In part 1 of this article, I discussed the outlier all-time bestsellers, games that stand alone in making the bestseller list by doing something unique:
The Sims, Nintendogs, Minecraft, Mario Kart Wii and DS, and the bestselling game of all time, Tetris. Here, I’ll analyze the majority of bestsellers in terms of the five categories they fall into. We’ll start with the massive dominance of Nintendo on video game history.
Four of the bestselling games of all time are Super Mario platformers. Super Mario World for the SNES sold 20.6 million copies. New Super Mario Bros. Wii sold 27.88 million, while the DS version, New Super Mario Bros., sold 30.75 million. And the original, Super Mario Bros. for the NES, sold 40.24 million copies in an earlier era when that number meant an insane share of the gaming market. These games were released in 1985, 1990, 2006, and 2009, painting a picture of a quarter century of Nintendo dominance (with a bit of a dip in the GameCube era). Two more Mario platformers, Super Mario Land for Game Boy and Super Mario Bros. 3 for NES also cracked 15 million. All of these games remain fun to play today—I recently bought Super Mario World on the Virtual Console for my Wii U. It’s quite possible that without Super Mario, today’s video gaming landscape would look unrecognizably different, as Mario and the NES helped pull gaming out of its early 80s Atari-era crash and set it back on course as a profitable industry drawing bright minds and major corporate backing. 2009’s
New Super Mario Bros. Wii is fun for little kids, but it’s also incredibly easy to pick up for someone who played the original Super Mario Bros in the eighties and hasn’t touched a game since…and there are quite a few people who did just that when the Wii came around and sold the world on more family-oriented console gaming again. Nintendo has had its ups and downs, but it does gaming-for-everyone better than any other developer on Earth. The only other platformer to top 15 million copies sold is the original Sonic the Hedgehog. Nintendo is untouchable here.
It’s no surprise, then, that our second category of all-time bestsellers is made up of five Wii games (and one Kinect title) aimed at casual, fun experiences for the whole family. Seeing or playing Wii Sports convinced many people—my wife and I included—to buy a Wii. Many of those people hadn’t bought a game console in years or decades. I hadn’t bought a console new since…well, since my parents bought my a new NES in the late eighties. But the Wii was a console my wife was as excited about as I was. We could play it ourselves or with friends or relatives. It was a purchase with many more possibilities than my other consoles, which rarely come out when guests are around unless the guests have come for gaming alone. Here are the numbers on the Wii bestsellers. Wii Sports: 82.54 million copies. It’s hard to say whether the game benefitted more from being packed in with the console, or whether the console sold more because people were so crazy about the game.
Casual motion-controlled console gaming was a revolution, and Wii Sports was the face of it. Later on, in the MotionPlus controller era, the baton was passed to Wii Sports Resort, which sold 32.58 million, also getting a boost as a pack-in title, though many existing Wii owners like myself bought the game separately. Wii Play (28.02 million copies) is the only mediocre game on the bestseller list because it was essentially free when you bought an extra Wii controller. Wii Fit (22.67 million) and Wii Fit Plus (21.03 million) extended the casual, family-oriented Wii approach to the very edges of what can be considered a game at all—and sold well doing it. Finally, Kinect Adventures! represents Microsoft’s somewhat successful bid to join the motion-control revolution, selling 24 million copies. Runner-up credit also goes to Brain Age for the DS, which sold over 19 million copies.
The third category of all-time bestsellers, like the previous two, illustrate Nintendo’s amazing track record. No other developer comes even close. The RPG category is dominated by Pokémon, a second-party series controlled by Nintendo and successful for two decades and running. Pokémon Red, Blue, and Green for the Game Boy and Game Boy Color sold 23.64 million copies, while Pokémon Gold and Silver for the same systems sold 23 million a few years later. Ruby and Sapphire for the GBA and both the Diamond and Pearl and Black and White releases for the DS all sold over 15 million copies, demonstrating the series’ longevity. The only non-Pokémon, non-Nintendo RPG to crack our list is The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim for PS3, 360, and PC, which sold 20 million (the action-adventure hack-and-slash title Diablo III gets an honorable mention here with 15 million, since it doesn’t really fit anywhere else in these lists).
What we see here again is Nintendo successfully rewarding both casual and intense play styles. A kid can pick up a Pokémon game for an hour and have fun and forget it forever, or that kid (or adult) can essentially keep playing it forever, buying the new games as they come out and enjoying well-made updates to a successful formula. I can’t stress enough how impressive Nintendo’s ability to keep making and selling quality games has been.
So before we turn to part 3 and the hard-core bestsellers (and our wrap-up), let’s pause and look at the long Nintendo dynasty (the two Mario Kart titles from part 1 of this series are also Nintendo!) and remember not to write these folks off. They know what they’re doing when they make a game. So while other parts of their business strategy sometimes stumble, I don’t think they’re going anywhere…their games are just too fun to play to too many people.
Check out part 3 and the rise of hard-core bestsellers!