It was a memorable year for the video game industry. Esports captivated millions around the world, and that sparked the emergence of new multiplayer titles that gained a massive following.
Tencent Holding's (NASDAQOTH:TCEHY) Fortnite is a good example. Fortnite's success with its "battle royale" multiplayer game mode has had a significant, and expected, influence on game design from the big game companies. Year to date through October, Activision Blizzard's (NASDAQ:ATVI) Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 topped the list of best-selling games of the year, no doubt helped by the franchise's first inclusion of a battle royale game mode.
Take-Two Interactive Software (NASDAQ:TTWO) has the most titles on the list with three. Ubisoft (NASDAQOTH:UBSFF) (NASDAQOTH:UBSFY) and Sony (NYSE:SNE) have two each, while Electronic Arts (NASDAQ:EA) and Capcom (NASDAQOTH:CCOEF) are represented with one each. Results are from NPD Group and are based on sales year to date through Oct. 2018.
The top-selling games through Oct. 2018
As you peruse the best-selling games in the table below, keep a few things in mind.
First, NPD only tracks game sales in the U.S., and the data reflects both sales at retail stores and digital downloads. Second, the data doesn't include free-to-play titles like Fortnite, which has reached 125 million registered players. For this reason, this list doesn't reflect the year's most popular or most played titles. If it did, Fortnite would most likely reign at the top.
|1||Call of Duty: Black Ops 4||Activision Blizzard|
|2||Red Dead Redemption 2||Take-Two Interactive|
|3||NBA 2K19||Take-Two Interactive|
|4||Far Cry 5||Ubisoft|
|5||Madden NFL 19||Electronic Arts|
|7||God of War 2018||Sony|
|8||Monster Hunter: World||Capcom USA|
|9||Grand Theft Auto V||Take-Two Interactive|
|10||Assassin's Creed: Odyssey||Ubisoft|
This list will likely look somewhat different once NPD reports full-year numbers through the end of December. Some big releases since October have made the list of top-10 sellers in November. Most noteworthy are Electronic Arts' Battlefield V, Bethesda Softworks' Fallout 76, and Nintendo's (NASDAQOTH:NTDOY) Pokemon: Let's Go, Pikachu and Pokemon: Let's Go, Eevee. Battlefield V and Fallout 76 are expected to be among the year's best-sellers through December, which means a few games toward the bottom of the year-to-date list (above) could drop out by the end of the year.
For perspective, here are November's best-selling games:
|1||Red Dead Redemption 2||Take-Two Interactive|
|2||Call of Duty: Black Ops 4||Activision Blizzard|
|3||Battlefield V||Electronic Arts|
|4||Fallout 76||Bethesda Softworks|
|5||Pokemon: Let's Go, Pikachu||Nintendo|
|6||Pokemon: Let's Go, Eevee||Nintendo|
|7||NBA 2K19||Take-Two Interactive|
|8||Madden NFL 19||Electronic Arts|
|9||Spyro Reignited Trilogy||Activision Blizzard|
|10||FIFA 19||Electronic Arts|
A few takeaways
What's clear is that the video game industry is very similar to the movie industry in that sequels of existing franchises dominate.
Besides Sony's Marvel's Spider-Man -- which is not really original -- every game is a new version of an existing franchise. The two runaway hits for the year have been Take-Two's Red Dead Redemption 2 and Activision's Call of Duty: Black Ops 4. Both games were released in October and look positioned to dominate the U.S. sales charts through the holidays. Red Dead 2 sold 17 million units in the first week after launch.
Activision reported during its third-quarter conference call that Black Ops 4 was leading Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 (2015) -- the all-time top-grossing Call of Duty game. The company also boasts that sales of the entire Call of Duty franchise have surpassed all box office sales of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and are double the cumulative box office sales of Star Wars. This is not surprising given that a new Call of Duty game typically reaches $500 million in sales within the first week of launch, and Call of Duty gets a new update every fall. That is more than most movies generate worldwide during their entire run in theaters.
Also noteworthy is that Activision has only one game on the list, despite being one of the largest game companies in the world with more than $7 billion in annual revenue. This doesn't reflect negatively on the company, since Activision is not in the habit of releasing new games every year other than a new annual version of Call of Duty. Instead it shows that the company's focus on a diverse range of franchises that generate revenue primarily from in-game spending continues to work well.
Electronic Arts will likely end up with at least two best-selling games for the year in Battlefield V and Madden NFL 19. France-based Ubisoft and Sony each scored two on the list. However, they may end up with only one each for the year once sales of Battlefield and Fallout 76 are factored in. Capcom (the maker of the Resident Evil series) has had success with its Monster Hunter franchise, which is well known in Japan, and has sold 52 million copies worldwide since its debut in 2004.
Watch out for Take-Two
From an investor's perspective, I would keep my eye on the relatively small Take-Two, which is expected to report about $2.6 billion in revenue in fiscal 2019 (which ends in March). The company has three games on the top-10-sellers list this year, which is noteworthy given the company's size relative to that of the industry leaders, Activision and EA.
Grand Theft Auto V continues to sell exceptionally well, even though it was released five years ago. Following in Grand Theft Auto's footsteps is Red Dead Redemption 2, which has already achieved one of the best review scores of any video game ever made and could show up on the best-sellers list again next year.