Guitar Hero tops list of best-selling games

Although Call of Duty: Black Ops has tallied record-breaking success, it's Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock that has the highest sales in the U.S. since 1995, NPD says.

Don Reisinger
CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
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Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock is tops in the U.S.
Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock is tops in the U.S. Buy.com

Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock is the bestselling game released in the U.S. since 1995, a new report from NPD claims.

The music title has grossed sales of nearly $831 million since its launch in 2007, the research firm reported. It bested Call of Duty: Black Ops and Wii Fit, which took the second and third spots with $787 million and $736 million in total sales, respectively. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and Rock Band rounded out the top five. NPD's sales figures were not adjusted to inflation.

Guitar Hero III's success in the U.S. gaming market comes as a bit of a surprise. In November, Activision released Call of Duty: Black Ops, and the game quickly set all kinds of sales records. In the first five days, the game generated $650 million in revenue. It made $1 billion in its first six weeks of availability. However, those figures were worldwide, and NPD's findings include U.S. sales only.

Even so, considering Black Ops was able to reach the second spot in just a few short months, it probably won't take long for it to supplant Guitar Hero III as the top-selling U.S. game.

NPD's findings become all the more compelling when one considers that Activision announced last month that it had discontinued the Guitar Hero franchise due to "continued declines in the music genre."

And what a decline it has been. According to Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter in a research note to investors back in January, the gaming business is undergoing a "virtual disintegration of interest in the music category." He noted that music-game sales were at their highest in 2008, tallying $1.7 billion. They fell off to $900 million in 2009 and less than $300 million in 2010.

"Over the period from 2005 to 2008, video game software sales grew by 81 percent, with the music genre accounting for one third of the gain," Pachter said in January. "From 2008 through 2010, software sales declined by 14.9 percent, and the music genre accounted for over 80 percent of the decline."

NPD's findings also revealed another important fact: out of the top 10 bestselling games released in the U.S. since 1995, Activision has published 5 of them, including Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock, Call of Duty: Black Ops, both Modern Warfare games, and Guitar Hero World Tour. Four out of the 10 titles--Wii Fit, Wii Play, Wii Fit Plus, and Mario Kart--came from Nintendo. The sole game that broke from the pack--Rock Band--was published by MTV Games and Electronic Arts.