BIGGEST GAMING FRANCHISE OF ALL TIME?
By a long shot, the best-selling video game franchise is Pokémon, with revenue of about $90 billion. Not only is it the biggest video game franchise, but it’s also the highest-grossing media franchise in general. It should be pointed out, however, that only a small portion of their revenue has been from video games; the franchise makes far more from merchandising. It’s made $3.36 billion on mobile game sales and $13.78 billion from the console and hand-held game sales.
THE TOP 10 BEST-SELLING VIDEO GAME FRANCHISES OF ALL TIME
1. POKÉMON — $90 BILLION
The highest-grossing video game franchise may have earned most of its money from merchandising, but Pokémon Red/Green/Blue/Yellow still ranks seventh among the top-selling video games of all time, topping out at 47,520,000 copies.
2. MARIO — $30.25 BILLION
Arguably the most recognizable video game character in the world, Mario has made Nintendo a lot of money over the years, with the Super Mario series alone bringing in nearly $15.9 billion. Since his inception in 1981, this character has hopped all over the world in many formats.
3. CALL OF DUTY — $17 BILLION
This franchise’s Black Ops 4 title alone brought in $1 billion in sales, with its WWII title doing the same in 2017. It’s widely considered in the industry to be a blockbuster, and it only seems to gain more traction over time.
4. WII — $14.808 BILLION
Yes, it’s true that the Wii is a console, but it’s also its own branch of video games, with series like Wii Sports, Wii Play, and Wii Fit grabbing a novice gamer audience in a family-focused environment.
5. PAC-MAN — $14.107 BILLION
The arcade game that was an absolute blast in the 1980s is still kicking, with many throwback titles and new puzzle games still promoting the world’s favorite pellet-muncher.
6. SPACE INVADERS — $13.93 BILLION
This is the oldest game on our top ten list. Originating in 1978, Space Invaders is a classic game that’s still popular every time it’s re-released. Gamers, it seems, are almost always on call to stop a new invasion, but some invaders have managed to infiltrate the real world!
7. DUNGEON FIGHTER ONLINE — $11.8 BILLION
The next on our list of top video game franchises may be one most non-gamer Americans have not heard of, since “DFO” is a hugely popular South Korean multi-player “beat-’em-up” game. Nevertheless, it has about 600 million players worldwide.
8. STREET FIGHTER — $11.279 BILLION
One of the biggest game franchises that’s famous for its movies, games, and crossovers, Street Fighter is arguably the most popular fighting-style video game of all time, beating out its popular competitor Mortal Kombat by nearly $10 billion.
9. FINAL FANTASY — $10.656 BILLION
An absolute titan of the gaming world, this is arguably the top role-playing game among the best-selling franchises. This critically acclaimed series has created a legacy and set a standard that all other RPGs strive for.
10. WARCRAFT — $10.627 BILLION
For Americans, this is the big name in MMORPGs among the biggest video game franchises, with famous titles like Hearthstone, Warcraft: Orcs & Humans, and, of course, the famous World of Warcraft (aka WoW). Gamers have been adventuring in Azeroth since 2004.
Games have always existed in a numbers-obsessed industry. Sega vs. Nintendo defined a generation in the '90s, while today's more mild console wars and monthly NPD reports keep sales figures at the forefront of games-related discussion. With such a persistent emphasis on performance, one of the industry's biggest questions has always been, What are the best-selling video games of all time?
To answer this question, we set out to compile the most accurate list possible, digging through financial reports, news stories, interviews, and more. The result is the following list of the ten best-selling video games of all time, as of March 2019.
(Notes: We've counted pack-in games toward sales totals, considering all ten games on this list were, at one point, bundled with a console. Free downloads are not counted as sales, therefore excluding games like Fortnite and League of Legends.)
Top 10 Best Selling Video Games of All Time
10. Diablo III* – 30 million+
In August 2015, three years after its initial release, Diablo III hit 30 million copies sold, according to Activision Blizzard. The action-RPG was initially released on PC, before coming to last-gen and current-gen consoles in 2013 and 2014, respectively. A Nintendo Switch version was then released in November 2018. Considering a sales total hasn't been reported in nearly four years, a period of time that includes its launch on Switch, Diablo III's total could be several million copies higher, potentially boosting it up a spot or two on this list.
*It's unclear whether the number 10 spot on this list belongs to Diablo III or The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. The latter hit the same 30-million milestone a year later, despite being released six months earlier, according to a Rolling Stone interview with Todd Howard. For this reason, and considering both games are still largely available on the same platforms, we're giving the edge to Diablo III, though it's entirely possible Skyrim holds the lead. Meanwhile, New Super Mario Bros. (Nintendo DS) and New Super Mario Bros. Wii have sold 30.8 million and 30.22 million copies, respectively, putting their last-reported sales figures above both Diablo III and Skyrim. However, we feel safe assuming both games have passed those marks in the last few years.
