The video game industry reached $36 billion in revenue in 2017, up 18% from 2016, thus making gaming even more profitable than the film industry. In other words, video games have hit the mainstream, with 80% of American households owning at least one console and often multiple. Over the past few decades, there have been several gaming franchises that have risen above the rest and find themselves on top of the charts with each release. Here are 12 of the of the best selling video game franchises of all time.
Units Sold: 100 Million
The first Lego game appeared on the Sega Pico way back in 1995 and there have been a total of 67 games produced in the three decades since then. The Lego games today feature some of entertainment’s biggest licensed properties from Star Wars to Harry Potter and represent a large portion of the family-friendly games market. The first licensed Lego game came in the form of 2001’s Lego Creator: Harry Potter, a construction and management simulation game for the Windows PC platform.
Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment currently holds the publishing rights to the Lego video games and had until recently seen success with the Lego Dimensions, toys-to-life line of games. The best selling Lego game of all time is still Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga, which released in 2007 across multiple platforms.
Units Sold: 106 Million
Soccer (or football as it’s known outside of North America) is by far the most popular sport in the world and is played in more than 200 countries. It’s no coincidence that Electronic Arts’ FIFA soccer franchise is also the most popular sports video game across then the globe. Soccer games first started on the PC in the late 80s with games like Sensible Soccer, Kick Off, and Match Day dominating the market. The first FIFA soccer game to be published under the EA Sports label was FIFA International Soccer in 1993. The game was notable for being the first to include the official FIFA license.
Since the first launch in 1993, we have seen an annual release of the game which has become more complex and realistic with each iteration. Today’s FIFA games includes licenses from the worlds top leagues including the Premier League and La Liga and features the likeness of hundreds of the worlds top players. Things aren’t slowing down either, as sales of the latest game, EA Sports’ FIFA 18, have already surpassed the 10 million mark, making it the most successful soccer game of all time.
10. Final Fantasy
Units Sold: 130 Million
The Final Fantasy franchise first captured the hearts of gamers on the Nintendo Entertainment System back in 1987 and there have been 15 releases in the main series since then. The Final Fantasy series was created by Hironobu Sakaguchi and is developed and published by the Japanese game company Square. The series introduced many role-playing game concepts and design elements that would go on to make up the framework of today’s RPGs.
The Final Fantasy franchise has seen numerous spin-off games as well as a series of movies, TV shows, novels, and toys. Many of the games in the main series are considered some of the best RPGs in gaming history, with many fan debates as to which title reigns supreme. The series has sold over 130 million copies in the three decades since the first game hit store shelves, with Final Fantasy VII being the best seller at over 10 million.
Units Sold: 144 Million
Minecraft was created by eccentric Swedish game designer Markus “Notch” Persson and developed and published by Mojang, the company he founded. The game features a procedurally-generated world where players use a variety of different cubes to build their creations. In 2011, Minecraft was officially released and quickly took the gaming world by storm. The game received universal praise and unleashed a wave of merchandise that included toys, books, and clothing. Minecraft even has its own dedicated convention, MINECON, that began in 2011 and draws tens of thousands of fans to Las Vegas each year.
In September 2014, Microsoft announced a deal to purchase Mojang and the intellectual right to the Minecraft franchise for a reported US$2.5 billion. At this point, Minecraft is available on every platform under the sun and has sold a staggering 144 million units in just seven years on the market.
8. Need For Speed
Units Sold: 150 Million
Need For Speed is a fast-paced action racing franchise the first appeared in 1994 on the 3DO followed by a release on the PC, PlayStation, and Saturn. The first installment was the only attempt to provide a realistic driving experience, with other racing series then shifting to more of an arcade driving experience. Since Need For Speed’s initial release, the series has been overseen by several notable teams including EA Black Box, Ghost Games, and Criterion. For the most part, the franchise has been well received and is by far the most successful racing game franchise to date.
The series has fallen off in recent years with the last few games receiving some poor reviews and failing to connect with their audience. Despite the shortcomings of recent releases, the Need For Speed franchise has been extremely profitable for EA and has lifetime sales that exceed 150 million units. The Need For Speed franchise even spawned a feature film starring Arron Paul of Breaking Bad fame, despite negatives reviews the film grossed over $200 million at the worldwide box office.
Units Sold: 170 Million
Tetris has one of the most interesting back stories in gaming history. The game was originally designed and programmed by Russian game designer Alexey Pajitnov while working at the Dorodnitsyn Computing Centre of the Academy of Science of the Soviet Union in Moscow. Despite the game selling tens of millions of copies in the first decade after the game’s release, Alexey failed to earn any royalties for his creation until he formed The Tetris Company in 1996.
This simple but extremely addictive game involves manipulating geometric shapes and placing them in a sequence to create a solid line in order to clear the screen. Tetris became the most popular puzzle game of all time, selling more than 170 million units since it first appeared in 1984 on the Commodore 64 and IBM PC. The game was popularized after being ported to the Nintendo Entertainment System and would later be included as a pack-in game with the Nintendo Game Boy. The Tetris franchise has seen several spin-off games such as Wordtris, Tetrisphere, and Hatris, all of which are variations on the classic gameplay.
