Recent reports peg Skyrim with 7 million copies shipped (3.5 million sold) in the first two days. That’s not nearly as good as Modern Warfare 3’s 12.3 million shipped (6.5 million sold) in one week or even Battlefield 3’s 10 million shipped in five days (5 million sold), but Skyrim’s numbers are way better than you would think.
Let’s compare Skyrim’s sales to Starcraft 2’s sales. Starcraft 2 sold 1.5 million copies in the first two days. By the end of the month (30 days) it had sold 3 million. So from two days to one month, Starcraft 2 sales roughly doubled to 3 million. If we assume Skyrim, another immensely popular title, also doubles it’s sales by the end of the month, Skyrim will sell 7 million copies by the end of the first month.
Now we can compare it with Oblivion more easily. Looking at this old Gamespot report shows that Oblivion sold 1.7 million copies in 21 days. We can make another assumption here that within 30 days it sold another 300,000 copies to put Oblivion at 2 million copies in one month. Doing the math here, we can see Skyrim is likely to sell 3.5 times as many copies as Oblivion did, but what about the growth in the game industry? Could there just be 3.5 times as many gamers now and the popularity is roughly the same?
The video game sales reports have the answer. I found the Entertainment Software Association to have a lot of good information on this. According to their Video Games in the 21st Century (PDF) report, 2006 annual video game retail sales, the same year Oblivion was released, were $7.4 billion. They don’t have any data for 2011 annual sales yet. The year is not even over yet, but they do have 2010 sales. Their Sales and Genre webpage puts the numbers at $15.9 billion retail sales for 2010. So the game industry has grown by 2.06 times from 2006 to 2010.
If you’ve been paying attention to the game sales reports this year, the sales have been down overall compared to 2010. In fact the NPD Group, the game sales tracking firm, expects 2011 game sales to be from 1% to -2% growth for the year. That means the 2011 figures should end up very close to the 2010 figures, and we can use the 2006 to 2010 growth as a good estimate for 2006 to 2011.
So in reality, Skyrim sales have actually increased quite a bit relative to the growth of the industry. Skyrim is more popular than Oblivion, and the reason for that is a combination of good luck and good timing. Think about it. The highly anticipated RPGs this year (not counting MMOs) were Dragon Age 2, The Witcher 2, Skyrim, Mass Effect 3, Diablo 3, and to a lesser extent Torchlight 2.
Mass Effect 3, Diablo 3, and Torchlight 2 were all delayed to 2012. All three of those were originally planned for Fall release, the same time as Skyrim. Bethesda Softworks got very lucky with that. Then, there was only Dragon Age 2 and The Witcher 2 as competition for 2011. Dragon Age 2 was a generally considered a disappointment. The Witcher 2 was well received by both reviewers and fans. but released back in May, outside of any real competition with Skyrim. Up to Skyrim’s release, hungry RPG gamers only really had The Witcher 2. There was a lot of pent up demand for a new RPG to dig into. Skyrim released at the perfect time.
Skyrim sold much more than Oblivion, even taking into consideration the growth of the game industry (the increase in gamers). The year started with six high profile RPGs expected to release in 2011. Three of them were delayed into 2012. That left only Dragon Age 2, a disappointment that gamers avoided, and The Witcher 2, released a full six months before Skyrim. Through good luck and good timing, Skyrim did much better than Oblivion. Bethesda Softworks will be have to work mighty hard to top Skyrim when they eventually make The Elder Scrolls 6.