Just like death and taxes, you can usually rely on a Call of Duty game to top the sales charts each year. The various entries in Activision’s warfare simulation franchise have mostly done just that, going all the way back to 2009. This year’s a bit different. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III has fallen to second place, as reported by media research firm Circana.
According to the list, Hogwarts Legacy topped the charts for 2023, selling around 22 million copies. This is despite the not insignificant controversy the game generated, both by its association with franchise creator JK Rowling — who has leveraged her celebrity position to espouse anti-trans views — but also tropes within the game itself which some (but not all) saw as drawing from antisemitic caricatures. Still, fans had been waiting for a high-quality AAA game set at the wizarding school for decades and Hogwarts Legacy delivered on the promise of a true open-world Harry Potter title. The sales obviously reflect that.
As a matter of fact, there have been only two other occasions in which Call of Duty was knocked from first place. Those were the years in which Grand Theft Auto V (2013) and Red Dead Redemption 2 (2018) were released. Both Rockstar titles absolutely dominated the conversation upon launch, becoming bona-fide cultural touchstones. Hogwarts Legacy, while very good, hasn’t approached that level of buzz, so maybe this data illustrates that players are finally getting sick of Call of Duty, or maybe it's just that Modern Warfare III wasn’t a particularly inspiring entry.
There’s also the Hyrule-sized elephant in the room. Circana’s list puts The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom as the number five top seller of 2023, but Nintendo keeps its eShop numbers close to the vest, so the list only includes digital sales data up to September. In other words, there’s around four months of sales data missing here, which we won’t get until the company releases quarterly revenue information at the end of the month.
It’s possible that Tears of the Kingdom will end up on top when all is said and done: it's sales figures (19.5 million copies) are a mere 2.5 million units away from dethroning Hogwarts Legacy, and that's without the four months of sales that include the holiday season.
Other top sellers include Madden NFL 24 at number three and Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 at number four. Interestingly, 2022’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 actually took the number seven spot. Finally, there’s the game that will sell forever and ever until the heat death of the universe. Mario Kart 8 came in at number 19, but also without digital data from September onward.