After a post-holiday lull in the release cycle, the video game industry is finally revving its engines again, preparing for another year of releases on machines like Microsoft‘s (NASDAQ:MSFT) Xbox 360 and Windows PCs as well as Sony‘s (NYSE:SNE) PlayStation 3.
This is also a year of transition. After watching its once-monumental sales plummet, and subsequently watching share prices follow suit, Nintendo (PINK:NTDOY) is ready to release a successor to its Wii game machine called Wii U. The handheld gaming space is also diversifying with next week’s release of Sony’s PlayStation Vita, a device that tries to bridge the gap between the high-end home devices and the profitable mobile space now dominated by Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL).
Looking at this year’s actual games, though, it becomes apparent that a large number of familiar faces are likely to see strong sales. On the one hand, shareholders in these game makers should be satisfied with sales. On the other, there is little hitting the home market that will fuel needed growth in the segment. These five games stand a solid chance of selling upwards of 5 million copies apiece when they ship in the coming months. They may be the last remnants of the business as it exists today.
Grand Theft Auto V
Take-Two (NASDAQ:TTWO) has had a roller coaster couple of years. In 2010, it seemed that the company would finally escape the shadow of Grand Theft Auto, a series whose sales it consistently relied on to turn a profit. It did so through a new Rockstar property, the Western Red Dead Redemption. 2011 and the disappointment of detective game LA Noire proved the Rockstar name alone isn’t enough to carry the company. 2012 may bring back the company’s most popular brand, though. Grand Theft Auto V was officially announced on Nov. 2, and though Rockstar hasn’t announced a release date yet, it’s expected out by the end of the year. 2008’s Grand Theft Auto IV has sold 22 million copies to date.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 2
Activision Blizzard‘s (NASDAQ:ATVI) Call of Duty machine shows no sign of slowing down after three straight years of sales-record-breaking releases. The previous two releases, Call of Duty: Black Ops, in 2010 and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, in 2011, sold 5.6 million copies and 6.5 million copies, respectively, within 24 hours of release. Hints of this year’s entry abound. A Jan. 9 report by Forbes noted that Activision has purchased the domain name Blackops2.com. ATVI also confirmed during its Feb. 10 earnings call that a new entry in the series would be out this year. Black Ops 2 will likely be out in November, much like its seven predecessors saw fall releases.
New Super Mario Bros. Wii U
It’s surprising that the only other game that seems to match Call of Duty‘s ubiquity is about a paunchy Italian plumber with an impressive vertical leap. The 25-year-old Super Mario Bros. franchise remains Nintendo’s biggest cash cow. The last release in the series, 2009’s New Super Mario Bros. Wii, has sold more than 22 million copies over the past two years. A new version of the game was shown when Nintendo unveiled the Wii U device at the 2011 E3 industry conference. Nintendo has failed to release a Mario game alongside its new home machines in the last 10 years, something that’s cost it significant sales. Expect this one to be a flagship title for the Wii U when the controller releases in the fourth quarter.
The Blizzard half of ATVI, the studio behind the monstrously popular World of Warcraft online game, hasn’t delivered a new product in nearly 18 months. It was expected to deliver Diablo III, a sequel to the now 12-year-old Diablo II, in 2011, but that has been delayed to an unspecified date this year. The PC game won’t return sales comparable to the company’s Call of Duty franchise, but its significant following will help it break 5 million in sales this year, provided it comes out before the crowded fourth quarter. To this day, nearly 11 million players play Diablo II over Blizzard’s Battlenet online service.
Series creators Bungie may no longer be working on the franchise for Microsoft, but Halo 4 will no doubt be a huge hit when it releases this fall. Before being unseated by Call of Duty, Halo was the undisputed champion of first-day video game sales. The 2007 release of Halo 3 was marked as the then-most-profitable entertainment release in history. The last new title in the series, 2010’s Halo: Reach, sold 3.3 million copies in its first 24 hours. Microsoft has traditionally released new Halo titles in September, which should give the game room to breathe on shelves before Black Ops 2 arrives in November.