Top-Selling Video Games Show Growing Casual/Crossover Trend

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.

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