Blizzard boss Rob Pardo has given clear indication that he expects full game PC downloading to become more important in the near future, saying we're now seeing a "shift" away from brick and mortar retail.
Blizzard announced at Blizzcon last weekend that Cataclysm will be the first WoW expansion to be made available for direct pre-loading ahead of the product's retail release.
"I think you're just seeing a shift in consumer behaviour, where people are slowly becoming more digitally distribution aware and wanting to get their games in that direction," Pardo told Gamespot, speaking at Blizzcon.
"I think it makes a lot of sense for World of Warcraft, because, by definition, everyone who plays World of Warcraft is online already. They're already receiving very large patches - I think we're now delivering 4Gb patches to our userbase - and, for them, downloading the game digitally just makes a lot of sense."
Pardo was guarded on a prediction of retail's demise, however.
"I doubt if retail would ever go away, or anything. I wouldn't predict anything like that," he added.
"But I do think it's going to become increasingly a way that gamers want to go and get their games."
The exec explained that, while many PC gamers now prefer to download games rather than buy a disc, having a strong retail presence is still vital for launches.
"It's really good for us to have lots and lots of boxes on the store shelves because it's a great way to market the game, and it's really great for when people come into the store to make an impulse buy," he said.
"So we're still really behind the retail chains too."
"The day's coming"
Pardo added that day-and-date digital releases are sure to become more commonplace.
"The day's coming," he told GamesIndustry in another Blizzcon interview.
"You can definitely see digital distribution all around the industry, it's becoming a bigger and bigger percent of the market."
He added: "Ultimately I think it's a great way to get games. Speaking to me as a gamer and not even a Blizzard person, it's my preferred way too get games nowadays."
A future where the preferred method of full game PC distribution is digital now seems inextricable: NPD announced in September that the first six months of 2010 had seem more PC games downloaded than bought on disc.
The US stat-tracker has now promised to start capturing digital and mobile sales.
The subject of digital distribution is becoming an increasingly urgent issue, with Take-Two boss Strauss Zelnick saying earlier this month that digitally sales could account for up to 40 percent of the publisher's revenue within three years, up from a current 15 percent.
Zelnick also said, however, that retail would continue to exist, despite the change in buying patterns.