Look, there are a number of ways to objectively measure the quantities of games sold. Do most sales definitively mean most popular? We think not. When it comes to what makes a game popular, there are a few things to look for:
Name recognition. When you go up to someone who doesn’t play video games and ask them to name three video games, what do they say? Now that’s popularity.
Fond memories. When you ask your buddies who do play video games, what their favorite game moments are, which ones do they share? That’s popularity.
We polled a number of real humans, we skimmed the internet, and we looked at how many millions of copies were sold, and we’ve come up with would be hailed as the definitive list of popular games, or the most subjective assemblage of biased rubbish. Regardless of what the yay- and nay-sayers say, let’s look at this list!
Most Popular Video Games of All Time
Pacman gets the 20 spot because it’s an ancient arcade game that everyone played at least once at the local roller rink before it closed down for good like 15 years ago.
As far as games go, it’s always seemed to be on the frustrating and simplistic side. Yes, it’s “a classic” but, just like with old movies, a classic doesn’t mean it’s any good! Still, the popularity is undeniable.
Bet you didn’t see THIS one coming! Just kidding, it probably popped into your head when you read the article title. But listen, when it comes to the old heads that don’t play video games, you ask them for three game titles, at least 50% of them will say Tetris.
Wii sports is an undeniably great time. If Pacman could be more like Wii sports, maybe the roller rink wouldn’t have shut down, and maybe Pacman would have a better spot on the list. But no, only Wii sports can be like Wii sports.
This game is definitely popular, fun for all ages, and has sold a ton of copies. The only issue is that it was bundled with all the Wii sales except for maybe in Japan. So maybe Wii sports is only popular because it’s friend The Wii is popular. We’ll never know.
Sonic the HedgeHog
Some of the entries on this list make more sense as the whole franchise rather than an individual game. Sonic, for example, probably rose to popularity on the Sega Genesis and the Game Gear. Not so much on the Dreamcast (RIP sega systems). People recognize him, though. Maybe he just has one of those faces.
Lol. This is the one game that, no matter how many times you get it to go into the swimming pool and take the ladder away, will not die. We won’t lie, we pumped plenty of hours into constructing our own homes, putting dirty dishes on the floor, rose budding, and setting the kitchen on fire.
It can be a fun game. And it has serious appeal outside of your typical gamer base.
This game sold a surprising amount of copies. We had no idea it was as popular as it was. Awesome characters, sweet loot, Blizzard… It’s easy to see why this one was a hit.
Super Mario Bros.
You think Diablo III moved some copies, it has nothing on the Super Mario Bros! A timeless classic, everyone knows who they are. Now the argument could be made that people only know of the Mario Bros because of that smash-hit, live-action film that came out in 1993. If anyone makes that argument they’re dead wrong. Terrible movie, watch it sometime!
Super Smash Brothers
When it “Wah”s it “Wah-HOooooo”s. Super Mario 64, anyone? No? Ok, that’s fine. Here we are again with a franchise. A lot of people love the original on the N64. Others like them the newer they get. Either way, people know this franchise, people ask for it when you bust out any Nintendo console. SSB is populaaaaaaar.
There’s no party like a Nintendo party, as Japan goes for the hattrick. Yes, Pokemon! What a franchise! If we had to pick the generation, we would say Red and Blue (and Yellow if you want to be all-inclusive). The new games are great, but you can’t top the fever behind the first generation release.
The Legend of Zelda
Oooooooooooh!!!! No, we didn’t!!!! Four in a row! Four in a row! The Legend of Zelda. It is our humble opinion that there was no better game to play on a snow day. Ocarina of Time is just…so good. So many feelings. Anyway if you ask around, Zelda always turns up in answers. Popular.
Metal Gear Solid
This is a franchise that kind of doesn’t need to be on this list, but also kind of does. It bridged the console gap for a long time. Even if you never played it, you knew about it, you heard about it. Plus, Snake is in SSB.
What a ruckus this big ol’ franchise caused! It’s an empty MJOLNIR suit of its former self, but when it first came out on the original Xbox, boy did it come out swinging! It’s a huge franchise, it has live-action spin-offs (a little bit better than Super Mario Bros movie), and it was a big deal for shooters when it came out. Popular.
Another one of those franchises where so much more people recognize the name than have actually played it. You could go ask five random people these two questions “have you heard of Final Fantasy? Have you ever played it?” and I bet 3 out of 5 will have heard of it, and 2 or less will have played it.
Sometimes life is weird like that. But still: popular.
Call of Duty
It’s our duty to mention this one. You don’t crank games out on a release schedule like CoD’s, always getting those big sales numbers, with that giant online community unless you’re #popular. The Call of Duty franchise is a great addition to the FPS compendium.
Will you forgive us if we just don’t say anything about this game that somehow crept into the number six spot? You will?! Oh great, thank you.
