What is the most popular videogame ever?
April 10, 2015 11:27 AM   Subscribe

I want to know what the most popular videogame in the history of the medium is. I suspect it's Tetris, but that's just a guess.

This is a pretty vague question -- does "popular" mean sales, or total hours played, or what? How do you compare a coin-op arcade game against a free-to-play browser game? But I'm fairly sure that someone must have considered these questions before.

Can someone point me to studies or articles on the subject?
posted by baf to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (10 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
One way is the number of copies put into consumers' hands. That of course splits up Tetris into Tetris the arcade game, Tetris on the Gameboy, etc. Nevertheless, Tetris on all mobile platforms (presumably identical in gameplay?) is the best-selling game of all time by that metric. Wikipedia has a whole list.
posted by Maecenas at 11:32 AM on April 10, 2015

Not included in the Wikipedia list are free games bundled with Microsoft Windows, like Minesweeper and Solitaire. I imagine more copies of these have shipped than any standalone game, and thanks to bored office workers they must be pretty high on the "hours played" chart too (but there's no good way to measure the actual number).
posted by mbrubeck at 12:04 PM on April 10, 2015

I would have to think the myriad versions of Solitaire, if taken as a whole, would probably qualify it as the most popular. Millions of office workers around the world can't be wrong.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:06 PM on April 10, 2015

On a hunch I found this article, now 3 years old, that claims the collective time spent in World of Warcraft was about 6 MILLION years.

Given that the game is now ten years old and still going reasonably strongly, I think it's got a reasonable shot at what you're getting at.

But that assumes you're using time played as your metric, rather than sales, or unique players. There might be more to dig into from the links in the link above.
posted by Sleddog_Afterburn at 12:06 PM on April 10, 2015

Pac Man and Space Invaders are strong, strong contenders. As is the original NES Mario game.

WOW as Sled mentioned probably is the unquestioned king of MMO
posted by Jacen at 3:53 PM on April 10, 2015

LoL claimed 67 million players each month, 27 million players each day, as of January 2014. It is without a doubt the most downloaded and most played PC game ever.

Unfortunately, I do not think you'll be able to find any decent studies or articles that give a definitive answer. Video game companies have typically held their sales, downloads and play-time information very tightly.

There are articles out there which try and make an educated guess. For example, Ars Technica has run a series of articles on trying to estimate game downloads and usage on Steam via sampling of public Steam profiles:
Introducing Steam Gauge
Steam Spy gives daily, public estimates of Steam sales data
posted by kithrater at 4:05 PM on April 10, 2015

If you're going to get away from numbers and into "or what" criteria, Pac-Man not only raked in the quarters but it also had a huge cultural impact and arguably shifted the tone of the entire video game industry. This short article touches on a few points.
posted by mikepop at 7:05 PM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

There is an apocryphal story that the popularity of Space Invaders caused a 100 yen coin shortage in Japan. In any case, the numbers are pretty staggering:

By mid-1981, more than four billion quarters, or $1 billion, had been grossed from Space Invaders machines, and it would continue to gross an average of $600 million a year through to 1982, by which time it had grossed $2 billion in quarters (equivalent to $7.23 billion in 2015), with a net profit of $450 million (equivalent to $1.63 billion in 2015). This made it the best-selling video game and highest-grossing entertainment product of its time, with comparisons made to the then highest-grossing film Star Wars, which had grossed $486 million in movie tickets (costing $2.25 each on average) with a net profit of $175 million.
posted by jquinby at 7:00 AM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

VG Charts is a fun database to go through for a question like this. The catch is it only tracks sales of individual games, so arcade and F2P/microtransaction games are out.
posted by jmd82 at 7:55 AM on April 11, 2015

I ran the numbers for a blogpost a few years ago and concluded that Tetris had shifted more copies across all formats than Michael Jackson's Thriller, making it the most successful global entertainment release of all time. All my figures would be massively out of date now, and I can't remember where I sourced them. Feel free to treat me as an anecdote.
posted by Hogshead at 3:17 PM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

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