by Goran Damnjanovic, Gaming Columnist
Published in Gaming on 25th November, 2019
Want to know which video games are the most popular of all time? Check out our list where we ranked the 20 most popular video games of all time. Ranking the most popular video games of all time is a tall order. There are so many variables that enter the formula.
Should you consider whole franchises or take into account single titles? Are free-to-play titles allowed to participate? What about legendary games that were super popular back in the day but would fade in comparison to present-day best seller sales numbers? Are casual mobile titles even allowed to be mentioned? And what about video games that are huge in the East but completely unknown in the West?
In making this list we decided to rank both game series and single titles, both free and paid games, both old classics and new competitors.
The result is a list that contains a variety of names, each garnering huge popularity for years and each being worldwide recognizable. No matter which platform you prefer and which video game genres you adore, we're sure you'll find at least a couple of personal favorites. Let's begin.
Wii Sports was something else, a simple game that could be enjoyed by anyone. You didn't have to be a seasoned gamer to appreciate this piece of software that shipped with the Wii and that was a perfect demonstration of the console's motion-based control system.
The five sports included were all perfect for local multiplayer but boxing, tennis, and bowling ended up as clear favorites.
The magic of the intuitive control scheme, a perfect pick-up-and-play formula that required zero learning, and sheer fun generated by playing the games was and still is, unmatched by any other game that came out before or after Wii Sports.
And the game also was great for getting some exercise, a complete opposite of what video games were associated with.
This made Wii Sports a favorite title among old and young fans, among hardcore and casual gamers, among those who only played on the PC and those that preferred a couch and a controller. Superb local multiplayer game, the best party title of all time, and a timeless classic that opened the gates of gaming to everyone.
Yes, Fortnite came out just two years ago but the impact the game had, both on the gaming market and modern culture as a whole, cannot be ignored. We can already say that Fortnite is one of the most popular video games of all time, and for more than one reason.
First of all, Fortnite pushed boundaries when it comes to cross-play and accessibility. Fortnite is available for almost every gaming device and it works seamlessly across every device building an interconnected community never has seen before in the history of gaming.
Further, the ubiquitous accessibility drove player numbers through the roof. As of March 2019, Fortnite has 250 million active players, which is unheard of in the gaming world.
The game became a cultural phenomenon and today kids get mocked for not playing Fortnite instead of not having the latest model of popular sneakers, or for not listening to popular music.
Since Chapter 2 came out Fortnite again become the most popular game in the world and while player numbers and short-term popularity will certainly fade, Fortnite is here to stay and will continue to be one of the most popular video games in years to come.
If one sports game can enter this list it's FIFA. The long-running franchise is based on yearly entries and while none of them can be considered as one of the most popular games of all time together they make the most popular pastime of hundreds of millions of players for more than two decades.
While not being the first MOBA game or the one that garners the biggest eSport competitions, League of Legends is by far the most popular MOBA title around.
Sure, we had big MOBA titles before (remember Heroes of Newerth and Demigod) and in the present (Dota 2) but none managed to garner as many players as LoL and no other kept its popularity for more than a decade.
League of Legends is a MOBA giant for ten years now and it's more popular today than ever. Tens of millions of users play the game on a regular basis and it can be said that, along with Fortnite, PUBG and Dota 2, LoL is the king of Twitch view numbers.
The perfect combination of quick matches, easy to learn but hard to master gameplay, simplistic but effective presentation, and free to play nature of the game proved to be a winning formula for all these years. And we can bet LoL will only get more popular, especially once the game comes out for smartphones.
The most recognizable JRPG series of all time, Final Fantasy definitely deserves the spot on this list. The cult series gave the world some of the best JRPG games ever.
Final Fantasy VII is still considered as one of the best games ever and its sequels pushed the ante up until Final Fantasy XIII, which ended up as a relative failure compared to its predecessors.
Nevertheless, Final Fantasy is still the favorite series for millions of gamers and many remasters/HD versions of various games from the series are played all over the world, on smartphones, consoles, and PCs, decades after they first came out.
A juggernaut of the JRPG genre, Final Fantasy is a familiar name all over the world and definitely one of the most popular games of all time.
Halo started its journey almost two decades ago and for years Halo games were premier multiplayer shooters that offered an experience much better than any other FPS. The first game redefined console multiplayer, allowing console players to enjoy full-fledged online matches the same way PC players did for years.
But Halo didn't only redefine console multiplayer. The game also has one of the best gunplay systems ever to be created and its amazing enemy AI is, along with F.E.A.R's, the top example of how to do enemy AI right.
Halo: Combat evolved also redefined level design in FPS games, with its sprawling open maps that allowed free exploration. And let's not forget about the fantastic story told in the original trilogy. Each game became a best seller, with total sales reaching 65 million units in 2015 (a number that surely grew in the last four years).
