39 years of UK video game Christmas charts – what was your number one?

This year marks the 10th time a FIFA title has been the UK’s number one Christmas game (Picture: EA)

The last 39 years of the Christmas number one range from Ghostbusters on the C64 to Fifa 23 but tastes haven’t changed as much as one might think.

Christmas has always been the busiest time of year for video games, with the majority of all big name titles released in the last three months of the year as people go out purchases for gifts to put under the tree.

The battle for Christmas number one may not be as fierce as it is when it comes to music, but the recently released data from the past 39 years of video game sales makes for interesting, if predictable, reading.

Chart trackers GfK have shared details of all the UK’s best-selling Christmas games since 1984, from Ghostbusters on the Spectrum to the biggest seller of 2022 FIFA 23.

It’s not just the second year in a row that a FIFA game has been number one in Christmas sales in the UK, but also EA’s 14th number one overall, the most of any publisher during the of the past 39 years.

Most of them – 10 to be exact – are more FIFA games, starting with FIFA International Soccer for the Sega Mega Drive in 1993, the very first game in the series.

Curiously, after a five-year streak ending in 1997, FIFA games failed to take the top spot until 2006 with FIFA 07. However, each subsequent EA number one has been the iteration FIFA of that year.

EA’s other four number ones were the adaptation of Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone in 2001, Medal Of Honor: Rising Sun in 2003, Need For Speed: Underground 2 in 2004, and Need For Speed: Most Wanted in 2005.

EA’s only real competition comes from Activision, which has seen one of its games take the top spot a total of 10 times. Unsurprisingly, nine of them have been Call Of Duty titles, with the exception of a Ghostbusters game for the Commodore 64 and Sinclair Spectrum in 1984.

Although technically the 1984 Activision was a completely different company and the current one actually uses the same name and logo as the modern Atari.

Activision’s modern incarnation got its first number one 23 years later, with Call Of Duty 4: Modern Warfare in 2007. Since then, the series has become a regular Christmas bestseller in the UK and almost always in the first two of the year.

It might not come as a surprise that FIFA and Call Of Duty are so popular, but it’s worth pointing out, given that it sometimes seems like their respective fans don’t even like playing them anymore.

Both franchises have been inundated with frequent controversy and backlash from players, whether for their monetization strategies (FIFA Loot Boxes), the issues within companies themselves (sexual harassment allegations against Activision), or just general gameplay issues.

Just search any Call Of Duty Reddit thread and you’ll find hundreds of outraged players complaining about how bad the series is.

Still, it’s increasingly clear that, as vociferous as these controversies and complaints are, they don’t seem to have shaken the popularity of either franchise much.

Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 – for 16 years, first place has rarely gone to Call Of Duty or FIFA (photo: Activision)

Since 2006, there have only been three instances where the UK’s top-selling Christmas game was not a FIFA or Call Of Duty: 2011 title. The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim2018 Red Dead Redemption 2 (which ended a four-fight winning streak for Activision), and 2020 Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. All three are hardly quiet underdogs.

We’re actually a little surprised to see Rockstar barely show up on the chart, given the widespread popularity of its Grand Theft Auto games. We could think of 2013 Auto grand theft 5 would have been number one that year, but lost to FIFA 14.

You can probably attribute this to the fact that FIFA is a franchise that can be easily sold to children and adults. Most parents are much more likely to buy a football game as a Christmas present for their child than a game depicting gratuitous violence, criminal activity and scantily clad women.

Instead, the kids buy it right after with their Christmas money.

GTA 5 – do you think Grand Theft Auto 6 can turn the tide? (photo: Rockstar Games)

The only other Rockstar game to reach the top spot was 2002’s Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, which has been impressive since it originally launched as a PlayStation 2 exclusive and only made it to other platforms than in 2003.

None of the big three – Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo – made much of a splash in the rankings either. However, the chart covers games in all formats, so their console exclusives have never had as much reach as titles from EA or Activision that launch on multiple platforms.

The only exception is 1998, where a Nintendo exclusive was ranked number one. It was Nintendo 64’s The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time, which ended the original FIFA winning streak and beat out other top PlayStation games like Metal Gear Solid and Resident Evil 2.

Looking at the chart, it’s easy to assume that the next FIFA or Call Of Duty will also take the top spot in 2023. Although the circumstances will be quite different for the two franchises next year.

EA has opted not to renew its licensing agreement with the FIFA organization, meaning FIFA 23 will be the last entry to carry the FIFA name and branding. The series is renamed EA Sports FCwhile FIFA itself seeks to make its own FIFA 24.

FIFA 23 – can the series survive if it is no longer called FIFA? EA thinks so (Photo: EA)

EA is clearly confident that its series of games will survive without the FIFA name, so it will be interesting to see how its 2023 title fares in comparison. Especially if FIFA launches an alternative that year.

Regarding Call Of Duty, Activision said it would maintain its annual releases and have a ‘full premium version of call of duty ‘ for 2023. However, insiders have claimed that Activision is instead working on a DLC expansion for Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2. The next proper game, presumably developed by Call Of Duty: Black Ops studio Treyarch, will follow in 2024.

No. 1 UK Christmas video game all-format chart 1984-2022

1984 – Ghostbusters (Activision)
1985 – Commando (Elite)
1986 – Gauntlet (American Gold)
1987 – OutRun (US Gold)
1988 – Operation Wolf (Ocean)
1989 – Chase HQ (Ocean)
1990 – Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles (Mirrorsoft)
1991 – WWF Wrestlemania (Ocean)
1992 – Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (Sega)
1993 – FIFA International Football (EA)
1994 – FIFA Football 95 (EA)
1995 – FIFA Football 96 (EA)
1996 – FIFA 97 (EA)
1997 – FIFA: Road to World Cup 98 (EA)
1998 – The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (Nintendo)
1999 – Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation (Eidos)
2000 – Who wants to be a millionaire? (Eidos)
2001 – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (EA)
2002 – Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (Rockstar Games)
2003 – Medal of Honor: Rising Sun (EA)
2004 – Need For Speed: Underground 2 (EA)
2005 – Need For Speed: Most Wanted (EA)
2006 – FIFA 07 (EA)
2007 – Call Of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (Activision)
2008 – FIFA 09 (EA)
2009 – Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (Activision)
2010 – Call Of Duty: Black Ops (Activision)
2011 – The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim (Bethesda)
2012 – Call Of Duty: Black Ops 2 (Activision)
2013 – FIFA 14 (EA)
2014 – Call Of Duty: Advanced Warfare (Activision)
2015 – Call Of Duty: Black Ops 3 (Activision)
2016 – Call Of Duty: Infinite Warfare (Activision)
2017 – Call Of Duty: WW2 (Activision)
2018 – Red Dead Redemption 2 (Rockstar Games)
2019 – Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare (Activision)
2020 – Assassin’s Creed Valhalla (Ubisoft)
2021 – FIFA 22 (EA)
2022 – FIFA 23 (EA)

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