Video games have come a long way since the launch of the table tennis simulation game Pong in 1972. Gaming has grown into a prominent part of the entertainment industry, raking in as much as around $75 billion in revenues last year, while generating entire families of devices and consoles. In the industry’s existence of more than four decades, there are many notable, culture-defining games, but few as widespread and influential as the 15 games on this list. These seminal games have sold almost 1.10 billion copies on the aggregate, translating into billion, if not trillions, of dollars in sales. Here are the best-selling games of all time, ranked according to number of copies sold and paid downloads.
Grand Theft Auto IV
Launched 2008. 25 million copies sold.
Call of Duty: Black Ops
Launched: 2010. 26.2 million copies sold.
This first-person shooter video game set in the Cold War sold 5.6 million copies 24 hours after launch, accounting for 25% of all copies sold. This debut-day success led to more than $1 billion in sales for game distributor Activision Blizzard, also around 25% of the company’s total revenues for that year. Even those figures don’t make Black Ops the most lucrative game of the Call of Duty franchise.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
Launched 2011. 26.5 million copies sold.
The most lucrative Call of Duty title sold 6.5 million copies in the U.S. and U.K. 24 hours after launch, leading to $400 million in sales just for that day. Overall, the franchise has become a reliable source of income for Activision Blizzard, whose other properties include Guitar Hero, Warcraft, StarCraft, and even Candy Crush Saga from recent acquisition King Digital Entertainment.
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
Launched 2004. 27.5 million copies sold.
The best-selling PlayStation 2 game of all time is set in a fictional state reminiscent of California and Nevada. This game, which is the predecessor for Grand Theft Auto IV, earned critical acclaim for its music, story, and gameplay. Still, one more game from Take-Two Interactive Software eclipsed the two Grand Theft Auto games in terms of sales.
Launched 2006. 28.02 million copies sold.
The launch of the Nintendo Wii in 2006 introduced a new way of video console gameplay: the use of a stick that detects three-dimensional movement. Wii Play was launched with the console (except in North America), essentially as a demo game, or nine mini-games to be exact, for teaching the controls. It went on to become the fifth-best-selling Wii game of all time. Not bad for a demo.
New Super Mario Bros. Wii
Launched 2009. 29.32 million copies sold.
What is Nintendo without its iconic gaming property, the Mario franchise? This iteration, specially made for the Wii, sends Mario and his brother Luigi on a mission to save the kidnapped Princess Peach from Bowser and his minions, presumably for the 40th time. As a testament to the strength of the Mario brand, this game isn’t even the best-selling Mario game on Wii.
Launched 2012. 30 million copies sold.
Fans of the Diablo hack-and-slash video game franchise waited for more than a decade after the launch of Diablo II to play this game. And that long wait must have driven record-breaking sales of 12 million copies during the year the action role-playing game was launched, solidifying the franchise’s position in the Activision Blizzard slate of gaming properties
New Super Mario Bros
Launched 2006. 30.79 million copies sold.
It’s no surprise that one of the best-selling games exclusive to a handheld game console is a Mario game. The 30-million sales mark this game achieved is remarkable given that it is only playable at the Nintendo DS. Speaking of handheld game consoles, Nintendo is set to launch a new one: the Nintendo Switch. The device, a hybrid console that can either be used as a home console or a portable one, will be in stores starting March 2017.
Wii Sports Resort
Launched 2009. 32.80 million copies sold.
This game expands Wii gameplay into 12 sports activities: swordplay, wakeboarding, frisbee, archery, basketball, table tennis, golf, bowling, power cruising, canoeing, cycling, and air sports, all playable in a fictional resort. It was bundled with newer Wii consoles a few months after launch, which helped boost sale numbers; after all, the Wii sold 101.63 million units.
Mario Kart Wii
Launched 2008. 36.38 million copies sold.
This Mario-themed video game lets the player select a Mario series character to use in a competitive race that includes the use of items that boost the character or harms the opponent. The game was sold with a wheel accessory to be attached to the Wii remote for enhanced gameplay. Among games not bundled with the Wii, this game is the best-selling one.
Super Mario Bros
Launched 1985. 40.24 million copies sold.
Of course, no Mario game, no matter how fancy the new bells and whistles attached, will surpass the one that started it all. Super Mario Bros., regarded as “the greatest video game of all time,” was launched exclusively for the Nintendo Entertainment System, which itself was a success with 61.91 million units sold during the nascent gaming scene of the 1980s. The ground-breaking success of this game is still felt even now that the smartphone has replaced the handheld console. Super Mario Run, a smartphone game recently launched on the Apple App Store, has scored 2.85 million downloads just 24 hours after launch, handily beating out the 900,000-download record set by fellow Nintendo property Pokemon GO.
Grand Theft Auto V
Launched 2013. 70 million copies sold.
Dubbed as the fastest-selling entertainment product in history, the latest installment in the Grand Theft Auto franchise ended up selling more copies than the previous two versions combined. The five-year gap between versions and extensive marketing ploy has led to first-day sales of $800 million and three-day sales of $1 billion. So far, plans for the successor to this game remain under wraps.
Launched 2006. 82.78 million copies sold.
From the get-go, Wii Sports is bundled with the Wii in most markets as a showcase of the motion-sensing capabilities of the console. Activities in the game included simulations of baseball, bowling, boxing, golf, and tennis, all done through the Wii remote. But even if most of the sales numbers come from the bundling with the Wii device, the game had good sales even in areas where there’s no bundling, such as in Japan, where the game set the record for two-day-debut sales. The Wii’s success (and by extension, the Wii Sports’) has been so instructive that ten years after launch, which is like 100 years in the technology world, the Wii gameplay is being incorporated into the technology for the next-generation Nintendo Switch hybrid console. Whether that upcoming console contains a built-in game that will rival the success of Wii Sports remains to be seen.
Launched 2011. 107.86 million copies sold.
For all the sophistication involved in the gaming scene today, the two best-selling video games of all time involve good old blocks. One of them is Minecraft, a sandbox video game set in a three-dimensional world where players can create just about anything out of cubes. From there, gameplay expands wildly, from traditional modes such as survival, hardcore, creative, adventure, and spectator, to various modifications as many as the number of members in a thriving gaming community dedicated to creating game variants. This flexible gameplay contributed to the exponential growth of the game, the only one so far in this millennium that sold more than 100 million copies. Such monumental success led Microsoft to purchase the game, its publisher, and all related intellectual property, for $2.5 billion. Minecraft has since contributed as much as $63 million in sales per quarter for Microsoft, which then used the game as a come-on for its other gaming properties, such as the Xbox One S.
Launched 1984. 495 million copies sold.
How’s this for video game irony: the best-selling video game of all time traces its roots to anti-capitalist, Soviet Russia, where game designer Alexey Pajitnov thought that a puzzle game involving the fitting of different shapes made of four square blocks against each other would be a fun thing to play. Tetris was initially made for the Commodore 64 and the IBM PC, two machines that you would least associate with gaming consoles. But from there, Tetris spread across different computers and consoles, notable on the Nintendo Game Boy, where the game started hitting widespread popularity. The game’s publisher, Henk Rogers, later on commented that Tetris and Game Boy made each other popular. Three decades after the game’s launch, Rogers would then say that the game sold 70 million physical copies and a staggering 425 million paid mobile phone downloads. That’s like saying one in every 14 people in the entire world owns a paid copy of the game.