Totally Pwned! The Top Twenty Five Video Games That Have Made an Insane Amount of Money
People all over the world love video games, so much so that the industry raked in an astounding $140 billion in 2019 alone. Today’s video games have come a long way since the days of Pong and Pacman, and over the course of video game history, the players have evolved as much as the games. As their audience continues to widen and products fly off the shelves, here’s the best-selling video games of all time.
25. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – $620,000,000
The Elder Scrolls franchise makes up, without a doubt, one of the most successful video games ever. While the revenue from all seventeen games is difficult to pin down, the fifth installment, Skyrim is by far the most successful one. The game focuses on protagonist Dragonborn on his quest to save the world from the evil dragon, Alduin the World-Eater.
A little over one month after its original release on November 11, 2011, Skyrim had sold over ten million copies. The same year, it was voted by Gamespot.com as “PC Game of the Year”, and more widely is considered to be one of the best video games of all time.
24. Red Dead Redemption 2 – $725,000,000
Red Dead Redemption is a third-person action-adventure game that allows players to traverse a fictionalized version of the American West during its decline in 1911. It centers around fictional character John Marston, a former outlaw whose family has been taken hostage by the government. This forces Marston to join forces with his old gang to secure their release at all costs.
Red Dead Redemption is one of the most expensive games ever produced, with Rockstar games going on record saying that their intent was to bolster the brand, and not necessarily draw a profit. Rockstar hypothesized that they needed to sell 1.5 million copies in order to break even, and 4 million to make a profit. Seven years after its original release in 2010, the game had sold over 15 million copies.
23. Fallout 4 – $750,000,000
Also released by American video game producer Bethesda Studios, Fallout 4 sold more copies and made more money than Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, selling 1.5 million copies during its first twenty-four hours of release. The game itself is estimated to have made $750 million, but the Fallout franchise is actually worth much less, at $45 million.
It goes to show just how much money is spent producing the games, which doesn’t necessarily result in a return on design and engineering efforts. Notably, Fallout 4 utilized Bethesda’s Creation Engine, developed for Skyrim, which allows users to update graphics and customize their own characters.
22. Candy Crush Saga – $930,000,000
Released in 2012 by King, Candy Crush Saga was originally designed for Facebook, and later released versions for iOS, Android, Windows Phone, and Windows 10. It is known for being one of the first games to achieve commercial success through the “freemium” model, which allows users to play for free while charging real money to clear difficult boards and gain extra lives.
Five years after its release on mobile, Candy Crush had registered over 2.7 billion downloads worldwide. In a true display of how video games have changed over time, fifty-six percent of users were female, while the game also racked up a huge following from adults; although the majority of players were Generation X’ers.
21. NBA 2K Franchise- $1,000,000,000
Sports games have been a staple in the gaming industry for decades. While several companies have produced games capitalizing on the popularity of NBA basketball, none have been as successful as Electronic Arts’ 2K series. Released annually on multiple consoles, NBA 2K is a haven for hoops fans looking to embody their love of the game in a virtual reality.
Old-school fans might recall going to Blockbuster, and returning home only to see the game’s most popular player mysteriously absent from game play. Today, not only can players relive the heroics of Michael Jordan, but virtually all NBA players past and present; as well as some famous street-ball amateurs. Thanks to its extreme attention to detail, 2K has become a staple in the lives of many current players.
20. Arena of Valor – $1,300,000,000
Formerly called Realm of Valor, then Strike of Kings, Arena of Valor is a multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) game, a spin-off of the extremely popular League of Legends. Released by Tencent Games, and developed by subsidiary TiMi studios, the game has achieved international success, but is much more popular in Asia compared to North America and Europe.
In the game, players compete in matches that last between twelve to eighteen minutes on average. The objective is to destroy enemy positions on the map and achieve victory by destroying the enemy core. Since the game is played online, it has developed a massive social following that has contributed heavily to its success.
19. The Legend of Zelda – $1,400,000,000
Since its original release by Nintendo in 1986, Zelda has stayed true to its format of presenting players with a mix of puzzles, action, adventure/battle game-play, and exploration. It is one of Nintendo’s most successful franchises and considered by many in the industry to be among the best video games ever.
