We all saw the headlines: Grand Theft Auto is the fastest-selling video game of all time, taking just three days to rack up $1 billion in sales. That's an impressive milestone; no other video game or movie is close to GTA 5's record.
|Entertainment Property||Film/Video Game||Days to a Billion|
|GTA 5||Video Game||3|
|Call of Duty: Black Ops 2||Video Game||15|
|Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2||Movie||19|
However, being the fastest to a sales number and higher total sales are two different things. Some games collect billions over time in monthly subscription fees while others see releases every year instead of the four-plus years it takes between major GTA releases.
Let's take a look at three game franchises that won't necessarily beat GTA to a billion in sales, but have greater selling power.
Not Quite There: Madden
Let's start off with a franchise that's not quite able to top GTA, Madden Football. That's quite the compliment to GTA, as Madden is a sports game institution now in its 25th year.
Overall, heading into the 25th edition released this year, Electronic Arts (NASDAQ: EA ) reports that Madden games have sold 99 million copies and led to more than $3.7 billion in net revenue. Those are impressive figures that are the envy of almost any game franchise.
However, GTA surpasses Madden's success. At an investor conference in 2011 Take-Two Interactive's (NASDAQ: TTWO ) CEO revealed that the Grand Theft Auto series had sold more than 114 million copies. Since that time, GTA 4 has continued selling and GTA 5 has likely added another 20 million units. All things considered, it's pretty conservative to estimate the series will have sold over 140 million units by the end of the year.
So, Madden can't quite live up to GTA's success, but here are a few titles that can.
World of Warcraft
World of Warcraft is legendary for its addictiveness, which is convenient for a game where subscriptions run between $12.99 and $14.99 per month. Recent history hasn't been kind to World of Warcraft -- the game has bled down from more than 12 million subscribers to fewer than 8 million across the past few years.
Yet, even with subscriber counts dwindling, the game still prints money. In the first half of the year, Activision Blizzard (NASDAQ: ATVI ) recorded $508 million in online subscriptions, the vast majority of which comes from World of Warcraft. At the peak of the game's popularity in 2010, the game racked up about $1.23 billion in sales. That's more than GTA publisher Take-Two Interactive has ever made in a fiscal year including all of its other game titles beyond GTA.
Having been released in November 2004 and quickly moving past 6 million subscribers by March 2006, World of Warcraft has been generating huge sales for over a decade. If the game can stabilize around its current subscriber count, there's a good shot it could reach an astounding $10 billion in lifetime sales.
It might be an unfair comparison as Mario appears in games across so many genres, but there is no doubting Nintendo's (NASDAQOTH: NTDOY ) main character knows how to bring home the bacon.
In January 2007, British newspaper The Independent estimated Mario games had sold more than 190 million copies. Aside from Ninendo's Pokemon series, the next highest franchise at the time was Final Fantasy at 68 million.
What's astounding is that The Independent's sales figures came right before Nintendo entered a golden age where the Nintendo DS and Wii hit peak sales. While the DS was launched in November 2004, the Wii hit in November 2006. Console sales of the DS and Wii would go on to surpass 250 million combined, with several Mario-themed games putting up absurd sales numbers.
|Mario Kart Wii||Wii||32.3 million|
|New Super Mario Bros.||Nintendo DS||30.4 million|
|New Super Mario Bros. Wii||Wii||27.9 million|
|Mario Kart DS||Nintendo DS||23.3 million|
|Super Mario Galaxy||Wii||11.7 million|
That Mario has been one of the strongest -- if not the strongest -- video game franchises ever is without question. However, the bigger uncertainty is the future. The Wii U sold just 160,000 units in the June quarter. If Nintendo can't get that system rolling, will it begin producing games across other platforms?
So far, the company has said it's committed to its own consoles. However, a weak holiday season from the Wii U could put pressure on Nintendo's leadership to explore better use of Mario and its other franchises.
Call of Duty
GTA 5 broke Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 record of reaching a billion in sales after just 15 days. That record may likely stand firm against the newest release in the Call of Duty series. Activision's CEO Eric Hershberg stated in early August that pre-orders for the newest game in the series, Call of Duty: Ghosts, were tracking well below Call of Duty: Black Ops 2's record-setting pace.
Yet, before anyone declares that Call of Duty is in decline, consider that a press release from GameStop on Sept. 9 said Call of Duty: Ghosts was on track to become the most pre-ordered game of the year. Maybe it's not so clear cut that GTA 5 will retain its crown of fastest to a billion.
The bottom line on Call of Duty is that even if GTA outsells any specific title in the series, Call of Duty bests its sales by coming out every single year versus the four- to five-year lifecycle between major GTA launches. With recent Call of Duty games cresting over a billion dollars in sales, the series is currently outselling GTA by a wide margin.
The question is what kind of longevity Call of Duty will have with such an aggressive release schedule. Activision has other recent franchises that have succeeded -- Skylanders is now a $1.5 billion franchise on its own -- but any lost momentum on Call of Duty would be a massive blow. It's simply the largest franchise in video games right now.
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