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Zelda sales numbers in context


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#1 lord-of-shadow

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Posted 06 January 2014 - 07:08 PM

So I was involved in a discussion in a thread at Zelda Universe where Twilight Princess' sales numbers kept coming up. Twilight Princess is, for those who are unaware, one of the best selling Zelda games of all time. This was being used as proof that it was more popular than the Wind Waker, which sold significantly fewer copies. Which, strictly speaking, is true. 
 
But when comparing games sales, context matters. How much did the console sell? What is the percentage of the console owners that have the game? What are the percentage of gamers that own the game? How do we go beyond just measuring sales, and measure presence and impact within the overall video game culture? I don't have answers to these, but I do have access to lots of interesting data and an excel spreadsheet, so I dug a little deeper. I grabbed sales numbers for the individual games and the consoles. Based on total sales of the consoles, and the competing consoles in the various generations, I got a very rough estimate of the total number of console gamers worldwide. I also grabbed world population statistics, for good measure, although that's less relevant. 
 
Anyways, I have used this data to build a number of rankings to share with you all! Pending more thorough research I'll likely turn this into an article for some site or another, but it's worth sharing now in this rough shape because I find it super interesting. Originally I shared this at ZU, but I figured many of you would be interested, too. 
 
 
Top Selling Zelda games, by unit sold (in millions):
Attached File  unitSales.jpg   92.85K   72 downloads

  • Note that when measuring games that had rereleases or remakes, I've created a "Total" line that combines them. This number is nice to know, but probably includes a lot of repeat buyers. 


  • I do not think that this includes the GBA remakes of Zelda 1 or 2, or any of the virtual console releases. 


  • The other lists are based on these numbers, so any errors here are also in the other lists. 


  • I was shocked at how well Link's Awakening did. I shouldn'tbe though - the original Gameboy/GBC sold super duper well, and it was far and away the best game on the console, other than perhaps Pokemon. 


  • Note that Link's Crossbow Training outsold over half of the other games in the series, including things like The Wind Waker. 

 
 
Top Selling Zelda games, as a percentage of the people that owned the console it was released on:
Attached File  NintendoPercentage.jpg   88.61K   87 downloads

  • Excludes "Totals" that cross multiple console generations, like Ocarina of Time, A Link to the Past, and Twilight Princess. 


  • Excludes the newest games, because it's all in flux and reliable numbers are hard to find. 


  • Interesting that Ocarina of Time and The Wind Waker are more than twice as high as everything below them. I think it's safe to say that, when measuring penetration amongst Nintendo fans at the time of release, these two games are at the top of the list by far.


  • Handhelds seem to do poorly in this category. I think it's because there are typically larger numbers of handhelds sold, but the Zelda sales don't scale up relative to that. 

 
 
Top Selling Zelda games, by percent of total console gamers that own the game :
Attached File  ConsolePercentage.jpg   86.77K   75 downloads

  • The "total console gamers" are based on the sales numbers of the console in question, added together with the sales numbers of the competing consoles. These are very rough numbers - for instance, they assume that everybody owned just one console, which obviously wasn't true.


  • Excludes "Totals" that cross multiple console generations, like Ocarina of Time, A Link to the Past, and Twilight Princess. 


  • Consoles and handhelds are treated as entirely separate categories when coming up with these totals.


  • Excludes the newest games, because it's all in flux and reliable numbers are hard to find. 


  • This category is interesting because it can be read as data about how popular/impactful Zelda is on gaming culture in general, across all competing platforms. 


  • Not surprising that the Legend of Zelda tops this list. This essentially means that about 1 in 13 gamers at the time owned it. That's the highest penetration a single Zelda game has ever had into the overall gamer culture. Seems surprisingly low, doesn't it?


  • Handhelds do very well here. I think it's because Nintendo has always ruled the handheld market pretty handily.


  • You can see clear shifts whenever major competitors enter the console market: Sega with the Genesis to compete with the SNES, Sony with the Playstation to compete with the N64, Microsoft with the Xbox to compete with the Gamecube. 

