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Need for Speed sales race past 100 million copies

October 21, 2009 |  6:00 am
Screen shot of Need for Speed Shift, released in September. Credit: Electronic Arts.

Need for Speed, Electronic Arts' racing franchise, has raced past the 100 million copies mark, making it one of the top five bestselling video game properties of all time. (The other four franchises in the elite 100-million club are the Sims, Mario, Pokemon and Grand Theft Auto.)

Developed in 1994, Need for Speed has evolved from a game made by a dozen developers to roughly 100 designers, programmers and perfectionists who obsess over cars. EA has cranked out 15 Need for Speed titles, but it wasn't until Need for Speed Underground came out in 2003 that sales got turbocharged. Since then, EA has moved 60 million copies of the game.

Over the years, the franchise has undergone a couple of remodels. The first came with Underground, which shifted the franchise away from "aspirational" Lamborghinis to street-style racers made from customized compacts and souped-up sedans. EA developers knew they had street cred when they began to see body shops build actual parts based on the game's vehicles.

And as computer graphics became ultra-realistic, even car manufacturers got into the act. Nissan, for example, used the game rendering of its 370Z sports car to help unveil the vehicle at last year's Los Angeles Auto Show.

The brand got its second makeover this year. 

"We started to develop different versions for different audiences," said Keith Munro, EA's vice president for global marketing. "We noticed we had fans who liked an authentic simulation experience. But we also had others who wanted an over-the-top arcade style with hyperbolized physics."

The goal: Develop three titles to address different audiences.

The first, Need for Speed: Shift, came out in September, catering to players who wanted an authentic, visceral racing simulation. In November, Need for Speed: Nitro will hit the street offering freewheeling arcade play. Developed for Nintendo's Wii console, Nitro is designed to be easy to pick up and play. And sometime next year, EA plans to open up Need for Speed: World Online, a free-to-play game with Hollywood style chase sequences.

There is fierce competition among racing games -- Gran Turismo, Project Gotham Racing and Forza Motorsport are all formidable franchises with their own ultra-loyal fans. EA is hoping that its three-pronged strategy will help drive sales of Need for Speed's next 100 million copies. On your mark....

-- Alex Pham

Follow my random thoughts on games, gear and technology on Twitter @AlexPham.