You probably have no clue which games are the highest grossing video games of all time, as the most commonly-used method of calculating success in the gaming world remains the number of copies sold. This is slightly surprising, as it’s a somewhat archaic method in the age of expansions, virtual items, and other forms of DLC. The truest measure of a game’s success should actually be the gross revenue that it generates. After all, if a game sells 1 million copies at $70 each plus pulls in another $20 million in DLC sales, and another game sells 2 million copies at $20 each and has no DLC, the game that sold less copies actually made more than double the money.
So in this article, we’re going to check out the top grossing video games of all time, cutting through the sales figures to get right to the heart of the matter: how much money each game made. We’re going to use straight revenue figures, as opposed to figures adjusted for inflation (which are less reliable), which results in a slightly reshuffled list, though 11 of the top 12 games make the list using either method. The only exception is League of Legends, which holds down the #12 spot in revenue, though Donkey Kong ranks higher using adjusted revenue.
The gaming industry has ballooned into a $100 billion industry, and people are spending more time playing games than ever. The daily time spent gaming among U.S citizens stood at 23.2 minutes in 2013, up from 17.8 minutes just five years earlier. That figure is expected to rise to 28.3 by 2018 according to data compiled by Statista. If those figures seem low, remember that they include ALL citizens, not just gamers. That is eating into Americans’ TV-watching time, which fell by 19 minutes per day between 2014 and 2016 according to Neilsen. There was an even steeper fall among Americans 34 and under, as they increasingly turn to Netflix, Inc. (NASDAQ:NFLX) and other streaming services, YouTube, and gaming for their entertainment needs.
It’s no wonder that the gaming industry has some notable bulls in the hedge fund industry, one of which is Philippe Laffont, the head of $8 billion tech-focused hedge fund Coatue Management. Coatue has large positions in Activision Blizzard, Inc. (NASDAQ:ATVI) and Electronic Arts Inc (NASDAQ:EA), both of which were pitched by Laffont at the 2015 Robin Hood Investors Conference. EA has gained 27% over the last year, while Activision Blizzard has risen by 9%. Coatue is also invested in other gaming-related stocks like NVIDIA Corporation (NASDAQ:NVDA) and Intel Corporation (NASDAQ:INTC).
Now then, on to the list of the highest grossing video games of all time, beginning on the next page, with figures courtesy of Video Game Sales Wiki. Most figures have been updated through the end of 2015. And if you’re at all interested in the sale of virtual items, be sure to check out the 11 Most Expensive Virtual Items in Video Games after reading this list, which reveals some absolutely shocking prices that were paid for virtual items (in the millions of dollars in one case).
#12 League of Legends
Developer: Riot Games
Revenue: $3.59 billion
Riot Games’ iconic MOBA, and one of the leading e-sports games in the world, comes in at #12. Not bad for a game that primarily sells character skins (as opposed to items that could give players an advantage in the game). League of Legends only continues to grow in popularity, with its player count reaching 100 million active monthly players as of the middle of last year; a whole world to toy with.
#11 Fantasy Westward Journey
Developer: NetEase Inc. (ADR) (NASDAQ:NTES)
Revenue: $3.69 billion
The first of several foreign games on our list of the highest grossing video games of all time. that will likely be obscure to many Western gamers, Fantasy Westward Journey is a Chinese MMORPG based on the classic Chinese novel Journey to the West, which several other games and series have been based on to some extent, including Dragon Ball and the PlayStation game Saiyuki: Journey West. Fantasy Westward Journey had over 310 million registered accounts as of 2015. A mobile version based on the game was also released in 2015.
#10 Space Invaders
Developer: Taito (now a subsidiary of Square Enix)
Revenue: $3.85 billion
One of the most popular arcade games of all time, Space Invaders earned an incredible $3.85 billion between 1978 and 1982, primarily 100 yen at a time. In fact the game’s popularity led to a persistent claim that it caused a shortage of 100-yen coins in Japan, forcing the country to triple production of the coin, which appears to actually be a myth, despite being presented as fact in several major history of video game books. Regardless, it was a phenomenal success, and ranks as the top grossing game of all time when adjusting for inflation. Nonetheless, Taito suffered a decline in the 1990’s alongside the global arcade business. It became a wholly owned subsidiary of Square Enix in 2006.
#9 Puzzle & Dragons
Developer: GungHo Online Entertainment
Revenue: $3.85 billion
Puzzle & Dragons is the only game on this list of highest grossing video games of all time, which was released this decade, which is somewhat surprising given the growth of the industry, though that growth also comes with ever more gaming options. Achieving most of its success in Japan, the mobile puzzle game was the first to hit $1 billion in revenue and has been downloaded over 50 million times.
