NPD Top Games of 2016

The NPD Group released its report today listing the top 10 best-selling games of December as a whole, as well as for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Wii U, and Portable Systems (i.e. 3DS since there aren't enough Vitas in the wild comparatively for any of its games to crack the top ten). I'll probably try and put together some analysis on all of these various December numbers this weekend but today, I'm focusing on the other major list of the report: the top games of 2016.

2016 Top 10 Games

  1. Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare (Infinity Ward, Activision)
  2. Battlefield 1 (EA DICE, Electronic Arts)
  3. Tom Clancy's The Division (Ubisoft Massive, Ubisoft)
  4. NBA 2K17 (Visual Concepts, 2K Sports)
  5. Madden NFL 17 (EA Tiburon, EA Sports)
  6. Grand Theft Auto V (Rockstar North, Rockstar Games)
  7. Overwatch* (Blizzard Entertainment)
  8. Call of Duty: Black Ops III (Treyarch, Activision)
  9. FIFA 17 (EA Canada, EA Sports)
  10. Final Fantasy XV (Square Enix)

* - Does not include Battle.net sales

If you follow the NPD sales as closely as I have for the past few years, very little on this list will surprise you. There are some minor points of interest though so let's look at it point by point.

  • Despite a lot of people angrily clicking the thumbs down icon on the reveal trailer, Call of Duty's latest title once again sits upon the top of the chart, just as nearly every other installment has in years past. Every year, rumors swirl that Call of Duty is dying and every year, the accountants at Activision chuckle at those headlines.
  • Battlefield 1 takes the runner-up spot, which is to be expected as well. The last time EA released a proper Battlefield game in 2013, the results were similar. Battlefield 4 took the number four spot behind Grand Theft Auto V (temporarily dethroning Call of Duty in its first year), Call of Duty: Ghosts at number two, and that year's Madden NFL at number three. Battlefield Hardline didn't chart last year but was also treated as a very different title and probably suffered a bit from Battlefield 4's rocky launch issues.
  • The Division had a huge beginning of the year push that was able to sustain it throughout 2016 to come in at number three. This is pretty much right where Destiny landed when it launched in 2014 (a year in which Ubisoft also had the original Watch Dogs launch to a number 8 showing) so the decision to pitch it as the natural Destiny successor seems an apt one, even if it took most of the year to patch the game in an attempt to draw players back to the game after that first month or two.
  • It's definitely a small surprise, but a notable one, that NBA 2K17 is the highest-charting of the sports games just above Madden NFL 17 at four and five, respectively. Football has consistently outsold basketball in years past, with Madden even coming in at number two last year compared to NBA 2K16's sixth place finish. This year's NBA sales were likely bolstered by the record-breaking season for the Golden State Warriors and possibly even their continued inclusion of a professionally written and acted career mode.
  • The unstoppable force that is Grand Theft Auto V continues to be one of the best selling games, despite coming out four years ago. As mentioned above, it topped the chart when it launched in 2013, hung in at number four in 2014 with its re-release on the modern consoles, slipped slightly to five last year, and again to number six this year. All of this suggests that, despite not being as popular a franchise, Rockstar's Red Dead Redemption 2 - if it actually releases this year - could dethrone Call of Duty (Advanced Warfare 2?) again this year.
  • Overwatch, were it to include Battle.net sales, would almost certainly chart a few slots higher on this list.  But the Blizzard team shooter juggernaut was definitely a lock for the top ten this year with a healthy May release and sustained sales and support throughout the rest of 2016. Of all of these titles, Overwatch is the one most likely to reappear on next year's list alongside Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare and Grand Theft Auto V (the sports trio will as well, but in their new iterations).
  • Continuing the trend of Call of Duty not being nearly as dead as haters would like to think, the previous year's Call of Duty also makes the top ten, this year in the form of Black Ops III at number eight. Last year, Advanced Warfare was the number ten slot, with Ghosts occupying the same tenth slot in 2014. There's probably a mix of the established Black Ops brand outperforming the new Ghosts and Advanced Warfare efforts on their inaugural outings as well as the fact that 2016 wasn't as competitive a year overall for the big titles that have a shot at making it to the top ten list. A real canary in the coal mine for Activision will be if Infinite Warfare doesn't hang on this year in the 2017 top ten list (or worse yet, if Battlefield 1 hangs on above it). Then, the "death of Call of Duty" headlines, while still laughably wrong and premature would at least have a data point to look at and say, "well they don't sell like they used to..."
  • FIFA 17 at number nine is on par with previous years (number eight in 2015 and nine in 2014), with Soccer not having the same power in the American-based NPD charts. Though I have zero doubt that it easily outsold the other two overseas and overall.
  • Lastly, and possibly the biggest surprise of the top ten, is Final Fantasy XV actually being able to crack the chart, especially with only about a month on the shelves. The latest releasing title by about a month, the fact that the long-troubled Final Fantasy XV managed to crack the top ten at all is a feat for Square Enix. Though I imagine if the Pokemon Sun and Moon sales had been combined under a single SKU instead of being split apart, they probably would have bumped it from the list. Still, it managed to beat out other notable releases like Doom or Forza Horizon 3 and frequent top ten game Minecraft.

So what do you think of the 2016 top-selling NPD games? Any crazy surprises you weren't expecting? Disappointments? Let me know here or on Twitter. And stay tuned for a dive into the December numbers across each of the platforms this weekend.