The Witcher 3 outgrossed some of 2017's biggest games because it's just that good

2017 was a hard year for some high-profile singleplayer games, and there was more than a little hand-wringing that the genre as we know it might be dying, replaced by 'games as a service.' We argued that in fact they're not dying, just changing, but it's easy to look at Steam's highest earning games of 2017 and spot the commonalities. Free to play mechanics, skins and loot boxes and crates and keys, all play a major part in 'living' games like Rainbow Six: Siege,Warframe,PUBG and Dota 2. And then there's The Witcher 3, which doesn't have any of that shit. And it's still raking in the dough.

The Witcher 3 was released on May 19, 2015, almost four years to the day after The Witcher 2 first hit PC. By the end of summer, it had sold more than six million copies across PC and consoles. That was only a little surprising, because The Witcher 3 is an incredible game—it was good enough, and big enough, to lure in players who'd never touched the series before. A year later, CD Projekt put the final touches on the Blood & Wine expansion and a Game of the Year re-release. And that, a bit more surprisingly, was enough to make The Witcher 3 the second-best selling PC game on Steam in all of 2016.

In the year after its release, it made more money in gross revenue than the new Doom, Call of Duty: Black Ops 3, Stardew Valley, Rise of the Tomb Raider, and other huge games released in late 2015 and throughout 2016. That made The Witcher 3 a 'Platinum" seller. Valve jumbled the games in each tier, so it's hard to know exactly where The Witcher 3 ranked, but it was up there with Dark Souls 3 and Fallout 4 and The Division. Impressive legs, Geralt, but not truly shocking.

But here's what I just can't get over. Valve recently  put together another list of Steam's top 100 games, by gross revenue which covered 2017. And The Witcher 3 is still on it. And not just in the top 100. It's still in the platinum tier! Up there with Dota 2 and Rocket League and Warframe, which sell in-game items by the virtual truckload, and PUBG, which sold more than 20 million copies in 2017. 

No new expansion, no re-release. The Witcher 3 apparently doesn't need those things to keep selling. It's in that ludicrously elite tier of games now, along with the likes of Grand Theft Auto and Mario Kart, that simply keeps selling year after year. And who knows how well The Witcher 3 has sold on GOG, the platform that CD Projekt owns? 

For two and a half years, The Witcher 3 has held onto a spot as one of the PC's best selling games. And that's sure as hell not easy, but I do think the reasons for its success are simple: CD Projekt made one of the best RPGs of all time, and then immediately improved upon it with weeks of patches and free DLC, followed by two meaty, fairly priced expansions. Not every great singleplayer game will find that kind of success, of course. There's no guarantee that a new triple-A game, with no loot boxes or in-game stores or season passes will capture such a large audience.

But at a time when so many of us are sick of all those things, it's encouraging to know that 'games as a service' elements aren't the only way to keep players engaged, and to keep a game relevant, for years. For The Witcher 3, it was sheer quality.

Or maybe it was just the tub.

Wes Fenlon
Senior Editor

Wes has been covering games and hardware for more than 10 years, first at tech sites like The Wirecutter and Tested before joining the PC Gamer team in 2014. Wes plays a little bit of everything, but he'll always jump at the chance to cover emulation and Japanese games.

When he's not obsessively optimizing and re-optimizing a tangle of conveyor belts in Satisfactory (it's really becoming a problem), he's probably playing a 20-year-old Final Fantasy or some opaque ASCII roguelike. With a focus on writing and editing features, he seeks out personal stories and in-depth histories from the corners of PC gaming and its niche communities. 50% pizza by volume (deep dish, to be specific).