Skyrim is the best-selling RPG game of all time and by far the most popular installment of the long-running The Elder Scrolls series. It is, along with The Witcher 3, the most popular open-world RPG in the world and today, Skyrim can be played on a plethora of devices. You can explore Skyrim even on the Switch and the game is ported for VR.
Alongside tremendous sales numbers, Skyrim also became a cultural phenomenon. The game was featured in thousands of meme templates, it was talked about in thousands of articles online, it was even mentioned on multiple occasions on various daytime TV shows that usually mention games only as catalysts for violence among minors.
Finally, the Skyrim mod scene is busy as ever, always keeping the game fresh and constantly adding new content. This is one of the main reasons why the game is still played by millions of people, more than eight years after the release.
Diablo 3 is still extremely popular. The game came out for the Switch about a year ago and it ended as one of the top sellers for the console, even though it originally came out in 2012!
After it struggled for a couple of years Diablo 3 became the ultimate loot-driven action RPG and still is one of the most played games both on the PC and consoles. And what to say about the first two games?
The original Diablo defined the action RPG genre with its dark aesthetics, gory gameplay, tons of loot, and virtually unlimited replay value. The second game from the series is still the favorite among the fans and the game still receives patches, the last one being released in 2016.
That's 16 years after its original release date! Combined, sales numbers aren't mind-boggling. the three games sold a bit under 25 million copies but the cultural impact, influence the series had on video game development, as well as its massive popularity across the world guarantee Diablo a spot on the list.
Pac - Man came out in 1980 and since then the game received numerous adaptations for almost every gaming system imaginable. The original was the king of arcade parlors and its sequels and adaptations sold in millions of units.
Pacman is one of the most important pieces of the gaming history, a simple video game that gave birth to classic arcade titles and also the second longest-running video game franchise.
Its cultural impact is also significant. The game found itself in numerous movies, cartoons, TV shows, and other media. Pac - Man was also the first broadly recognized video game character.
But, more importantly, Pac - Man profoundly affected video game design with deterministic AI that reacted to player actions and many famous video game developers cited Pac - Man as one of their main influences. Today, players around the world play the legendary game in one of its free forms available online and for smartphones.
If we counted sales for each game from the Call of Duty franchise together, they would probably surpass sales of every other video game and franchise mentioned here. Ever since its inception Call of Duty games offered superb multiplayer experience and crowds recognized that pushing sales of each new entry higher and higher.
But CoD games weren't just one-trick ponies; ever since the magnificent Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (the OG one), each CoD game also came with a fantastic, short but sweet single-player campaign filled with adrenaline-pumping shootouts and killer action scenes.
Today, Call of Duty is the reigning champion of the FPS online multiplayer and it seems the game is more popular than ever. What it's certain is that Call of Duty simply has to be considered as one of the most popular games of all time.
This is by far the most popular racing game of all time. We have our Forzas, Grand Turismos, and Need for Speeds but Mario Kart is above them all. This arcade kart racing game brought joy to tens, hundreds of millions of players around the world and today Mario Kart is more popular than ever thanks to the fantastic Nintendo Switch and Mario Kart 8.
Ever since the first game came out for the SNES Mario Kart was the go-to choice for couch multiplayer. We all had that friend who owned a Nintendo console and we all spent weekends at their place playing Mario Kart, hours on end.
Today we have online multiplayer but hanging together in the same room and spending the whole Saturday afternoon playing Mario Kart is still one the best pastime you can have with friends.
The first Zelda game came out in 1986 for NES and ever since Zelda and Link are, alongside Mario, the biggest Nintendo icons. Each Zelda title broke new ground and impacted the action-adventure genre of video games in new ways.
Many titles are considered as some of the best, if not the best, video games ever made. Games such as Majora's Mask, Ocarina of Time, Breath of the Wild, are masterpieces that can be called nothing short of works of art.
And the popularity followed the quality. Today, you cannot find a person who plays games on a regular basis that didn't at least hear about The Legend of Zelda series.
Hell, the first wave of massive Nintendo Switch sales was fueled mostly thanks to The Breath of the Wild. And today, just like 20 years ago, The Legend of Zelda games are worldwide popular and some of the most played video games of all time.
The Sims games are unique in the way that they allow us to create perfect versions of ourselves. And if you're not one of those people who create your doppelgangers in Sims form, chances are you still like The Sims because creating a virtual human and taking care of them, being there during their brightest and saddest moments is nothing short of acting like a sort of a god, watching their own human and making sure they're alright and happy.
And we all like that sense of power (and responsibility, most of the time) that comes with taking care of your own virtual human being. It's something like parenting but with a much higher level of control, without any strings attached, and without real-life consequences.
