The NPD released their software sales data for 2007 today and the top ten best-selling videogames of 2007 are as follows:
1. Halo 3 (Xbox 360) -- 4.82 million
2. Wii Play w/ remote (Wii) -- 4.12 million
3. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (Xbox 360) -- 3.04 million
4. Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock (PlayStation 2) -- 2.72 million
5. Super Mario Galaxy (Wii) -- 2.52 million
6. Pokemon Diamond (Nintendo DS) -- 2.48 million
7. Madden NFL 08 (PlayStation 2) -- 1.90 million
8. Guitar Hero 2 (PlayStation 2) -- 1.89 million
9. Assassin's Creed (Xbox 360) -- 1.87 million
10. Mario Party 8 (Wii) -- 1.82 million
Congrats to Microsoft, Activision, Nintendo, EA, and Ubisoft for striking gold with these titles, particularly Ubisoft as it is worth mentioning that Assassin's Creed is the only original title in this list of retreads and sequels. Wii Play is also a new game, but not only was it bundled with a controller but it's a Nintendo game -- odds are your unborn children's children will be playing a version of Wii Play thirty years from now if Nintendo's track record of beating on franchises like proverbial dead equines continues into the future. Case in point: See number 5 on the list? I played my fist Mario game over 20 years ago.
What I find interesting though is that of the games on this list I only played 2 of them -- Guitar Hero 2 and Guitar Hero 3 (I have Assassin's Creed sitting on the shelf but haven't brought myself to play it yet based on the negative feedback I've heard from friends). Another interesting tidbit is that there are no PS3 games on the list. Sure, we all know the PS3 isn't selling that well, but there's also a scarcity of software for the system -- you'd think that once a good game was finally released on that platform that everyone who owns the giant black monolithic blu-ray player would snatch up a copy. After all, it's not like disposable income is a problem for these people -- they paid $400 to $600 for the console, after all. But that's another conversation all together.
So this got me thinking... are any of these games any good? Sure, the praise for Super Mario Galaxy was through the roof, and we all know what Microsoft does to create the Halo 3 buying frenzy, but what about the rest?
Let's take a look at the composite review scores for each of these games at Gamerankings.com.
1) Halo 3 - 93.3% average
2) Wii Play - 61% average
3) Call of Duty 4 - 94.2% average
4) Guitar Hero 3 - 85.3% average
5) Super Mario Galaxy - 97% average
6) Pokemon Diamond - 85.1% average
7) Madden NFL 08 - 77.7% average
8) Guitar Hero 2 - 91.9% average
9) Assassin's Creed - 83.1% average
10) Mario Party 8 - 64% average
So what have we learned here? Well, for starters, owners of the Wii will buy anything Nintendo stamps their logo on. Sure, Super Mario Galaxy is universally praised and as someone who even enjoyed the franchise's red-headed stepchild, Super Mario Sunshine, I see no reason not to believe it's a very good game. But Wii Play and Mario Party 8? Last time I checked a score in the 60's was a D. As in barely passing. As in it likely sucks. As in, "Bring any more of these home and your ass is grounded!"
What about the others? Well, they are primarily all established franchises and updates to games that release on a near-annual basis. Some of them have pretty high scores, but these are far from the only games that received any sort of critical praise.
Halo 3 may have been the best-selling game of the year but both Half-Life 2: The Orange Box and BioShock were ranked higher than it in composite review scores and don't even appear on the sales list. And they're in the same genre, on the same platform.
Take another look at the top ten best-selling games and see how they stack up in terms of their review scores. This time, instead of looking at the composite review score, the number shows their ranking (by average review score) for all 2007 releases.
1) Halo 3 - 8th
2) Wii Play - Not in Top 100
3) Call of Duty 4 - 6th
4) Guitar Hero 3 - 66th
5) Super Mario Galaxy - 1st
6) Pokemon Diamond - 71st
7) Madden NFL 08 - Not in Top 100
8) Guitar Hero 2 - Released in 2006
9) Assassin's Creed - 88th
10) Mario Party 8 - Not in Top 100
That was more depressing than I thought it would be. Message boards are filled with people forever complaining about the lack of original content. They bemoan the fact that the store shelves are filled with sequel after sequel. But yet one glance at the numbers shows that ultimately people buy what is familliar, even if there are 100 games that are considered to better, they'll still buy into the hype and marketing and their fear of the unknown and continue buying the same games over and over. Meanwhile, games like BioShock, Mass Effect, and many, many other very good games don't sell nearly as well.
But should any of this really be surprising? No, of course not. It's classic herd mentality. The same follow-the-crowd attitude that gets American Idol an 8th season and makes it profitable for tabloids to report on Brittney's babies. Why should it be any different for videogame sales.
The fluff will always beat out the stuff no matter the medium.