The NPD Group, known primarily among gamers as the main source of game sales information in the United States, is preparing to launch tracking for digital video game sales this year, according to an interview with David McQuillan, president of NPD’s Games group by GamesIndustry International this week.

There have been calls for years from press and industry alike for better tracking of digital sales – GamesIndustry International specifically pointed out the ESA’s call for more transparency in digital sales at this year’s E3. As downloadable content and digital gaming grows with Steam’s incredibly popular season sales, Amazon’s more and more frequent digital sales, and the upcoming consoles’ day-one digital availability, the lack of usable, detailed information with regard to digital sales is becoming more and more painfully obvious.

It’s not like NPD has had its fingers in its ears, hoping no one would notice. They’ve been tracking total consumer spending since 2010, including digital categories, but not at the level of detail available for retail.

The group has put together a panel of nine-still anonymous-games publishers, focusing on “full-game downloads and downloadable content for consoles, PCs, and portables,” to work out exactly how the tracking will function. While McQuillan couldn’t reveal which publishers are involved, things are moving quickly; they want the service available for the new consoles hitting the market this fall.

With other tracking firms putting out more information more frequently, this is an important step for the group. It’s not clear whether NPD will make more of the digital sales information publicly (rather than to subscribers) available than it has been with retail, but McQuillan said that that hasn’t yet been determined. The tracking, which will be done in partnership with EEDAR, will be global, rather than being limited to North America as with retail sales. This could provide interesting, detailed information about what platforms matter in what regions and why.

McQuillan doesn’t feel, however, that its digital tracking will overshadow its retail tracking. “Anyone who believes that retail sales are not relevant is simply misinformed,” he told GamesIndustry International. He added that the group doesn’t “think digital sales will ever become bigger than physical retail sales at the total industry level,” but adds that isolated content sales may be “at par with physical retail sales.”

The new console releases coming later this year should do a good job of showing us just how true that is. Obviously they’ll impact retail sales heavily with people buying systems and accessories, but whether consumers will take readily to digital purchases of full games in the console space remains to be seen.