Video games are huge right now, especially with the influx of new gamers prompted by the ease of smartphone gaming. A 2015 study found that 42% of Americans play video games for at least three hours a week! You could easily imagine that more than 50% must play at least a bit during the week then. If around half of us are playing, it makes sense that a lot of newer games would be near the top of the sales list, when in actuality, the top spot on our list is reserved for a classic you all know and love (or love to hate).
While we aren’t opposed to the occasional bit of on-the-go smartphone gaming, we’ve spent many a boxer-clad, chip-binging hour gaming on consoles and PCs, so we were happy to discover that most of the best-selling games are representative of the more hardcore gaming market that purchases consoles, or, if you’re a true gaming snob, personal gaming computers. But which system dominates the list the most? Who comes out on top in this battle between history's greatest gaming consoles?
If you're a true gamer, like us, crack open one of your Code Red Mountain Dews as you peruse this list and get caffeinated for that all-night gaming marathon this will certainly get you in the mood for, and find out! These games are the best-selling of all time, across all platforms.
15 Grand Theft Auto IV - 25 Million Copies Sold
We aren’t at all surprised to see the Grand Theft Auto series represented on this list. The games are very well done with excellent world building and a freedom of play style that lends itself well to exploration in what often seems like a very realistic, living and breathing city.
What we are curious about, though, is just what boosted the sales here. We don’t mean to suggest that this has happened, but we would hate to see such a great game end up here based predominantly on the capital of teenage boys looking for the opportunity to take their aggression out digitally through a bloody combination of baseball bats and digital ladies of the night. Still, we wouldn’t really be all that be surprised.
Nonetheless, this game received wide and nearly universal acclaim, particularly for its strong open world development and just the simple beauty of the world. After all, if you’re going to run from the cops while running over that small group of pixelated children on the street corner, you might as well do it with a beautiful sunset in the background.
14 Call of Duty: Black Ops - 26.2 Million Copies Sold
You might remember this one as the Call of Duty with zombies. Pretty awesome, right? Who doesn’t love a good zombie game. Plus, if you tend to be particularly sensitive and don’t like videogame violence, it must be a bit comforting to know those digital bad guys you’re taking out are digitally undead, right? And it’s refreshing to see zombies finally make their way into mainstream media. We can’t think of much of anything that’s really featured zombies lately…
The Call of Duty series is also very popular due to its multiplayer option. It’s great if you want to play like a soldier for a while without the real danger and take some headshots at some nazis. And zombies. And zombie-nazis. And part of the storyline involves trying to kill Fidel Castro, so if you hate Cuban cigars, this game might just be for you.
13 Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 - 26.5 Million Copies Sold
Apparently headshots are popular. They must be, because we didn’t really find this game very interesting. We played it, both the campaign and some multiplayer, but we can barely remember any of the storyline. There was something about Russia, because Russians just can’t seem to ever make the transition into being fictional good guys. There were also guns, explosions, and general warfare of the modern variety. Other than that, we can’t tell you much about it!
The graphics were good for the time and the gameplay itself was fun and smooth. But then again, Call of Duty games are generally very well polished and smooth. This was certainly the case, but today’s gamers are spoiled. We’ve had The Last of Us now and we crave solid stories and memorable characters. This game didn’t really deliver, but it comes from a popular series and clearly managed to move quite a few units during its run.
12 Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas - 27.5 Million Copies Sold
And so, not surprisingly, the first four entries on our list come from two incredibly popular game series. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is one of the older games in the series, but it’s still one of our favourites. The game is heavily gang-related and primarily deals with the protagonist’s quest to solve and avenge the murder of his mother. But people probably remember it for being heavily discussed for its perhaps gratuitous use of violence and sexually explicit content. We aren’t certain, but we’ve heard that a certain component of the gaming community enjoys those sorts of things. Not us, though. We prefer to play nice things, like Animal Crossing and The Sims. And we never create a nice home to get our Sims comfortable before deleting the doors and setting the house on fire in the middle of the homeowners’ first night in the house together just as they retire to bed for the night to consummate their marriage…
11 Wii Play - 28.02 Million Copies Sold
We love to see local co-op games making these best selling lists, because if you ask us (and why wouldn’t you?!?), they are grossly underrepresented in the modern video gaming market. That said, the sales popularity of Wii Play is definitely a bit of a head scratcher for us.
