Year after year, the gaming industry continues to grow. 2020 was an especially big year for games, not just in terms of massive releases for long-awaited titles, but also for the introduction of the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X to the market. Every month, the NPD Group, a consumer research organization, rounds up as much data as it can gather to give us a picture of what games sold the most, as well as some other interesting bits of data. Now, with the year firmly behind us, we have a full breakdown of how 2020 as a whole looked for game sales.
There are a few surprises here that make the top-sellers list, as well as the old reliable ones you can always count on. Here are all the bestselling games of 2020 based on dollar sales, with a few asterisks, plus some fun extra data and sales at the end.
Call of Duty: Black Ops: Cold War
People have been claiming the Call of Duty bubble would burst for the better part of a decade now, and yet here we are once again with Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War standing at the top of the 2020 bestselling list. Despite some rumblings behind the scenes with the apparent change-up of which developer’s COD would come out this year, Cold War’s sales didn’t see any repercussions.
It is also worth noting that this was technically the second game in the franchise released in 2020 after the free-to-play battle royale mode Warzone, which was leveraged as an extra marketing tool for Cold War. This marks the twelfth year in a row that the COD series has stood as the bestselling gaming franchise in the U.S.
Read our full Call of Duty: Black Ops review
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
If there was ever an incentive to keep annualizing your franchise, it must be having last year’s version come in second only behind the current year’s. Last year, we got the rebooted Modern Warfare with a more daring, if slightly controversial, single-player campaign. But, this is COD we’re talking about here, so as long as it has the name recognition, which it doubled down on by just reusing the title of the fan-favorite game, and that addicting multiplayer mode, it will sell. Somehow, despite everyone knowing a new one comes every fall, sales just didn’t slow down for this entry.
Read our full Call of Duty: Modern Warfare review
Animal Crossing: New Horizons*
Here is where we get to the first asterisk on the list, and which will show up on all the Nintendo-exclusive titles on this list. All Nintendo titles on this list, starting here with Animal Crossing: New Horizons, are ranked based on only their physical sales. Nintendo, for whatever reasons, does not share any of its digital sale data. That means that these games all sold more than the NPD Group was able to track, but because they can’t be sure how much more, we have to go by only the physical sales and add an asterisk. So, technically, Animal Crossing could be the second, or even first, bestselling game, but we can never know for sure.
That said, ranking this high on the list just shows how insanely popular this game was. It sits right up there with the biggest gaming franchise basically ever while being exclusive to the Switch, whereas COD games come out on every platform available. Mat Piscatella from NPD remarked, “In 2020, Animal Crossing achieved the highest physical dollar sales for a Nintendo-published game in a calendar year since Wii Fit Plus in 2010.”
Read our full Animal Crossing: New Horizons review
Madden NFL 21
Next up we have one of the few annualized series that has been around longer than COD, Madden. What can really be said about Madden NFL 21? It’s the newest, slightly updated version of last year’s game. While it may seem strange, sports fans continue to show their passion for these games year after year, despite outcries about the franchise basically reusing modes like Franchise with almost no changes. Still, if you want the best football simulation game, there are really no other options for you.
Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla
In a rare turn, the Assassin’s Creed games have arguably seen better sales, as well as better products overall depending on your preference on the series becoming more heavy RPGs, since they stopped being an annual series. Valhalla, which is the third game to follow the new formula set in Origins, had plenty of time to build up hype and excitement among both fans and newcomers. With an ever-shrinking focus on the overarching narrative that exists outside the current game’s historical setting, gorgeous visuals, and promise of dozens of hours’ worth of content, this series has remained an easy purchase with every release.
Read our full Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla review
The Last of Us: Part 2
The second game on this list to be a platform exclusive, this time for Sony’s PlayStation 4, is one of the follow-ups to one of the best-reviewed games of all time. Expectations for this game were sky high in all areas, from graphics and gameplay to story and acting and, at least in terms of sales, The Last of Us: Part 2 managed to meet them. Mat Piscatella also commented on the amazing success the title had this year, stating, “The Last of Us: Part II finished 2020 as the year’s best-selling PlayStation exclusive, while also ranking as the sixth best-selling title overall. The Last of Us: Part II now ranks as the third best-selling Sony-published game in U.S history in dollar sales, trailing only Marvel’s Spider-Man, and 2018’s God of War.” With God of War being a well-established franchise that’s been around since the early PS2 days, and Spider-Man being … well Spider-Man, it is even more impressive that this second entry in such a dark, gruesome, and unforgiving world managed to reach such a wide audience.
