Need for Speed series sells 100M, Shift moves 309K

Q&A: EA VP Keith Munro explains 15-year-old racing series' long and winding road to sales mega-milestone; latest installment posts decent Sept. showing in US; Need for Speed World Online due Q4 2010.


In 1994, Electronic Arts released an all-new racer, The Need for Speed, for the 3DO console. Though that platform is long gone, the Need for Speed series went on to become one of the most popular racing series of all time, with 15 different games on 14 platforms.

Need for Speed: Shift rebooted the series this year.
Need for Speed: Shift rebooted the series this year.

Today, EA announced that the Need for Speed franchise has sold more than 100 million units worldwide during its 15-year career--the only racing series ever to do so. (The only other EA title to hit the mark is the Sims series.) To put that in perspective, EA helpfully pointed out that the figure equals one third the total US population and is triple that of Canada's inhabitants. The sum generated by the sales---$2.7 billion--also matches or exceeds the gross national product of many smaller countries.

In 2005, the series was the undisputed racing king, with Need for Speed Most Wanted selling 16 million copies worldwide, according to EA, and 3.9 million in the US, according to the NPD Group. However, the subsequent years have seen its once white-hot popularity cool somewhat domestically. Lifetime US sales figures from NPD show 2006's Need for Speed: Carbon selling 3.2 million, 2007's Need for Speed: ProStreet selling 2.4 million, and 2008's Need for Speed: Undercover selling 1.4 million.

Need for Speed: Most Wanted was the series' high point, selling 16 million units worldwide.
Need for Speed: Most Wanted was the series' high point, selling 16 million units worldwide.

In part due to these declining domestic sales, the Need for Speed series got an ambitious reboot this year, being split into three subfranchises. A hardcore racing sim, Need for Speed: Shift, was developed for the PC, PSP, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3 by Slightly Mad Studios in the UK in conjunction with downsized Canadian studio EA Black Box. EA Montreal is putting the finishing touches on an arcade racer, Need for Speed: Nitro, for the Wii and DS. Finally, Black Box and EA Shanghai are working on Need for Speed World Online, a PC-only, free-to-play game.

Although Nitro isn't out until November 3 and Need for Speed World Online won't arrive until next year, Need for Speed: Shift went on sale September 15. Following Monday's release of the NPD Group's US September sales numbers, GameSpot learned the version landed in 15th place on the top 20 chart, with 148,000 units, while the PS3 version took 16th place with 145,000 units. Add in the PSP edition's 10,700 units and the PC edition's 5,700 units, and the game's total US haul for the month was just over 309,000 units.

While decent, Shift's September numbers aren't at the same blockbuster level as previous Need for Speeds. However, with the series reaching the 100-million-unit mark, EA remains bullish on the brand. In June, the company tapped Criterion Games, developer of its acclaimed Burnout series, to oversee future installments. To get some perspective on where Need for Speed has been--and where it's headed--GameSpot spoke with EA vice president of global marketing Keith Munro.


GameSpot: 100 million units is quite a milestone. When exactly did Need for Speed reach it?

Need for Speed: Shift sold just under 300,000 units on the PS3 and 360 in September.
Need for Speed: Shift sold just under 300,000 units on the PS3 and 360 in September.

Keith Munro: Need for Speed hit this milestone with the release of Need for Speed: Shift in mid-September.

GS: Other than the Sims, have any other EA games topped that number?

KM: No other EA games. Only five games have sold more than 100 million copies, so Need for Speed is certainly joining esteemed company.

GS: Has any other racing series out there?

KM: Need for Speed is the only racing franchise to hit this 100-million-unit milestone.

GS: Which of the many NFS games is the best-selling one, and how many units did it sell?

KM: With over 16 million units sold, Need for Speed: Most Wanted is the best-selling Need for Speed game thus far.

GS: What are the other best-selling installments in the series?

KM: Over the past six years, Need for Speed has really struck a chord with consumers and has averaged 12.8 million units a year during this time frame, so that’s from NFS: Underground in 2003 through to NFS: Undercover in 2008.


GS: When the series started in 1994, did anyone think it would go this far?

KM: Back in 1994, the goal was to create the most immersive and fun driving experience in amazing supercars. The initial games’ success was a testament to the potential for the franchise, but I don’t think anyone on that team envisioned 100 million units.

