News Just In: World of Warcraft Sells Many Copies

By Kieron Gillen on January 28th, 2008 at 5:36 pm.

The NPD have released their figures for US PC retail sales in 2007, as reported by GameDaily. The biggest sellers? I’m glad you asked.

1. World of Warcraft: Burning Crusade – Vivendi (Blizzard) – 2.25 million
2. World of Warcraft – Vivendi (Blizzard) – 914K
3. The Sims 2 – Electronic Arts – 534K
4. The Sims 2 Seasons Expansion Pack – Electronic Arts – 433K
5. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare – Activision – 383K
6. Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars – Electronic Arts – 350K
7. MS Age of Empires III – Microsoft – 313K
8. Sim City 4 – Electronic Arts – 294K
9. MS Flight Simulator X – Microsoft – 280K
10. The Sims 2 Bon Voyage Expansion Pack – Electronic Arts – 272K

That includes sales from every multi-pack you can imagine. The total value of PC Games retail is $910 million, which is down $60 million from 2006 (Which itself was up from 2005’s $953 million (Which was down from 2004’s $1.1 Billion (No, really))).

And some analysis follows. Maybe even with jokes added to taste.

There’s two main ways you can look at these figures. There’s the obvious way, and the apologist way. The obvious way – as the name suggests – takes the obvious route of noting that PC sales are beneath a billion dollars and falling, enormously dwarfed by console sales, the only things selling are sequels and we should all pack up and go home. The apologist way makes excuses.

Problem being, the apologist in this case is completely right. As the NPD’s own analysts note, the PC market is simply in a different place to the console ones, and the sales the NPD charts are a relatively small snapshot of the market. It doesn’t include any Digital Downloads, whether from large portals like STEAM or direct from individual companies. It doesn’t include any of the casual market. It doesn’t include an MMO monthly fee of any kind, whether a World-of-Warcraft-like traditional monthly fee or micropayments.

(Hell – you want to drag in stuff like educational games, art games, advert funded stuff, military commissions (Flashpoint’s VBS1, for example) or any of that sort of oblique stuff where people are earning money from non retail sources. Which only happen on home computers…)

(Oh – and it’s also only the American figures. America isn’t the world and all market-places aren’t the same. While a smaller market, have a look at the multiformat charts from Sweden which turned up in the Quarter To Three thread on this very topic.)

(It’s worth stressing that the NPD figures do include online retailers like Amazon.)

In other words, the PC is a complicated place and retail can – to brutally paraphrase the Costikyan position - probably go and fuck itself. PC games have always had trouble with the buy/trade/second-hand model which most bricks-and-mortar shops concentrate on – i.e. Shops make a far larger margin on re-selling stuff than selling new games, so concentrate on it, to the point where it’s actually hard to talk a shop into selling you a new copy of a game when they have a resale one sitting on the shelves. PC don’t have the second-hand market, therefore leads to less profit, so is less concentrated on, so… well, you get the picture. Of course, the PC being the major gaming format where developers and publishers can do whatever they want to has lead to all the alternate revenue sources detailed above.

The big unanswered question is exactly how much money does come from these channels. You’ll note there’s no sign of the Orange Box in the Top 10 – and that’s a major game which rests heavily on the new download model. Until Valve choose to release some manner of figures for that and other games on STEAM, the actual true picture of the health of the PC games industry will be shrouded in guesswork, theory and hotly-argued comments threads like the one below.

Go!

, .

42 Comments »

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  1. Garth says:

    While not necessarily surprising, I’m kinda unhappy with WoW’s sales being so high. And I play it too – the reasoning for my feelings is that the game is becoming total crap, but people are still flocking to it. I’ve canceled my account several times before, and we’re going for number four now…

    Also, I agree with the American numbers don’t indicate the whole world comment. If it did, the PS2 wouldn’t be outselling the 360 in Japan, hehehehe…

  2. Kast says:

    I was lucky enough to see a talk by Introversion directors Mark Morris and Chris Delay in Aug 2006 at Nottingham GameCity. Mark opened his half of the talk with a look at the previous month’s sales charts and, like this chart, it was packed with sequals (and tie-ins and sequals to tie-ins). This evidance was the start of his fascinating rant and exploration of why ‘content is killing games’. If anyone here gets the oppertunity to see one of IV’s talks, I can highly recommend it.