What a game. A game and a half, really. The Elder Scrolls franchise was awesome even back when Morrowind came out, and really it just keeps getting cooler and cooler. We do need more loot, though. Since Morrowind there just haven’t been enough armor and weapon sets…Know what we’re saying?
If you ask people about RPGs or dragons, there’s a great chance that they’ll know you’re talking about Skyrim. That kind of genre-defining execution of a game makes you reaaaaaal popular.
Grand Theft Auto
A smash hit! GTA V has sold huge amounts of copies and has made giant amounts of money. GTA is the infamous franchise. Parents and anti-videogame-violence advocates everywhere shake in fear or rage at the GTA name. The campaign stories are interesting, the driving is fun, and all the extracurriculars are fun too.
We used to play water rescue in GTA 4. Someone takes a boat out into the water and jumps off, the other person has to fly in with a helicopter and get close enough to the water so that the guy in the water can grab on and get into the chopper. Mostly the helicopter just got too close and sank, though. Still, what a blast!
Wow, who would have thought that World of Warcraft would make the list? This is another genre-defining game. When you have 22 minutes of cable television devoted to you via South Park, you know you’ve made it. Unfathomable amounts of total in-game hours, millions of subscribers, and never enough loot.
This MMORPG has really made a name for itself, and that name is Popular.
Counter-Terrorists win….the 2nd place price in the popularity contest! We had to put a real old school, original gangster game up here near the peak of video game popularity.
In its age and its continued popularity, it’s earned this spot more than games like DotA or LoL have. We heard the Xbox version was getting remastered for Xbox One (just kidding, don’t believe us, we aren’t telling the truth).
Companies are building office buildings inside Minecraft on private servers! And they actually use the building to meet with clients and discuss business! That doesn’t happen inside of you if you’re an unpopular game. Minecraft exploded onto the scene and has continued to snowball ever since.
It’s everywhere. Adults are playing it, tiny baby kids are playing it, and we’ll get in there and carve out the occasional secret hobbit hole. It’s so charming and fun, and it’s comfortable in any social setting or social circle. Yeah, Minecraft is the king of the school this time around.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the most popular video games right now?
While a lot of the games above still have vibrant and passionate player bases, there are a bunch of games that are garnering crazy good reviews and sales. The most popular games right now are:
Fortnite – Epic Games, multiplatform, 2017
Anyone who is keeping their ear to the ground when it comes to video games knows for a fact that Fortnite is one of the most popular games of all time. It is a cross-platform game, which means players across different systems and consoles can all play the same match.
That’s insane! That is the stuff that we only dreamed of back in the day. With its incredibly addictive Battle Royale form of gameplay and over-the-top gameplay, Fortnite has never been more popular.
Grand Theft Auto V – Rockstar Games, 2013
Even years after its release, the fifth entry into the celebrated and edgy Grand Theft Auto series is still racking up sales. Over time, Rockstar has tailored the online mode of the game, allowing for more customization, better multiplayer modes, and the great heist mode.
In it, you and other players take on different roles in one of the game’s heists. It’s like acting out the seminal crime drama, Heat. The online mode is raking in some serious cash for Rockstar, and it shows no signs of stopping.
Red Dead Redemption 2 – Rockstar Games, 2018
With the recent release to PC, Red Dead Redemption has beckoned players back into the wild west once more. Playing as outlaw Arthur Morgan, your loyalties within your gang of ne’er do wells and rogues will be tested when your partner in crime, Dutch van der Linde leads the gang astray.
This living breathing world has held people captive since well before the game’s initial release. With great customization, a heart-wrenching story, and one of the best protagonists, Red Dead Redemption 2 is still king of the heap.
Which is the most played game in the world?
While you may think initially that Fortnite will take the crown, you’ll be surprised to find out, (as I was), that the title of the most played game in the world is called Crossfire. It was made by Chinese developer Tencent in 2007.
Although you may have never heard of it, CrossFire has over 660 million registered accounts, easily making it the most played game in the world, an honorific it received in 2018. Not to mention its impressive earnings of over 10 billion dollars.
What is the most popular video game in 2020?
Out of 2020 games, right now, Apex legends by Electronic Arts is currently holding down the fort. Like Fortnite, it is a free-to-play battle royale game. It shares a lot in common with elements of Fortnite and PUBG in that players are dropped on an island and must battle it out for supremacy.
Don’t expect these entries to stay consistent for long; 2020 is looking to be a year of even better games that will battle for a passionate player base. Stay tuned for more updates!
Written by Dustin Tyler [Updated June 15, 2021]
Initially focused on web dev, Dustin was introduced to game design by a friend after college and was immediately attracted to the combination of technical skill and creativity required to make an awesome game.
While not a professional game developer himself, he’s utilized his web dev skills and desire to help others by creating a resource where expert game designers can share what they’ve learned with the next generation of aspiring game makers. Meet the rest of the team.