Forza Horizon Has Doubled Its Players with Each Sequel

By Mark Delaney,
Last week, US market research company the NPD Group released their sales numbers for September 2018. Gamers that follow the industry often use these figures to get a sense of how games are performing month to month and they often contain interesting pieces of information, like how GTA V has charted in the top ten in almost every month since it originally released five years ago. The past month's numbers reveal something rather incredible too, and backed by our own player data, it's apparent Forza Horizon is Xbox's unstoppable force.

Forza Horizon 4 Bond Pack

Forza Horizon 4 had its wide release on October 2nd (and we've got guides for all 55 achievements on the Forza Horizon 4 Achievements page), but for the proverbial "whales" among gaming consumers, the game was available as early as September 28th. Despite being out for just three days in September and the fact that for many people the economical choice was to wait for it to arrive on Game Pass after the weekend, FH4 broke the top ten for sales in the US, ranking at #7 in a very busy month, just behind the annually dominant Madden NFL according to the NPD Group. It also became Xbox's best-selling racing title in the brand's entire 15-year history, overtaking long-running series such as Need for Speed, Burnout, and even its own predecessor, the once unbeatable Forza Horizon 3.

The NPD figures are based on sales in dollars and not copies sold, so it's likely a great portion of the sales were pre-orders for the $100 Ultimate Edition, though surely some vanilla versions were bought too. This display of brand loyalty, for so many people to pre-order the priciest version of the game just days before it's included in Xbox Game Pass, which some portion of the buyers surely also subscribe to, reveals just how important the Forza series, and in particular the Horizon subseries, has become to Microsoft's first-party lineup.

Their approach has been quite different from Sony's to date. While PlayStation is home to many linear, cinematic, narrative-driven experiences such as God of War and Uncharted, the Xbox One's console exclusives have often been shared-world, "tools not rules" games such as Sea of Thieves and State of Decay 2: Juggernaut Edition. But where those other games have taken hits critically, Forza Horizon remains a shining beacon of excellence for the brand. Its rise to becoming one of the most important brands for Xbox, up there today almost toe-to-toe with Halo and Gears, is undeniable.

This trend is exemplified with our unique site data which shows off an impressive multiplying effect in the number of players each game in the Forza Horizon series has had over its predecessor. The graph below compares player counts at different intervals for each game in the subseries since their respective launches. You'll notice the number of players at every step of the way has almost always doubled and sometimes even tripled for the game that came before it at similar intervals. Where the original Horizon had about 4,000 players after one week, Horizon 2 had almost 12,000. Horizon 3 followed with nearly 33,000, and this year's Horizon 4 sat at 63,000 after just seven days.

That trend continues even to the present day. At the time of writing, it's been about three weeks since the latest sequel arrived in full, and the same trends apply historically to the series. Horizon had about 10,000 players after three weeks, FH2 had 16,000, FH3 had just under 40,000, and FH4 today sits impressively with 82,000 and counting. This figure increases by about several hundred to 1,000 per day here on TA, which is of course just a portion of the overall Xbox player count, so it's safe to say the latest game is well on its way to becoming the most critically and commercially successful game in the series to date, by any metric, and a crucial part of the first-party lineup for Xbox moving forward.

It will be interesting to look at the sales charts again for October as the NPD Group does not factor in Game Pass players like we do here, so however the game does on that next monthly chart, we'll know it has nothing to do with Game Pass. Even then, it seems Game Pass has not affected sales much given our comparisons of early access players for both the third and fourth games in the series, which is when Forza Horizon started doing early launch windows. As you'll see below, the numbers for early access did drop noticeably between the third and fourth games, but maybe not as much as one would expect. Microsoft has done well to educate their players on what Game Pass is and offers, so for a great number of them to subscribe and still buy the expensive version of Forza Horizon 4 at launch points to an enthusiasm that the green team really needs right now. Playground Games' open-world racer has become the Xbox MVP over the past three years, and it feels like it's only just hitting its stride.

While we await the two biggest titles of Microsoft's catalog in Halo Infinite and Gears 5, as well as the bounty of upcoming games from their newly acquired first-party studios such as Ninja Theory and Playground's second studio (the one making Fablewink wink), it's apparent Microsoft's hottest property is the Forza Horizon series. For a racing game to have this much reach feels especially notable, as it's far from the usual home run fare of third-person action adventure gaming that most regularly dominates the sales charts. Where Forza Horizon goes from here, we can only wait and see, but there seems to be nowhere to go but up.
Mark Delaney
Written by Mark Delaney
Mark is a Boston native now living in Portland, Oregon. He has written for GameSkinny, Gamesradar and the Official Xbox Magazine. He runs the family-oriented gaming site Game Together.