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 cometkd

i bought shift, i have not bought any of the need for speed's since. except the one one on ps2 when owned a ps2 need for speed undercover. and i LOVE need for speed SHIFT!!! good news good job on this game. now just add more dwn loads for cars, and maps! and more tiers to get or go after!

Avatar image for Cyclonus86

Have not touched GRID since the release of NFS Shift, I wish they would release a patch so we can upgrade tier 4's cars. This is good news for them as Shift is a good racing game. Sequel with DX11 for PC?

Avatar image for BDK-Soft

Shift blows.

Avatar image for BlackSnake_

nfs shift is cool game,but the formula of nfs apears to disaper even more whit this game,they need to put what make the series good,undergound or a game whit cops but whit ilegal races and good history.

Avatar image for DonTonyDeluca

Shift was a good game, im glad it did well, it deserved it.

Avatar image for Patrick_Kenzie

Criterion games will be the next NFS?! Count me in.

Avatar image for ShadowBass989

most wanted was amazing!!!

Avatar image for TristanH12

Need for Speed Shift is awesome, its good to see it place in the top 20th.

Avatar image for deactivated-594be627b82ba

i never could understand how anyone like the need for speed series, but congrats to ea

Avatar image for nini200

I'm getting both games but I'm actually more excited for NFS Nitro. It finally took NFS back to it's roots as an arcade racer. NFS' best game to me was NFS Hot Pursuit. Most Wanted was awesome too though. Nitro reminds me alot of NFS Hot Pursuit as far as the speed factor and such. Shift looks great too but isn't what NFS started out as, it does look great but it doesn't scream NFS, it screams Gran Turismo. Either way, I'm getting them both, and still waiting for Genki and Crave to bring me another Tokyo Extreme Racer game. Those are my favorite racing games.

Avatar image for Sw0rDMaN

Shift rocks :D But i remember playing NFS 2 back in the days it was awesome ;)

Avatar image for PaulChristie

@green dominator I agree. I mean, does anyone STILL like drift racing?

Avatar image for dkslade

the way those numbers are going means Need For Speed NEXT will sell under 500,000 copies. EA " Its In The DLC "

Avatar image for GOWzztrippinzz

What are the other 3 games to sell over 100 million; Sims, NFS, I'm assuming the Warcraft series but could be wrong...what else?

Avatar image for luc11044

I love NFS Shift!

Avatar image for halBU

I played Need For Speed on my 3DO more times than I can count. It was such a fresh take on racing at the time.

Avatar image for green_dominator

Shift is a good game, if they just could have dropped the drift racing the title would have been a ton better..... The whole Car duel was fun in and of itself.... Looking back even at Underground Shift doesn't have the same number of upgrades but it's still a good game..... Forza 3 is without a doubt going to be better, Frankly I'm sick of arcade racing.....Midnight Club, Burnout and all the others can go, I'm not saying completely leave the industry because someone out there likes it but I'm done with them.... I like the options Forza gives in the cars and upgrades and paint schemes..... Need For Speed can do so much and the series deserves better than it's been getting.....

Avatar image for Flint247

I remember playing the first NFS on Saturn. Good times. I also liked the Underground series.

Avatar image for GeneralHawx

Kudos to you EA!

Avatar image for spudster007

They're gonna run out of names soon. Maybe we'll start seeing Need for Speed 2011 etc...

Avatar image for alexLmx6

its a great milestone sure, but it doesn't take away from the fact that the last few installments have been terrible, one starts to feel that they're not even trying anymore, just hoping people will buy whatever they put out because it says need for speed on the box

Avatar image for deactivated-5cd05fa50bb7d

Congrats NFS but..... To be honest the last one I did ENJOY was the Need 4 Speed UnderGround on the PS2 was actually worth playing.

Avatar image for admiral_picard

Wow, the last hope for the NFS series is the online one. Knowing EA though, it'll fall short of the greatness it could be but hopefully it will be good enough to be fun. Shift just felt cheap and quickly made with all the stupidly obvious glitches and bugs and the shoddy handling physics and over-sensitive controls. The fact that they keep trying to turn NFS into this race track racer like Forza and Gran Turismo is unsettling - NFS was always about racing on public roads. I still remember the police detector in the first game and getting pulled over by the cops - so much fun to try and avoid being busted. NFS was the only game series that did this, if I wanted a track racer I'd buy Forza or Gran Turismo. Nitro is irrelevant as it's just a Wii game so Online is the last hope for any serious old school NFS fans - the pictures make it look a lot like Most Wanted and Carbon which isn't bad at all. We can only wait and hope for the best though.

Avatar image for gatsbythepig

That title is ridiculously misleading.

Avatar image for FalcoLX

@chico_azteca Most wanted was FAR from a racing sim. The NFS games are definitely not sim racers, but I guess you can't be blamed if you had a gamecube. You can't be expected to know any better since there aren't any good sim racers on Nintendo consoles.

