Yesterday, NPD released its lost of top selling games for 2020, and a familiar name stood at the top. Actually, we might say names: in a remarkable display of industry power, it managed to do so twice. The two top-selling games of the year in the US were both Call of Duty, with Black Ops Cold War taking the top spot and Modern Warfare taking the second, oweing its second wind to the popularity of Warzone, released in February of 2020 Even with the Caveat that Animal Crossing: New Horizons, which is no. 3 on the list, didn’t include digital sales and so may have been higher, it’s still a stunning performance from one of the most bulletproof franchises in the industry.
I spent some time Googling NPD and other results for top-selling games from each year in the US, and Call of Duty dominates the list going back to 2007, when Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare came to define both the series and shooters more broadly: neither iron sights nor levelling mechanics in multiplayer were anything close to standard until then.
In those 13 years, the franchise only misses the top spot three times: in 2018 to Red Dead Redemption, in 2015 to GTA 5, and in 2008, when the franchise had not quite established its modern cadence and when Call of Duty: World at War didn’t replicate the same success as Modern Warfare, and when we were still in the heyday of the Wii. Even something like Infinite Warfare, not exactly considered a high point for the series, still grabbed #1 on NPD’s charts.
Given the franchise’s decade-plus long dominance, it’s remarkable that it’s still getting bigger, with 2019’s Modern Warfare setting the record for best selling game in the franchise and the addition of both Warzone and Call of Duty Mobile offering solid free-to-play options alongside the traditional boxed offering that Activision puts out every year.
There was a point there a few years ago, during the franchise’s several forays into near-future and straight-sci-fi settings, that I thought surely this franchise was on the decline, even if it would remain powerful. Then Call of Duty: WW2 played a neat trick by going back to the roots of the series, but I didn’t know how well Activision would be able to play that forward. Now? Things are barreling along, and I think it even still has room to grow. While huge new sectors of the industry have risen during the years since Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, it’s clear that this series has it in it to keep sitting at the top of retail charts for a good long while.
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