25 Video Games That Have Made an Insane Amount of Money
We love video games — and we’re willing to spend our money on them. A lot of money. In America alone, people spent over $43 billion on games in 2018. Globally, video gaming’s global revenue is estimated to be nearly $140 billion in 2019.
For an industry that used to be associated with slackers and stoners, video gaming has become a money-making juggernaut, with some titles bringing in billions of dollars and selling millions upon millions of titles. In fact, if you could earn just a few days’ worth of revenue from some of these games, you’d be set for life.
Given the different categories of video games — arcade games, mobile games, console games, PC games and more — it’s difficult to compare which video games are the most lucrative.
These, however, are 25 video games that have made an insane amount of cash.
“Grand Theft Auto V”
Who knew a game about hijacking cars, dealing drugs and gunning down innocent bystanders would be so profitable? Probably not even Take-Two Interactive, which published Rockstar Games’ insanely popular and mind-boggling profitable game in 2013. “Grand Theft Auto V” has sold over 100 million units worldwide and has consistently ranked in the top-10 best-selling games of the year since its debut. In 2018 — five years since its release — the game raked in $628 million.
But that doesn’t even account for the game’s lucrative online component, which features a never-ending grind for bigger and better cars, apartments and yachts — all of which are most easily obtained by using real-world money. An analyst interviewed by Market Watch claims GTAV has made more than $6 billion, or more than any single media title in history. For perspective, James Cameron’s “Avatar,” the highest grossing movie in history, grossed $2.8 billion.
"League of Legends"
This top-down MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) that released way back in 2009 has been gaining players (and their cash) ever since. “League of Legends” makes about $1.6 billion annually, according to Inc., and pulled in $1.4 billion in 2018. The game is also a hugely popular Esport, with tournaments for million-dollar prize pools watched by millions of viewers from around the world occurring yearly.
"Candy Crush Saga"
After its release in 2012, it felt like everyone was playing “Candy Crush Saga.” And considering its revenue, they probably were. “Candy Crush Saga” is a freemium mobile game which makes its money by selling extra lives, new episodes and boosters. Its highly addictive nature has players paying to keep playing (you have to wait if you run out of lives) and, interestingly, the game has actually made more money last year than ever. According to Sensor Tower Store Intelligence, “Candy Crush Saga” made $930 million between August 2017 and July 2018.
“PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds” — also known as PUBG — is the game that started the battle royale craze. It stormed onto the PC scene in 2017 and sold over 22 million copies during its first nine months. Since then, the game has found tremendous success in its free-to-play mobile offering and its ports to Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
In game sales alone in 2018, PUBG earned over $1 billion just on PC and console systems. Its mobile port has earned about $158 million worldwide as of late 2018, according to Sensor Tower. And despite PUBG’s premium model (the game costs $30 everywhere but mobile), the survival shooter also sells cosmetic items and loot boxes, which surely brings in tons of money — the game’s publisher, Bluehole, was valued at $5 billion as of 2018.
It’s hard to believe “Minecraft” was the labor of love of just one single person.
Markus Persson’s game was still in alpha when it made PC Gamer’s 2010 Game of the Year. By 2011, “Minecraft” launched and had over one million players; shortly thereafter an Xbox version released in 2012 and sold over 4 million copies within six months, according to Tech Radar. LEGO sets, toys and various Minecraft-related merchandise dominated the toy aisles. “Minecraft” was a global hit, and Microsoft was paying attention.
In 2014, the company bought “Minecraft” for $2.5 billion. To date, “Minecraft” has sold over 154 million copies and has a monthly user base of over 91 million players. After the sale to Microsoft, the company’s video game revenue increased by $367 million — a figure that has been attributed to “Minecraft” sales that year.
It’s a game so popular they named a psychological phenomenon over it, and it might be the best-selling video game of all time. It’s “Tetris,” and it hasn’t stopped being played — in one form or another — since it launched in 1984. The Russian game was first a hit on PC, until it sold with the original Gameboy in 1989. From there, the game sold around 70 million copies, but that was just the beginning. Since then, “Tetris” sales have been clearing records line-by-line, and the title has found even more success in the mobile market with hundreds of millions of paid downloads. Altogether, “Tetris” — in all of its many iterations — has sold around 170 million copies.
