December and Year-End 2015 Gaming Sales Numbers

Originally published on Trevor Trove on January 14, 2016

Last month I provided my analysis of the NPD numbers when they were revealed and went so far as to predict Star Wars Battlefront might even move up from it’s number two position to take the top spot over the holidays. Let’s see if I was right…

December 2015 Sales:

  1. Call of Duty: Black Ops III (XBO, PS4, 360, PS3, PC) – was #1 in Nov
  2. Star Wars Battlefront (XBO, PS4, PC) – was #3 in Nov (when it sold best on PS4)
  3. Fallout 4 (XBO, PS4, PC) – was #2 in Nov (when it sold best on PS4)
  4. Madden NFL 16 (PS4, XBO, 360, PS3) – was #2 in Sept, #4 in Oct, #4 in Nov
  5. NBA 2K16 (PS4, XBO, 360, PS3) – was #1 in Sept, #2 in Oct, #5 in Nov
  6. Grant Theft Auto V (PS4, XBO, 360, PS3, PC) – last appeared at #4 in July
  7. Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege (XBO, PS4, PC) – released Dec. 1
  8. Minecraft (360, XBO, PS4, PS3) – last appeared at #10 in Sept
  9. Minecraft: Story Mode (360, XBO, PS4, PS3) – released Oct. 13, 2015
  10. FIFA 16 (PS4, XBO, 360, PS3) – was #4 in Sept, #6 in Oct, #6 in Nov

December 2015 Analysis:

  • While I thought all of the excitement surrounding Star Wars might push Battlefront to the top spot, Call of Duty held on. I’m particularly curious is this was at all affected by Call of Duty continuing to appear on last generation systems while Battlefront was current generation only. With roughly 165 million last-gen consoles out there, compared to the estimated 50 million current-gen (35.9 million PS4 and maybe 15 million Xbox Ones), the install base for Call of Duty was significantly higher than Battlefront. I’d be especially curious as to how much they sold on current-gen alone to compare apples to apples.
  • I was at least correct in predicting Battlefront would outsell Fallout, despite Fallout having sold better in November. One other interesting tidbit of information was that in November, both games sold best on PlayStation 4 but in December they sold best on Xbox One. Perhaps this is indicative to more parents buying Xbox Ones for the holidays and giving their kids these games along with the presents. PlayStation 4 remained the best-selling console but six of the ten December games sold best on Microsoft platforms.
  • The big three of MaddenNBA 2K, and FIFA all stayed on the list. Little surprise there as those games tend to be monsters not reliant on a flash of sales at release, but rather a steady stream over months.
  • Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege (the only major December release) made the list at #7. EDIT: As Dave Martinson pointed out on Twitter, I completely forgot about Just Cause 3, which came out Dec. 1 alongside Rainbow Six but obviously didn’t make enough of an impact sales-wise to make the list.
  • The lack of other major new releases allowed dormant behemoths Grand Theft Auto V and Minecraft to reappear. Grand Theft Auto V burst back onto the chart at #6, having been absent since it’s #4 spot on the July chart and Minecraft crept back up to #8 after last appearing on the September chart at #10.
  • Despite being released back in October, Minecraft: Story Mode benefitted from the combination of no new releases and parents looking for gifts for their kids to finally break onto the list at #9, with both Minecraft and Minecraft: Story Mode selling best on the Xbox 360. Now, as always, the NPD numbers don’t account for digital sales and I imagine both of these games have been performing well on digital storefronts (Microsoft especially is probably giving them prime real estate to protect their investment).
  • Sadly, Rise of the Tomb Raider was unable to break onto the charts despite the lack of new competition, the critical praise it received, and the reports that it had performed very well digitally during the holidays. 
  • Also spelling horrible news for what was certainly the Wii U’s last hurrah, there isn’t a single Nintendo game on the list.

We also got the bonus report of the Top Selling Games of 2015. Again, this list does not include digital sales or bundles.

Best-Selling Games of 2015:

  1. Call of Duty: Black Ops III (XBO, PS4, 360, PS3, PC) – Activision
  2. Madden NFL 16 (PS4, XBO, 360, PS3) – EA
  3. Fallout 4 (PS4, XBO, PC) – Bethesda
  4. Star Wars Battlefront (XBO, PS4, PC) – EA
  5. Grand Theft Auto V (PS4, XBO, 360, PS3, PC) – Rockstar
  6. NBA 2K16 (PS4, XBO, 360, PS3) – EA
  7. Minecraft (360, XBO, PS3, PS4) – Microsoft
  8. FIFA 16 (PS4, XBO, 360, PS3) – EA
  9. Mortal Kombat X (PS4, XBO) – WB Games
  10. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare (XBO, PS4, 360, PS3, PC) – Activision

So what does this tell us about 2015?

