The Best-Selling Videogame Franchises of All Time

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The Best-Selling Videogame Franchises of All Time

Popularity isn’t a sign of quality. Some of the best games ever bombed at retail, and some of the best-selling games of all time aren’t worth the storage space they’d take up on your hard drive. Popularity does offer a glimpse of what our culture values, though, and I’ll let you decide what the best-selling games of all time say about the world we live in today and the culture that has arisen around videogames. If you’re tempted to land on some kind of grand unified theory about violent videogames, though, please note that Tetris, Minecraft, The Sims, and a few sports games are on this list. It’s not all guns, swords, and sentient mushroom squashing.

Here are the best-selling videogame franchises of all time, according to Wikipedia, a website that has never been wrong about anything ever. Not even once.

20. Resident Evil


Original release: 1996
Number of releases: 24
Copies sold: 90 million

Across seven main-line entries, a constant stream of remakes, and a smattering of spin-offs, Capcom’s zombie horror game has sold over 90 million copies since 1996. That’s a lot of splattered undead. It helps to have an inexplicably long-running movie series by your side, of course, even if it’s one that’s only loosely based on the games.

19. NBA 2K


Original release: 1999
Number of releases: 23
Copies sold: Over 90 million

2K’s annual b-ball smash began life as one of Sega’s sports titles, which makes this the only franchise on the list to debut on the beloved Dreamcast. (Allen Iverson was its very first cover boy, and that makes me feel officially older than dirt.) The 2K series has long dominated the basketball game scene, and has grown increasingly ambitious and complex over the years; one had a career mode “directed” by Spike Lee, and other recent entries have been criticized for an extreme reliance upon microtransactions. Still, it’s one of the most successful game series of all time, moving over 90 million units in the past 20 years.

18. The Legend of Zelda


Original release: 1986
Number of releases: over 30
Copies sold: over 92 million

Here’s another reminder that quality and significance doesn’t directly correlate with commercial performance. The Legend of Zelda is the second oldest franchise on this list, had a profound impact on the medium, and, with over 30 entries (including mainline games, remakes, and spin-offs), has one of the largest catalogues of any franchise here. And yet it only comes in at number 18. As beloved as Link, Zelda, and the rest of Hyrule are, they apparently just can’t compete with the likes of Angry Sociopath #3 from GTA or the generic gun guys of Call of Duty.

17. Pro Evolution Soccer


Original release: 1996
Number of releases: 26, with an additional 19 only released in Japan
Copies sold: over 100 million

Yep: a game that’s largely overlooked in North America, dismissed as the distant second-place runner-up behind FIFA, is massively popular throughout the rest of the world. Tracking Pro Evolution’s history can be a little tricky—that name wasn’t used until 2001, but that first entry was released as Winning Eleven 5 in North America and Japan, using the name of Konami’s existing football series. Although it has a dedicated fan base in the US, it’s much larger internationally, where the gulf between it and FIFA isn’t quite as wide. It also often gets better reviews from game critics and football fans than its more famous competition.

16. Lego


Original release: 1995
Number of releases: 71
Copies sold: over 100 million

Lego videogames go back a lot farther than the pop culture parodies that started with Lego Star Wars. The first officially licensed Lego videogame dates back to 1995, and was available solely for Sega’s educational console for kids, the Pico. Since then there have been 70 more games with the Lego name or license, and it’s mostly the run of popular movie tie-ins over the last 15 years that got the company a spot on this list.

15. Wii Sports


Original release: 2006
Number of releases: 3
Copies sold: over 115 million

Sometimes a game sells well simply because it’s bundled with the hardware. Sometimes hardware sells well because of the game that comes with it. The greatest example of the latter is Wii Sports. The first game came with every Wii, at least outside of Asia, and was the prime driver of the Wii’s massive popularity throughout 2007 and 2008. All told the original Wii Sports sold over 80 million copies. A follow up, Wii Sports Resort, which also introduced the Wii Motion Plus peripheral, sold over 30 million copies, at a time when the Wii fad had already collapsed. A third game, Wii Sports Club, came out for the beleaguered Wii U in 2013; it was essentially a remake, and its sales were a small fraction of the original’s.

14. Sonic the Hedgehog


Original release: 1991
Number of releases: 30 (including five Mario & Sonic games)
Copies sold: over 123 million

Sega’s feisty mascot launched as a rival to Mario in 1991 and quickly broke out of games into mainstream pop culture. Over the decades Sonic has starred in dozens of games, a long-running comic book series, and cartoons, and has a big budget Hollywood film on the way. The series has cultivated a passionate group of fans who seem united in two things: their love of Sonic, and their disappointment in almost every videogame Sonic has starred in for the last 20 years or so. That hasn’t deterred Sega from regularly making new ones, though; since his 1991 debut, Sonic has starred in over two dozen games with his name in the title, and an additional five games where he competes against Mario in the Olympics. He’s also become a key member of the Super Smash Bros. roster. Most game mascots launched in the ‘90s were flashes in the pan, but Sonic is here to stay.

13. Madden


Original release: 1988
Number of releases: 39
Copies sold: over 130 million

John Madden retired from the broadcast booth a decade ago. He hadn’t been a coach in over 20 years at that point. We’re rapidly approaching the moment where the overwhelming majority of Madden players have no idea who the game is named after or why—if we aren’t already there. The fact that the most beloved NFL commentator’s largest impact on the culture hasn’t been his own careers but a videogame that licenses his name is weirder and less predictable than the Madden Curse. Anyway, football fans have been slapping around the pigskin with Madden for over 30 years, and there’s no sign it’ll ever stop. It wasn’t the first sports series, it may not be the best, but it’s easily the biggest and most important.

12. Mario Kart


Original release: 1992
Number of releases: Nine
Copies sold: over 137 million

Nintendo’s kart racer has one of the highest per-unit sales totals on this list. Sonic has been huge for decades, and yet has sold less copies than Mario Kart has, despite having over three times as many games in his franchise. That’s how absurdly popular Mario Kart has been since hitting the Super Nintendo in 1992. When considered its own franchise, and not part of the larger Mario world, it’s the company’s third best-selling game, behind only Super Mario platformers and Pokémon. People love screwing over their friends on go-karts.

11. Assassin’s Creed


Original release: 2007
Number of releases: 21
Copies sold: over 140 million

This is what annual releases can do for you. Assassin’s Creed is only 12 years old, but in that time has only seen two years without a mainline release—and partially made up for that by releasing two mainline entries in one year at one point. Add in various handheld, mobile and downloadable spinoffs, and you’ve got a large library of titles in not too long a time period. It’s also a series that tries to hook regular players with an absurdly convoluted mythology that is furthered with pretty much entry, so there are probably a good number of series Creed fans who pick up every one. Either way it’s been a smash hit for Ubisoft, and is one of the youngest franchises on this list.

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