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Call of Duty, Guitar Hero Top All-Time Best Selling List

Activision-Blizzard has come a long way in the past few years.

It wasn't that long ago that the company was an also-ran in video g

Call of Duty Black Ops
Source: Activision
Call of Duty Black Ops

ame industry, making some strong franchises, but never really dominating the sales charts. These days, though, the company is responsible for five of the 10 highest grossing games of all time.

Activision's archrival Electronic Arts isn't on the list at all. Nintendo holds four of the other spots, while Viacom holds the final one.

The powerhouse "Call of Duty" franchise fills up three slots on the best selling list – with the most recent installment "Black Ops" showing every sign that it will soon become the best selling game of all time, as judged by gross sales. (As of the end of February, it was just $43.5 million behind the leader – and "Black Ops" remains the industry's current best selling title.)

It is, however, a franchise that Activision recently cancelled that currently leads the top selling list: "Guitar Hero". The series' third installment – subtitled "Legends of Rock" – has life to date sales of $830.9 million, according to The NPD Group, which tracks video game industry sales.

That's just retail sales, too. The game continues to generate revenue from digital song downloads (just as the three "Call of Duty games do).

The data, gathered from NPD, reflects gross sales since 1995 and is not inflation adjusted. Nor does it include titles that were shipped bundled with game hardware. Only standalone titles were considered for inclusion.

"Five years ago, the idea that an exercise game would be the third-best selling game ever was ludicrous. In fact, many scoffed when Nintendo introduced the product in 2007."

Were bundled games put into the mix, Nintendo's Wii Sports would be the runaway industry winner in terms of both dollar sales and units sold. (The company has sold 75.66 million systems and copies of the game, according to its most recent earnings.)

Similarly, "Super Mario Bros." from the original Nintendo Entertainment System (NEWS) was a bundle game, leading to over 40 million copies being distributed since 1985.

Among standalone games, the inflation-adjusted winner appears to be "Super Mario Bros. 3" – which sold 18 million copies on the NES. The game carried an original price of $50. When total sales are converted to today's dollars, they reach $1.7 billion. No other title comes close.

Life-to-date sales from the top five games in NPD's list top $3.7 billion. (The company, which no longer releases bulk sales data to non-subscribers, declined to give sales for the games ranked 6-10.)

While the music genre has evolved greatly in the past two years, switching from plastic guitars to dance games, the list shows how powerful the games were at their peak. Between "Guitar Hero" and "Rock Band," music games make up three of the best selling games of all time. Two versions of the "Wii Fit" franchise are also on the list, indicating the effects the changing demographic of gamers are having on sales.

Five years ago, the idea that an exercise game would be the third-best selling game ever was ludicrous. In fact, many scoffed when Nintendo introduced the product in 2007, but the Wii's audience of casual and older players loved the idea. Today, the series is the only video game that has been endorsed by the American Heart Association.

The list further shows how quickly the industry is changing – and growing - these days, as no title before 2007 is included – meaning industry stalwarts like Microsoft's "Halo" and Take-Two Interactive Software's "Grand Theft Auto" series are absent.

Keep in mind, though, that several of the highlighted titles also carried retail prices that were significantly higher than the industry standard $60 (or $50 for titles in the previous generation). "Wii Fit" cost $100 when it was released – and "Wii Fit Plus" is still a $90 title. And all of the music games carried higher prices, as they shipped with peripherals, sometimes topping $200.

That didn't stop consumers, though, who looked beyond the price tag as they hunted for fun entertainment options.

Questions? Comments? TechCheck@cnbc.com
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