You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn’t like games, and video games are the way to play these days, there's no doubt about it. They’ve been around for decades which, while a short amount of time, has certainly allowed a few companies and franchises to flourish. With the typical video game costing $60, it’s important for gamers to feel that they're investing in a property that is worth owning – they might not be able to afford another game for a while.
That’s why it’s so important for gaming companies to establish their names as an indicator of quality, and it's why some series can build instant excitement just by announcing another installment in the works. These are the franchises that can sell millions of copies within a couple of days, a feat that leaves other publishers green with envy.
Don’t expect to see mobile games on this list, as that’s really a separate category of gaming. If we ventured into that cheap and accessible area of gaming, we'd see little other than mobile games – Angry Birds alone has been downloaded more than 2 billion times! Of the more traditional kinds, then, these are the 10 highest-selling videogame franchises of all time in terms of unit sales.
10 Final Fantasy (110 Million)
Released in Japan in 1987, Final Fantasy has been a huge influence on console role playing games. The series now has 14 main installments to its name, and many more spinoffs besides. What’s most impressive is the way the entire JRPG (Japanese role-playing game) genre seems to depend on how well the FF franchise to keep it afloat. Lamenting the long wait for the fifteenth installment in the FF series, Kotaku writer Jason Schreier said “[W]hen Final Fantasy declined, with only one single-player main installment in the series even coming out during the last generation of consoles, other JRPGs simply started to disappear.” That’s the kind of influence most games companies only wish they could have.
The series spans different casts, worlds, and realities, melding fantasy and science fiction elements together in unique ways that consistently challenge even long-time players of the franchise.
9 Tetris (125 Million +)
Given the innovation, impressive gameplay, and graphics of many of the other franchises on this list, it’s surprising that a simple game like Tetris has managed to stand the test of time as one of the top sellers in video game history.
Then again, a Time article about the creation of the game mentioned creator Alexey Pajitnov had difficulty stopping himself from playing while programming his game, and also quotes game designer Henk Rogers as saying “I believe there is some basic psychological pleasure sensor that Tetris has found that other games don’t.”
Whatever the case, this simple puzzle game had sold over 125 million copies in 2009, and has surely sold more since.
8 Sonic the Hedgehog (140 Million)
He’s a speedy blue hedgehog out to collect gold rings and outwit Dr. Robotnik, and he’s sold a cool 140 million copies of games across a variety of genres.
Long a staple of Sega video game consoles, Sonic’s spent most of his time post-Dreamcast as a multi-platform guy, appearing in numerous titles for consoles, handhelds and mobile devices. Like the number one entry on this list, Sonic’s games span a variety of genres, with racing games, platformers, and sports titles to his name. The lukewarm reception to footage from "Sonic Boom" - his upcoming game for the Wii U - might be an indication that his star is beginning to fade, but with those kinds of numbers, there’s no denying the character was hugely popular for a long time.
7 Need For Speed (150 Million)
Racing games are a dime a dozen, with every console offering a realistic racing sim for gamers to enjoy. Far and away the most successful racing game is Need for Speed, a street-racing franchise which has sold about 150 million copies since its initial release in 1994.
Like many of the top-sellers, Need for Speed has gone in for quantity, relying on a frequent release schedule to try to keep fresh and keep its fans happy. The series has released one new game per year since 1997, with the exception of 2001. Publisher EA announced that 2014 will also be a gap in the franchise’s release history, with the next game only expected in 2015.
The series, which for the most part has received acclaim from critics, was adapted into a film starring Aaron Paul in 2014. That wasn’t quite as well-received, getting a dismal reception upon release.
6 The Sims (175 million +)
Is there anything better than playing God? Whether you’re pulling the strings of a couple of characters to throw them into a hilarious romance, or you’re making them jump into a pool, freezing reality, and then removing the water before they land, there’s lot’s to do while playing a game like The Sims. To add to the appeal, the games aren’t typically too demanding in terms of computing power, which means it’s a relatively easy game for most people to pick up and play – no expensive gaming PC required.