  • The power of Call of Duty is so strong that not only does Black Ops III top the list, last year’s installment Advanced Warfare outsold almost every other game in 2015 to stay on the list at #10.
  • The annual installments of the MaddenNBA 2K, and FIFA triumvirate all make the list, having all sold best on PlayStation 4. I often hear Call of Duty and Madden berated as the “casual” games of the consoles but that’s clearly a highly sought after target with sales like that.
  • Despite seemingly endless articles about Fallout 4 being buggy and a let down, I was glad to see my personal Game of the Year come out of nowhere this year and land at #3. As much as I’d love to see this lead to a new trend in video game marketing featuring a shorter marketing window, I recognize that only a few franchises and studios carry the kind of weight and name recognition that Fallout and Bethesda have so I imagine we’ll still see many a game announced years in advance in order to start the hype train early.
  • The fact that the multiplayer-focused game Star Wars Battlefront lands at #4 is almost certainly due to the Star Wars license. But then again, everything about the game screamed that it was targeted to the same “casual” players I mentioned above so EA probably made the right call by putting out a multiplayer game instead of a single-player one, as much as that pains me to say it.
  • Grand Theft Auto V and Minecraft prove to have some strong legs still appearing on the list, despite having come out September 2013 and May 2012, respectively. Obviously, regular updates and building new versions of the games for the current generation of systems have paid of for Rockstar and Mojang/Microsoft.
    • Grand Theft Auto V unseated Call of Duty as the best selling game of 2013 when it launched. In 2014, the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One re-releases helped keep it on the charts at #4. And the Grand Theft Auto Online Heists probably helped keep it here on the charts in 2015.
    • Despite only being sold on a physical disc for the Xbox 360 in 2013, Minecraft was the 8th best-selling game that year. When it expanded to PlayStation 3, 4, and Vita, and the Xbox One in 2014, it shot up to #5.
    • And digitally, both games of course have been at or near the top of the Steam charts since they released.
  • Mortal Kombat X somewhat surprisingly lands at number 9. I often hear IGN editors talk about how well Mortal Kombat content performs on their site but it’s still pretty impressive that the game managed to outsell so many other huge titles like The Witcher III: Wild HuntMetal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, and Destiny this year.
  • Speaking of other notable absences:
    • Again, Nintendo failed to have any games in the top 10 for 2015. Splatoon and Super Mario Maker were probably the most likely candidates but the install base on the Wii U is probably just too low to compete with Sony and PlayStation releases. And the 3DS didn’t have any major releases either. In 2014, they were at least able to combine forces get Super Smash Bros. on the list.
    • In fact, no console exclusives made the list. Bloodborne was probably Sony’s best prospect on that front but not even Halo 5: Guardians made the cut. When Halo 4 released on the Xbox 360 in 2012, it was the third best-selling game that year. And the last console exclusive to do if you don’t count Super Smash Bros. or Minecraft‘s 2013 spot, as noted above.
    • Ubisoft fails to get a game in the year’s top ten list. Watch_Dogs took the spot usually reserved for Assassin’s Creed in 2014 (with AC missing likely due to their split focus between Unity and Rogue). Hell, during the heyday of the Wii, they had two Just Dance games chart in 2011. With Assassin’s Creed Syndicate following Unity and Rogue in their inability to crack the top ten after ACIV Black Flag (2013), ACIII (2012), AC Revelations (2011), and AC Brotherhood (2010), perhaps the reports that they are taking 2016 off from the series are a good opportunity to breath new life into it (or at least give people time to miss it).
    • Lastly, no new IPs. Every single one of the games in this year’s top ten was a sequel or annualized franchise with the exception of Minecraft. But since Minecraft has been around for years, I still wouldn’t classify it as a “new” IP. So it’s no surprise that new ideas are few and far between here in the Triple A space when only existing franchises are able to crack the list. Last year, Destiny and Watch_Dogs both made the list. In 2015, I can only think of a few notable new Triple A new IPs that even would have had a chance (Dying Light, Bloodborne, The Order: 1886, and Until Dawn).  But with three of them as PlayStation 4 exclusives, and Dying Light with a soft early year launch, none of them managed to squeak by 2014’sCall of Duty.

So there you have my business analytical highlights of the December and 2015 Year-End sales figures. With January relatively light on new blockbuster releases, I imagine people will continue spending their money of most of the December list. In fact it wouldn’t surprise me if the list looked more or less the same next month. LEGO Marvel Avengers might just barely crack the list when it launches January 26th, probably taking Rainbow Six’s spot on the list but I it might also hit so late that it’ll make the February chart instead. We’ll see next month.

Thanks for reading!

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