Look, there are a number of ways to objectively measure the quantities of games sold. Do most sales definitively mean most popular video games ever made? We think not. When it comes to popular video games, 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 screams most popular video games of all time.
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 of video games based on real popularity.
Most Popular Video Games of All Time
One of the first biggest hits to come out of the gaming industry, Pacman is one of the most recognizable mascots in all of gaming and easily gets the title of most popular video game 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, it holds a place in the list as one of the most popular games ever.
Bet you didn’t see THIS one coming! Just kidding, it probably popped into your head when you imagined the contenders for most popular game of all time. Tetris is a timeless classic and a game that has aged better than any other game ever created, earning itself a reputation among popular video games. 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 definitely holds a place on the most famous video games to come out during the 00s as one of the flagship titles of the Wii console. Overall, it’s 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
One of the most recognizable characters in all of gaming, The Sonic series has multiple games that can land on our most popular video games list, so we’ll select the franchise as a whole. 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. You would be surprised to know that The Sims is, in fact, one of the most popular PC games. 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 its serious appeal outside of your typical gamer base lands this life simulation game a spot on the list of the most popular video games of all time.
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 and one of the most played games right now.
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, and rightfully earned a spot on many lists of popular games right now.
There’s no party like a Nintendo party, as Japan goes for the hattrick. Yes, Pokemon! What a franchise! One of the most famous video games ever and the biggest selling franchise in the world. 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 is a landmark in storytelling and RPGs in general. This franchise is gaming royalty and earns a spot on as one of the most popular game of all time. 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
When it comes to popular games, Hideo Kojima’s magnum opus will surely be on multiple lists. 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.
Halo is one of the most popular games ever to come out of the XBOX. 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. Not to mention it’s now one of the top cross platform games – what a journey it’s been! 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: one of the most popular games right now.
Call of Duty
It’s our duty to mention this one as one of the most played and most popular video games of this generation. 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. Cementing itself in the popular video games club way 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 video game genre-defining execution makes you reaaaaaal popular and gets you called out as one of the best video games of all time.
Grand Theft Auto
One of the most popular video games to come out of the past 10 years, 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, earning a spot in the greatest video games of all time club – 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 and is recognized as one of the best PC games of all time.
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. Also, if you’re looking for a good laugh, check out some great Minecraft memes.
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 – rightfully named the best game ever!
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 and currently holds the title as one of the top video games of this generation.
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 downloaded game of all time 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 the World?
Out of 2020 games, Apex legends by Electronic Arts is currently holding down the title of the most popular game in the world. 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; we’re seeing even better games come out that will battle for a passionate player base. Even better news? The benefits of video games are becoming increasingly recognizable, so we’ll slowly see the stigma surrounding gaming start to dwindle even further over the years. Stay tuned for more updates!
Written by Dustin Tyler [Updated May 10, 2022]
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.