GS: How has the vision for the series evolved from the 3DO, Saturn, and PlayStation Era?

KM: The single largest shift for the franchise was in 2003 with the launch of Need for Speed: Underground, which took the series from supercars on the open highways to a street-oriented racer rich with customization, youth car culture, and a wider range of cars including sport compacts and other more accessible vehicles. This evolved into the open world, narrative, and pursuit-filled experiences characterized by Need for Speed: Most Wanted, Carbon, and Undercover.

In 1994, The Need for Speed started it all on the 3DO.
In 1994, The Need for Speed started it all on the 3DO.

GS: What would you consider turning points in the series?

KM: Other than what I just mentioned, it would be the recent pillar approach that Need for Speed has undertaken. Recognizing that racing fans want different types of experiences and innovation, we have structured development to make unique, high-quality games for these different audiences, based on three categories: action driving (games like need for speed most wanted), authentic simulation, and arcade racing.

The first expression of that was Need for Speed: Shift, built by Slightly Mad Studios with collaboration from Black Box. It is a highly realistic racing sim, but done in a very edgy, visceral, violent-in-the-cockpit style that really lets players feel what it’s like to drive such powerful racing machines.

The next expression of this approach will be the arcade racer Need for Speed Nitro, which is being built by EA Montreal, and it’s the first truly built-for-Nintendo platforms and audiences Need for Speed game our brand has undertaken. It is a hair-on-fire, 200-mile-per-hour, cops-on-your-tail experience that will appeal to a wide audience.

Need for Speed Nitro peels onto the Wii and DS November 3.
Need for Speed Nitro peels onto the Wii and DS November 3.

GS: If there was anything you could go back and change in the series' evolution, what would it be?

KM: I would probably have begun the transition to multiple development studios earlier than we have, and rested the team at Black Box.

GS: What was the series' high point?

KM: The launch of Need for Speed: Underground and capturing the imagination of consumers established Need for Speed as the dominant racing franchise. Recently, the release of Need for Speed: Shift, with us delivering such a high-quality game that is being loved by fans, is certainly another high point for us.

GS: Its low point?

KM: While technically Porsche Unleashed (PS, PC) was widely acclaimed at its release in 2000 for being the best Need for Speed game ever, the product didn’t reach its sales expectations, despite a valiant performance in Germany! Porsche remains one of the most valuable and amazing partners for us, but I believe our fans really value the choice and variety found in a typical multiple-manufacturer Need for Speed game.

2000's Porsche Unleashed underperformed, according to EA.
2000's Porsche Unleashed underperformed, according to EA.


GS: When the threeway relaunch of the series was first announced in January, many assumed that it was due to disappointing sales of back-to-back installments of Need for Speed Carbon and Need for Speed Undercover. Was that the case?

KM: As I mentioned earlier, it was really motivated by our consumers and deep insight into what they wanted to see in the market. We have devoted the best studio teams to creating high-quality racing experiences that build on those studios’ key strengths, and delivering these cool and varied experiences to consumers was our primary motivation.

GS: Do you think those two games did not live up to expectations?

KM: While they didn't reach the unparalleled success of Most Wanted, both games actually sold quite well despite shipping in extremely competitive windows.

GS: Which of those issues were addressed in Need for Speed: Shift?

KM: Need for Speed: Shift really was a shift for us, diving hard into the authentic-simulation subgenre, but in a uniquely “Need for Speed” style. It was very different than any of the past six years of Need for Speed games by virtue of it being a cockpit-driven, realistic, extremely visceral, true driver’s experience on closed courses. And of course, the quality of the game and how it drives is amazing.

GS: Reviews for Shift were positive, but not universally so. Has it met your expectations? How many units has it sold worldwide?

KM: Depending on the platform, we had a 20- to 25-point jump on Need for Speed: Shift sales from the previous year, so we are really satisfied with that, and I think the average scores have been outstanding. It has sold well and we are excited for the holiday season, which is traditionally Need for Speed’s best sales period.

Need for Speed World Online is set to launch next holiday season.
Need for Speed World Online is set to launch next holiday season.

GS: How does EA handle having so many different studios working on one series?

