These Are The Best-Selling Video Games Of All Time
It’s a good time to be a video game fan. Not only is the gaming industry booming and projected to grow to $320 billion by 2026, but every year is bringing new evolutions in the medium.
2022 saw massive launches in both games (Elden Ring and God of War Ragnarök) and media based on games (the films Uncharted and Sonic the Hedgehog 2). 2023 has already seen the release of major flagship TV series based on a game, HBO’s The Last of Us, and the much-anticipated The Super Mario Bros. Movie is slated to release in April.
But which game is the best, or most successful? That debate may never end, but as Visual Capitalist's Pallavi Rao reports, from company reports and sales data aggregated by Wikipedia, Samuel Parker’s chart of the most-sold video games as of March 3, 2023 can at least tell us which ones have been the most popular.
Top Ten Video Games Sold in History
The best selling video game didn’t need multimillion dollar budgets, sixty-hour narratives, or celebrity voice actors and ad spots. The independently-developed (indie) Minecraft, with its pixelated blocks, takes the top spot on this list.
Minecraft sold more units than the combined forces of Grand Theft Auto 5 (#2) and Red Dead Redemption 2 (#8), both made by industry giant Rockstar. Its immense popularity has been credited to its simple gameplay (no goals), creative structure (build anything), and engaged community with player-run servers and additional feature creations (known as mods).
Another simple favorite, Tetris, comes in at third place with 100 million units sold of its 2006 re-release. Millennials continue to make up a large chunk of the video game playing demographic which might explain Tetris’ sales.
But newer games are making up the majority of sales records. PUBG: Battlegrounds, a battle-royale shooter game which helped popularize the genre (and eventually its competitor Fortnite) asserts its popularity at #5. That puts it well ahead of the better-known shooter Call of Duty, even despite PUBG being banned in a number of countries for the alleged impact on the mental health of gamers.
The oldest game to make the list is Super Mario Bros. (#7), apt considering it is credited with reviving the video game industry after it crashed in 1983. The original staple side-scroller has sold 58 million copies worldwide.
Though the top selling games span various series of games, a few developers managed to repeatedly find success.
Japanese video game titan Nintendo developed three games (Super Mario Bros., Mario Kart, Wii Sport/Fitness) in the top 10 and another eight in the top 20. That’s not including its co-ownership of Pokémon, the world’s highest-grossing media franchise.
American publisher Rockstar Games also managed to score multiple hits, though its longer development cycle necessary to create cinematic games gives it fewer potential candidates. That might change with the much-anticipated GTA 6 reportedly in production.
Best Selling Genres
The most popular genres in the top 10 give players the freedom to impose their will upon the world and pursue objectives at their leisure:
Two games (Minecraft, Terraria) are classic sandbox games, where worlds are procedurally generated and there are no gameplay goals. Another two (GTA 5, Red Dead Redemption 2) are in the adjacent open-world genre, with a combination of sandbox elements and a narrative structure.
However, with new games launching and selling millions of units every year, new entrants to the top 10 list of best selling video games of all-time seems likely. How will these developers, genres, and games fare over time?