Wii Play consists of a bunch of small games players can chose from, which includes Billiards, Table Tennis, Shooting Range, Fishing and a pretty fun Tanks! game. Players make use of the Wii’s motion controls very well in this game and probably had more fun just playing around with the new technology more than anything else. It’s certainly not as fun or addicting as other controller-focused Wii games, such as Wii Sports and Wii Sports Resort.
Nonetheless, Wii Play probably made it onto our list because of the popularity of the Wii system itself. This is because it was a launch game and people were so excited to try out Nintendo’s innovative new system they probably bought Wii Play to make sure they got good use out of the controls.
10 New Super Mario Bros. Wii - 29.32 Million Copies Sold
This is certainly another game that benefited from the Wii’s popularity. If you buy a Nintendo console, it’s almost certainly a foregone conclusion that you will buy whatever Mario Bros. game belongs to that generation’s console.
Nonetheless, New Super Mario Bros. Wii is an excellent game. It looks colorful and lively and it retains all the fun of the classic side scrolling Mario games of the past. And if anyone happens to get in your way, you could always try to mess them up by knocking them into something or throwing a shell at them, especially if the culprit was Mario. Screw that guy and his limelight hogging ego.
The best feature was the addition of the simultaneous multiplayer, which saw up to four players koopa-bopping their way across the screen. The gameplay could get hectic but was one of the most enjoyable local co-op gaming experiences in the last ten years. And the great thing about Mario, is that almost anyone can enjoy the series!
9 Diablo III - 30 Million Copies Sold
You had to know Blizzard was going to make this list, but it might have surprised you to see which of their entries ranked in the top 10 best selling videogames of all time. We guessed it would be World of Warcraft making it on here, but maybe that one doesn’t appeal to as wide of an audience as this entry.
Diablo III was released to a very mixed response from the audience. And it certainly had its issues, including the auction house. But it sold a lot and it continues to retain quite a large community of active players. The game received a lot of attention for its positive changes though, such as allowing players to change ability point spending. Rather than committing at one time, you can reset and change your skills and your ability points at any time (unless you’re in a Greater Rift at the moment).
The playstyle is fluid and engaging, and while some hardcore gamers find it to be too much of a grinding and repetitive play style, it’s a fun Blizzard experience without having to invest the time and energy required to really excel at WoW.
8 New Super Mario Bros. - 30.79 Million Copies Sold
What could overtake the Wii’s version of Mario from that same series? The obvious answer, perhaps, is New Super Mario Bros., which was released on the DS. The DS remains one of the most popular systems of all time, so it’s no surprise that it’s Super Mario Bros. game sold at such high numbers. Plus: Giant Mario.
You might remember a bit of backlash when this game was released because, in a time when gamers crave complexity and challenge, New Super Mario Bros. came out as a throwback to simpler gaming experiences without a notable challenge. But that’s one of the things we love about it.
We enjoy complex gaming experiences, but we are also nostalgia driven creatures (we refer you to the popularity of Stranger Things as it appeals to 80s kids who loved E.T. and The Goonies), and we loved playing a classic Mario Bros. styled game on the go on our handheld.
7 Wii Sports Resort - 32.8 Million Copies Sold
Ah, Wuhu Island and its beautiful beach resort, full of fun and active Miis. What a great place to take a vacation if you like being active. For us, we’d probably prefer a nice air conditioned resort with a great view, a table beside our reclinable chair with a novel leaning precariously over the side, threatening to be pushed off from the oversized plate of room service taking up the tabletop space.
That probably wouldn’t make a great video game, though. So, probably responsibly, Nintendo focused on giving players a plethora of exciting options to choose from, including Swordplay, Golf, Basketball, Table Tennis, Bowling, and our ultimate favourite: Archery.
You probably liked Swordplay more, but we aren’t going to get on your case for being like a preteen with some clearly undiagnosed hyperactive disorder. And if your favourite game was Golf, well, then congratulations, because you’re probably one of the only people from your generation who is technologically savvy enough to actually play video games!