    It’s amazing to think that WoW is so high up there when that’s not counting repeat subscriptions, just sales of the game itself. Very surprising.

    If music downloads from multiple sources can be counted in an official chart, why can’t games downloads? To answer my own retorical question, possibly it is because disributors and/or publishers are loath to make public the exact numbers of sales (and thus the money they’re making). While in music, usually, all music is available from all sites an individual game is often only available from a single source or possibly two sources.

    EDIT: Also, edit function == Awesome.

  3. Andrew says:

    American figures, no downloads included, only top 10, lame ;)

    I’d be interested in contrasting a few points like console sales, and the console game’s profitability against PC games (noting the huge licence fees for consoles) second hand sales, rentals (not mentioned in the post, but at least valid in the UK), and other data (returns? budget sales? sales by month? bar charts on sales per week?). The numbers are still pretty huge, considering.

    Now, I’d not mind seeing more then the top 10 too, with total sales, and whatnot. I’d also not mind seeing other regions too.

    Anyway, this is already nearly February, is this NDP data for January 1st -> January 1st or what? Do things released right at the end of December get “less sales” due to the overlap with January?

    The limited scope of the data really means most analysis of it will be heavily flawed and likely more assumed guesswork then anything.

    I mean, does the downward trend suggest that Steam, etc., is picking up from the downturn? or more people now pay monthly fee games and spend less on single play games? or is the market expanding in both directions? or what?

    (also; is STEAM really capitalised? I must have been writing it wrong all this time…)

  4. Nick says:

    What really makes me sick about the reselling thing is second hand games for the new consoles aren’t even priced as cheaper in the likes of GAME.. my local has a preowned Zelda for £39.99 for example.

    What. The. Fuck.

    Basically they are reselling for more than a new game costs online. So yeah, retailers can go fuck themselves even in the console market as far as I am concered – what with there being very few alternatives to GAME here, the only reason I ever go in now is to get something from their two for £15 or whathaveyou PC range. Or if they happen to have a new PC game at the same price as Amazon (happens very, very rearely)

  5. Chris Evans says:

    Yeah I have talked on this myself and came to pretty similar (though less detailed :P) conclusions…I really want to see some figures from Steam damn it!

  6. Acosta says:

    Yes, without counting downloads, and without understanding that the main market for PC games is not in USA, is hard to read on this. Would be nice to have numbers from Steam (is technically a retailer), to have a better picture.

    About WoW, I find this normal. There is a huge community already, it is very easy getting into it and very easy to get more people in once a member of your group is in, is fun, has a superb pace and it’s fantastically crafted. Maybe is not the most interesting game around, but it is a very attractive and fun game to play.

    Edit: edit!

  7. Garth says:

    I think we might be asking for more of online purchases than it can deliver… however, it’s clear that the websites claim that this was somehow a look at PC gaming in it’s entirety was a little shortsighted. Indie games ALONE have probably gone up ten fold in sales.

  8. Al says:

    There’s other factors to take into account- buying new from the likes of Play, Amazon etc, on pre-release, games are cheaper now than when I had an Amiga (I can remember Amiga games being roughly priced the same as the few PC games around at the time). New releases on the Amiga I remember being £25-£30 in the shops; new releases on Play start at about £17.99. Assuming America is similar, that’s got to affect revenues, surely?

  9. ryan in exile says:

    tiny bit suprised LOTRO isn’t here. did it break 100k?

  10. Butler` says:

    Damn, that’s a depressing outlook for the PC platform.

  11. Cigol says:

    Sim City 4? Really? I’m sure that’s a mistake?

  12. Chris R says:

    Boooooooo, no Crysis! I’m going to burn and pillage!

    Also, this just in: oooooo…. The new edit function is Aces (as you Brits would say).

