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NPD's Top Ten U.S. Retail Games See  Halo, Mario  Dominate
NPD's Top Ten U.S. Retail Games See Halo, Mario Dominate
October 20, 2010 | By Matt Matthews

October 20, 2010 | By Matt Matthews

[As we enter the final quarter of 2010, Gamasutra's Matt Matthews has exclusive NPD figures identifying the top 10 best-selling U.S. retail games of the year so far, as well as those that dominated sales in September.]

As part of September's NPD analysis, we received a chart of the top-selling games of 2010 so far in U.S. retail. Specifically, we're looking at the top 10 SKUs. SKU is industry jargon for a particular version of a game.

While a front-loaded title like Halo: Reach leads the chart as of September 2010 (see below), supplanting New Super Mario Bros. Wii, which led in March and has fallen to second for the present, we should be mindful that evergreen titles, especially on the Nintendo Wii, can eventually pull ahead given enough time.

Notice, for example, that Ubisoft's Just Dance for the Wii was not a top 10 SKU in March (it fell just outside the chart, in the eleventh spot), while Final Fantasy XIII for the PS3 did make seventh on that older chart.

However, as noted at the time, sales of Final Fantasy XIII were almost entirely in the first month and have probably been practically nonexistent since summer.

By comparison, Just Dance sales have been consistently strong month on month, and will probably drop only with the rise of the sequel, Just Dance 2.

As referenced above, you can compare to the same list from the first quarter of 2010, originally published by Gamasutra in May of this year.

As for September itself, as expected, Microsoft's Halo: Reach was the best-selling game in September 2010, with sales of 3.29 million units. This compares favorably with the launch of Halo 3: ODST a year prior, which moved 1.52 million units.

In terms of reaching out to a larger base of players, however, we would note that when Halo 3 originally launched back in September 2007 it also moved 3.3 million units, and on an installed hardware base about one third the size of the current Xbox 360 base.

If Microsoft has enlarged its base of core Halo fans, the initial sales figures for Halo: Reach don't demonstrate that. To put it in percentages, Halo: Reach was bought by 15% of the Xbox 360 installed base at launch, while Halo 3 was bought by 49%. (For completeness, ODST was bought by 9% of the installed base at its launch.)

That said, Halo 3 went on to 4.8 million sales by the end of 2007, and there appears to be an opportunity for the same to happen with Reach in 2010. That is, we expect that consumers will find the new Xbox 360 S model an attractive device this holiday, and that those consumers will pick a popular game, like Halo: Reach, to accompany their new system.

So while Microsoft will no doubt be pushing Kinect, Halo: Reach will also be a top-seller alongside those new console purchases. We would not be surprised to see Halo: Reach top 5 million in sales by the end of 2010.

The other titles in the top 10 chart released by the NPD Group are listed below. (At this time the NPD Group is not releasing a top 20.)

We wish to dwell briefly upon two additional single-platform titles which made the chart.

In what is probably the last hurrah for the all-but-abandoned PlayStation Portable (PSP), Square Enix's Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep sold an impressive 225,000 units. Unlike some other high-profile PSP releases this year, Birth by Sleep was not sold through Sony's online PlayStation Store.

Even with a top 10 title, PSP hardware sales were down 44% from last year, according to Wedbush's Pachter. There are still titles planned for the PSP, including Sony's own God of War: Ghost of Sparta launching in November with a special edition of the PSP system itself, but we agree with Pachter's assessment that there appears little that Sony can do with the system. The launch of the 3DS by Nintendo in five or six months makes Sony's handheld future even more difficult.

The second title we'd like to single out is Nintendo's Metroid: Other M, developed in conjunction with Team Ninja. Having moved only 173,000 units, the title serves to highlight the ongoing challenges in the Wii market, even for Nintendo itself.

Even a first-party title with a well-known property on the current generation with the largest installed base may not set the market on fire. With several other high-profile Wii releases coming out soon (Donkey Kong Country Returns, Kirby's Epic Yarn, and Activision Blizzard's Goldeneye, to name a few) we feel confident that their sales will again drive many interesting, and heated, discussions.

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Kevin Chulski
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That's crazy that Modern Warfare 2 is still selling strong.

Prash Nelson-Smythe
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It's surprising considering the next game in the series is so close to release.

Prash Nelson-Smythe
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Thanks for the analysis. Enjoyed reading.

One point of contention: You blame the market for Metroid's sales rather than the game. Previously, many have said that Nintendo does well because the Wii market likes Nintendo games rather than the non-Nintendo games being bad quality. Now that a Nintendo game has failed there are two things you might infer:

1. That the Wii market "challenges" suddenly apply to Nintendo too, after having not applied before.

2. It was always the quality of the game that determined success and Nintendo simply released a low quality game.

To me, the first conclusion is irrational and the second is rational.

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Reach didn't do what Halo 3 did for me. I'll be waiting for Fable III and Arkham City, with Gears 3 and Brink thrown in for good measure.

