The video game industry is a bigger business now than its ever been. Just this past month NPD reported that gamers spent over $300 million on games just at retail in the US alone. And it was a slow month!
As much as it is a business however, that business is built entirely on what we all love, playing games. And whether they are selling like crazy or an indie-sleeper, it’s undeniable that there is just something special about the right game. And it’s something wonderfully unique to the games industry that it is usually great games that receive the most attention. And with that in mind, there is a reason some franchises are as massively well-known and loved as they are.
Though sometimes it’s difficult to find exact sales figures for games, most publishers not announcing them, we can still get a pretty good idea of how things stand. So, in the interest of looking at why some games are as beloved as they are, here’s the top ten best-selling game series of all time.
10) Mario Kart – 107.31 million copies sold
Let’s get something out of the way first. Mario, on his own, taking into account everything from Mario Kart and Super Mario to Mario RPG, is the single best-selling game character ever. The Mario flag is staked at the top of a monstrous pile of over 500 million sold games. The Mario Kart franchise alone however, makes up a solid portion of that.
With eight console and handheld games in the series, along with three arcade games, Mario and the rest of the gang have been racing since Super Mario Kart in 1992 on the SNES. And best of all, with the release of the staggeringly beautiful Mario Kart 8 in 2014 the series doesn’t look to be giving up any time soon.
Combining the whimsical fun of Mario with surprisingly well-designed racing mechanics, Mario Kart has stayed a favorite for Nintendo fans for years. Here at Gamepsresso, we even just recently ran through our top 10 Mario Kart tracks ever.
9) Final Fantasy – Over 110 million copies sold
With a staggering 48 titles in the franchise, Final Fantasy has come to define RPGs for many gamers. First released on the NES all the way back in 1987, Final Fantasy was originally thought to be the last game Square would ever make as the company faced bankruptcy. Due to the game’s outstanding success however, the company rebounded, and went onto create the limitless fantasies so many have grown to love.
You only need to look at the still palpable fervor surrounding Final Fantasy XV, the continued success of the MMO Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, or the unparalleled excitement of longtime fans when it comes to the Final Fantasy VII remake, to know how important the franchise is to modern gaming. Square Enix is even holding an entire Final Fantasy event later this month, just to announce the release date for Final Fantasy XV.
8) Wii Sports – 115.59 million copies sold
Much like Mario, the Wii titled group of games was an enormous success, just like the Wii itself. Coming out of nowhere, with weird motion controls, and one of the stranger names to ever be slapped on a console, no one really knew what to expect of the Wii. But Wii Sports went a long way to convincing us all, and soon the Nintendo Wii became the best-selling console ever with over 100 million consoles sold.
While the Wii titled games as a whole (Wii Sports, Wii Fit, etc.) managed over 200 million in sales, the Wii Sports series was the biggest contributor. With the original released in 2006, and a sequel in the form of Wii Sports Resort releasing in 2009, it taught us all how much fun getting up in front of our TVs actually could be. Suddenly, ads that showed parents, and even grandparents, playing games with their kids became a mainstay, and the general appeal of what games could be, and could do, skyrocketed.
7) Need for Speed – Over 150 million copies sold
One of the most successful and prolific racing franchise in gaming history, there have been a grand total of two dozen different Need for Speed games since 1994. Making things a little difficult however, EA has not announced sales figures since just before the launch of 2013’s Need for Speed Rivals, a launch title for the current generation of consoles. So while 150 million copies is confirmed, that number is likely much higher when counting Rivals and last year’s newest entry, simply titled Need for Speed.
The franchise has been so successful, it even received a movie adaptation in 2014, staring Braking Bad’s Aaron Paul. While the movie did little to impress, the franchise as a whole is still impressive all on its own.
6) The Sims – Over 175 million copies sold
With four main games and 28 total expansions, not to mention multiple spin-offs like The Sims Online, The Sims franchise has been a PC juggernaut ever since it first launched in 2000, a spin-off itself of the Sim City franchise first started in 1989. With the last confirmed sales numbers coming before the release of Sims 4 (which went on to be the best-selling PC game of 2014) it’s impossible to ignore the massive success of the franchise as a whole.
Created by Will Wright, the Sims games are simulation sandboxes that allow players to simply play out the day-to-day lives of the characters they create. The idea for the series apparently came after Wright lost his home in a fire and was forced to rebuild his life from the ground up.
