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.

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

MODERN WARFARE 2 vs MUSIC

It's difficult to get hold of accurate music statistics, mostly because global figures are rarely combined. And because until the early 90's, 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 combined could manage in a week, and with games more expensive than CDs, earned far more revenue as well.

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

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


MODERN WARFARE 2 vs BOOKS

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 $18 at retail, that puts revenue at $197 million, nowhere near MW2's $310 million figure. Even allowing for Deathly Hallows' worldwide launch figures, at $15 million, it still can't overhaul Infinity Ward's shooter.

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

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

MODERN WARFARE vs MOVIES

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 $66.4 million. Factor in what would be far smaller figures for Canada and the UK and it's still not even within shouting distance of $310 million.

Things are, however, looking a little healthier for the movie business when you look at units sold. With ticket prices in 2008 averaging $7.20, 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

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

MODERN WARFARE 2 vs VIDEO GAMES

Last year, Grand Theft Auto IV set a new record for "biggest game launch", selling 3.6 million copies and earning $310 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 $310 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 #1-selling DVD of all time is Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, which has lifetime revenues of $295 million.