This is what the best-selling games have in common
In a billion-dollar business, what does a game need to be successful?
07 Feb 2019
Success can’t be bottled or magicked into life, but are there common threads that stitch the biggest sellers together? To find out, we analysed the 50 most successful titles of all time, ordered on lifetime sales, then expanded the criteria to find out more about them: do they let you play as a man or a woman or both? What platform(s) did they come out on? What did the critics think? Where were they made?
Smash Hit Success is the result: a deep dive into the movers and shakers of the gaming world. The page is created in conjunction with Logitech, a company renowned for the ultimate tool in a gamer’s arsenal: a Logitech gaming mouse.
Want to know how the biggest games stack up against one another? Head over to the Smash Hit Success page and order the top 50 by 10 different metrics. Having analysed the games, here’s what stands out to us:
A best-seller is typically focused on action
62% of the games on the list are preoccupied with action in one form or another, whether that means a straight shooter (Call of Duty), a mix of adventure and action (Minecraft) or a story-driven tale of player agency with combat worked into the fold (Skyrim).
A best-seller lets you play as a man
Amazingly, not a single game in the top 50 affords a woman top billing, and though these games do exist (Horizon Zero Dawn and the Tomb Raider franchise are obvious examples) none of them hit the sales threshold to crack the top 50.
While, 24 games let you choose your gender (Skyrim, Pokémon Red/Blue/Yellow, The Sims, etc) 19 games on the list that force you into the shoes of a man (Super Mario Bros., Red Dead Redemption 2, the Grand Theft Auto series, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and so on).
The good news? With The Last of Us II on the horizon, expect a strong female lead in a game that’s likely to crack the top 50.
Hopefully more are to follow.
A best-seller targets multiple platforms – or comes bundled with a console
Publishers will employ all sorts of irresistible tricks to get their games in your hands. They’ll bundle the game with a console (Red Dead Redemption 2 and the PS4/Xbox One), with an accessory (Wii Fit Plus and the Wii Balance Board) or release the game across multiple platforms. FIFA 18, for instance, can still be bought on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.
A best-seller invariably needs a good critical consensus
Critics matter. The data tells us that of the 42 games that received reviews, the average Metascore was 86.
86 is just short of Metacritic’s “universal acclaim award”.
To give you an idea of what is normal, we looked at 2018’s 10 best games versus the 10 worst, then averaged the numbers. The result was a Metascore of 63, which falls between the 60-70 mark you’ll typically see for games on the site.
86? Well, that’s excellent.
Best-sellers are commonly made in Japan or America
Japanese and American games dominate the list. In fact, only five titles are made in other parts of the world. Sega & Sega All-Stars Racing (UK), Lemmings (UK), Tetris (Russia), Minecraft (Sweden) and PUBG (Ireland).
Why this dominance? Both countries play host to companies that make consoles (Microsoft in America, and Sony and Nintendo in Japan), both countries are wealthy, and both cultures have a history of gaming popularity.
Based on all of the above, expect Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, 2019’s Call of Duty, FIFA 20, The Last of Us 2 and Metroid Prime 4 all to sell 10 million copies in 2019/2020. These games have franchise credentials, a home on at least one of the major consoles, and a footing in America/Japan.
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