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Summary:

Want to see how drastically the game industry’s market is changing in the U.S.? Take a look at the top 10 best-selling video games in 2007, recently released by retail sales tracker NPD Group, then compare that list to previous years. While several established franchises were […]

wii_play_boxart.jpgWant to see how drastically the game industry’s market is changing in the U.S.? Take a look at the top 10 best-selling video games in 2007, recently released by retail sales tracker NPD Group, then compare that list to previous years. While several established franchises were represented (Halo, Call of Duty, etc.), there’s also strong showing by games with proven popularity beyond the action/sports-oriented “hardcore gamer” segment of males aged 18-to-35. In fact, most of the top ten sellers were arguably non-hardcore:

1. Halo 3 (360) — 4.82 million (HARDCORE)
2. Wii Play w/ remote (Wii) — 4.12 million
3. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (360) — 3.04 million (HARDCORE)
4. Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock (PS2) — 2.72 million
5. Super Mario Galaxy (Wii) — 2.52 million
6. Pokemon Diamond (DS) — 2.48 million
7. Madden NFL 08 (PS2) — 1.90 million (HARDCORE)
8. Guitar Hero 2 (PS2) — 1.89 million
9. Assassin’s Creed (360) — 1.87 million (HARDCORE)
10. Mario Party 8 (Wii) — 1.82 million

Granted, many hardcore gamers like Mario, Pokemon and Guitar Hero — but then, notably, so do families, kids, women, and/or older, casual social gamers. Six of 2007′s top ten games found this broader audience. Now compare how much smaller that crossover was in recent years. Here’s NPD’s 2006 list:

1. Madden NFL 07, PS2, EA — 2.8 million (HARDCORE)
2. New Super Mario Bros., DS, Nintendo — 2 million
3. Gears of War, Xbox 360, Microsoft — 1.8 million (HARDCORE)
4. Kingdom Hearts II, PS2, Square Enix — 1.7 million
5. Guitar Hero II, PS2, Activision — 1.3 million
6. Final Fantasy XII, PS2, Square Enix — 1.3 million (HARDCORE)
7. Brain Age: Train Your Brain, DS, Nintendo — 1.1 million
8. Madden NFL 07, Xbox 360, EA — 1.1 million (HARDCORE)
9. Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter, Xbox 360, Ubisoft — 1 million (HARDCORE)
10. NCAA Football 07, PS2, EA — 1 million (HARDCORE)

Just four of the top 10 games in 2006 were non-hardcore. Go back to NPD’s 2005 list, and that number looks even smaller: two or three of the 10, depending on how you classify Star Wars franchise games. Look at 2004′s NPD top 10, and you find just one or two crossover titles, depending on where you place Spider-Man.

So why is the trend of casual/crossover games growing? The rise of the Wii and staying power of the PS2 is a big factor, plus breakout franchises like Guitar Hero, which just recorded a staggering billion dollars in sales. And there’s every reason to believe this trend will continue in 2008. For a long time, it’s been an industry truism that the hardcore gamer market, while relatively small, accounted for a disproportionate share of its revenue. Looking at these latest figures, I suspect it’s time to check that assumption. Then again, that already seems to be happening: witness retailer GameStop expanding its casual/family shelves, and Electronic Arts’ recent decision to convert the next installment of Battlefield, one of its crown jewel hardcore franchises, into a more family-friendly game that they’re giving away for free.


Image credit: Wii.Nintendo.com.

  1. Mary Jane Irwin Thursday, January 24, 2008

    There’s no denying that the videogame market is opening up to a larger segment of the populace. Everyone from Microsoft to Electronic Arts is trying to figure out how to get “casual” players to purchase games (or in Battlefield’s case, monetize them in other ways). But basing such conclusions on NPD numbers alone hides the fact that Pokemon and Mario (including the party games) have historically sold well, so aren’t a market indicator. Wii Play’s sales can be attributed to the bundled controller. The only games on this list that really stand out as “casual” blockbusters are Guitar Hero and Brain Age.

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  2. The news of Nintendo’s doubled annual profits is fantastic. In times of hardship, I’d expect Nintendo’s new found customers to be the first segment to cut their spending on their latest piece of electronics, though. It’s the hardcore gamers who’ll stick around; they’ll continue to pre-order the next record-breaking FPS as soon as they’re announced, and queue up at midnight to get their hands on them (as I did for Halo 2!).

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  3. My first video game was “Pong” in fact I still think I have that console in the attic somewhere.. Probably laying right next to the atari 2600.

    Games have come a long way since those days. The last console game I purchases was Nintendo some time when I was in high school. Once the online age hit and the first multi player RPG was released my console days were over.