  13. BrokenSymmetry says:

    PC gaming is obviously doomed. If Steam did such great sales, Valve would surely publish the numbers. So, the only way to go for RPS is to start writing about games on all platforms.

  14. Kieron Gillen says:

    Broken: Ignoring your attempts to make us tell you what we think of Mario*, they’d do no such thing. They’re a private company and work on a whole different drummer to your console manufacturers.

    KG

    *We like it.

  15. Masked Dave says:

    That’s a flawed argument Broken, based on an assumption you have no way of backing up.

    I’d just like to make a note about PC 2nd hand market. There’s a brilliant shop called CEX in Manchester and I think elsewhere (www.cex.co.uk) that deal in nothing but 2nd hand titles, on all platforms (and DVDs), hardware too. You can often get a very good price through them.

    When I was a student, trading in was the only way I could afford to get new games and these guys were the best by far.

  16. Kast says:

    There’s a CEX in Derby and it is constantly packed with a wide range of people (which is most interesting – it’s not just the usual gamer demographic). They also sell second hand hardware, consoles and other electronics like mobiles and DVD players.

    “The new edit function is Aces (as you Brits would say).” – No. We wouldn’t. Ever.

  17. BrokenSymmetry says:

    Still, it’s a bit hard to understand: Activision Blizzard is bragging about WoW’s subscription numbers all the time, why wouldn’t Valve do the same about Steam’s sales? Or are they afraid of a backlash from retail if the actual numbers became public?

  18. Nick says:

    Or maybe they don’t care, from the huge pile of cash they are sitting on.

  19. Lightbulb says:

    Chris R

    No, we would say: “Its ace.” but thanks for trying. ;)

    :)

    You really can’t say a lot from this limited info…

  20. Chris R says:

    WHHHAAT?? How come I heard that phrase from RPS first then? Hmmmmm??? That’s right………… Aces.

  21. Optimaximal says:

    This time last week, i’d be writing this off as a console/mmorpguh shitfest, but now i’ve actually played CoD4, I think it belongs on that chart… It’s a fucking masterpiece of short bitesize brilliance, like Portal was late last year (only a little bit more topical, a lot more frustrating, just as quotable and with less cake).

    The rest of the chart can FOAD for all I care…

    re: Sim City 4 – I can only theorise that idiotic parents went to buy The Sims 2 for their inbred children and picked up the wrong package in the bargain bin where Sim City 4 Deluxe Edition has been languishing for going on 2 years now.

  22. Jim Rossignol says:

    Gillen says Aces, at least.

  23. dhex says:

    i’m not the only one who thought the yells at you dude for the american bit of cod4 was hulk hogan, right?

  24. Jason says:

    I think it shows that online retail is growing massively while brick and mortar is fucking off and dying (as requested). Sign of the times. Internet is changing the world.

  25. malkav11 says:

    There is a PC second-hand market, it’s just not nearly as widespread. EBGames did it before being bought out by Gamestop. The more regional chain Half-Price Books (based out of Texas, but now present in another ten or fifteen states) doesn’t focus on it, by any means (being primarily a bookstore), but does have a significant used and remaindered PC section from which I have gotten many excellent bargains and rare finds. System Shock CD for a dollar, for example. eBay and Amazon Marketplace sellers do brisk second-hand trade. There’s probably others.

  26. Kadayi says:

    I think Steam does pretty healthy in terms of sales, and given the number of 3rd party developer titles that keep becoming available on it I suspect it’s proven itself a viable venture.

  27. Rich Powers says:

    @Broken:

    “Still, it’s a bit hard to understand: Activision Blizzard is bragging about WoW’s subscription numbers all the time, why wouldn’t Valve do the same about Steam’s sales?”

    The only explanation I have: Valve Corporation is privately held; as such, they’re under no obligation to inform the public about revenue, game sales, etc. For whatever reason, Doug & Co. feel there’s no value in releasing that info to anyone but business partners.

    But I agree with Kadayl: the increasing number of third-party games available via Steam is only increasing, indicating that there’s a sizable customer base actively buying the products. Indeed, the new STALKER expansion pack will only be available via Steam, something that will only become more common in the future.