 
 
Top Selling Zelda games, by percent of world population that owns the game:
Attached File  WorldPercentage.jpg   93.27K   51 downloads

  • Excludes "Totals" that cross multiple console generations, like Ocarina of Time, A Link to the Past, and Twilight Princess. 


  • This list is very high-concept, really, but it's interesting nonetheless. Take the total world populations at the time, and compare them to the copies of Zelda games sold... and you can see what percentage of the world's population has owned that game. Roughly. 


  • Link's Awakening at the top? Interesting. There must have been a population boom between LA and Ocarina of Time. 


  • Roughly 1 in every 750 people worldwide owned Link's Awakening. That's the highest it got.

 
 
 
Sources:
Note the wikipedia pages. That's one of the reasons I say these numbers are rough, and don't necessarily take them as gospel: I haven't really verified any of them. Some are a bit questionable, like the fact that both Ages and Seasons supposedly sold roughly identical amounts... which I don't really believe. 
 
 
Console sales numbers: 
 
Game sales numbers: 
 
World Population by year:


#2 SteveT

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Posted 06 January 2014 - 10:45 PM

This sounds like interesting analysis...but all but the first image is broken for me.  FYI.



#3 lord-of-shadow

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Posted 06 January 2014 - 11:09 PM

Hmm. Photobucket must be sucking. I've attached the images to the post itself. 



#4 Masamune

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Posted 07 January 2014 - 08:17 AM

This is very cool, though I'm curious why you combined some games and their remakes (Link's Awakening for instance) but not others (like A Link to the Past). Under the percentage of gamers that owned Zelda games, combining its two scores would have pushed it up to number two. 



#5 SteveT

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Posted 07 January 2014 - 04:32 PM

Yeah, this is good stuff.

 

I'm curious what will happen with Link Between Worlds over time.  Great review scores, great word of mouth, high-selling console.  It probably only ranked that low because it just came out.



#6 lord-of-shadow

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Posted 07 January 2014 - 08:45 PM

This is very cool, though I'm curious why you combined some games and their remakes (Link's Awakening for instance) but not others (like A Link to the Past). Under the percentage of gamers that owned Zelda games, combining its two scores would have pushed it up to number two. 

 

Good question. Basically, I was trying to get numbers as snapshots of impact in the relevant time period. Link's Awakening and LA DX were combined because they were released close together (or so I thought; I now checked and see that they were released 5 years apart), and the console sales numbers I was using combined the GB and GBC into one platform. 

Ocarina of TIme was split apart because of the huge time disparity between it's too versions. TP... was mostly split because I didn't have a good way of handling the GC/Wii split: do I base the "total gamers" numbers on the combined sales of both the GC and Wii generations? Of course not! So I basically just left it out. 

 

For what it's worth, in the "unit sales" list, at least, I always had a "Total" for any game that had multiple releases. At some point I hope to redo this with more rigorously researched data and numbers. 



#7 Raien

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Posted 01 November 2014 - 10:23 AM

Do your numbers account for population growth and the introduction of new markets? These are big, big influences on the numbers. The NES market was mostly limited to America and Japan whereas the N64 and Gamecube markets expanded to Europe and other territories. The other question to ask is which games are system-sellers? If console sales spike when a new Zelda game is released, that says the game is worth its price AND the price of a console as well.

 

With regards to Twilight Princess, I think there are two things contributing to the sales numbers. The first is that it was piggybacking on the Wii's momentum, providing a fantasy game to go along with an arcadey game (like how Super Mario Bros. was paired up with Duck Hunt). The second is the artstyle. It says a lot that Nintendo continued to use TP's artstyle for the Wii U E3 demo and in Smash Bros. TWW has its fans but I think its safe to say that the cel-shaded artstyle has always been unpopular. It was something that Nintendo forced on customers, not something that anyone asked for.

 

I remember watching the original TP trailer in 2004 and the standing ovation from the E3 audience. TP Link was the coolest-looking design ever. It created the kind of excited buzz that you used to see when something like Terminator 2 or Jurassic Park was released back in the day. When you get that kind of buzz, strong sales usually follow.






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