Yes, I'm an asshole when I do it. "Let's talk about the crucial role of story-telling in games" "Ah, but If I examine every game that sold more then 10 million copies, I see almost no games that have story-telling...so how is it crucial then?" And then some debating happens that doesn't lead untill I demand you prove this crucial aspect in videogames by pointing at x number of games that sold more then 10 million copies on a single platform. And then the other side shuts up...to bring up the topic again in a few months and the dance continues.
What does this 10 million mark mean anyway? At it's core, the mark is off course idealized. Games do not achieve some magical status when they cross that mark. But it does serve as a good benchmark, but a benchmark to what. And does this benchmark always apply ? (spoiler: no, it doesn't).
The meaning of the benchmark. In my research for my thesis (I know it's still in dutch, and I know I keep refering to it, but because the thesis was so broadly conceived, I researched a buttload of things and aspects of videogaming) I found out that games (from 1995 onwards) that sold around 10 million copies always had a broader impact in popular culture, became a broader social phenomena. In se, expanding the acceptance of videogames in other social strata.
Semi-Chronological Example Time!
The Gran Turismo series: every iteration (except glorified demo's) has sold around 10 millions copies.
Broader impact? Gran Turismo was a fixture even within the car driving world. Top Gear's Jeremy Clarkson plays it. New iterations where highly clamored withing the car driving community with the game being at car conventions and mentioned in car magazines.
Final Fantasy 7: the only FF-game that sold near (or over, could be over) 10 million copies.
Broader Impact? Well, it did start the actual JRPG craze in the west, also pulling in quite some females back into the gaming mold. The games afterwards have been in steady decline however. And when I say decline, I mean decline in broader social impact related to decline in sales.
Super Mario 64, one of the few 2D to 3D games that actually sold 10 million copies.
Broader Impact, while less then it's 2D counterparts. It did succesfully launch the N64 with great furore. To bad the follow trough of the N64 was disastrous. Again decline afterwards.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Sold more around 9 million so you can allready begin to question the validity of it being in the list. But it did left a shockwave, it's impact being recognized in mainstream media. After it, the series has gone in decline.
Metal Gear Solid, with sales of 7-8 million, an even bigger question mark of validity, but it did define the playstation as much as FF7 and GT. The newer iterations have seen a sharp decline.
Super Mario Kart 64 and GoldenEye. now MK64 sold more then SM64 (around 11 million) while Goldeneye sold more in the region of 8.5-9 million. Both made 4-player multiplayer mayhem a broad social phenomena. Probably impacting four times the people then it sold. Okay, three times.
Moving on the the next generation.
GTA 3, with sales well beyond 10 million and nearing 15 million, the broader impact shouldn't even be described. And I don't even mean the negative one. the GTA3 series had a good deal of it with correlated sales numbers to boot. GTA4 doesn't have near the same impact.
Pokemon, Numbers are a bit sketchy but above 10 million is certain, Near 17.5 million seems to be the final verdict. Let's see, it became the first multi-billion dollar game franchise (possibly responsible for half to a third of Nintendo's 10 billion dollar + warchest) of the industry, it has movies, cartoon series, toys, launched the Game Boy back on the charts and became the first strike of Nintendo to re-capture the kids. While the series has seen decline, all iterations keeping a nice level at 12.5-15 million.
The Sims, Also over the ten million copies, got millions of women playing games on PC, beside Bejeweled then. Togheter with Pokemon, gatekeepers of the floodgates for the new generation of titles to dominate videogaming.
DS Power!!! Why has the DS been selling at a pace that puts the PS2 at shame? Why...look at the killer-apps for it and see how much they sold and why they stayed so high in the sales rankings.
Brain Training 1-2. Want your granny to play games? Voila! Both iterations have sold around 15 million copies and more
Nintendogs. The game that sold the DS in Europe. 22 million copies in total, half of them in Europe. Proving that Europeans are superior to everyone else because of our higher love of puppies. Especially in Europe, the game was in all kinds of mainstream magazines and got talked about the togheter with summarizations of the latest episode of Sex and the City and other tv-shows.
Super Mario Kart DS and New Super Mario Bros DS. Both selling over 20 million copies, the games are still popping up in the top-20 rankings all over the world. The broad spectrum of people playing it blows the mind of each segmenting marketingdroid on the planet.
But this must be a fluke right? These aren't real games! this is a one-time thing...
Super Mario Kart Wii over 22 million copies, not only that, the "use Wii-mote as a steer" method is dominating the leaderboards!
WiiFit and Wii Sports, Do I need to explain? 22 mil for the first, 15 mil for the sequels of both. Invasion of the female gamer, correction, invasion of the female gamer of all ages. What game has done this before? Really, what game?
World of Warcraft this one gets close though, also needs no explanation.
Farmville, Mafiawars and their kin. yeah, a game that has had 80 mill people playing it at its peak.
Right, enough examples I geuss. Notice how all of these games did not only sell near or more then 10 million copies, but also were vital for selling their platforms and broadening the use of their platform by different demographics thus becoming social phenomena with a broad impact. End result? Videogaming becoming more accepted as a broad entertainment and art medium (since the broad audience decides what art is).
Now, as you can see, I tried placing the games a bit chronological and what also springs up: the number of millions these social phenomena games sell have been getting higher. The 10 million mark seems to be a to low benchmark even. In reverse, when using this benchmark on older generations, the 10 million mark is probably too high and unfair. Pong, Space Invaders and Pac-Man were huge social phenomena but sold only around 300 000 cabinets each. Off course, they were arcades and as such used a different method of reaching out to people. By creating coin-shortages for example...
On the other hand, the 2D Mario and Sonic games were also games that sold more then 10 million copies worldwide, leaving behind their marks to even this day.
The 10 million benchmark (not the number itself but its functional descriptive intention) does serve some purpose then, but needs to be adjusted to the time period and the dynamic attributes of how videogames reached their audience. On the other side, a second benchmark does seem to force itself upon us. The 10 million works for a quite large selection of games, but among those, there are games who perform in their own league. The WiiFits, Mario Karts and Farmvilles of these world are those games. In console/handheld land that seems to be a 20 million mark, while in Facebook land this is 50 + million users (where the 10 million console/handheld mark is actually 20-25 mill in facebook land).
In reverse, the 20 million mark for consoles and handhelds now was a 10 million mark in the late 80's and early 90's, maybe even early 80's (Atari expected the VCS version of Pac-man to sell 12 millions copies in the US, unprecedented then, also because Atari only sold 10 millions VCS's so far).
So the benchmark is a bit less arbitrary and more a result of dynamic scaling based on known sales and the relative impact, keeping in mind the time period and its specific dynamics.