    And if PC gamers weren’t buying from Steam, I’d expect to see the Orange Box on the top 10 list. Though released late last year, it must’ve still outsold friggn’ Flight Sim and SimCity 4!

  28. Mario Granger says:

    At this point I don’t think think the question is whether or not the PC market is dying sales-wise, as judging by the number from this quite well reasoned RPS article, there isn’t enough of a consistent fall off year after year to justify a failing trend.

    The question is if the PC market DOES eventually start to shrink, will it be a size that can keep the same through maintenance? And what will this mean for the PC market on the whole, in terms of hardware manufacturing?

  29. Muzman says:

    Have we found out how Stalker did yet?
    That game’s my PC gaming health barometer in many areas (just don’t ask for a lucid explanation)

  30. Optimaximal says:

    The question is if the PC market DOES eventually start to shrink, will it be a size that can keep the same through maintenance? And what will this mean for the PC market on the whole, in terms of hardware manufacturing?

    Given that the same hardware is used in consoles these days, there’s always going to be some sort of a market for it. We may be talking more and more enthusiast/rising prices due to lower production but given the absurdly low hardware costs it wont be too bad…

  31. Butler` says:

    The PC market will likely be driven by the MMO (from your WoWs to your RuneScapes) and virtual worlds in the next decade.

    Other than that, we really need a strong competitive title or two. The PC platform was at the forefront of eSports in the CS1.6/WC3 heydays, but it’s lagging behind drastically into this melancholic WoW-led state — and the consoles are catching up.

  32. Nallen says:

    Well that list, bar two, is unmitigated shite from top to bottom, isn’t it?

  33. Meat Circus says:

    Shite? Maybe. The lowest common denominator prolefeed you expect to find at the top of any sales list? Yep.

    You know, if we’re still at the point where the realisation that the lower orders buy nothing but mindless crap is a shocking one, it just demonstrates how young gaming is as a market.

    I mean, as I write this “Aliens vs Predator: Requiem” is number one at the British box office. And it’s not as if this kind of event is unusual.

    (Ooh, comment editing! Mr Circus *heart* RPS)

  34. Irish Al says:

    Ah, PC games are dead. Just like they were first time I heard that in about 1999.

  35. Kieron Gillen says:

    Re: Aces: I got it from Schizoslayer on MSN.

    Re: Top 10’s quality. World of Warcraft isn’t shit. It’s the best DIKU-Mud-esque MMO in the world. Having played Lineage 2 recently, I’d rather save Unmittigated shit for things like that. Sims remains one of the most original games of the last decade. Call of Duty 4 is one of the most critically acclaimed games of last year. Microsoft Flight Simulator is in a world of its own. C&C3 was a bit of a giggle. It may be an uninspired and uninspiring Top 10 for America, but it’s hardly shit.

    Irish Al: I heard it even earlier. It’s been a long and slow death.

    KG

  36. Andrew says:

    I’ve bought an awful lot of games on digital download, not only through Steam, in the past couple of years. In fact, the majority of my purchases are through digital download (Paradox’s GamersGate got a lot of my custom lately).

  37. Meat Circus says:

    You see, the PC gaming market is not dying, it is dead. Then it passed through death, transubstantiated and now exists in a state of almost pure digital energy.

    It is Wesley Crusher.

  38. Bob says:

    TO: BrokenSymmetry :

    To further elaborate (a little) on the Activision vs. Valve thing: As a public company, Activision has to please and excite stockholders. Valve is privately held and does not. As long as the founders are happy, that’s it.

  39. dhex says:

    to throw more speculation on the fire, perhaps they see what happens in the minds of fans and decide their solid business standing may eventually harm their expansionist desires. (i.e. big is bad; ergo EA is bad; ergo, to appear too big will eventually turn bad because people don’t like that sort of thing.)

  40. Andrew Farrell says:

    Which was down from 2004’s $1.1 Billion (No, really)

    In fairness, this was WoW’s launch year.

  41. Jay says:

    WoW killed ET! *shakes fist*