What Games Really Sell


You are looking at a screenshot of a game which, in all its shabby glory, sold more copies than Doom III. Never heard of Backyard Basketball? Neither did I, until game industry site Next Generation recently published a list of the top 100 bestselling PC games since January 2000.

Carefully researched and scrupulously compiled, it’s an invaluable resource, because it gives you a picture of the game industry that’s wildly different than the one depicted by most game magazines and websites, which cater almost exclusively to hardcore gamers.

(Loosely defined as teen boys and young men who prefer action and sports titles that require 3D graphics.) Because flashy hardcore games like Doom III get the lion’s share of publicity and brand awareness, you’d think they were the ones that dominate in the market, too. You’d be wrong.

Some more takeaway after the break.Casual/kids/education games sell well– often better than hardcore games

Well over a third of the recent top selling 100 games fit into this category– including the very top seller, The Sims– which, while designed by Will Wright, a developer revered by hardcore gamers, is still a title that appeals largely to a non-hardcore audience. (Particularly women.) It also includes the family friendly Backyard Basketball, which ranks in the top 20, a notch ahead of Doom III. And while Basketball took in less revenue– $13.2 Million to Doom III’s $32.4 Million– its profit margin is surely far better. (Considering Doom III’s production cycle of several years, and a development and marketing budget that must easily approach or exceed $50 million.)

Games branded with non-game IP sell well
Well over a third of the games are branded with IP and trademarks of movies, novels, TV shows, board games, sports celebrities, and others– not just casual games, but hardcore games which invoke the Star Wars, Tom Clancy, and Lord of the Rings franchises.

Most gamer magazines and sites underserve and misrepresent the game industry
As the Next Gen’s Joe Keiser wryly notes of Backyard Basketball, “The Backyard franchise is another one you don’t expect to see on this kind of list because it’s largely ignored by the enthusiast press, but the series densely populates the shelves of stores like Wal-Mart.” This is, again, because gamer publications and websites cater almost exclusively to hardcore gamers, while their editorial staff is comprised of hardcore gamers themselves. This creates a dangerous echo chamber effect which the Xbox’s Peter Moore was getting at in a recent speech, when he complained about developers acting like “We’re too cool for school, creating games for “boys in their bedrooms”.

Online Multiplayer isn’t usually a panacea

On a rough tally, just a fourth of the Top 100 have a strong multiplayer component, while only six are MMORPGs. And though all of the multiplayer games would qualify as hardcore, about as many of the hardcore games in the 100 are solo-play, or just include multiplayer mode as an add-on to the single player “campaign mode”.
Read the whole list here. Kudos to Next Gen for putting up the hard numbers that refute many of the stereotypes about who buys and plays computer games– many of them, unfortunately, which are enforced by the very publications that cover them.


Rob Stevens

As I mentioned in my blog post about this (http://superrob.blogspot.com/2006/09/what-are-games-that-really-sell.html), the thing with magazines is that the casual gamers don’t read them anyway … so who are you going to tailor them towards? The enthusiasts, of course.

To borrow an analogy from the automotive world, games like DOOM are the shiny sportscar you put in the showroom to get people coming in the door, but that basic people-mover over there in the lot (Bejeweled) is what you’re going to steer them towards.

Jesse Kopelman

Zack is right and this behavior by the “industry” press is certainly not uinque. The best selling wines are all well under $20/bottle but how much press do they get in Wine Enthusaist/Spectator? How often do < $30,000 cars make the cover of Car and Driver and Road and Track? The enthuiast market is never the majority of the consumers in a mature industry, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t a good demographic both to market to and for peripheral items — like magazines.


Interesting stuff, but the shots at gaming magazines seem strange. After all, the magazines aren’t just going after gamers — they’re going after gamers likely to buy gaming magazines. The Doom III enthusiast falls into this category; the Backyard Baseball player does not.

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