    Online RPG (MMOS) of course have come a long way just as console player games have over the years. I always used to say that any company that came up with a game that would have kids interested and get exercise would have it made. I’ve got to hand it to Nintendo, they really hit the nail on the head with the WII. Personally, I don’t own it but many of my friends with kids do and it is a fantastic family entertainment venue.

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  4. I can’t believe that the casual gamer is winning over the hardcore.

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  5. Wait, so Super Mario Galaxy isn’t a hardcore game? Or Kingdom Hearts, or Guitar Hero? These are all games that take a substantial time investment to experience fully. The trait shared by most of the top selling games (of any year) is that they can be approached in different ways by players with different levels of expertise and available time.

    The whole ‘casual/hardcore’ demarcation is really only useful as shorthand for explaining games to the less media-literate and breaks down under scrutiny.

    I’ve no idea how came to the conclusion that Battlefield Heroes is intended to be “family-friendly”. It is a vehicle for selling ads to the existing online shooter audience.

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  6. “These are all games that take a substantial time investment to experience fully.”

    Depends on who you are. For a hardcore gamer, yeah, all three games have subtleties and pretty high difficulty ceilings and/or masses of unlockable content to reward that substantial time investment. For a casual gamer, all have pick-up-and-play appeal, either in the gameplay or the aesthetic.

    For Galaxy, it’s fun for two non-gamers to team up and play through a few levels on co-op. The main timesinks are in collecting everything, but it’s not required to progress.

    For Kingdom Hearts, it’s fun for a hardcore Disney fan to just interact with familiar worlds and characters. The basic combat to just progress through the story isn’t difficult; again, it’s the feats required to complete a collection that appeal to hardcore gamers.

    And for Guitar Hero, sure, you can sink weeks of intense concentration while trying to 5-star everything on Expert. But I’d venture that most people playing it are sinking an hour or two a week pretending to be a rock star on Easy or Medium. This is even more true with Rock Band.

    And how’d they come to the conclusion that Battlefield Heroes is a more family-friendly game (‘more’ being the keyword here — not necessarily kids, but outside the core male 18-24 demo)? Probably by reading the Battlefield Heroes Web site:
    “It’s a fun cartoon-style shooter which caters to players of all skill levels – easy to pick up and play, but with deep character development.”

    It’s not aimed at the existing online shooter audience. They want older gamers and less-skilled, time-cramped gamers who value style and value over skill and bragging rights.

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  7. Yes, which is why I said “The trait shared by most of the top selling games (of any year) is that they can be approached in different ways by players with different levels of expertise and available time.”

    Universal appeal has always been the best way to achieve breakout commercial success in games. Just look at The Sims, Tetris, GTA, Madden, and pretty much all of Nintendo’s long-running franchises. I am pointing out that this is not a new development, and that it’s meaningless to divide games into mutually exclusive ‘hardcode’ and ‘casual’ camps.

    As for Battlefield Heroes, I take your point, but think the article’s wording is poorly chosen. Halo 3 and COD4 sold something in the region of 7m units each last year (and I assume The Orange Box would be somewhere in the lists above if digital purchase was being counted) – there’s no shortage of an audience for online FPS games, the issue is more that EA have nothing in the category that can compete at full price, especially if it’s going to be full of Riccitiello-ware*.

    *(n.: ‘Exciting’ new ways to skim more money from consumers after purchase, via downloadable content that should be included by default, gratuitous advertising and branding, subscription fees and micropayments. Recently used to ruin Hellgate: London.)

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  8. Online games have been expanding like nothing on the Internet.
    Many new online gaming sites have come up.
    Even I’m a big sucker of online games. They are susually easy on systems, have a light theme and can be interesting without getting addictive.

    Some of the latest that I came across are from Zapak.com.. Zapak is promising to give away free cash to the people who play one of the 30 cash games. (Not cash prizes for winning the game, but to anyone who plays the game) . Just loved the way they have structured the games in this category.

    Here is the link

    http://www.zapak.com/tgthome.zpk?utm_source=b

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  9. Dimitrios Matsoulis Monday, January 28, 2008

    Each year’s results can vary according to heats of releases from the developers. There are certainly game themes that are saturated, like for example driving games. Online games are definitely going to grow but the action packed in what we call “hardcore” gaming is not going to go away. Overall, it great to see video gaming evolve.
    http://electronrun.wordpress.com/

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  10. [...] there you have it: Games are a safe bet in these uncertain times (thank you casual gamers!). What I would really like to know though is how the game business developed since the [...]

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