That goes a long way to explaining why the series has sold 175 million copies (not including the games from the related Sim City franchise), and with the recent release of the fourth installment, expect to see that number go up even more.
5 Grand Theft Auto (185 Million)
Often the target of criticism for its graphic violence - often against police officers and civilians - and for its sexual content, the Grand Theft Auto series is nevertheless both one of the most critically acclaimed and top-selling series of recent years, with more than 185 million copies sold.
The series, which has been around since 1997, really took off with the release of GTA III, which has been described as having “introduced a style of play that changed action gaming forever.” From there, the series developed deeper and more complex worlds for players to inhabit while also developing top-rate graphics, a winning combo for the franchise.
GTA has also spawned a ton of imitators, with games like Saints Row and Watch Dogs making no big secret of having borrowed liberal portions of style and gameplay elements from the hugely popular series.
4 Call of Duty (191 Million)
The first three installments of Call of Duty were set in World War II. Popular as they were, there’s no comparing those days to the heights that have been met since the series moved on to modern and futuristic combat.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare was arguably the beginning of the dominance of CoD in the shooter space, with a new game released each year pushing the arcade-style shooting genre into ever greater prominence. Fast-paced, with special bonuses and abilities assigned to players who are on a roll, the games have become staples, available on nearly all consoles.
The next edition, which will be firmly planting its flag in the sci-fi realm, notably stars Kevin Spacey as an aggressive politician in a futuristic America, and has drawn obvious comparisons to the Netflix series “House of Cards” as a result.
3 'Wii' (201 Million)
The Wii was an oddball hit for a couple of reasons. First of all, it had nowhere near the same quality of graphics as the Xbox 360 or the PS3. Second, it had this weird wand controller that could be waved around to play games. But it had a couple of other things going for it: First, it was made by Nintendo, which meant popular and fun games were sure to arrive for the system. Second, it was relatively cheap.
Along with the insane number of Wii consoles sold by Nintendo were a bunch of “Wii” branded games, which spanned everything from sports to party games, and even to music and chess. Though simple, and without the same kind of competitive replay value you might find with popular games from other publishers, the games were easy to pick up, fairly easy to master, and some even offered an opportunity for gamers to get into better shape.
Argue against the series for being boring all you want. Even excluding the copies of Wii games being bundled with Wii consoles, the Wii series of games was a big hit.
2 Pokemon (232 Million)
It’s a video game franchise, an anime series, a trading card game, and a whole bunch of other things besides. Pokemon has stood the test of time, its games a draw for both the young and those young at heart who were raised on Pikachu and Ash’s adventures.
As a game franchise, Pokemon has sold the greatest number of copies through the releases of its mobile role-playing games, but has also had success through a few other avenues. Its “Pokemon Stadium” games, console games that allowed players to battle their Pokemon in full colour and on television, were big hits when they first released, and Pokemon Snap, the photo safari game for the N64, has developed a cult following since its release.
Those who just can’t get enough Pokemon can look forward to Pokken Tournament, an arcade fighting game that stars Pokemon and will likely hit the Wii U within the next couple of years.
1 Mario Franchise (524 Million)
There’s no two ways about it. The king of video games is a plumber. Smashing the competition with a commanding 524 million copies of games sold across several genres, Mario is a beloved gaming icon that transcends generations.
With cute cartoon graphics and games for all kinds of players, the Mario brand is a good fit for just about any sort of gamer, or even non-gamer. Like tricky platformers? Any number of Mario games has you covered. Sports? Try Mario and Sonic at the Olympics, or Mario Tennis. For racing, of course, there’s the addictive Mario Kart series.
Arguably more than any other franchise, it’s the Mario series that gamers can thank for bringing their passion into the mainstream. To this day, even with the focus on HD graphics and bigger productions, there’s no better guarantee of fun than picking up a Mario title.