PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds has hit some pretty insane targets since it released back in March this year. It’s already crossed 10 million copies sold on PC alone, and actually at times overtaken Valve’s own DOTA 2 in concurrent players, as well as typically beating out Valve’s shooter Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. There’s no question that the game has been a giant success for Brendan Greene and Bluehole Studios.
However, recent comments may show that he’s lost a bit of perspective on the game’s success. In an interview with Gamesindustry, when asked about how much more room there was to grow on PC, Greene commented:
Our sales curves are just going up. They're not slowing down. I'm still waiting for that plateau, and it's just not happening yet. When you ask about growth on PC, I just look at League of Legends. 100 million active users a month, I think, something stupid like that? If we play our cards right, maybe we can get to that level of users.There are some things to unpack here and look at overall for why this is an absurd comparison. League of Legends first and foremost is an outlier, and it is the most popular game on PC for numerous regions. That in and of itself doesn’t say much, but here’s the more important part: League of Legends is free to play.
That is a big deal as it means that users can come in and try it out easily, and importantly there are numerous regions in the world where the free to play base is more expected, like in China, that it can easily get into, which PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds cannot. Furthermore, when it comes to China, in particular, Riot Games is owned by Chinese company Tencent, which gives them a much easier access to the market and means that a market leader in gaming in that region is heavily pushing it.
Still, let’s say he was looking at League’s numbers as more of an aspiration. Does that make it less absurd? Not really, as when we look at paid games we see that nothing comes into that range that is remotely comparable to PlayerUnknown's BattleGrounds, and only two titles have EVER surpassed 100 million copies bought.
The most sold game of all time is Tetris, with nearly (if it hasn’t surpassed it by now) 500 million copies sold. That’s not counting freemium downloads, just premium purchases of the game on a variety of platforms from the PC back in the 80s to premium mobile versions and copies on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. The second most sold game is Minecraft, which crossed 122 million copies sold, across a variety of consoles, PC, and smart phones earlier this year. Interestingly, it has 'only' 55 million monthly users, far short of the 100million target mentioned by Greene.
Once you get under 100 million, you have in third place Wii Sports, which was a pack-in title with many Wii Consoles and it sold 82.81 million copies. Fourth is Grand Theft Auto V, which has sold over 80 Million units, across two generation of consoles and the PC. In fifth is the everlasting classic of Super Mario Bros., which has sold over 40 million copies, although many of those were pack-ins with the Nintendo Entertainment System and known numbers do not count virtual console sales.
Those two titles that surpassed 100 million? You can see that they were on a wide variety of platforms and most importantly were sold on mobile devices, with over 425m sales on mobile for Tetris and over 30 million of Minecraft Pocket Edition, when Microsoft last shared the numbers back in 2015. Tetris is without a doubt the king here in sales, followed by Minecraft, and then another drop shows us the pack-in hit Wii Sports in third, while fifth is filled by the all-time classic pack-in Super Mario Bros..
Fourth place provides perhaps the best comparison point for PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, as Grand Theft Auto V isn't a first party title that is packed in with a top selling console like Wii Sports and Super Mario Bros., nor is it on mobile devices like Tetris or Minecraft. In a list full of anomalies, it stands out as a third party core gaming title that even four years after release has sold over 5 million units this year. While it has been in some console bundles, unlike the fifth place finisher, that was not a primary sales method for it, and it shows what a large cultural imprint that Grand Theft Auto has overall. Two decades has brought it from a controversial game to a title that is synonymous with gaming at large, and its sales were done on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and finally PC, making use of the generation shift to help even further broaden its sales reach.
Despite all this, Grand Theft Auto V STILL hasn't hit the 100 million player or sales target that Branden Greene mentioned. Think about that. This is almost certainly the best selling game on non-mobile technology of all time (while we can't confirm Minecraft Pocket Edition has sold more than 30 million copies, given that Minecraft was under 100million at the time of that announcement, it seems incredibly doubtful that it hasn't at least sold 12 million more of the Pocket Edition in the same time it overall sold significantly over 22 million), and it couldn't cross that mark over 4 years. This is a game that has a pop cultural resonance outside of gaming, a brand that has been on the news, been in major lawsuits, and has an active online community as well across several platforms. And it STILL hasn't sold over 100 million units, let alone have 100 million monthly active users.
How is PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds supposed to top that?
So while I admire optimism by and large, unless Brendan Greene is planning to announce a mobile version or that PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds is going free-to-play, perhaps he should cool down a bit on the 100 million mark and target things that aren’t ludicrous.
Talk to me again about it if you manage to displace Super Mario Bros. from the top 5, and maybe at that point it's time to consider it.