#8 Dungeon Fighter Online
Revenue: $4.37 billion
Dungeon Fighter Online had a brief run in North America (it was also re-released globally in 2015) but achieved the majority of its success in South Korea and Japan. The online 2D beat-em-up game was developed on a small budget and wasn’t expected to achieve much success, but ended up spawning a generation of side-scrolling online action games. An anime and manga have also been adapted from the game.
#7 Wii Fit
Developer: Nintendo Co., Ltd (ADR) (OTCMKTS:NTDOY)
Revenue: $4.43 billion
Wii Fit became somewhat of a cultural phenomenon when it was released, driving the narrative that gaming could also keep you active and healthy. The game even began to see use in non-traditional settings, such as health clubs. The game featured a multitude of different challenges that had to be physically acted out, including yoga and strength challenges. Though the game’s health benefits were debated by some, partly due to the short bursts of activity punctuated by forced menu breaks, its success is undeniable. It’s no wonder considering the fact that it’s one of the highest grossing video games of all time.
Revenue: $4.47 billion
Probably the most iconic and beloved arcade game ever, Pac-Man has had many iterations over the years, but arguably none have been able to improve upon the sheer, simplistic brilliance of the original game. There were an estimated 30 million people that played Pac-Man in the U.S alone in 1982, at the height of its popularity. Pac-Man was featured prominently in Adam Sandler’s 2015 film Pixels, along with Space Invaders and several other classic arcade games. Pac-Man’s creator Toru Iwatani was a character in the film (played by Denis Akiyama), while Iwatani himself made a cameo appearance.
Revenue: $4.75 billion
The oldest non-arcade game on the list, the MMORPG Lineage took South Korea by storm after its release in 1998 and continues to survive to this day, despite a sequel having been released in 2003 (a second sequel, Lineage Eternal, is stuck in development hell). Nor has the game slowed down over the past decade, continuing to pull in between $250 million and $350 million annually, despite the game’s North American servers being shut down back in 2011. It proudly takes 5th place on this list of highest grossing video games of all time!
#4 Wii Sports
Developer: Nintendo Co., Ltd (ADR) (OTCMKTS:NTDOY)
Revenue: $5.19 billion
The second of Nintendo’s two Wii games that enjoyed immense popularity, Wii Sports is credited with earning $5.19 billion. The motion-control game is among the highest grossing video games of all time and features five sports which offer players a variety of different experiences: golf, bowling, tennis, boxing, and baseball. In addition to its fourth-place finish in revenue, the game is credited as the third-best selling of all time, behind only Tetris and Minecraft (neither of which made this list), having sold 82.79 million copies through the end of last September.
#3 Street Fighter II
Revenue: $6.15 billion
The most successful arcade game of all time (but one that also had a much stronger presence on home consoles), Street Fighter II has generated over $6 billion in revenue since 1991 and remains one of the most popular competitive fighting games to this day. It was involved in one of the fiercest gaming rivalries of all time in the 1990’s, as it competed with Mortal Kombat for the favor of arcade and console fighting game fans. Both series released movies in the mid-90’s at the height of their rivalry, being two of the first video game series to do so.
Revenue: $7.13 billion
Crossfire is a free tactical shooter that has achieved immense popularity in South Korea and China. The top grossing game of 2014, when it pulled in $1.3 billion in revenue, Crossfire is among the highest grossing video games of all time because makes money through the sale of virtual items, buffs, and other bonuses. The game’s popularity has led to a deal to produce a major motion picture based on it, which will involve Neil Moritz of Fast & Furious fame. The movie has yet to see release, and is not to be confused with another, rather uninspiring looking CROSSFIRE movie that was released in 2015, which does not appear to have any connection to the game.
#1 World of Warcraft
Developer: Activision Blizzard, Inc. (NASDAQ:ATVI)
Revenue: $9.23 billion
Now 13 years since its release, World of Warcraft continues to remain one of the most popular MMORPG’s in the world, with about 10 million subscribers. While that’s down slightly from the game’s peak of about 12 million subscribers in 2011, the game is nonetheless showing incredible longevity and continues to rake in boatloads of money for Activision Blizzard. Blizzard had been working on a new MMO for years, codenamed Titan, but eventually scrapped the project, perhaps partly out of fear that it would cannibalize WoW subs, which may not have been expected to still be as strong as they were when Titan was first started. Instead, some assets from Titan were reworked into Blizzard’s popular first-person shooter Overwatch.
There you have it, the 12 highest grossing video games of all time. There were likely a few shockers on the list, and perhaps some games you’re surprised didn’t make it, such as Grand Theft Auto 5, which has sold over 65 million copies, yet only checked in at $2.48 billion through the end of 2015. Will any game knock World of Warcraft from its perch any time soon? Let us know in the comments.