KM: We have strong leadership on the studio and publishing side of the business, all with a strong eye on the Need for Speed brand and its tenets. We also have a deliberate strategy in play aimed at delivering the best-quality titles on the right platforms built by the best developers for those subgenres. We are not launching all the games at once, so management is not arduous. It’s actually a lot of fun.

GS: How is work on Need for Speed World Online coming along? Is it still on track to launch this year?

Need for Speed World Online is coming along well and many internally are playing it regularly. It is tracking to a closed beta in the first part of 2010 with commercial launch also planned for holiday 2010.

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Avatar image for snokdruid

Aww only 6,000 PC copies sold, well at least i contributed to that

Avatar image for red-ray

all NFS games after hot pursuit 2 were disappointing.

Avatar image for bowlingotter

NFS Underground 2 was the best title. The only reason Most Wanted sold more is because it was one of earliest "next gen" racing games available and people just wanted to race in HD. I haven't been able to get into an NFS titles since Underground 2 and the to say the Shift demo was underwhelming is an understatement. They willingly threw their hat into the Forza/Gran Turismo arena and they're never going to live up to that.

Avatar image for SicklySunStorm

Criterion should pull this series back to greatness. The reason they have had declining figures since Most Wanted is simple - each game since then has been god-awful, with the exception of the most recent Shift game, which I really, really like.

Avatar image for Wakasenshi

Need for Speed Most Wanted was the last good NFS. I did not like the Demo i played of NSF shift. I'm looking forward to GT5 next year.

Avatar image for richioso

I want destruction derby back!!!

Avatar image for gnrlstuart

i personally think shift was also a collosal failure, the graphics and idea was great, but the handling was terrible, and the sense of progression was sloppy and poorly executed. nfs has always been about car fashion, speed, and free roaming, if they could make a great most wanted like city, top notch graphics, fast paced driving,m along with the cockpits, then ill be happy, shift was a nightmare with the wheel.

Avatar image for profileap600

Shift makes me want to puke. XD

Avatar image for robram9

Like most people here, I also think Most Wanted is the best NFS game so far, in my opinion NFS Shift is the best after Most wanted, I got the Logitech Driving Force GT wheel and is amazing how much better the game is playing it with it, you just don't get the same experience using a game pad.

Avatar image for plm3d_basic

Can't believe how low the pc numbers are. No wonder so many developers are going to consoles. There's no doubt that piracy is killing the pc market whether people want to admit to it or not. Damn shame.

Avatar image for rezarazor

great memories with high stakes! still hope to see high stakes 2! Natural Tracks - Great Weather and diffrent day time - Graphic - amazing opponent AI ! it was brilliant by its time 1998! i think that year was year of memorible games!

Avatar image for deactivated-5c41957f09fc0

Well, I'm more into the Forza series (like, I've lost all interest in the NFS series after NFS underground 2) - the big problem with the new NFS games is they lost direction. The arcade/half-sim genre is crowded as it is, and personally I'd like to see a more NFS Hot Pursuit II kind of approach to the series, and leave the sim games to GT and Forza. Although Shift does look better than previous efforts, they do seem to stray way too far into Codemasters GRID land. In other words, in the old days NFS was about fun, nowadays we have way too many games concentrated in the more 'serious' spectrum of driving games. And although I do like games like Forza, GT, Dirt and Grid - I wouldn't mind a more arcadey NFS games (for all consoles and PC), just to shake things up.

Avatar image for NoDzombie

"And of course, the quality of the game and how it drives is amazing." im sorry but shift has one of the worst handling models i have ever experienced in a racing game

Avatar image for wexorian

High stakes, Undergound 1,2 and Most wanted were best, after NFS MW it's not so popular as it was. (think so :) )