You probably haven’t heard of "CrossFire," even though it’s one of the world’s top money-making games. “CrossFire” is basically a free-to-play clone of Valve’s popular shooter, “Counter-Strike,” and it’s hugely popular in Asian countries such as China and South Korea. The game has made close to $1 billion a year since at least 2013, and was the fifth highest-earning free-to-play game in 2018 with $1.3 billion in sales.
Electronic Arts has some huge gaming franchises — like “Battlefield,” “Star Wars,” “The Sims” and “Madden” — but its main cash cow appears to be its soccer franchise, FIFA. In 2018, EA made $5.1 billion in revenue. During that year, over one-fifth of that money came from “FIFA 18” and “FIFA 19,” which made $790 million and $482 million, respectively.
The company and its titles are not without controversy. Central to their revenue streams is loot boxes, which at one point were so egregious in “Star Wars: Battlefront II” that Hawaii attempted to pass a regulatory bill against them. The bill failed. In late January 2019, EA announced it would stop selling FIFA Points (which were bought for real world money and used for loot boxes) in Belgium after its government launched a criminal investigation into company for not complying with the country’s gambling laws.
"Red Dead Redemption 2"
By far the newest title on this list — “Red Dead Redemption 2” released in late October 2018 — Rockstar Games’ title about outlaws in the Wild West has made more money than most of the world’s most successful bank heists. After just a few months on the market, SuperData ranked “Red Dead Redemption 2” as the fifth highest-earning premium title of 2018 with $516 million in sales.
And there’s more money to make. Like “GTA V,” “Red Dead Redemption 2” has an online mode. It’s only in its beta stages, but there are already micro transactions galore.
“Pokémon Go” had just about every millennial wandering around outside, staring at their phones and trying to capture Pokémon when it released in 2016. The thing was a phenomenon — and so many people played the augmented reality game irresponsibly that one study said “Pokémon Go” may have caused 250 deaths, 150,000 traffic accidents and billions of dollars in economic costs.
But hey, Pikachu wasn’t the one behind the wheel. And nor did the study hurt the game’s bottom line: “Pokémon Go” made $1.2 billion in 2017 and $1.3 billion in 2018, putting its revenue at $2.5 billion and counting. It’s also the fastest mobile game to reach $300 million in revenue.
Everything Else "Pokémon"
We can’t mention “Pokémon Go” without acknowledging the extreme success of Pokémon as a franchise. The first American-released games for Gameboy, “Pokémon Red” and “Pokémon Blue” made over $70 million within six months. Fast forward to now, and Pokémon has released dozens of main titles and offshoots, not to mention innumerable toys and branded merchandise.
Bethesda’s “Fallout 4” might not have been the series’ most critically acclaimed title — that mantle goes to “Fallout: New Vegas” — but it sold the most copies. Within 24 hours upon release, “Fallout 4” earned $750 million in sales. Looks like there will always be money in exploring a post-apocalyptic, retro futuristic nuclear wasteland.
“The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim”
Before the release of “Fallout 4,” “Skyrim” was Bethesda’s biggest hit. Five years after its release in 2011, it had sold at least 30 million copies. “Skyrim” is also a lesson in how to milk a single title: The game has released on all consoles, from PS3 to the Nintendo Switch, and has re-released itself with legendary editions, remastered editions and VR editions.
“Call of Duty: Black Ops 4”
Activision’s “Call of Duty” franchise is a reliable revenue stream, and its 2018 title was their best one yet. It broke Activision’s launch day sales record (was previously held by ”Call of Duty 3”), and also set a PlayStation Store record for day one digital full game sales. According to SuperData, the game made $506 million in 2018. The game retroactively added cosmetic microtransactions a few weeks after release, so there’s even more money to be made in the future.
Few games have earned so much money, so fast as “Fortnite.” Epic Games’ 2017 brainchild is a free-to-play battle royal game — meaning up to 100 players enter, one player leaves — which also includes the ability to build fortresses and ramps on the fly. The game appeals to all age groups, with bright colors and purchasable dance moves for kids, and a high-end skill cap for older players.
The game’s free-to-play model and emergence on virtually every platform makes it instantly accessible to basically every video game player in the world. On top of this, “Fortnite” only charges for cosmetic items, which is impressive — “Fortnite” makes about $2 million per day just on its iOS version. In 2018, Epic grossed a $3 billion profit while “Fortnite” alone pulled in $2.4 billion — the most out of any free-to-play game available in 2018.
