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 wms14

some information are not true, most wanted was the most played nfs but not sold 16m as they said, the game got around 6m of units only in brazil, how they sold 2 times more than US and how was sold more games that times than was available? because was pirated games, most wanted sold less than 5m around the world if we check every ship and air delivery, but the numbers increased violently when arrived the stores, obviously the game got a lot of fake copy, and most wanted got this number in years, even pro street sold more, with 5.5m in one year, how hell they said 2.4 if the official status from 2007 to 2008 shows 5.5m...

they said it just to please the mass, but the game not made all this success, they lied.

Avatar image for jonathanfinchum

My favorites are- Underground 2, Undercover, and Hot Pursuit. Most Wanted is ok. It had some issues with combined pedals. The graphics on Carbon are horrible. I have a GeForce 580 and the video still looks like cheeze console graphics on this game. Its also too much arcade. The Run was way too difficult- even on easy. Shift 2, Underground 1 and Pro Street were kinda boring. Word has it that Nvidia is teaming up with EA on the new Most Wanted with a 3D graphic engine like the one used in Mafia II. Can't wait to stand on the gas in SLI 3D!

Avatar image for bloodyruben

nfs III hotpursuit, high stakes, underground and most wanted are the best ever! i never get bored of those games they still being better than newer ones.

Avatar image for Venom_injektion

Same here, I also believe the NFS formula should stay focused on street racing. The series just would NOT be the same without it. Realistic Simulation is not the way for EA to go. My personal NFS favorites have always been NFS:U1 and NFS:U2. Then when Most Wanted came out, with it's story based, adrenaline filled street fury, it just took the racing genre to a whole new level, sky high.

Avatar image for ballroomwest

When will they listen?! I've read over 20 posts from different fans all saying they want NFS to get back to the arcade fun filled cop chase/open world mission/story based stuff! NOBODY WANTS REALISTIC BORING SIMULATIONS GOING AROUND ONE TRACK AT A TIME. THEY WANT FUN! I bought PRO-Street played it for 20 mins, never played it again. I won't even consider buying Shift/Nitro for a second, no matter how amazing the graphics might look, it's not all about visuals. NFS-Undercover was good and a welcome return to form, so why don't they just stick to what WORKS and what the fans WANT and just continue to improve it in terms of graphics/tech etc but leaving the formula as is!!

Avatar image for W3En

@daanyall I agree. I still play Underground 2 and Most Wanted. Too bad they're going with a simulation racer instead of an arcade one.

Avatar image for Daanyal

By the way, Most Wanted 2 and Underground 3 should come out. They would by awesome.

Avatar image for Daanyal

I'm only 10 and I've had every game in the NFS series dating back to The Need For Speed 2. I liked Most Wanted on the PC, Carbon on the PC, ProStreet on the Xbox 360 and I'm gonna get Shift on the Xbox 360 because the One HD Shift Challenge convinced me that Shift was awesome.

Avatar image for hotrider12

from a friend work at gamestop criterions need for speed will be like shift like game?????? i personally was hopeing on the line of hot pursuit 2

Avatar image for shaharyars

I played all versions of NFS but most likely is Pro Street after halfway game completed got really challenging , NFS Most Wanted also the best one but NFS 2-SE was one outstanding and EVERGREEN

Avatar image for ferrisLOL

dont know about u guys, but my fav NFS was hot pursuit 2. nothing beats outrunning cops in your silver ferrari,

Avatar image for fmacraze

only played carbon. never beat it tho

Avatar image for jedikevin2

Shift on on all the systems was sooo bad until it all got patched. Cars not moving, people walking through cars, cars getting stuck to walls, bouncing cars. Glad the game was good enough to keep folks playing the game.

Avatar image for Terrencec06

Shift is ok, but I really miss the street racing. (just like everyone else)

Avatar image for steelmouth

ma affair with NFS ended on the last generation when i still had the ps2 after the 360 i never looked back, i agree NFS is best on the street (NFS MW) if they can bring that back maybe i will give forza and PGR a break and go back to the original game that got me hooked on racing games (excluding those old old 2D arcade games)

Avatar image for iiIsSueZ

GIVE US UNDERGROUND 3 ALREADY! Underground 2 is still my favourite racing game of all time, and by far my favourite PS2 game ever. I probably spent more time on that game than I did on all my other games put together. As already said by thousands, NFS is at it's best by far when it's on the streets. Leave the pro racing to Gran Turismo and Forza.

Avatar image for tat2pap

nfs all the way but it must be out in the streets not inside the stadium

Avatar image for firehawk998

Ok heres the thing I like NFS for its arcade racing. I didnt like shift it wasnt good compared to Forza and GT. They should do what the series was good for provide Fast and furious type gameplay and missions. The reason Shift wasnt good IMO was that where to create a realistic racing sim it takes years NFS shift was finished very quickly compared to Forza and GT. To sum it up : EA DONT MAKE NFS A PRO RACING GENRE TO WHAT IT BECAME FAMOUS FOR FUN ARCADE RACING.

Avatar image for HerbalVideogame

Man my nose hairs can get long...

Avatar image for chickenchap

This pro racing stuff sucks on NFS, it's fine with other games but NFS was better when it was street racing.

Avatar image for playette22

just one question who keeps buying these games? after underground and most wanted they lost me and alot of others, who are buying these games

Avatar image for drangel_jam


Avatar image for supersonikk

They really stumbled over the 100m milestone with the last three games.

Avatar image for CTR360

need for speed shift its fantastic looking game the control of the cars its crap too bad

Avatar image for KrazzyDJ

Although I like Shift for the PC (remember the PC doesn't have a Forza or a Gran Turismo), and hope it does well enough to help toe Need For Speed Franchise, I sincerely hope that it does not do so well that it causes EA to abandon the Most Wanted styled Arcade racers forever. Despite them being over the top and criticized by many, I really enjoy playing them (to this date) and believe there's tremendous scope for EA to improve on that style of racing as well.