Though The Legend of Zelda is the stuff of pure fantasy, its origins actually have several real-life inspirations. Video game designer/creator Shigeru Miyamoto used to love exploring the forests, lakes, and caves close to his native hometown of Sonobe, Japan, and has often been quoted saying that Zelda is the manifestation of those boyish explorations. Additionally, Princess Zelda takes her name from American author and socialite Zelda Fitzgerald, while Link’s appearance is a combination of Disney’s Peter Pan and Tinkerbell.
18. Tom Clancy Rainbow Six: Siege $1,600,000,000
Tom Clancy’s books have not only inspired a series of incredibly successful video games, but have also been adapted into several well-known films. Rainbow Six games have been released since the late 1990s, but it was Rainbow Six: Siege that rebooted the franchise upon its release in 2015.
Rainbow Six: Siege is a first-person shooter game that allows players to operate as part of the FBI SWAT, the British SAS, the German GSG-9, the Russian Spetsnaz, and the French GIGN. The game has won a number of accolades and has acquired a substantial fan base that holds an annual tournament, allowing teams to compete against one another for a cash prize.
17. Fortnite – $2,400,000,000
Developed by American gaming company Epic Games, Fortnite has been a cultural phenomenon since its release in 2017. Fortnite is distributed in three different game modes: Fortnite Save the World, Fornite Battle Royale, and Fornite Creative. Battle Royale and Creative are offered for free, while Save the World is not. All three make use of V-Bucks, a form of in-game currency that can also be purchased with real-world funds.
While all three games are extremely popular in their own right, Save the World has made a notable transition into popular culture, with several celebrities reporting that they are active players. Like Rainbow Six and several other titles on this list, Fortnite has developed an annual competition. The Fortnite World Cup in 2019 awarded a $30 million pot to top finishers.
16. Minecraft – $2,500,000,000
Inducted into the World Video Game Hall of Fame in June 2020, Minecraft is heralded as being revolutionary. It’s widely regarded as the best-selling video game of all time in terms of units sold. To date, over 200 million copies have been sold across all of the game’s platforms, with a reported 126 million users playing monthly.
A sandbox game, there are no specific goals that players need to accomplish in Minecraft; although it is possible to play with an objective via the various modes that the player can choose from. The freedom that the game offers is a huge part of its mass appeal. In 2014, Microsoft purchased the intellectual property rights to Minecraft for $2.5 billion.
15. FIFA Franchise – $3,000,000,000
By far the most popular sports game in the world, EA has released its annual soccer video game since 1993. Notably, FIFA was the first sports video game to have an official licence from the actual FIFA, the governing body of international soccer. The game’s slick graphics and polished engineering have made it a perennial must-have for video game and soccer enthusiasts alike.
FIFA 2012 holds the record for being the fastest-selling sports game of all time, with 3.2 million games sold during its first week on the market. The game has also evolved to feature more niche leagues and playing format. For example, EA has released FIFA World Cup, Champions League, and Premiere League editions, as well as a street soccer game, FIFA Street.
14. Skylanders – $3,000,000,000
The first edition of the Skylanders franchise was released in 2011, titled Spyro’s Adventure. Since then, the series released five additional titles consecutively, year after year. Thanks to a huge following, the Skylanders portfolio expanded to include novels, comic books, and a television series available on Netflix.
The game itself takes place in a fantasy world called the “Skylands”, an adventure world composed of floating islands. It is the job of the Skylanders to keep their world safe from the main antagonist, Kaos, and his forces of evil. The game is considered to be one of the top twenty video game franchises of all time. Notably, famous composer Hans Zimmer wrote the theme song for the game.
13. The Sims – $3,500,000,000
Initially developed by Maxis studio until it was acquired by Electronic Arts in 1997, The Sims franchise has sold an estimated 200 million copies to date, making it easily one of the best-selling video games. The Sims is largely a sandbox game, where users create virtual people, called “Sims”, and place them into virtual homes and living environments to help satisfy their needs and desires.
Sims creator Will Wright was actually inspired to build the game after losing his own home in a fire, and subsequently rebuilding it with the help of his computer. Years later, The Sims has set two Guinness Book of World Records: one for the “Most Expansion Packs For A Video Game Series”, and the other for being the “Best Selling PC Game Series”.
