Tastes seem to shift regularly in the video game industry, but a look at the top selling games of the last 25 years shows just how loyal players have remained to some of the industry’s biggest franchises.
The NPD Group, which tracks video game sales, has released data showing the top selling games of every year from 1995 forward as part of its year end review of 2019. And, to be clear, 2019 was not a banner year for game companies.
December spending was down 15% to $3 billion, with no major franchise releases during the holiday season, aside from those with annual installments. For the year, overall sales were down 13%, falling from $16.7 billion in 2018 to $14.6 billion in 2019. Many consumers appeared to be waiting for the release of new console hardware, due later this year.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2019 was the top selling game of 2019, the fifth time that franchise has held the top spot at the end of the year. Compare that to three Grand Theft Auto titles and three installments of EA’s Madden NFL franchise.
The top selling games show the evolution of the industry. In the mid- to late-90s, Nintendo titles ruled the charts, with Mario, Zelda and Donkey Kong taking the top spot. As the new century got going, Madden hit its stride, dominating the charts through the middle of the decade, unless a new GTA game happened to come out.
There was a brief detour into music games toward the end of the first decade of the 21st century, then Call of Duty began its run, only taking breaks for new releases from Rockstar Games, the developer of GTA and Red Dead Redemption.
Here’s a look at the best selling games of each year:
1995 – Mortal Kombat III
1996 – Super Mario 64
1997 – Mario Kart 64
1998 – Zelda: Ocarina Time
1999 – Donkey Kong
2000 – Pokemon Stadium
2001 – Madden NFL 2002
2002 – Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
2003 – Madden NFL 2004
2004 – Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
2005 – Madden NFL 06
2006 – Madden NFL 07
2007 – Guitar Hero III Legends of Rock
2008 – Rock Band
2009 – Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II
2010 – Halo Reach
2011 – Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
2012 – Call of Duty: Black Ops II
2013 – Grand Theft Auto V
2014 – Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare
2015 – Call of Duty: Black Ops III
2016 – Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare
2017 – Call of Duty: WW II
2018 – Red Dead Redemption
The top selling games by year tell one story, specifically what was hot at that time, but the numbers don’t necessarily tell the full sales story.
A separate look at the best selling games of the decade show the staying power of some of those games. From 2000-2009, no game sold more than Guitar Hero III Legends of Rock. And Wii Fit, which was never a top seller by year was the second best selling game of that decade.
Grand Theft Auto V was the biggest seller of the past 10 years (and the game continues to be a cash generator for Take-Two Interactive Software). Various Call of Duty games occupy the 2-5 slots.
And while the Madden franchise is one of the top selling games every year since 1995, none of the games was among the top 20 best sellers of the past decade.
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