6. The Sims
Units Sold: 200 Million
The third Electronic Arts property to make this list, The Sims is a life simulation game series developed by The Sims Studio. The Sims gameplay usually centers around an open world sandbox where the player is free to roam around the game world completing goals as they see fit. Game designer Will Wright was inspired to create the franchise based on a “virtual dollhouse” after losing his home to fire and being forced to reconstruct his life. The first game in the series was developed by Maxis and released for Windows-based PCs in February 2000.
The series has seen four main releases as well as a whole host of side projects including The Sims Castaways Stories, The Sims Medieval, and The Sims Social. The Sims franchise has experienced declining sales in the past few years with games like Minecraft stealing the spotlight but the series is still selling well, with The Sims 4 recently surpassing five million in sales. The Sims is undoubtedly one of the most popular video game franchises of all time to the tune of over 200 million units sold worldwide.
5. Wii (Series)
Units Sold: 202 Million
The Nintendo Wii was a pop culture phenomenon that swept the gaming world in 2006, it seemed like household had one along with at least one of the pack in “Wii” games. Wii Sports is one of the highest-selling video games of all time, leading to several sequels and spin-offs as Nintendo tried to capitalize on its massive success. Motion controls and multiplayer action were the main focus of design for this franchise and gamers of all ages jumped in on the fad. Games like Wii Sports Resort and Wii Play all expanded on the original formula that helped make the Nintendo Wii one of the best-selling consoles of all time.
The franchise continued on the Wii U with Wii Sports Club but it seems that the ship had already sailed and gamers had moved on from motion controls. The series was still able to amass sale of over 200 million units during its relatively short time in the spotlight making it one of the best-selling franchises of all time.
4. Grand Theft Auto
Units Sold: 250 Million
The Grand Theft Auto series has been controversial since its early days as a top-down perspective crime simulator on the PC and PS1 in the late 1990s. Since that initial release, GTA has become one of the most popular gaming franchises in history to the tune of 250 million units and counting. It wasn’t until 2001’s release of Grand Theft Auto III that the franchise skyrocketed to popularity and became ingrained in popular culture. GTA III was a groundbreaking release that shifted the perspective from overhead to the third-person giving the player a far more immersive experience. The game was universally praised and went on to sell over 15 million copies and kickstarted the franchise that we know today. The franchise has shown no signs of slowing down either, as the most recent entry, 2013’s Grand Theft Auto V, has sold over 90 million copies making it one of the best-selling games of all time.
3. Call of Duty
Units Sold: 275 Million
The Call of Duty franchise is a series of first-person shooter games that are published and owned by Activision. Beginning with the first release in 2003 the game was originally based on the Quake III Arena engine and took place during World War II. The franchise began on the Windows-based PC platform an later expanded to consoles and handheld gaming systems. The Call of Duty world soon expanded to cover modern conflicts with the Modern Warfare and Black Ops sub-series and also going further back in time with World at War. Call of Duty has become a huge part of the extremely popular e-sports scene and is a popular fixture among gamers on YouTube and Twitch.
The Call of Duty franchise has seen some stiff competition during its time as gaming’s most popular first-person shooter from the likes of Halo, Battlefield, and most recently PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. The Call of Duty franchise continues to sell well and since the first game released it has sold over 275 million units across multiple platforms.
Units Sold: 300 Million
The Pokémon series of video games began on the Nintendo Game Boy with the release of Pokémon Red and Blue in 1996. The franchise was created by Satoshi Tajiri in 1995 and is based on fictional creatures called “Pokémon”, which humans, known as Pokémon Trainers, catch and train to battle each other for sport. Developed by Game Freak and published by Nintendo the series was eventually adapted to a card game that was very popular in its own right. Since the series began in the mid-90s, there have been several movies released as well as a long-running television show based on the property.
While Pokémon games have been released predominantly on Nintendo handhelds there have been several console releases such as Pokémon Stadium, as well as the popular cell phone game Pokémon Go. Pokémon video games have been popular for more than 30 years and have sold over 300 million units in that timespan making it the second most popular gaming franchise in history.
Units Sold: 529 Million
Mario is easily the most recognizable video game character of all time and the fictional Italian plumber has been featured in dozens of video games since first appearing in Donkey Kong in 1981. Back then he was known as Jumpman and wouldn’t be known by his current name until he was featured in the 1983 arcade game Mario Bros. alongside his palette swapped brother, Luigi. The main series in the franchise is the classic Super Mario platforming games, which follows the adventures of Mario and his friends as they travel through the Mushroom Kingdom fighting the evil Bowser. This series typically revolves around Mario’s jumping and combat abilities to allow him to progress through levels which usually scroll from left to right.
The Mario franchise consists of series such as Super Mario, Mario Kart, and the Mario Sports titles (just to name a few), all of which have sold very well. Mario has, in fact, appeared in five of the top fifteen best-selling games of all time. The Mario character has appeared in movies and television shows, as well as toys, clothing, and even cereal. The franchise has sold 529 million games in its storied history and with several games featuring the character being released each year that number will break the 600 million mark in no time.
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