Was Modern Warfare 2 Really The "Biggest Launch In History"?

Activision claimed yesterday that Modern Warfare 2 was the "biggest launch in history across all forms of entertainment". Not just games. All forms of entertainment. That's a big claim. Let's see if it holds up.

That means it didn't just have to be the biggest game launch of all time. It had to beat the biggest album, book and movie launches, too. Which you'd think would be no easy feat, but remember: Activision's boast rests solely on two self-imposed criteria: that the launch applies only to North America and the United Kingdom, and that it's based on the total revenue gained over those first 24 hours.

That's a little too selective for our tastes. We're going to be a little fairer, and size MW2 up not only in terms of revenue — which will always favour games, which are relatively expensive — but units sold/people entertained as well.


It's difficult to get hold of accurate music statistics, mostly because global figures are rarely combined. And because until the early '90s, even the US records were a mess. Still, not that any of that matters; the biggest-selling album launch in US history is 'N Sync's "No Strings Attached", which moved only 2.4 million copies in seven days (with estimates of 1.4 million sales in the first 24 hours).

And in the UK? It's Oasis' "Be Here Now", which sold just under one million copies in its first week on sale. So MW2 is the clear winner here; it sold more units in 24 hours than 'N Sync and Oasis could manage in a week combined, and with games more expensive than CDs, earned far more revenue as well.

Winner (Revenue): Modern Warfare 2 Winner (Units): Modern Warfare 2


Books are able to put up more of a fight. The reigning champ when it comes to the printed word is Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which in 24 hours sold 8.3 million copies in the US and a further 2.65 million in the UK. That's 10.95 million customers, easily trumping Modern Warfare 2's 4.7 million.

But remember: this is all based on revenue, not units. And with Potter's final adventure averaging around $US18 at retail, that puts revenue at $US197 million, nowhere near MW2's $US310 million figure. Even allowing for Deathly Hallows' worldwide launch figures, at $US15 million, it still can't overhaul Infinity Ward's shooter.

Winner (Revenue): Modern Warfare 2 Winner (Units): Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows


Again, a little messy due to sloppy record-keeping and a lack of global cooperation, but as you'll see, that doesn't matter. The current record-holder for a movie launch is 2008's The Dark Knight, which in its first 24 hours in the United States made $US66.4 million. Factor in what would be far smaller figures for Canada and the UK and it's still not even within shouting distance of $US310 million.

Things are, however, looking a little healthier for the movie business when you look at units sold. With ticket prices in 2008 averaging $US7.20, that works out to be around, oh, 9.2 million movie-goers. And that's just in the United States.

Winner (Revenue): Modern Warfare 2 Winner (Units): The Dark Knight


Last year, Grand Theft Auto IV set a new record for "biggest game launch", selling 3.6 million copies and earning $US310 million. Which, at least in terms of revenue, is awful close to Modern Warfare 2's figures.

Thing is, Take-Two's GTA numbers were worldwide. Modern Warfare 2's $US310 million was made just in the United States, Canada and United Kingdom. Factor in Europe and Australia, which no doubt Activision will in the weeks to come, and it'll be a lot more.

Winner (Revenue): Modern Warfare 2 Winner (Units): Modern Warfare 2

So there you have it. Modern Warfare 2 definitely holds the record for the biggest launch in video game history. It can also stab in the face anything the music business can throw at it. But as you can see, going up against movies and books, Activision's claims had a lot more to do with how they chose to define "biggest" than how many people actually picked up their product in a 24-hour period.

Hope this put things in perspective for you!

Note: DVD sales were not included because cumulative figures are a complete mess. But if you're curious, the No. 1 selling DVD of all time is Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, which has lifetime revenues of $US295 million.


    When taking revenue into account, shouldn't you consider the value of money or the cost of production as well?

    Take Harry Potter for example. Sure its gross revenue is less, but it took the efforts of one person to write the story. There may haveperhaps a few editors too, meaning costs would mainly stem from the production of the book.

    MW2 not only has to consider the costs of creating the box and disc, but have the larger staff tpo contend with. Considering that the game took around a year, wouldn't the costs from paying the vastly larger staff's wages offset the higher revenue made?

    It is probably too difficult to find net revenue, but surely that would be a far more precise measure for determining the largest launch in entertainment history?

      No one uses net revenue or 'gross profit'. The first reason would be it would too difficult as you said. The second would be they wouldn't want to tell you how much money they actually made/ripping you off by.
      The point of the 'largest launch' is just part of the marketing campaign.

      That kind of information would be impossible to access. Sure, every company would want to work on the percentage return on investment, but the input costs of businesses is private data that no-one would want to release.

      The idea of highest gross data would be to gauge how much people are willing to part with their money. The great example here is movies. Loads of people are willing to spend a little bit of money to see a good movie. For a good video game, loads of people need to spend lots of money.

      Heck, while we're at it, shouldn't we really be taking into account the average enjoyment of the consumer? What about the money they spend in electricity playing games?

      Come on, seriously?

    You fail to take into account that even though they're cheaper so they're more likely to be bought (like Harry Potter) revenue, the people that already bought the item arn't going to be buying it again and clearly the higher price would most likely win.

    What so your saying the cheaper goods have more people buying them, but the higher costs item will win? Thats exactly what was written in the article.

    I for one, am disappointed at all these so called "boycotters". The amount of people and clans I saw saying they'd cancelled their preorders, then this happens.

    $120 for a short and shallow (albeit full of explosions and manly awesome) single player experience and a broken multiplayer experience? I just don't get it...

      !!! REVELATION !!!
      Are these "units sold" to distributors or to the actual public? I can't see all the big names (EB, Gamestop, Amazon, etc) giving up their sales data so soon after launch.

        Correct. Activision are talking about units sold to retail, not units sold to consumers.

    And for this ~very~ reason why IW didnt want to do dedicated servers. Because they're gonna get a bucket load of cash regardless of a few hundred thousand (~200K) disgruntled and annoyed PC users.

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