Top 10 Best-Selling Video Games of All Time
There’s no doubt whatsoever that the video games industry is absolutely colossal. With estimated overall gross income predicted to exceed $109 billion in 2017 alone, it stands as one of the most lucrative industries in the world – and certainly the fastest growing.
All of this put us in mind of our favourite games and how they might have contributed to that figure, which of course led us to asking: what are the best-selling video games of all time?
After a little research and data analysis, we’ve come up with a comprehensive list. A lot of the entries on the list are pretty self-evident, but we have to admit, we saw some pretty interesting patterns emerging. Let’s take a look!
10. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Bethesda)
Copies Sold: 30 million
Release Date: 11th November 2011
Kicking the list off with a bang, Skyrim sold a whopping 3.5 million copies in the first 48 hours after it launched. Fans of the popular Elder Scrolls series may be disappointed to hear that Skyrim may quite possibly be the last in the series for the foreseeable future as Bethesda director/executive producer, Todd Howard, has alluded the possibility of a roster of new titles sparked by his desire for Bethesda not to be seen as ‘just the people who make Elder Scrolls and Fallout’.
Fun Skyrim fact, the voice for Parthunaax the dragon is provided by none other than Charles Martinet, otherwise known as the voice of Mario! Speaking of Mario…
9. New Super Mario Bros. (Nintendo)
Copies Sold: 31 million
Release Date: 15th May 2006
The first of an incredible six Nintendo titles to make the top 10, 2006’s New Super Mario Bros. is perhaps the biggest surprise of the entire list when compared to all the other titles in the Mario universe, but no less deserving. This modern classic follows the tried and tested Mario format, an easily accessible side-scroller in which the titular Mario must rescue the far too frequently kidnapped Princess Peach from Bowser and his progeny. Interestingly, New Super Mario Bros. was the first title in the series where designers were not required to design every aspect of the game by hand, thus allowing them a lot more freedom to create the not-quite-2D-not-quite-3D world we see in the game.
8. Pokémon Red/Blue (Game Freak/Nintendo)
Copies Sold: 32 million
Release Date: 27th February 1996
Almost a cliché by now, these iconic titles are no strangers to placing highly on games lists of any kind. Back in 1996 however, not even Nintendo suspected these relatively small titles would launch a $15 billion game/film/television/merchandise franchise, let alone become so ingrained in the fabric of Japan’s national identity.
One common known fact about the game is that Pokémon’s creator, Satoshi Tajiri, took inspiration from his childhood love of insects in the development process. What is less well-known is that one of his intentions in making the game was to help relieve stress in children by designing a game where they could collect digital insects and control them in ways that might represent certain emotions (like anger or fear).
7. Wii Sports Resort (Nintendo)
Copies Sold: 33 million
Release Date: 25th June 2009
The successful follow up to 2006’s Wii Sports is arguably another dark horse in the top 10, but selling over half a million copies in its first week in the US alone is more than enough to set it on its way and prove itself in anyone’s eyes. One of the very first games to be compatible the Wii Motion Plus feature, Wii Sports Resort got millions of families moving with its wide selection of sporting simulations including: wakeboarding, archery, basketball, cycling, fencing, frisbee, power cruising, and table tennis.
6. Mario Kart Wii (Nintendo)
Copies Sold: 37 million
Release Date: 10th April 2008
It’s-a him, again. The sixth game in the genre-forming Mario Kart series was an absolute box-office smash in video game terms, perhaps due to the enduring popularity of the series, and perhaps in part due to the innovative steering wheel players could use in tandem with the Wii remote allowing a very lifelike driving experience – another stride forward in the blurring of platform/driving genres that Mario Kart is so famous for. Mario Kart Wii was also the first title in the series to feature the hugely popular online multiplayer mode.
Read more about the history of Mario Kart in our recent article.
5. Super Mario Bros. (Nintendo)
Copies Sold: 40 million
Release Date: 13th September 1985
For a humble pixelated plumber, Mario takes up an incredible amount of space in the all-time best-seller list. Directed, designed, and produced by Nintendo legend Shigeru Miyamoto, Super Mario Bros. is without doubt one of the most influential platform games of all time and certainly one of the most enduring.
Fun fact about Super Mario Bros., due to design restrictions, the game was to initially feature Mario flying through the game astride a rocket armed with a laser gun. However, last minute developments in technology allowed for the jumping, running romp that we’ve all come to know and love.
4. Grand Theft Auto V (Rockstar Games)
Copies sold: 80 million
Release Date: 17th September 2013
Costing a cool total of $272 million to make (placing it second on the list of all-time most costly games to develop behind Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 at $279 million), Grand Theft Auto was a considerable risk for open-world veterans Rockstar, especially with the comparatively low uptake on and reaction to its predecessor GTA IV. Lucky for them it grossed over $1 billion in its first three days on sale. Still widely played today, four years after its first release, GTA V was developed by a huge team of over 1,000 people at Rockstar North. As we’ve all come to expect from the GTA series by now, the game featured a stellar voice cast including Steven Ogg (The Walking Dead) and Janet Hubert (Fresh Prince of Bel-Air).
3. Wii Sports (Nintendo)
Copies sold: 82 million
Release Date: 19th November 2006
A staggering number six on the list for Nintendo and the third Wii title in the top 10, Wii Sports was something of a revolution onto itself and few can honestly say they are surprised to see it place so highly. The first title to be sold as part of a package with a Nintendo system since Mario Tennis came with the Virtual Boy in 1995, Wii Sports’ producer, Nintendo veteran Katsuya Eguchi, has said of this game that he wanted to create something that would be loved by gamers and non-gamers alike. It’s fair to say he achieved that goal, allowing players from all walks of life to take a more active approach to gaming with the game’s five core sports: baseball, boxing, bowing, golf, and tennis.
Original plans for the game featured Mario and co. as playable characters, however feedback from various focus groups revealed that players responded overwhelmingly well to the customisable Mii avatars.
2. Minecraft (Mojang)
Copies Sold: 122 million
Release Date: 18th November 2011
Possibly the most beloved sandbox game of all time, Swedish designer Markus Persson’s Minecraft has sold an incredible 122 million copies worldwide over the past six years – not bad for something he threw together in only six days! Extremely popular in the game modifying scene, and arguably in keeping with the minimalist, indie aesthetic common in a lot of Scandinavian design, Minecraft has grown to become a global phenomenon. Nowhere is this more evident than at the game’s very own convention, Minecon!
1. Tetris (Elektronorgtechnica/Spectrum Holobyte)
Copies sold: 170 million
Release Date: 6th June 1984
Don’t be too surprised, we all knew it was coming! Alexey Pajitnov’s 1984 breakthrough his Tetris tops almost every gaming list there is, so it should come as no surprise that it would sit right at the top of this one as the best-selling game of all time.
Created by Pajitnov while working at the Academy of Science of the Soviet Union (who held the sole rights to the game right up until 1996 at which time they defaulted to Pajitnov), Tetris was the first game ever to be exported from the USSR to the USA. Constantly taking first place in countless ‘Greatest Games of All Time’ lists (including IGN and Electronic Gaming Monthly), Tetris has sold more copies than the bottom five games on this list combined.
Some scientific studies have shown that playing Tetris can actually have some long-term benefits for gamers, with one study claiming that thirty minutes of Tetris a day can help increase brain activity and boost critical thought, reasoning, language, and processing skills. Read more about Tetris in our Retro Games Corner.