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 (pic: EA)

The last 39 years of Christmas number ones go from Ghostbusters on the C64 to FIFA 23 but tastes haven’t changed as much as you’d think.

Christmas has always been the busiest time of the 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 shopping for gifts to put under the tree.

The battle for the Christmas number one might not be as hard fought as it comes to music but newly released data from the last 39 years of video game sales make for some interesting, if predictable, reading.

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

This is not only the second year in a row that a FIFA game has been the UK’s number one Christmas seller, but also EA’s 14th number one overall, the most of any publisher over the last 39 years.

Most of those – 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, the FIFA games failed to take the top spot until 2006 with FIFA 07. Every subsequent EA number one, though, has been that year’s FIFA iteration.

The other four EA number ones were the Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone adaptation 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 had one of its games take the number one spot a total of 10 times. Unsurprisingly, nine of those have been Call Of Duty titles, with the one exception being a Ghostbusters game for the Commodore 64 and Sinclair Spectrum in 1984.

Although technically the Activision of 1984 is a completely different company, the current one is really just using the same name and logo, like modern day Atari.

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

It may not seem surprising for both FIFA and Call Of Duty to be so popular, but it’s worth highlighting, considering it sometimes feels like their respective fanbases don’t even enjoy playing them anymore.

Both franchises have been inundated with frequent controversies and player backlash, be it for their monetisation strategies (FIFA’s loot boxes), issues within the companies themselves (the sexual harassment allegations against Activision), or just general gameplay problems.

Just look up any Call Of Duty Reddit thread and you’ll find hundreds of outraged players complaining about how awful the series has become.

Yet it’s increasingly clear that, for as loud as these controversies and complaints are, they don’t seem to have put much of a dent in either franchises’ popularity.

Modern Warfare 2 main characters Task Force 141

Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 – for the past 16 years, the number one spot has rarely not gone to Call Of Duty or FIFA (pic: Activision)

Since 2006, there have only been three instances of the UK’s top selling Christmas game not being a FIFA or Call Of Duty title: 2011’s The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim, 2018’s Red Dead Redemption 2 (which ended a four year winning streak for Activision), and 2020’s Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. All three of which are hardly low profile underdogs.

We’re actually a bit surprised to see Rockstar barely make an appearance across the chart, considering the widespread popularity of its Grand Theft Auto games. You’d think 2013’s Grand Theft Auto 5 would’ve been number one that year but it lost out to FIFA 14.

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

Instead the kids just buy it after with their Christmas money.

GTA 5 new visuals three protagonists

GTA 5 – reckon Grand Theft Auto 6 can buck the trend? (pic: Rockstar Games)

The only other Rockstar game to reach the number one spot was 2002’s Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, which is impressive since it was originally launched as a PlayStation 2 exclusive and didn’t come to other platforms until 2003.

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

The one exception is 1998, where a Nintendo exclusive was ranked number one. That was the Nintendo 64’s The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time, which ended FIFA’s original winning streak and beat out other prominent 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 take the top spot in 2023 as well. Although circumstances will be quite different for both franchises next year.

EA has chosen not to renew its licensing agreement with the FIFA organisation, meaning FIFA 23 will be the final entry to bear the FIFA name and branding. The series is being renamed to EA Sports FC, while FIFA itself is seeking to make its own FIFA 24.

Fifa 23 women's football

FIFA 23 – Can the series survive if it’s not called FIFA anymore? EA thinks so (pic: EA)

EA is clearly confident that its game series will survive without the FIFA name, so it will be interesting to see how its 2023 title will perform in comparison. Especially if FIFA does launch an alternative that year.

As for Call Of Duty, Activision has stated that it will uphold its annual releases and have a ‘Call of Duty’s full premium release’ 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.

UK No. 1 Christmas Videogame All Format Chart 1984-2022

1984 – Ghostbusters (Activision)
1985 – Commando (Elite)
1986 – Gauntlet (US 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 Soccer (EA)
1994 – FIFA Soccer 95 (EA)
1995 – FIFA Soccer 96 (EA)
1996 – FIFA 97 (EA)
1997 – FIFA: Road To The 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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