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Digital game sales reached a total of $3.33 billion in the fourth quarter in the U.S. and Europe, according to the NPD Group. The U.S. number is up 9 percent from a year ago, though comparison data isn’t available for Europe.

The numbers show that digital games — excluding those sold at physical retail stores — are a growing part of the business, while console games have been shrinking for the past couple of years.

Digital game sales include used games, game rentals, subscriptions, digital full-game downloads, social network games, downloadable content, and mobile games. The U.S. captured the lion’s share of fourth-quarter sales at $2.04 billion. The United Kingdom, Germany, and France generated about $1.29 billion, while the rest of Europe wasn’t counted in the data. The United Kingdom generated $508 million, followed by Germany at $461 million and France at $320 million.

“It’s fascinating to see the nuances in consumer behavior across geographies,” said Anita Frazier, analyst at the NPD Group. “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.”

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In the U.S., fourth-quarter physical retail game software sales were $4.5 billion, down 3 percent from a year earlier. That means that digital games are about a third of the size of the physical retail game software business.

[Pictured: digital game The Sims FreePlay]

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