9. Wii Sports Resort – 33.09 million
Wii Sports Resort is the third-best-selling Wii game of all time, according to Nintendo's official numbers. With a score of 6.5, it's IGN's lowest-rated game in the top ten.
8. Mario Kart Wii – 37.14 million
This official sales figure comes directly from Nintendo and makes Mario Kart Wii the console's second-best-selling game of all time.
7. Super Mario Bros. – 40 million+
The game that brought perhaps the medium's most recognizable character to stardom, Super Mario Bros.' lifetime sales sit at over 40 million units, according to Guinness World Records, making it the best-selling NES game ever. Seeing as the archived webpage is from March 2006, Virtual Console sales aren't factored into that total, leading us to our more broad 40 million-plus figure. It's possible it belongs in the sixth spot, but without sufficient data, we're conservatively keeping it at number seven.
In addition to the platforms listed above, various versions of the iconic platformer were released for arcade, Game & Watch, PC-88, Sharp X1, Nintendo's PlayChoice-10, SNES (via Super Mario All-Stars), NES Classic, and Nintendo Switch (via Nintendo Switch Online).
6. Pokemon Red/Blue/Green/Yellow – 45 million+
In Japan, the era-defining game was available in two versions at launch — Red and Green — before coming to other territories as Pokemon Red and Blue. Yellow Version (aka Special Pikachu Edition) followed between 1998 and 2000, depending on the territory.
While Nintendo hasn't publicly shared a sales total for the first generation of Pokemon games, estimates put the four versions' combined sales north of 45 million copies — a figure noted by Polygon in its Pokemon retrospective. As of 2016, 1.5 million of those copies were sold through Virtual Console, according to Nintendo. The franchise has collectively sold over 300 million copies, as of late 2017.
5. Playerunknown's Battlegrounds – 50 million+
In June 2018, PUBG reached 50 million copies sold, making it the fifth-best-selling game of all time. The hit battle royale has likely sold a considerable number of copies since then; however, with the next-best-selling game over 30 million copies ahead, it's safe to declare PUBG remains in the fifth spot to this day. And while free mobile downloads don't count toward sales, it's worth noting, as of June 2018, PUBG and PUBG Mobile combined to have a staggering 400 million registered players.
4. Wii Sports – 82.86 million
According to Nintendo's official sales figures, Wii Sports is the company's best-selling game ever. While each entry on this list was bundled with a console at some point, Wii Sports was favorably bundled in nearly all territories immediately upon the launch of Nintendo Wii. Its 82.86 million copies sold makes it the top-selling single-platform exclusive of all time.
3. Grand Theft Auto V – 110 million+
In November 2018, Grand Theft Auto V became the third video game ever to break 100 million copies sold. While the 100 million marks is good for third on the all-time list, Grand Theft Auto V holds an even more coveted record: the most-profitable entertainment release ever. As of April 2018, it's generated over $6 billion USD in revenue — more than any other game, book, or movie.
2. Minecraft – 200 million+
In October 2018, Microsoft announced Minecraft reached 154 million copies sold, making it the second-best-selling video game ever. The genre-bending global phenomenon has been one of gaming's all-time greatest success stories. With film, Netflix, books, education, toy, and other projects either completed or in the works, Minecraft has transcended the medium in a way few other games have. As noted by Gamesindustry.biz, Minecraft has an additional 100 million-plus players in China, bringing its total player count to over 250 million. (Minecraft is free in China; free downloads are excluded in sales totals.)
1. Tetris – 500 million+*
Arguably the most timeless video game ever created, Tetris sits comfortably atop the list of all-time bestsellers. Initially released for the Soviet Union-developed Elektronika 60 computer, variations of the classic puzzler have since been made for over 50 different platforms, according to The Tetris Company. Notably, it helped launch Game Boy to success, eventually selling 35 million copies on Nintendo's handheld console.
While a specific sales total is unavailable (and likely near impossible to calculate considering its numerous variations and platforms), Henk Rogers, The Tetris Company's managing director, told VentureBeat Tetris has 425 million paid mobile downloads, in addition to "something like 70 million" physical game sales. Considering that figure was reported in 2014, it's safe to assume the 495 million total has since shot up well above 500 million.
Modern variations of the classic are still being released to this day; Tetris Effect was a 2018 IGN Game of the Year nominee, while Tetris 99, a battle royale-inspired take on the puzzler, was released last month for Nintendo Switch.
*There's some debate as to whether the sales totals of Tetris' many versions should be lumped together. For the sake of simplicity, we've opted to do so. However, even if we were to separate its many variations, sales of the mobile version alone would seemingly place it atop this list.