It is curious that MW2 is still selling like hotcakes. Does anyone know if it's gone down in price?

Nicholas Sweeney
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I don't think it had a price cut, but you must put in perspective that X360 and PS3 sold something like 5 million units this year. I don't know the proportion but many of them must have been sold to people who didn't have one or the other before, meaning that they didn't play/buy MW2 before. What games did these new owners heard of in the past year? MW2 is among them I'm sure!

Even if only 10% of these buyers bought MW2 in 2010 (and while I have nothing to support it, I personally think it's a lot higher than that), this explains rather easily why it is still in the top ten (anything under Metroid's 173K is sufficient to be in the top 10, it could be a "mere" 100K for all I know).

You can also add people who upgraded their PC and didn't have the minimum specs before.

This also shows that having a multiplayer mode isn't enough to give longevity to your game sales, it must be one of the most popular (and/or arguably the best). I'm saying that because another popular game of November 2009, AC2, didn't see the same kind of continuing sales at all, we will see in a year if the MP mode of AC Brotherhood will change that.

Again, nothing scientific, only theories and guesses, but that's my two cents.

Sean Parton
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Metroid probably sold a fair bit more than the number above indicated. As a hardcore-targetted title, it's likely many people went out to get the title on release, and the game itself technically released on August 31st. It's difficult to say what percentage of it's sales were in that first day.

Bryson Whiteman
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Yeah, I found it odd that with such harsh criticism of its sales the writer neglected to mention that it was released in August.

Matt Matthews
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It's quite simple. The September 2010 period for the NPD Group is the five week period from Sunday 29 August 2010 to Saturday 2 October 2010. So for the purposes of this report, Metroid: Other M was released in the September sales period.

DanielThomas MacInnes
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Yes, agreed. There aren't missing sales numbers for Metroid: OM. The September numbers include the final weekend in August. It really was that bad.

Good Lord, 173,000 copies sold. That is not surprising at all, because M:OM is just about the worst Nintendo game ever made. But it's still a stunner.

Sean Parton
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Ah, thank you for the clarification, Matt.

In that case, it looks like it is a bit lower than one would have liked. I wonder if this will be indicative of the more mainstream revivals' performance (Kirby and DK).

Marcus Miller
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Hopefully, Sony can release GT by the end of the year and crush Halo. GT is going to be the biggest selling game of the when it is released.

Jonathan Gilmore
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Why hopefully? Also, Call of Duty Black Ops is easily going to be the year's top seller.

Prash Nelson-Smythe
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Wouldn't it have to do massively better than Modern Warfare 2 if it's going to outsell New Super Mario Bros Wii for the whole year in just 2 months? I'm too lazy to look at the numbers but I feel like they would support me. Actually, considering the consistent sales of Modern Warefare 2, I think it would have a tough time beating that too! Also, NSMBW sales are likely to pick up around Christmas.

Furthermore, in my opinion the big franchises don't tend to sell as well if they don't have a number after them. I think Halo ODST would have sold more if it was called Halo 4. "COD Black Ops" will seem like some kind of expansion pack to a lot of casual potential buyers.

Jonathan Gilmore
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I meant games released this year, I'm not sure what NSMB Wii's sales numbers are for 2010 so far, I'd be curious to find out.

Halo: Reach is basically matching Halo 3's sales, for what it's worth.

Camilo R
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I don't see GT5 doing half of Reach's numbers in USA.

Prash Nelson-Smythe
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John, thanks for the clarification, though I think making a distinction based on release date is somewhat arbitrary, because if anything selling more of an older game you already spent money making is better from a business perspective.

@Bob Stevens: We are talking about the overall sales in the year, not just a month.

Leon T
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5 of the top ten selling titles so far are Wii games. If the console is having challenges then why did it gain two spots in that list since March? I think Wii owners are buying older titles more than newer ones. Software sales are down but so is software output for the system.

Metorid is one of Nintendo's weakest IPs in terms of sales. It is nowhere near Mario and Pokemon. It is not even close to Zelda when it comes to always having decent sales. Let us not forget that Prime 3 didn't set the world on fire and the weak sales of the Trilogy made it clear that Wii owners had enough Metorid this gen.

Ian Uniacke
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I'm not sure where I read this or if I was dreaming it but I believe that Kirby sold about 1 million copies in its first week in Japan alone. It's hard to judge how this will translate to the west but I can't see this selling less than a million in the states. The wii has definitely struggled over the last few months no doubt about it but Kirby at least shows that if you find the right title you can have massive success. I believe that we'll see some big numbers in wii software in the next few months. Golden Eye I expect to be a moderate success as well as Donkey Kong, and I think JD 2 and Kirby will have outstanding sales. Also the christmas bump will most likely favour the wii over the HD consoles (going on past performance).

edit: actually I checked and Kirby is "estimated" to sell about a million copies in Japan based on initial sales

Ian Uniacke
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I also consider Epic Mickey to be a total wild card.