6 Mario Kart Wii - 36.38 Million Copies Sold
It may not fill us with the nostalgia of the Nintendo 64 version, but the Wii’s version of Mario Kart is full of content and is arguably the best the series has ever made. Our younger selves learned everything we know about driving from this game and we honestly think we’re better drivers for it. If someone cuts us off, we don’t get upset and throw them the finger. Instead, we quickly pass them and drop a banana peel out of our window, presumably sending them into a spin and maybe even over the edge of a cliff, Billy Madison versus O’Doyle family style. You know what we mean. You’ve probably even tossed a few turtle shells at cars as they pass you by, right? Wrong! That’s just horrible and PETA would be all over you. Sacrificing innocent turtles just to win a race. Disgraceful. All we did was eat a few bananas, which, admittedly, might leave a few less for Donkey Kong, but that guy could probably stand to lose a few pounds anyway.
5 Super Mario Bros. - 55.75 Million Copies Sold
Would you look at that? After all the Wii entries, we finally get a throw back to the classic NES system with Super Mario Bros. It’s a little title you may have stumbled across at some point during your video game explorations. The game may be a little Mario-centric, poor Luigi, but it’s still fun to play all these years later.
Most of us have played it so many times that we can still close our eyes and picture playing through at least the first level, while humming the music. Super Mario Bros. even holds up today. It’s widely available across consoles through Nintendo’s Virtual Console, which has helped it climb so high on the best-selling list.
This is a testament to its gameplay mechanics, because the graphics aren’t great. The characters are often stiff in appearance, but the gameplay is so smooth and satisfying all these years later that it makes for a great gaming experience.
4 Grand Theft Auto V - 65 Million Copies Sold
The final entry on our list for the Grand Theft Auto series is arguably the best. It deviated from previous entries in the series by allowing for multiple lead characters, which for a video game, is very postmodern and clever, even if, as we mentioned before, you really just end up using the multiple character perspectives to get a few different angles for beating “unsavoury” types with baseball bats. But hey, the game tried!
The world was also more beautiful than other entries and it was simply massive. At the time, this was an open world unlike any others. You could become completely absorbed in it for hours without even playing the main storyline. Playing this game involved getting back into what we love about previous Grand Theft Auto entries, but with a few crucial upgrades, making it an experience much like going back to your ex after he or she finally had that nagging acne problem cleared up.
3 Wii Sports - 82.78 Million Copies Sold
Finally, we come to the last Wii entry on our list: Wii Sports. It’s by no means an amazing game. There’s no storyline to get sucked in by. The graphics are borderline awful, even if they look good enough in terms of colour scheme. And the entire premise is overly simple. Nonetheless, you know you had some fun hours playing at least one or two of the sports features on this collection.
A lot of people loved boxing, which made you look like a nutcase being attacked by a swarm of mosquitoes. We, however, loved tennis. You could get some incredible rallies and rivalries going, living and dying on every stroke (that sounds inappropriate, but really isn’t!).
Many could argue that this game primarily relies on the motion sensor controls gimmick, and they wouldn’t be wrong. Nonetheless, they can’t argue with its appeal to a mass audience and the amount of fun it certainly gave its millions of buyers.
2 Minecraft - 107.86 Million Copies Sold
So we should probably come clean here and say that we’ve never really understood this game. What do you even do in it? There are a bunch of boxy characters and boxy settings. And you just sort of, go around and do…what exactly?
It seems that there is a certain amount of resource collecting and maybe survivability. And then you use blocks to build other blocky objects that turn into even bigger blocks before you either end up in a blocky coffin or survive to live a blocky life on your newly constructed block before throwing a block party (minus the 40s, we assume).
More seriously, the game can apparently get quite complex with its resource management and constant struggle to survive. Maybe we’ve ragged on the game a bit, but that’s just us. People seem to love the game, and who are we to argue? Wasn’t it Karl Marx who said that masses always know best?
1 Tetris - 495 Million Copies Sold
Tetris is one of those games that you can buy on any system and that anyone can play. It’s also great for short, quick bursts of gameplay, like you might use your smartphone for. That likely explains its continued popularity.
We could talk a bit more about this game, but you know it. Your mother knows it. Your grandmother knows it. There’s no need. Instead, let’s declare a victor in the console wars once and for all.
As we come to the number one spot, we finally break away from the grip that Nintendo has had on this list, but it’s not nearly enough. Looking back, there have been SEVEN entries that are exclusives to Nintendo. We know the Xbox and Playstation fanboys and fangirls won’t like our verdict, but we have to declare the Console Wars battle over and Nintendo the glorious victor as we leave you with Mario standing atop the blood soaked battlefield, his pristine gloves bathed from combat in the viscera of Sonic, Master Chief and various Greek gods from God of War. Let’s-a go!