Oh, and parenting doesn't include that power trip we have while controlling every aspect of the life of our Sim. This human Tamagotchi formula proved to be massively successful because The Sims is one of the highest-selling video game series of all time, keeping its immense level of popularity stable ever since the first game saw the light of day back in 2000.
While Sims games allow us to take care of our personal virtual human being Pokemon games allow us to collect hundreds of cute virtual creatures while exploring massive worlds and fighting against other cure virtual creatures.
The timeless formula of collecting Pokemon, training them and unlocking their powers, taking them to battles against other trainers, and winning the title of the ultimate Pokemon trainer never gets old or dull.
This is why every single Pokemon game ended as the best seller and why the series reached more than 340 million units sold, making it the second best-selling video game series.
And the massive success of Pokemon games gave birth to various anime shows, successful manga comics, and many other spin-off games, movies, short stories, even musicals. Today, Pokemon is one of the biggest names in popular culture, with an ever-reaching influence across every media, not just video games.
World of Warcraft wasn't the first MMORPG game, it wasn't the first MMO to offer robust social features, hardcore raids, or a complex leveling system. But WoW was the first MMO to become a worldwide hit, to garner a multimillion player base, and to become a topic of conversation in the mainstream media.
Blizzard hit a massive gold vein with World of Warcraft and many other studios tried to copy the game in years following the game's release. But none managed to keep their games afloat for more than a couple of years, at least with a monthly subscription service on top of making people pay $60 for the base game.
And there we have World of Warcraft. which does this for a decade and a half! WoW crossed over $9 billion in revenue by 2017 and it's safe to say that the game broke the $10 billion mark by now, making it one of the highest-grossing video games of all time.
With the release of World of Warcraft Classic Blizzard managed to snatch back players who didn't touch the game in years while at the same time keeping the main game super popular with the latest expansion, WoW Shadowlands.
While Call of Duty titles hold the throne of multiplayer shooter games at the moment, Counter-Strike is the title that introduced millions of people to the world of online shooter games and one of the rare video game series that is just as popular today as it was when it first came out, in 2000.
Almost two decades of massive popularity turned Counter-Strike into the biggest eSports title by far, and it can be said that viewership numbers of major tournaments are probably higher than the active player count of CS: GO, which is already massive, topping Steam player count charts on a daily basis.
Grand Theft Auto is here for more than two decades, with the first game of the series launching in 1997.
But the title that pushed the series into the mainstream was GTA: Vide City, which was the first GTA game to become a blockbuster and to take GTA series into the gaming mainstream. GTA: San Andreas is probably the biggest title of the 00s and it influenced video game design like no other game of the series.
San Andreas was the perfect open-world blueprint many studios tried to copy.
And with the release of GTA V Grand Theft Auto became the biggest online title of all time, garnering hundreds of millions of players and breaking all sales and revenue charts.
The sarcastic story of the American Dream combined with gratuitous violence, sandbox open-world design, and well-written characters hit the chord with people from around the world. But it wasn't until the game entered online waters that GTA hit its peak popularity.
Super Mario is the higher grossing video game franchise of all time. Mario is probably the most recognizable video game character of all time.
Super Mario Bros. games that came out for NES impacted every single platformer that came after, they influenced video game design in decades to come and provided a platforming game blueprint used in thousands of future titles. In other words, not putting Super Mario games on this list would be ludicrous, unprofessional, and deeply dishonest.
Minecraft is the most played game in the whole world at the moment and it is among the most popular games in the world for a whole decade now. It entered the gaming world in 2009 and created a new genre of sandbox survival games.
It influenced hundreds of video games that came after it and some of the titles that modified Minecraft formula include super-popular titles such as Rust, Ark: Survival Evolved, Terraria, No Man's Sky, Don't Starve, and The Forest.
Its sandbox design where you can craft virtually anything proved to be a winning formula for hundreds of millions of gamers, with the game becoming a canvas for countless user creations that were mentioned many times in the mainstream media.
Ten years after its release Minecraft is again the most played game in the world thanks to its simplicity, timeless design, multiplayer features, universal accessibility (Minecraft can be played on almost every device that plays games), and amazing mod support. All this makes Minecraft one of the most popular games of all time. Oh, and it is the best-selling game of all time, not that it matters much.
When Minecraft manages to keep its popularity for more than three decades maybe we decide to put it in the first place. But until then the throne is reserved for the timeless video game that is Tetris.
Tetris is a perfect video game; it always tests your limits, has flawless design and is universally appealing to virtually anyone, no matter whether they've played games in their lives or not.
With countless iterations, the game didn't lose its charm and the fact that every new form of Tetris, from the classic Tetris for the original Game Boy to the psychedelic Tetris Effect, kept the timeless design intact says enough for the beauty and the sheer genius of Tetris. This is the game that will be played by millions fifty years from now in almost unchanged form, something that cannot be said about any other game on this list.