projects, “leading to incremental sales of other games while re-engaging consumers that have gaming interests beyond the latest AAA big-budget shooter.”

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