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Stardock's Wardell: Digital Distribution Will 'Save PC,' Say Retail Publishers

Digital distribution is "going to save PC" in the eyes of many retail publishers, says Stardock CEO Brad Wardell; he gives Gamasutra his market estimates and explains why Valve's Steam and Stardock's Impulse are "not mutually exclusive."
Like Valve, developer and publisher Stardock has a broad view of the PC gaming industry, being a company that sells not only its own games but also those of other publishers through digital distribution. Its Impulse service carries third-party games across numerous genres. As a result, Stardock CEO Brad Wardell ends up having a lot of contact with other publishing executives, who tell him the growth of outlets like Steam and Impulse is making them take a closer look at the PC game arena. "A lot of publishers are viewing digital distribution as the thing that is going to save PC," he told Gamasutra during a recent interview. The retail market for PC games is undoubtedly shrinking, as NPD sales figures reflect. "You can't get a lot of retail space on the PC," Wardell said. But as that number declines, digital distribution figures are on the rise, and fast. Right now, Wardell roughly estimates PC digital distribution as about 25 percent of the total PC game market -- but based on its current growth, he expects that to double within a year or two. Earlier this year, IGN reported Valve saw 97 percent year-over-year growth in its Steam revenues, while fellow digital distribution service Direct2Drive saw a 56 percent increase. And despite being direct competitors in many respects, Wardell believes the operators of the various distribution services are actually pursuing increasingly divergent paths that will hopefully work separately toward the same goal: a more robust and user-friendly PC platform. "Steam and Impulse start out as competitors here, but we really have different long-term ideas on what we want to do, and they're not mutually exclusive," the exec said. "Steam's not going away. Impulse isn't going away. I think we're going off on our own different visions, to make it so that the PC experience is much better."

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