While the Halo series might be one of the biggest names in the gaming universe, the Master Chief falls a bit short when it comes to his peers. Microsoft's biggest franchise is nowhere to be found in the ranking of the industry's best selling games, as ranked by life-to-date sales.
The list, calculated by the NPD Group, uses data that reaches back to 1995 is not inflation adjusted. (It looks at gross sales.) But it still shines some light on the biggest individual titles the industry. CNBC.com looks at the 10 biggest.
By Chris Morris, Special to CNBC.com
Posted 24 Mar 2011
Previous "Call of Duty" games had focused on historical battles, but this fourth game in the series brought players into the present. It laid the groundwork for the series' future success, introducing it to a much wider audience and establishing the base for the dominance it would later show in the multiplayer arena.
The sixth installment in Nintendo's racing franchise has been its biggest, due in part to a plastic accessory that makes driving the game's go-karts feel more natural. It also lets up to 12 players compete together online, something the series had never done before.
Less a sequel than an enhancement of the original game, "Wii Fit Plus" added 21 new mini-games and exercises to the popular franchise, while retaining all the elements (and pricing) of its predecessor. It also included a calorie burn counting feature. It remains, to this day, the only video game endorsed by the American Heart Association.
Following the lead of "Rock Band," the "Guitar Hero" franchise became a full band game with this release. The music genre was just beginning to lose popularity at that time, but good reviews and a loyal player base, who had already heavily invested in their "Guitar Hero" song catalog couldn't resist the chance to expand the band.
Like "Wii Sports" this collection of mini-games lands right in the sweet spot for the target demographic of the hit Nintendo system. It wasn't the gameplay that made it so popular, though; it was the extra controller. The Wii initially shipped with one 'Wiimote,' so players had the choice to buy a standalone one or pick up "Wii Play" and get another game for the system. It wasn't a hard choice.
Publisher: Viacom/MTV Games
Players were already jamming with plastic guitars when MTV came out with "Rock Band". What made this game stand out, though, was the addition of drums and the ability to have someone play as a lead singer. Made by the developer who initially created "Guitar Hero," the title earned sales of $670.7 million and once again changed the music genre.
Call of Duty games were big before "Modern Warfare 2," but this is the one that really sent the series over the top. With life-to-date sales of $713.6 million, the cinematic action game redefined multiplayer gaming and became a favorite on services like Xbox Live. It would prove to be the last Call of Duty game for series creators Vince Zampella and Jason West, who were dismissed soon after its release due to allegations of breach of contract.
Plenty of people wondered if Nintendo had lost its mind when it announced Wii Fit in 2007. A game about exercise – that cost nearly $100? The public would never go for it! In fact, retailers couldn't keep it on shelves – and it became the best selling game for the Wii, with life-to-date sales of $736.6 million.
The most recent entry in Activision's biggest franchise has blown past its predecessors – and is threatening to take over the top spot. With sales of $787.4 million so far, "Black Ops" is, as of February 2011, still the industry's top selling title. The game launched amid plenty of controversy surrounding the franchise, following the abrupt dismissal of the Call of Duty creators, but quickly stood on its own when players got their hands on it.
There's a certain irony that the biggest grossing game of all time is tied to a series that is no longer in production. "Guitar Hero III" was the peak for the music genre, earning life-to-date sales of $830.9 million (not counting additional income from digital add-on sales). With Guns N' Roses guitarist Slash gracing the cover, this was the first game in the franchise to feature online multiplayer.