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Overwatch joins the billion dollar games club (and it won’t be the last)

Dean Evans Technology Writer Twitter

When Blizzard recently announced that its action shooter Overwatch had earned over $1 billion, few were surprised. After all, the company’s “fastest growing new franchise’ has over 30 million registered players and the game industry raked in an estimated $99.6 billion in 2016.

That’s two-and-a-half times what movies made globally during 2016 (an estimated $38 billion), with blockbusters like Captain America: Civil War, Rogue One, Finding Dory and Zootopia leading the way.

Better than Captain America

To put things in perspective, while the third Captain America installment made over $200 million internationally on its opening weekend, Grand Theft Auto V grossed $1 billion worldwide in three days. It’s the fastest-selling entertainment product of all time.

The good news is that the games industry is still on the up, bolstered by the runaway success of mobile gaming, improved processing power, spectacular graphics and the encouraging growth of VR. According to The Association for UK Interactive Entertainment (UKIE) , the global games market is expected to swell to $118.6 billion by 2019.

Grand Theft Auto V
Grand Theft Auto V grossed $1 billion worldwide in three days. Image via Rockstar Games

There are more billion dollar games than you might think. Wind back to 1982 and 360,000 Space Invaders cabinets had generated $2 billion. Namco’s Pac-Man machines, meanwhile, managed to pull in $1 billion in the space of a single year. And all in quarters.

Despite its phenomenal success, Grand Theft Auto V is still only fourth on the all-time list of best-selling games, behind Tetris, Minecraft and Wii Sports. Other billion dollar games include League of Legends, StreetFighter II and World of Warcraft.

Anything with Star Wars in the title

So where will the next record-breaking game come from? You’d be a fool to bet against the likes of Destiny 2 and Red Dead Redemption 2 that will arrive this year. While billion dollar franchises, such as Call of Duty (see video below), Halo, Assassin’s Creed, FIFA, Madden NFL and anything with Star Wars in the title, will continue to drive sales.

As the movie business has discovered, sequels are good for business. Of the best-selling games in 2016 (as curated by Steam), we had GTA V, XCOM 2, Civilization VI, Fallout 4 and The Witcher 3.

But original titles can still make their mark and some will be the foundation for the billion dollar franchises of tomorrow. Overwatch is a case in point, as is the well-reviewed Horizon: Zero Dawn.

There’s another option, of course. The recent $502 million funding of UK-based VR start-up Improbable suggests that the games we play might be due for a shift towards expansive, persistent MMO-style designs.

Are virtual MMOs the next big thing?

“We believe that the next major phase in computing will be the emergence of large-scale virtual worlds which enrich human experience and change how we understand the real world. At Improbable we have spent the last few years building the foundational infrastructure for this vision,” said Herman Narula, CEO of Improbable.

So the question we should be really be asking isn’t where the next billion dollar game is coming from, but what the first $10 billion title will be?

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