Avatar image for FalcoLX

Most wanted was the best one. Not many games do chases well, but that one nailed it.

Avatar image for DarknessLion

Congrats NFS

Avatar image for Inconnux

The series started out well, but has fallen into the 'EA yearly update' series of mediocre games... splitting it into 3 games has just tripled the mediocrity.

Avatar image for BloodMist

It's all too bad the series has suffered from Madden-itis and hasn't actually been all that good in many, many years.But it still keeps sellin anyway.The last one i felt was truly excellent and well polished was Hot Pursuit 2.Yeah, it's been awhile.

Avatar image for joshboy101

Most wanted pursuit pursuit 2 was my favorite

Avatar image for Tauu

Need For Speed 3: Hot Pursuit is my favorite. It actually has split screen multiplayer. Whatever happened to that?

Avatar image for brian_13un

I also prefer Underground and Most Wanted ^_^

Avatar image for PumpkinBoogie

@MasterTheHero, I agree completely frankly I'm not really interested in 'Shift', the fact that they are trying to make it like some sort of GT/Forza type of racer is really not impressing me, after all that is WHAT I love to play GT for (and will be getting GT5 to do). I actually love the street racing element and even the police chases that were in previous versions. The last NFS I actually remembered playing was Most Wanted and the last ones I owned where Underground 1 & 2, other than that, NFS series has been a major disappointment in the last few years (it's no wonder I've hopped over to Rock Star's Midnight Club series).

Avatar image for Chico_Azteca

the last one i bought was Wanted for the Gamecube never liked "real simulation" racing games but that one was great

Avatar image for Guimengo1

Calling NFS: Shift a hardcore racing sim is very laughable... I feel this series hit its peak circa 2002/2003 in the entertainment/driving skill area.

Avatar image for Frassonite

a série need for speed, teve um pouco de mistura porque acredito que os criadores ficam com duavidas no que vão fazer, uma ano eles fazem um Need For Speed de perseguição (NFSMW, e um pouco de Carbom), no outro é um NFS de só corrida (NFSPS), no ano seguinte voltam com NFS de perseguição, acho qui os criadores estão meio perdidos de que fazer, e NFS Shift está mais para GTR ou Gran Turismo...

Avatar image for nate_c-12

My first and last nfs title was most wanted.

Avatar image for monson21502

cool. now go make a old style nfs. it will sell alot better then your past 5 crappers.

Avatar image for EPaul

Ah NFS i remember some of the great older titles like Porsche Unleashed and Hot Pursuit II

Avatar image for Kenbo325

Big congrats to EA! :)

Avatar image for ScreamDream

Congrats to EA. Need for Speed Hot Pursuit 2 was my favorite. Loved the music and the scenery.

Avatar image for _Margulis_

My favorite would have to be the long forgotten Need For Speed: Motor City. Other than that the only one I even remotely liked was NFS:Most Wanted.

Avatar image for MasterTheHero

Who plays Need For Speed to have a hard core racing simulation experience? They already have Forza and Gran Turismo to give you pure realism. My favorite NFS was High Stakes because you could play as the Police and chase your friends down or deploy spike strips to take them out. NFS had the most variety in tracks, cars, and the ability to play as the police is sorely lacking. I could just imagine that playing as the police in Most Wanted would have been an excellent experience for Online play or Local. The "Shift" into the new NFS highly disappoints me and definitely influenced me not buying it. Especially because of the terrible demo they released on the PC that just left a bad taste in my mouth. They need to stick with what they do best, create arcade over the top racers in exotic locales with exotic cars. Not go this sim route when other games do it better than they do.

Avatar image for gerygo

well all know Porsche Unleashed and Most Wanted are the best in the series, specially Most Wanted IMO

Avatar image for moose_knuckler

Although I loved Hot Pursuit, I gotta give the crown to my fav Underground 2. Something about the added variety made it awesome.

Avatar image for razor990

I only got truly into Most Wanted...

Avatar image for Wojcha

Underground and MW are the best ones for me. Shift sucked though.

Avatar image for coldsauce09

NFS is an arcade racing simulation game and thats how they got their sales.. trying to go with the realistic side is not their specialty.. forza and GT could have made better.

Avatar image for raahsnavj

I only played High Stakes because it came free with one of the sound cards I bought for the PC. It was ok, and I played it a lot. I haven't bothered much with the series since though because I always put it on a "next year I'll get it" list, but they come out with another one before I get to it... so I put it on the list... endless cycle where I just never bother with the series.

Avatar image for king_chapeton15

whoever bought nfs shift for the xbox360 over forza3 is absolutely stupid im a ps3 guy but i tried forza 2 at a friends house and i got to say that its a really good racing game for the xbox360. but ill be waiting for gran turismo 5 though