Avatar image for GameFan1983

100million???? wow, that's even bigger than the entire final fantasy franchises combined. These game has tiny budgets compare to big name titles, with these money, no wonder EA has such strong foundation to dash out garbage games every other month without quality control cause there are enough morons willing to donate their money.

Avatar image for jaymib

Underground and Most wanted are still the best Need for speed games in my books, I think when they pulled away from that, they lost something, maybe its time for need for speed: Most wanted 2.

Avatar image for ferrarimanf355

Porsche Unleashed UNDERPERFORMED? Sometimes I hate the gaming community for their sheepish buying habits...

Avatar image for BtmnHatesRbn

Really? 100 million? Strange, but I know more people who own Cruis'n Exotica on N64 CURRENTLY than I know any of my 200 gamer friends who even own a Need for Speed title. Ah, CNET, always making up information and the phony sources to go along with it.

Avatar image for phantom1593

just put a minigun on the hood and a rocket launcher on the roof... mix some crazy cops car in and just go BOOM thru them and your competition.... cops+tuned cars+big guns+mass destruction+high-speed chases/racing=the best nfs

Avatar image for DeathProofDelta

Sales went down the toilet after most wanted because they were all rubbish after that, underground 1&2 were very good too but carbon, prostreet and undercover are just plain poor (in my opinion). Im not even gonna bother with shift.

Avatar image for ESGC82

@TheProphetD I totally agree with you. NFS Porsche Unleashed was the best in the NFS series ever. Currently the best arcade are Grid and Shift, which I liked mostly because of the sound effects. The best simulator is Forza. As a PS3 gamer, let's hope GT5 will be worth it.

Avatar image for fps_d0minat0r

@ Racer850 wot u laughing at? GT5 looks and feels the most realistic.......isnt that that characteristics of a "sim"? if your making a decision based on a prologue almost 2 years old then laugh at your self. shift doesnt even have head tracking, how lame......

Avatar image for Racer850

@playahater1 GT5 a sim? LMFAO ROFLCOPTER.

Avatar image for playahater1

If you want a simulation racer, wait for GT5 next year. If you want an arcade/simulation, get Grid or Forza. And if you are insane, get Shift.

Avatar image for deactivated-57fce817a4cf5

Ah now this is the kind of forum I enjoy. Lots of worthwhile opinions and none of the fanboyism. It is refreshing.

Avatar image for SonicDBZRacer

Shift doesn't look good, it looks like another Pro Street, which I hated. Nitro looks way better. I love Most Wanted the best, it's awesome. The two Underground games are also awesome. Undercover was good/decent. Carbon was meh.

Avatar image for 2pac_makaveli

they shoulda stuck to the most wanted type of gameplay, istead of spewing out terrible cheaply fast done squeals like carbon and undercover and actually put time and work into it. nfs fans like cops chases and sweet customization options not a grand trismo/pgr/fortza knockoff.

Avatar image for TheProphetD

NFS Porsche Unleashed was the BEST!

Avatar image for lukeymonw

Shift was one of the buggiest games I ever bought. I would be interested to see the trade in rates on it. Just peruse their forums to see the magnatude of the bugs and problems. It would have been awesome in my opinion, if it weren't to for the rampant bugs. A plan for a patch was finally posted on NFS's forums the other day, but its still a long way off. Forza 3 will have been out a few weeks prior to the patch. Yeah it was an ambitious reboot, but it was executed sloppily.

Avatar image for AngelCage-2

Note to EA: you wanna launch a Midblowing critical&comercial success Need for Speed??? Well, take what you did on Most Wanted. infuse high quantity of steroids, make everything bigger, better and cooler; make a Burnout-Style car destruction engine, forget about ferraris and that kind of crap (we want to destroy the opponent/police cars, not scratch the paint of a expensive luxury car) and give us the chance to play as cops in a high-weigh Rhino -From MW-, make an incredible destructible world to race and crash and make other crash and you will have a winner. Everyone want that... That's a winner Need for Speed to me. Let the racing simulation bussines to the people who knows about that.

Avatar image for lilmurfer

GT5 forever only

Avatar image for sleepnsurf

Game was not that good. Forza 3 now!

Avatar image for Propaganda_

Mind-blowing news! Need for Speed is colossal.

Avatar image for Virtual_Erkan

Hot Pursuit 2 and Most Wanted was the best one for me

Avatar image for DJK11

go back to Most Wanted or farther back Hot pursuit 2. if i wanted to play a simulation racing game i would go buy Forza not NFS i wanna be able to run from cops. get ur crap straight EA.

Avatar image for Binarynova

Most Wanted was the last good one, and I finally finished it. But the best was, and still is, Hot Pursuit. My brother and I still miss being able to play as the police chasing down the racers. And every time a new NFS game comes out, that's what my brother asks, "Can we play as the cops?" "No." "Ok, then nevermind."

Avatar image for Grimreaper78999

@gnrlstuart Its never been all about free roaming. Hot pusuit wasnt and that was one of the best games for NFS, neither has it been about styling your car, once again HP wasnt. It was about the experience of racing on commercial roads, illegally. Only recently have they added "go to your track if you want to race, and wear a seatbelt". Now EA are more focused on making money, not making games and Keith Munro is a good example of a business man. Not once did he say anything bad about the games, even though the reviews of shift were no where near "outstanding". In fact, they were mediocre, so you can ignore anything that he says about NFS being a great racing game now. Bring back the classic NFS games.

Avatar image for gshell

the best buy price drop was the only reason why i bought shift new....usually i buy used