Based on what you know about racing games, what do you think is the best-selling title and franchise? Where do you think the big-hitters sit in the grand scheme of things? To beat a dead horse that’s died, been cremated and has been reincarnated as a clickbait website editor, the answer may surprise you… These are the best-selling racing game franchises, with a few best-selling titles thrown in, of all time...
The six best selling racing games of all time
Mario Kart – 152 million copies
Park those Forza predictions right now and expand your mind. About as far from the graphics-led realistic sim-cades as you can get is the Mario Kart series. Honestly, the numbers this franchise has managed over the years defy belief. It buries Forza almost ten times over.
In total, the Mario Kart franchise has sold over 152 million units. Yes, Mario Kart does perhaps have the most universal ‘playful’ appeal of any racing game. Yes, it also has longevity on its side – as of August next year it’s 30 years old – but each title sells in serious numbers. Mario Kart 8 in the eight years it’s been on sale, available first on Nintendo Wii U and then Switch, is the best-selling racing game of all time, with 37 million copies shifted. Mario Kart titles take up the top four spots in the list of best-selling racing games of all time and occupy eight of the top 20 best-selling spots in total. Yeah...
Need for Speed – 150 million copies
In fairness to the (slightly) more grounded Need for Speed, it’s not far behind, having sold just over 150 million units over its 27-year life. Again, it has a length of tenure on its side. For comparison, NFS had been going for over ten years before the first Forza title launched.
Naturally, NFS titles occupy a few spots on the top-selling titles list. Most Wanted is highest in seventh, with 16 million sold. Underground and Underground 2 are eighth and sixteenth, with 15 million and seven million units sold respectively. NFS has five spots in the top 21 best-sellers in total.
Gran Turismo – 85 million copies
Of course Gran Turismo comes next. Right on form, it’s a touch younger as a franchise than the above, with the first entry coming three years after the first Need for Speed, in 1997. Over 85 million units of various entries in the Gran Turismo franchise have been sold in its near 25-year life. It was perhaps the first racing title to really embrace the idea of simulation, realism and graphical fidelity, pedalling ‘The Real Driving Simulator’ motto. There are more hardcore driving sims out there in 2021 but GT still retains the title and for many, always will.
Seven Gran Turismo titles can be found in the top 20 best-selling racing games. GT4 and GT5 both sold over 17 million units each, reaching fifth and sixth in the top selling list respectively. Interestingly, most Gran Turismo entries, minus a few tangential entries, are in the top-sellers list, perhaps speaking to the franchise’s pride of place in the hearts and minds of gamers.
Driver – 19 million copies
Fourth most-successful in the world of racing game franchises is the now 22-year-old Driver series. First launching in 1999, Driver appeals more to the cinematic car chase action movie side of motoring. Think GTA minus the hard R-rated stuff, with the addition of a selection of real cars. Does driving a Pagani Zonda Cinque driving around San Francisco sound fun to you? Us too.
This is the first entry in our best-selling franchises list that doesn’t actually have any individual entries in the list of top 21 best-selling titles, in spite of doing 19 million in sales overall. This perhaps speaks to the historical monopoly the first “big three” – Mario Kart, Need for Speed and Gran Turismo – have. The last major entry in the driver series was Driver: San Francisco back in 2011. Though sequels have been rumoured, it’s widely believed work that originally went into new Driver titles has been repurposed as the Watch Dogs series.
Midnight Club – 18.5 million copies
Like Need for Speed, Midnight Club sits in the hearts and minds of gamers as an essential formative title in street car culture. These games, along with the NFS Underground games, taught a generation how to express themselves with their cars. Unfortunately, like Driver, Midnight Club is another franchise that’s fallen fallow since its last entry.
First appearing in 2000, Midnight Club: Street Racing began a decade of seminal racing games selling over 18.5 million units. A big success for Rockstar games – the studio behind Grand Theft Auto – and we’re not sure why they haven’t revitalised it. Wait… that’ll be because GTA makes them all the money in the world…
Forza – 16 million copies
Finally, we reach Forza, perhaps the best-recognised racing franchise by gamers of all ages in 2021. First appearing in 2005 with Forza Motorsport, the franchise has splintered into racing and open-world lines, with eleven Forza-titled entries coming out over the last 16 years.
Why have they only shifted 16 million units? Well, we could say its Xbox exclusivity counts against it but then, the Playstation-exclusive Gran Turismo series has managed over 85 million… Truthfully, it’s the relative youth of the franchise that we’d look toward. It’s for sure the most successful on this list in present day and with a heavy revitalisation on the horizon, pun intended, we’d bet on it climbing a few more places yet.
The best of the rest
What else is in the over-10 million copies club? Trailing Forza by a million units is the seminal Burnout series, which taught a generation how fun smashing up fictional cars in fictional locations could be. Dormant since the fantastic Burnout: Paradise, it’s powerless at present to defend its seventh-place position in the best-sellers against…
Asphalt. If you discount the mobile versions of some games on this list, this is the only mobile-exclusive racing title, in eighth. Shifting over 10 million copies to date, Asphalt is very much alive, with the last entry ‘Asphalt 9: Legends released in 2018.
The final franchise in the 10 million club? Colin McRae Rally, arguably the definitive rally franchise of the early 2000s. Arguably, it lives on in the DiRT series it spawned, that remains today.
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