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So much for trade-ins: Buying games over the internet is booming

As gamers buy extra story lines and special moves to make their character dance like Michael Jackson, they're shifting purchases online and away from discs.

The League of Legends World Championships, with a $5 million dollar prize pool, concludes on October 13.
Riot Games

Has the internet killed the DVD disc star?

New estimates released on Wednesday from market researcher PwC indicate that may well be the case, as gamers are increasingly buying the latest titles over the internet.

Global sales of game discs for PCs and video game consoles like Sony's PlayStation 4 and Microsoft's Xbox One are expected to drop to about $18 billion in 2020, down from nearly $21 billion last year. Meanwhile, sales of games over the internet are expected to jump 57 percent to nearly $13 billion over that same time.

The bottom line, according to PwC, is that gamers are increasingly shifting their purchases to online stores like Valve's Steam Store. Add in other items sold through apps and the internet, like new uniforms for popular characters in titles like League of Legends, and global spending on games is expected to rise more than 20 percent to $85.4 billion in the next four years.

"Just as with PCs, much of this will be driven by access to more free-to-play (F2P) titles, some of which will be e-sport related," PwC said in its report.

It's a shift the industry has spent more than a decade preparing for. Game makers like Valve, Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo and Electronic Arts have spent the past decade building online stores designed to help gamers buy and play games without ever touching a disc.

Still, some gamers have resisted the change, opting to keep buying physical copies of games on discs, just like they have been for decades. Some people like to hold onto them as part of a video game collection, or trade the discs in once they're finished to get money back.

But helping hurry the trend toward online sales are games like Activision's space-age online game Destiny, which charge both for additional story lines and in-game content like "emotes" (gestures characters can make to one another on the screen) that are sold over the internet. One popular emote: A rendition of Michael Jackson's famous "Thriller" dance move. In total, gamers are expected to spend $32 billion on these items by 2020, up 45 percent from the $22 billion they spent last year.

And when gamers aren't paying up to $5 to make their character bow like they just finished a recital, they're expected to spend more than $18 billion on games like Candy Crush Saga and Kim Kardashian: Hollywood by 2020, up 43 percent from what they spent last year.