Avatar image for larlarbd

It is a Shame that Shift only sold under 3,00,000 copies - as it's the best racing title this year thus far ( Yes , Including Forza 3 ) , I've been playing NFS & other racers over past 17yrs , I personally own , All the Forza's ( Somehow - even the new one ... though it' release is due oct27... LOL ) , I own all GT's ( My personal fav among that series was GT3 A-Spec ) ... I've always admired the Race Driver Series from codemasters ( Personally I think they have NEVER made a bad racing game ... the codemaster name shouts - QUALITY to me ..... ) , now when it comes to all time favourite's , you just don't compare games on numbers - you look at your heart , you know who belongs there - guess which game will somehow always remain in my heart ( a driving gen veteran ... , I also take my car on a test track on weekends .... mind you ... ) ..... yes , it was Most Wanted , that game alwways put a smile on my face ..... It was boyinsh - car handling was totally unnatural , if you hit a police car it flew like foam - but I don't care , I don't give a f**ck that gamespot was totally biased giving it a 8.6 , all I care about is still today when I'm reaching for that 5-mins of fun , my hand tends to pick that green cover instead of those highly acclaimed( with fantastic physics & totally 100% real damage & handling ) one's that just lie next to it .....somehow I still pick up my MW disc every once in a while , & guess what game is lighting my smile smile again - SHIFT , controls are twitchy , I agree , just turn down sensitivity to like 15% in steering & all , tune it so that cars have 65-70% understeer , steering locc set at = 30 , then play the game & tell me , if you have unlocked the works conversion Lambo Murcielago - take it out for one lap at AutoPolis w/ the described settings - if it doesn't put a smile on you face - I'll stop playing racing game from today, I Promise .

Avatar image for fps_d0minat0r

yh i only liked were rubbish imo. i dont know why they made shift, people got forza or are waiting for gran turismo. would have sold way more if they made a NFS underground 3. selling 100m doesnt mean the series is a super hit........because obvisouly its not.

Avatar image for DEATH775

My most favorite is NFS: MW

Avatar image for selbie

NFS II and Hot Pursuit are classics for me. The Underground games were a fun change to the series but it got kinda wierd after that and I got bored very quickly of their efforts. Shift is a big improvement so far and I hope they can maintain that in the future PC titles.

Avatar image for shanthjibu

Highstakes was the best in the series.

Avatar image for X-RS

okay its mentioned in the top of the article, MOST WANTED!!! quit d![k!ng around and please get it right EA!!!

Avatar image for AmnesiaHaze

SHIFT is actually the best NFS i played , i can understand many liked the arcade games mee too , i admit they are fun especially on a joypad and/or keyboard , but nfs shift + a logitech G25 is a very good combination imo , it has cockpit view and realistic races which i like more then driving kamikaze style through the city full of cars , don't get me wrong i like those as well but i prefer realistic circuits

Avatar image for funsohng

i just saw this news on the TV!

Avatar image for mightEone

Most Wanted sold 16 million? Really, could it be bacause it was actually GOOD? Take note EA, if it ain't broke don't TRY to fix it! We bought and loved it the way it was, why would you think changing it would make us like it better? Shift is fun but I really miss the over the top style of Underground and Most Wanted.

Avatar image for deactivated-57fce817a4cf5

I have never owned a NfS game but I played the demo of Shift yesterday and found the experience exhilarating. Now that is how I like my racing games. Also, as a driver, I loved the in car view. Much better than the crappy angles we have to drive with on other games.

Avatar image for DM2438

Most Wanted came out at the end of Need for Speeds prime, but somewhere between Most Wanted and Carbon, EA got injured and hasn't been able to perform the same, soon enough, they won't even come off the bench!lol...I make fun, but I will always love Need for Speed, but there is no denying the fact that Most Wanted was their last great title.

Avatar image for fkbwii

NFS Shift's sense of speed is maddening! My heart pumps every time I go fast!

Avatar image for sidhu8888

Ever since I bought NFS Hot pursuit I've been a big fan of the series! it's been quite boring since most wanted tho! most wanted was brilliant! also loved porche unleashed even tif it got a lil frustrating at times!

Avatar image for MindlessTeef

@FidelSarcastro Fair enough... Carbon wasn't that bad... better than Prostreet and Undercover. Carbon's story did continue from MW, but I mean an actaul "Most Wanted 2".

Avatar image for siddarthshetty

If the min specifications are bit lesser then it would be a big hit...