5) Grand Theft Auto – Over 220 million copies sold
With GTA V still a mainstay on sales charts even years after its initial release in 2013, there is no denying Grand Theft Auto resonates with fans. Last year, when GTA V surpassed 50 million copies, Take-Two reported the franchise as a whole, with twelve different entries and dating back to 1997, had sold over 220 million.
When they first launched back on PC and PS1, Grand Theft Auto 1 and 2 were both actually in 2D. It wasn’t until Grand Theft Auto III in 2001 that the games introduced the 3D open worlds that the series is now known for.
4) Call of Duty – 250 million copies sold
All sales number aside, it is a simple fact that no other franchise has dominated modern gaming quite like Call of Duty. With twelve games in the main series, various ports, and even a helping of handheld games, Call of Duty has been scratching that first-person shooter itch since 2003. A WWII shooter through its first three installments, the series had its first massive, breakaway hit in the form of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare in 2007.
Though notorious now for being an annualized franchise, it’s worth noting that its nothing new, there has actually been a new Call of Duty release every single year since Call of Duty 2 in 2005. Now traded off between three separate studios, Infinity Ward (Modern Warfare, Ghosts), Treyarch (Black Ops), and Sledgehammer (Advanced Warfare), it’s a fair bet that Call of Duty will still be blasting its way into our hands for years to come. And why not? Be sure to check which Call of Duty maps made our list of the top 7 first-person shooter maps ever made.
3) Pokémon – 271.53 million copies sold
Though it premiered in Japan in the years before, Pokémon made its grand debut in the West in the form of Pokémon Red and Blue in 1998. And since then, it has grown more than anyone could have ever expected. Now with 24 games just in the core series, Pokémon sparked the 1997 anime that is not only still ongoing but has recently passed its 900th episode. The franchise has also inspired a theme park, a musical, a trading card game, and the anime has spawned a total of 18 movies.
Whether you always had trouble remembering the names of all 150 of the original Pokémon, or you somehow know all 722 Pokémon that now exist in the games, chances are even a hint of the music, or the flash of a Pokéball bursting open holds a very special place in your heart. Hoping to pull those specific, nostalgia-rich strings, Nintendo recently rereleased the three first games, Red, Blue, and Yellow for the series’ 20th anniversary. And if that wasn’t enough, the next two games in the series, Pokémon Sun and Moon, were also just announced.
2) Super Mario – 310 million copies sold
As was mentioned before, there is simply no video game character nearly as successful as Nintendo’s Mario. Though the creation of Mario dates all the way back to “Jumpman” in Donkey Kong in 1981, and Mario’s singular role as a villain in Donkey Kong Jr. in 1982, the first Super Mario platformer landed in 1985 on the NES.
Since then there has been 19 games in the series, the most recent being last year’s Super Mario Maker. Curious how much we loved it? Check out our review.
Combining lovable, unique characters, the zaniness of being in a mushroom kingdom, and addictive platforming, Super Mario established a formula that it has continued to build on to this day. Be it in 2D or 3D, with friends or solo, players still haven’t grown tired of jumping around as the little Italian plumber.
1) Tetris – Roughly 500 million copies sold
And that brings us to the single best-selling game ever. Not what you expected? Well, keep in mind that “best-selling” does not necessarily mean the most financially lucrative. A lower price point aside, Tetris has sold more copies than any other game franchise out there. While it might not seem like a massive franchise, the truth is you’d be hard pressed to find anyone, gamer or non-gamer alike, that hasn’t at least played Tetris.
Developed by Russian video game designer Alexey Pajitnov with support from his friend Vladimir Pokhilko in 1984, Tetris was the first entertainment software exported from the USSR to the US. Even as it was bundled with every Nintendo Gameboy, the massive success of Tetris was only getting started. Interestingly enough however, even with that success, Pajitnov was technically working for the Russian government when creating the game, meaning the Kremlin collected the royalties while he continued to receive his standard salary until he immigrated to the US in 1991.
While Tetris sold around 35 million copies on the Gameboy alone, according to Henk Rodgers, the man responsible for bring the game West, it has sold a staggering 425 million copies since it was rereleased on mobile in 2006. On consoles, PC, and mobile platforms of every kind, Tetris is everywhere.
Simple, but insanely addictive, very little has changed about the game over the years. And because of that, it continues to maintain the same incredible appeal. It is so addictive, Pajitnov himself has admitted to not being able to stop playing, even while still making the game.
So there you have it, the best-selling game series of all time. Were they different from what you expected? Let us know in the comments.