Best-selling PS2 Games

The GameFAQs poll for today asks “Of the top 10 best-selling PlayStation 2 games of all-time, which is your favorite?”  The answer is obviously Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas but there were some titles on that list that were surprising to see (Tekken 5!?).  Since the poll options are listed alphabetically instead of by sales figures, pulling up the numbers led to some interesting finds.  With this data, people can see the effects of marketing, brand recognition and sequel fatigue.

Below are the poll options listed from highest sales to lowest…

  1. Grand Theft Auto:  San Andreas (27.5 million)
  2. Grand Theft Auto:  Vice City (17.5 million)
  3. Gran Turismo 3:  A-Spec (14.89 million)
  4. Grand Theft Auto III (14.5 million)
  5. Gran Turismo 4 (11.76 million)
  6. Metal Gear Solid 2:  Sons of Liberty (7 million)
  7. Final Fantasy X (6.6 million)
  8. Tekken 5 (6 million)
  9. Final Fantasy XII (5.2 million)
  10. Kingdom Hearts (4.78 million)

Grand Theft Auto and Gran Turismo absolutely dominate the top half of the list.  Thanks to a combination of marketing, notoriety, critical acclaim and brand recognition, each GTA sequel improved on its predecessor on every conceivable metric.  It’s also worth pointing out that San Andreas set the bar so high that the next GTA game (Grand Theft Auto IV) never surpassed it and the bar wasn’t cleared until GTA V.  Coincidentally, Grand Theft Auto V was also set in Los Santos, the first city players see in San Andreas.

While there’s not much of a drop-off between the two Gran Turismo games, there has to be some series fatigue going on there because all the other excuses don’t apply. Sales in the European market increased but decreased elsewhere between Gran Turismo 3 and 4.  While Gran Turismo 3 came out earlier in the PS2’s lifespan than Gran Turismo 4 did (2001 v. 2005), that didn’t stop San Andreas (2004) from reaching the top of the list.  The same reason could also apply to the slight dip between Final Fantasy X and XII.

It’s not surprising to see Metal Gear Solid 2 on the list, given the hype and anticipation that surrounded the game.  It was shocking to see the drop-off from Sons of Liberty to Snake Eater (3.7 million), though.  Sons of Liberty is rather infamous for its complex plot and movie-length cutscenes but seeing the effects of that divisiveness play out on a business scale is pretty staggering.  Sales for the next game dropped almost in half!  That’s pretty depressing, especially since Snake Eater is widely regarded among Metal Gear fans as the series’ best.

It’s amazing to see how certain continents propelled some games on the list.  Nearly 2/3 of Tekken 5’s sales (4 million) were in Europe and the continent also loves itself some Gran Turismo.  Grand Theft Auto is built primarily on American sales.  If we were looking at sales on a specific area vs. total sales, this list would look a lot different (if we looked at Japan only, for instance, Dragon Quest VIII would make the cut and Grand Theft Auto would tumble down).

One final note to takeaway from all this is that all of the listed games are either PS2-exclusive (Gran Turismo, Final Fantasy) or started out that way before getting ported (Grand Theft Auto, Metal Gear Solid 2).  Thanks to a strong relationship with publishers/developers and the success of the PS1 (which the PS2 was backwards-compatible with…), the PS2 ended up being the best-selling console of all-time.  Never underestimate console exclusivity.  It’s one of the main reasons Nintendo is still afloat, after all…

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