Avatar image for alnors


Avatar image for snoogans460

Interesting article. Even though I'm not a big EA fan, I'm still a huge Need for Speed fanatic. In fact, I remember purchasing Need for Speed Track on my 3DO way back in the day. Anyhow, I've managed to follow this series pretty closely through the years, but obviously skipped over a few iterations here and there. In all honesty, I actually wish they'd stop releasing a new game every year - and instead, make the franchise bi-yearly. Either way, I'll continue to follow this series because of it's continued quality and guaranteed excitement received from the interactive experience. I still wish they'd make a sequel to Need for Speed : Hot Pursuit 2 on the original Xbox. That title was AMAZING! Lately however, I've really been enjoying Shift, and also managed to find a Collector's Edition of Carbon (which has become very rare and tough to find). Heck, even despite being 3 years old already, I'm really enjoying Carbon's overall atmosphere, just as I did with last year's Undercover. Now only if EA would ditch the cheesy real-life actors and focus those resources into something more "cool and believable".

Avatar image for facistinabag

I only played the demo, but I must say, shift is VERY impressive. They really brought the feeling of speed to the game, and focused on having fun racing.

Avatar image for FidelSarcastro

@MindlessTeef Well we already got a Most Wanted 2 and it was called Carbon as it was the continuance of the story based around the driver in Most Wanted. Now true that most of us NFS fans try to forget it ever existed but it did... sad to say.

Avatar image for KittyHeart

nfs most wnated is def one of the bst nfs games made after that , it went downhill a lot starting with carbon was bad

Avatar image for Proman84

Porsche Unleashed FTW!

Avatar image for ahpuck

i remember playing need for speed on my 3DO, that was one of the best games for that system. which reminds me, are they ever going to bring back Road Rash? i sure would like to see them release a new one. my favorite 3DO game was return fire, oh the memories.. .

Avatar image for MindlessTeef

I'm still hoping for a Most Wanted 2... also can't wait to see what Criterion will do with NFS. Just picture Most Wanted meets Burnout!

Avatar image for mayankahuja

i was a just 9 when i first played nfs 2 se.......and now at 22 i feel like i grew up with this series in particular........nostalgic feeling

Avatar image for Jack_n_Coke07

Whoops, forgot Undercover. Sits in 9th place. 10th goes to Porsche.

Avatar image for mikemaj82

Need for Speed for the 3DO rocked, but most of you would know nothing about that.

Avatar image for Jack_n_Coke07

My list of greatest NFS Games: 1. Hot Pursuit I (First one I ever played) 2. Hot Pursuit 2 (wicked) 3. High Stakes (Was a nice improvement to Hot Pursuit) 4. Shift (Having so much fun with the game right now) 5. Underground 2 (Sheer amount of customization) 6. Most Wanted (meh) 7. Underground (Was fine) 8. Carbon (Was okay, could've been better) 9. Porsche Unleashed (The "Porsche" thing didn't appeal to me) Others (ProStreet, The Need for Speed, NFS II) are N/A cause I've never played them.

Avatar image for edwise18

I personally think that NFS High Stakes was the best in the series.

Avatar image for Junior_AIN

Nice. It would be nice to know how much each version sold. I'm playing Most Wanted at the moment.

Avatar image for jaredcrazy3232


Avatar image for BrassBullet

Haven't really been into NFS since the original on PC and NFS2. The series really lost me when it became all neon and techno-y. As far as console racing goes, Forza is all I need. P.S. NFS2 music/videos were awesome. << LINK REMOVED >>

Avatar image for harjyotbanwait

How did the PC version sell that low in the US? Less than the psp version. Unbelievable.

Avatar image for THA-TODD-BEAST

lil_z: If Most Wanted is the only one you ever bought, you're not in a situation to criticize the rest of the series or to be thankful it's the only one you ever bought. Several of the older games in the series were incredible.

Avatar image for gandaf007

@GOWzztrippinzz << LINK REMOVED >>

Avatar image for lil_z_95

last need for speed game i bought was most wanted now i see why its the only need for speed game i ever bought

Avatar image for THA-TODD-BEAST

Shift is a very solid game, even if it isn't like most of the other Need for Speed games. I would be lying if I were to say I don't miss driving down those country roads while being pursued by the cops, but at the same time, Shift is what really needed to happen in order for Need for Speed to regain its relevancy. If we were to have had another "Pro Street" or "Undercover," much money would have been lost and, regardless of the number of sales of past NFS titles, the series would have really been dead in the water. I just hope that with the success of Shift, they take the same solid driving fundamentals and transfer it into a game that is a bit more edgy with environments other than professional raceways and circuits. Seeing a return to the series' roots would be great.