What were the top-grossing video-games of 2013?

On reading some of the financials disclosed recently by games publishers, I had this question in my head: what were the top-grossing video-games of 2013? I’ll do a simple write-up here using a few public sources and some ball-park estimates.

To start off, let’s define top-grossing as measured by player spending. That is, I’m not particularly concerned with how much revenue publishers/developers took in (versus the cuts taken by the various distribution channels, or factoring in how revenue is recognized from an accounting perspective), but rather looking at how big the pie was in terms of money that players paid out-of-pocket.

As a first step, let’s look at boxed retail, which is mostly console/dedicated handheld titles: http://www.vgchartz.com/yearly/2013/Global/

Grand Theft Auto V was clearly the monster hit of the year, with almost 30MM units across Xbox360 and PS3 in 2013 (Take Two announced 32.5MM units shipped recently). Assuming an average retail price of $60 + tax (say, 10%), GTA V comes in at just shy of $2B of player spending. (A different cut is using Take Two’s reported earnings data, where GTA accounted for 72.2% of $2.15B from Mar-Dec 2013, which is $1.55B – which is about $50 per unit, which sounds about right for the pre-retail markup price.)

Call of Duty: Ghosts had close to 15MM units, which translates to about $1B of player spending (assuming $60+tax).

Aside from these two titles, no other title seemed to come close to $1B of player spending – Pokemon X/Y had 10MM units, but a lower retail price ($40), so it would come below $0.5B. Fifa 14 had close to 9MM units, which would be around $0.5B as well. It’s also worth noting that the top PC game at boxed retail was Starcraft 2: Heart of the Swarm, with only 1.1MM units.

Next let’s look at PC digital retail (as in, purchase once, play forever, via Steam etc.). I’m actually drawing a blank as I write this thinking of a major PC game in 2013 under the digital retail model that would come close to $0.5B or more. (Doing a quick scan on steamgraph I really struggled to find any 2013 releases that would be likely – so let’s table this for now.

Next up – subscription-based games. Or, basically, World of Warcraft. I’ll just do a quick back of the envelope exercise rather than dig through Activision earnings. It seems the last publicly announced WoW subscriber numbers were 7MM as of July 2013 – assuming $15 per month (ignoring the bulk discounts and tax, or regional pricing models in Asia – which could really change the picture but I haven’t researched this in detail) that comes out to $1.26B. So WoW is probably around the billion dollar club in terms of player spending.

Next, free-to-play games. A big disclosure/disclaimer here, I work on League of Legends in my day job, and I will not be disclosing any internal data points. Instead, I’ll only use publicly available info, such as this a publicly released research piece. (I’m not vouching for the accuracy of the report, especially any League of Legends estimates from this research vendor.) From this source, it seems there’s 2-3 online games under the free-to-play model that are in the ballpark of $0.5-1B in player spending.

Lastly (and this is what I really want to talk about), mobile games (basically iOS + Android). GungHo released their numbers recently, and Puzzle & Dragons scored huge, accounting for 91% of the $1.5B revenue. Adding back the 30% app store commission (I’m assuming their revenue numbers are net of this commission, since that’s what they get from Apple/Google), that comes out to just shy of $2B in player spending. [EDIT1: I’m now assuming that the standard revenue reporting for mobile games includes the Apple/Google 30% cut, as this was stated in the reports last year on Supercell, e.g. this post]

While we don’t have full year numbers for Clash of Clans or Candy Crush Saga, it’s not far-fetched to see them in the billion dollar club. For example, some research vendors estimate that Clash of Clans was the overall top-grossing iOS game of 2013, while Candy Crush Saga was the top-grossing Google Play game of 2013. Picturing what we know about Puzzle & Dragons, then these two titles are almost certainly billion dollar titles in terms of player spending. [EDIT2: Supercell’s 2013 revenue is $892MM, so Clash of Clans by itself may be around $500-650MM, since it is generally higher ranked than Hay Day].

[EDIT3: So King filed their IPO prospectus, and we have a lot more data on Candy Crush Saga. If we do a simple estimate and take the reported bookings contribution from CCS from Q4 2013 (78%) and apply it to the whole year revenue of $1.9B, that’s around $1.5B from CCS. And King reports gross revenue, so that’s the amount players spent.]

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