12. Madden NFL Franchise – $4,000,000,000
Named after Hall of Fame football coach and commentator John Madden, the Madden NFL series has sold over 130 million copies to date. Like FIFA, Madden is the only American football game to be officially licensed by the National Football League. It has greatly influenced players, coaches, and fans alike since it was first released in 1988.
Part of what sets the game apart from its competitors is its detailed playbooks and real-life voice commentary, giving the game a notable air of credibility even among the most knowledgeable players. The game has been released annually since 1990, and awards John Madden between $2 and $3 million per year for lending his namesake to the game.
11. Halo Franchise – $5,000,000,000
The original Halo plot is based on an interstellar war between humanity and an alliance of evil aliens known as “The Covenant”. After its first release in 2001, the series has gone on to sell over 65 million copies worldwide. The first installments in the series are highly acclaimed, widely regarded as the best first-person shooter games released by Xbox.
Strong sales have led the franchise to expand into other media, including novels, graphic novels, comic books, Lego sets, and movie shorts. Critics have opined that Halo’s plot line is on par with some of the greatest good versus evil stories of the generation. Variety went to so far as to call Halo “the equivalent of Star Wars“. Culturally, the game has inspired gatherings, both large and small, of players who enjoy teaming up together to battle a common enemy.
10. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds – $5,000,000,000
PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, also referred to as PUBG, was released by South Korean video game company Bluehole in 2017. It is based on the Japanese movie Battle Royale, and features as a battle royale genre, but also as a standalone game at the discretion of the game’s director, Brendan Greene.
Battlegrounds was one of the first games to be made available via the video game streaming service, Steam. Downloads of the mobile version have exceeded 600 million, while computer and console sales have reached over 70 million. Notably, the bulk of players are from Asia, more specifically from China and India. Only eight percent of mobile sales have been attributed to players in North America, but it still ranks as one of the most popular games in the world.
9. Tetris – $5,000,000,000 (estimated)
Perhaps the most classic of all the video games on this list, Tetris was created in the summer of 1984 by Russian mathematician Alexey Pajitnov, who was then studying at the Dorodnicyn Computing Center of the Academy of Science in Moscow. After first sending out the game to close friends, one promptly expanded the game on a more modern IBM computer, increasing the number of levels. The ensuing result was something Pajitnov never expected: a worldwide sensation.
Eventually it was picked up by gaming enthusiast and businessman Hank Rogers, and sold to gaming giant Nintendo. The game’s creator didn’t see a cent of revenue until 1991, when he moved to the United States and joined forces with Rogers. In the meantime, he missed out on collecting tens of millions of dollars in royalties. To date, the game has sold more than 200 million copies, and the rights are back in the hands of its rightful owner.
8. CrossFire – $7,000,000
Old-school gamers might remember a different game, Crossfire, that was created for some of the early Apple computers in the 1980s. But CrossFire, produced by South Korean company, Smilegate, is something else entirely. The tactical first-person shooter game is made solely for Microsoft Windows and has racked up a massive following in Asia, mostly in South Korea and in China.
The plot line features two global mercenary corporations, “Black List” and “Global Risk”, who are fighting against each other in a not-so-covert global conflict. Players have the option of selecting which team they belong to. As of 2020, it was reported that the game has reached a lifetime one billion players from eighty different countries. Also in the works is a CrossFire movie, which will be co-produced by Tencent Productions — a subsidiary of the popular Chinese gaming company, Tencent Entertainment.
7. Grand Theft Auto Franchise – $9,000,000,000
The Grand Theft Auto series allows users to play the role of a variety of different protagonists attempting to rise up in the world of organized crime. Throughout the game’s different releases, the setting takes the resemblance of different US cities. Ironically, the game was actually developed in the UK by Rockstar North, and is considered to be one of Britain’s most lucrative exports.
Over the years, several A-list Hollywood actors have voiced the game’s characters, including Ray Liotta, Dennis Hopper, Samuel L. Jackson, James Woods, and Axl Rose. Although wildly successful, the game has been controversial since its inception. Over 4,000 articles have been written about it, condemning it for glamorizing violence and attributing it to real-life crime. Britain, Germany, and France have all spoken out against the game (although it is still sold there), while Brazil has banned it outright.