Read our full The Last of Us: Part II review
Ghost of Tsushima
In terms of surprises, it would hard to imagine one as big as Ghost of Tsushima was in 2020. Another Sony exclusive from the developers at Sucker Punch who just came off of the Infamous and Sly Cooper games, this open-world samurai action-adventure game hit all the right boxes. Not only did it give what gamers were begging for from the Assassin’s Creed series since the beginning, a game set in historical Japan, but it was wrapped up in one of the most technically and artistically beautiful packages seen in games. It also helped that the game was incredibly well received, being only the third game ever developed in the West to earn a perfect score from the Japanese outlet Famitsu. Clearly, the passion and research the team put into this historical tribute to Japanese and samurai culture paid off in a big way.
Read our full Ghost of Tsushima review
Mario Kart 8: Deluxe*
Now we have the oldest game on the list, and the only game aside from Modern Warfare that didn’t actually come out in 2020. This port of the WiiU title just can’t seem to be stopped. Month after month, it somehow holds a place within, or at least close to, the top 10 sellers ever since it came to the Switch. It isn’t hard to see why this game is so popular; it is basically the pinnacle of the kart-racing genre, a perfect game for kids and adults alike, and on a console that you can take on the go. Switch exclusive or not, the power of Mario and his friends racing around bright and cheerful tracks throwing shells and bananas is a force to be reckoned with.
Once again, the numbers here are a little off due to not knowing how many copies it sold this year digitally.
Read our full Mario Kart 8: Deluxe review
Super Mario 3D All-Stars *
If a port of an old Mario Kart game can make the top 10, then three ports of old Mario platformers certainly can too. That said, this collection of Mario 64, Mario Sunshine, and Super Mario Galaxy didn’t launch without a bit of controversy that may have turned some people off of buying this bundle. The most confusing aspect of this bundle may also be the reason why it sold so well, though. This collection of (almost) all the best 3D Mario games from the past will only be available to purchase, even digitally, until March 31, 2021. There’s absolutely no reason to make this a timed release, and yet it seems to have worked out in Nintendo’s favor.
Read our full Super Mario 3D All-Stars review
Final Fantasy VII: Remake
Rounding out the top 10 is the bold remake of one of the most influential and popular JRPGs of all time, Final Fantasy VII: Remake. Similar to 2019’s Resident Evil 2 remake, Square Enix took a massive risk on this title in just about every way. Not only did they completely retool the combat, turning a turn-based system into a real-time action system, but they also decided to break the game into multiple parts. This first entry only covered what were the opening hours of the original game, but expanded it to give a better introduction into the world and characters. Just based on the reputation of the original game, this title was guaranteed to sell decently well, but the fact that it managed to live up to decades of hype got it onto the top 10 of the year.
Read our full Final Fantasy VII: Remake review
Other notable games
A few games that didn’t quite hit the top 10 still managed to sell quite a lot of units this year. One of the most impressive sales jumps was Cyberpunk 2077. Despite the numerous flaws and controversies surrounding this game, it was the second bestselling game of December even without knowing how many digital sales it had, and even managed to become the 19th bestselling game of the year in less than a month on sale.
Marvel’s Avengers, another game that seemed to sputter out not long after launch, only just missed the top 10 at number 11. Even though it is right behind FF7:R, Square has stated that they consider the game a sales failure.
Finally, including Super Smash Bros. Ultimate that hit number 14 for the year, Nintendo games made up half of the top 20 games for December, and four slots of the top 20 of 2020.
Hardware sales and other fun facts
Some other details the NPD shared include the fact that hardware sales across all systems went up by 35% this year compared to 2019, to $5.3 billion, with December being the biggest sales month for hardware ever since 2013. Games themselves also hit a new record high at $57 billion, up 27% from last year, and even game accessories saw a boom thanks to the new consoles, ending at $2.6 billion in total.
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