Video games are big business! More than 1.2 billion people play them, and global video game revenue is $101.62 billion per year. The first home video game console was released by Magnavox in 1972, well before a phone app was ever imagined. For more than four decades, games have been released and met with varying degrees of fanfare and criticism. Here’s a look at some of the bestsellers and biggest flops of console-based games.
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Most Successful Video Games
The game Pong was released in 1972. It was one of the first video games to reach mainstream popularity.
Pac Man was released in 1980 and went on to sell 7 million copies, making it the best-selling video game at that time. Tetris was released in 1984, selling 495 million copies. The ubiquitous game with the ever-falling tiles was created in Russia and is available on nearly every video game console, computer operating system and other media device. Super Mario Bros. was released in 1985, eventually selling 55.75 million copies. This was then followed in 1988 by Super Mario Bros. 3, which sold 17 million copies. The Mario series is the best-selling video game franchise of all time and has set seven Guinness World Records. In 1989, Tetris for Gameboy was released, and it sold 35 million copies.
Super Mario World was released in 1990 and went on to sell 20.6 million copies. In 1991, Lemmings was released, selling 15 million copies. Another release that year was Sonic the Hedgehog, which sold 15 million copies. More impressively, that game contributed to the Sega Genesis console’s extreme popularity in North America — it outsold the Super Nintendo 2 to 1. In 1996, Pokémon Red, Blue and Green was released, selling 23.64 million copies. This was followed by Pokémon Gold and Silver in 1999, which sold 23 million copies. The Pokémon series is second only to the Mario series as the best-selling video game franchise.
In the year 2000, The Sims was released, selling 16 million copies. The success of The Sims has been attributed to casual gamers and female gamers, with females making up 60% of players. Grand Theft Auto III was released in 2001 and sold 17.33 million copies, and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City was released the following year, selling 20 million copies. The Grand Theft Auto series was controversial from the very beginning. While being condemned and criticized for its extreme violence, it also simultaneously received critical and financial success.
In 2002, Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire was released to sales of 16.22 million copies. The Sims 2 was released in 2004, selling 20 million copies. 2005 had two major releases: Nintendogs, which sold 23.96 million copies, and Mario Kart DS, which sold 23.59 million copies. In 2006, Pokémon Diamond and Pearl came out, selling 17.63 million copies. Wii Sports was also released in 2006, selling 82.78 million copies. This was followed by the 2007 release of Wii Fit, which sold 22.67 million copies. Wii was looking to attract a new audience to gaming with its motion controls.
In 2007, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare was released, selling 15.7 million copies. Mario Kart Wii followed in 2008, selling 36.38 million copies. Also that year, Grand Theft Auto IV was released, selling 25 million copies. In 2009, Minecraft became to game to play with sales of 54 million console units. Notably, social media was a significant part of this game’s rise to fame, with ⅓ of players learning about the game from online videos. In 2009, Wii Sports Resort was released, selling 32.8 million copies, and New Super Mario Bros. Wii came out, selling 29.32 million copies.
In 2010, Call of Duty: Black Ops debuted, selling a total of 26.2 million copies. Breaking all records, this game sold more than 5.6 million copies in the first 24 hours. Also that year, Pokémon Black and White was released, selling 15.6 million copies. In 2011, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 was released, selling 26.5 million copies. Also in 2011, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim sold 20 million copies.
In 2012, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City started adding select video games to its permanent Architecture and Design Collection, including Pong, Pac-Man,
Tetris and The Sims. In 2012, Diablo III was released, selling 30 million copies. Also that year, Call of Duty: Black Ops II came out, selling 24.2 million copies. In 2013, Grand Theft Auto V was released, selling 65 million copies, and sales of Call of Duty: Ghosts amounted to 19 million copies. In 2014, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare racked up 21 million copies sold. Call of Duty: Black Ops III was released in 2015, selling 14.8 million copies. In total, the entire Call of Duty series has sold more than 175 million copies and made more than $15 billion. The games led to the creation of a Call of Duty Endowment in 2009 to help veterans find jobs.
2016’s big title has been Overwatch, which has sold 15 million copies so far. Just one week after Overwatch launched, it had 7 million players with 119 million hours of accumulated play time.
Check this timeline for units sold for all the most successful video games in our research:
Biggest Flops in Video Games
In 1982, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial was released and 1.5 million units were sold. Unfortunately, between 2.5 million and 3.5 million cartridges went unsold.
Virtual Boy was the first instance of 3D graphics in video games. Nintendo hyped a virtual reality experience for the 1995 release, but its monochrome graphics did not deliver. Only 770,000 units were sold.
After nearly a decade of hype and a seven-year development process with repeated delays, the game Battlecruiser 3000AD (shortened BC3K) was released in 1996 with many technical problems and outdated graphics.
After spending $6 million on a five-year development process, The Last Express, recognized as an intelligently written game with well-developed characters, was a sales flop after its 1997 release because of a lack of marketing and promotion. The maker needed to sell more than a million copies to break even and only sold 100,000.
Creating Dominion: Storm Over Gift 3 was supposed to be a three-month project for two employees, but it took more than a year to develop, and the game went wildly over budget prior to its 1998 release.
Shenmue had a five-year production period that cost $70 million, ranking the game as a record setter for the most expensive production costs at that time. Only 1.2 million copies were sold after its 1999 release.
Debuted in 2000, Daikatana was marketed as the “next big thing” for first-person shooter games, but massive overspending and a delayed release eventually resulted in a poor reaction, including complaints of technical bugs and low production value.
Although the game Beyond Good & Evil was critically acclaimed, its failure was attributed to its 2003 release alongside competing titles.
Despite critical success, the low initial sales of the 2005 game Psychonauts (fewer than 100,000 copies) was blamed on a lack of marketing.
The action-adventure game Ōkami was set in ancient Japan and combined traditional myths and folklore. Despite critical acclaim at its 2006 release, it was met with slow sales.
Themed with heavy-metal music, the game Brütal Legend recorded low sales after its 2009 release because of real-time strategy elements that were not mentioned before the game’s debut.
After the release of APB: All Points Bulletin in 2010, unenthusiastic reviews and a low subscriber rate were the cause of this game’s commercial failure.
The 2011 game Duke Nukem Forever was in development for 15 years and cost company executives $20 to $30 million of their own money, only to be met with poor sales.
In 2014, Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric and Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal were released, selling only 490,000 copies because of weak writing, glitches and poor gameplay.
The game Sunset, released in 2015, used an “arthouse-style” approach and sold only 4,000 copies, including those distributed to its crowdfunding backers.