6. Dungeon Fighter Online – $10,000,000,000
Also referred to by its acronym DFO, Dungeon Fighter Online is an action role-playing game developed for PCs by the Korean company, TenCent. Since its initial release in Korea in 2005, the game has reached an audience of more than 600 million, making it not only one of the most popular video games, but also one of the most popular entertainment media products of all time.
In June 2010, DFO was released in North America. After three years the game was terminated, so that the company “[could] focus on enhancing [their] other game offerings”. To date, the game is far more popular in Asia than in North America and Europe. It has inspired several spin-offs, as well as a manga graphic novel. For comparative purposes, DFO’s gross revenue after 10 years, at $8.7 billion, eclipsed the combined box office gross of the Star Wars franchise.
5. Warcraft – $11,200,000,000
Made up of five unique core games, Warcraft is a real-time strategy game where players control virtual armies and fight against one another, or against a computer-controlled enemy. The game takes place in the fantasy world of Azeroth, which is inhabited by a host of humans, elves, orcs, undead, and many other creatures.
The game has been adapted into other media, including a short-lived magazine, card game, comics, books, and a full-length film released in 2016. The name Warcraft was pitched by one of the game’s developers, without having any real connection to the game. It stuck simply because it “sounded cool.” Warcraft is now one of the most recognizable video game titles, played by fans all over the world.
4. Mario – $12,000,000,000
When video game creator and director Shigeru Miyamoto, (also the creator of Zelda) introduced an Italian plumber into the already wildly popular arcade game Donkey Kong, he could have never imagined the cultural impact that the game eventually would make all over the world. Forty years later, the Mario franchise is arguably the most recognizable video game franchise on the planet.
Originally, the Mario character was named “Mr. Video”, but it was quickly changed once Miyamoto came up “Mario”, which he thought was much more catchy. Reportedly, the namesake comes from the landlord of Nintendo’s warehouse in North America, named Mario Segale. To date, Mario has appeared in over 200 games, and has sold over 200 million units of games. It is rumored that a full-length, animated Mario movie is set to release in 2021, directed by none other than Miyamoto himself.
3. Pokémon Franchise (video games only) – $13,100,000,000
Called “Pocket Monsters” in its native Japan, the Pokémon franchise is owned by three companies: Nintendo, Game Freak, and Creatures, but is managed by Nintendo in North America. Reportedly, Pokémon is the highest-grossing media franchise of all time, with an estimated $90 billion in revenue stemming from every type of media channel imaginable.
Although the franchise has been adapted across several different mediums, Pokémon originally debuted as a video game for the first Game Boy handheld system. When co-creator Satoshi Tajiri pitched the idea to Nintendo, no one really understood the idea of being able to trade for other characters, and to battle one another. Nevertheless, based on his previous success, Satoshi and partner Ken Sugimori were given the green light to develop the first game under the tutelage of Shigeru Miyamoto.
2. Call of Duty Series – $15,000,000,000
Published since 2013 by the California-based Activision, Call of Duty was initially set during World War II, but has evolved to include Cold War, futuristic, and outer-space settings. By February 2016, the series had sold over 250 million copies, and had spawned a line of action figures, toys, a card game, and comic book.
It’s worth noting that the Call of Duty Series has been the subject of controversy on more than one occasion. Specifically, in Modern Warfare 2, one level allowed players to participate in a mass shooting at a Russian airport. For better or worse, the game’s vivid realness, has made it a favorite among members of the military; so much so, that the US Armed Forces have actually adapted their training to simulate elements of the game.
1. League of Legends – $20,000,000,000
Produced by American video game company Riot Games, League of Legends first debuted in 2009. Within three years it became the most played game in North America and Europe in terms of total hours spent playing. Having made billions of dollars per year over the last decade from amassing a following that is estimated to include 100 million active players per month, League of Legends is officially the highest-grossing game of all time.
Now, the guys at Riot are trying to figure out how to get the most out of their cash cow. Reportedly in the works are a digital card game, television series, and movie, all yet to be released. The game continues to be a number-one title across Europe, Asia, and North America. It attracts massive participation in online tournaments that award winners tens of millions of dollars in prize money.