It’s no coincidence that Master Chief’s armor is green — everyone’s favorite space super soldier is a cash cow for Microsoft. The “Halo” series started with “Combat Evolved” on the original Xbox in 2001; it released to universal acclaim and sold an estimated 4.2 million copies with $170 million in revenue. “Halo 2” broke single-day launch records with day-one revenues of over $125 million. A few years later, “Halo 3” broke the second game’s launch records with $170 million sales on the first day. “Halo 5: Guardians,” which came out in 2015, sold over $400 million globally within a year.
As a whole, including action figures, novels, and other media spinoffs, the “Halo” franchise has generated over $5 billion in sales, according to Microsoft.
As John Madden might say, video games that sell a lot of titles make more money than those that don’t. EA’s “Madden” franchise is one of those games that has sold a lot of titles. The 30-year-old franchise started with “John Madden Football,” which released on the Commodore 64, Apple II and MS-DOS operating systems. Since then, more than 30 games have been released by EA under the Madden franchise name, and the games have generated well over $4 billion in revenue. Recently, Madden NFL 19 sold more than 130 million units, and “Madden NFL Mobile,” EA’s free-to-play mobile iteration, has grossed an estimated $490 million alone.
When the “Skylanders” series launched in 2011, it was the first game of its type. Rather than just have a single video game with unlockable characters in-game or via paid downloadable content (DLC), “Skylanders” required the user to buy a physical action figure and place it in a “Portal of Power,” which would then allow the character to be used in-game.
It was a genius idea, and certainly separated many parents from their hard-earned cash. The series has generated over $3 billion, but sales have slowed dramatically.
People have been helping their virtual Sims climb the corporate ladder and fall in love (or sometimes, just happily torturing them) since its first iteration in 2000, and EA has been profiting ever since. “The Sims” is now on its fourth sequel, and both “The Sims 4” and “The Sims 3” have around $800 of DLC between them. It’s no wonder the series has made over $3.5 billion in revenue — “The Sims 4” made $1 billion all by itself.
"The Legend of Zelda"
An iconic Nintendo property, the “Zelda” series is beloved by fans and shareholders alike. The 33-year-old franchise has had 18 iterations, plus 10 spin-off and re-release titles throughout its lifetime. It’s estimated that, since 1995 alone, the Zelda franchise has generated $1.4 billion in physical sales, according to the video game industry-tracking firm The NPD Group. The latest game, “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild,” has sold over 10 million copies.
“Rocket League” was a surprise hit that came from Psyonix, a small indie studio comprised of less than 15 people. The fast-paced game where two teams of battle cars fight to push a soccer ball into a goal was an overnight success when it was released in 2015, and it quickly grossed over $110 million within a year. “Rocket League” also has a huge eSports following, and the 2019 competition has a $1 million prize pool.
"Dungeon Fighter Online
“Dungeon Fighter Online” is a free-to-play, 2D massive multiplayer online (MMO) beat-‘em-up game that was released in 2005. Created by the Korean game developer Neople, and later assisted via a deal with the Chinese gaming giant Tencent, “Dungeon Fighter Online” has amassed over $10 billion in sales since its inception. Its revenue for 2018 hit $1.5 billion, second only to “Fortnite.”
"Arena of Valor"
Also known as “Honour of Kings” overseas, “Arena of Valor” is China’s biggest game. Which is saying a lot — the free-to-play MOBA has an estimated 200 million monthly players. The game has been around since 2015, but its publisher, Tencent, brought it to western audiences via the Nintendo Switch, Google Play and App Store in 2017. It’s having a harder time catching on in the western world — as of 2018, it has only generated $3 million there — but it’s still a money-making machine. “Arena of Valor” placed sixth in the top free-to-play games by revenue of 2018 with $1.3 billion, according to SuperData.
Perhaps the most recognizable video game mascot of all time, Nintendo’s lovable Italian plumber has warped, jumped and raced his way to an estimated $12 billion in sales — and that’s not including the spinoff hits like the “Mario Kart” series. Recent Nintendo Switch additions to the franchise, “Super Mario Odyssey” and “Mario Kart 8 Deluxe,” have sold over 20 million units combined.
The “Mario” series is so beloved that a sealed test-market copy of “Super Mario Bros.” for the NES sold for $100,000 to a private bidder.
"Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Siege"
Ubisoft’s competitive strategic shooter had a troubled start when it launched in December 2015 — the game was criticized for its high price ($60 at launch) and its layers of microtransactions — but the developers managed to turn it into a very profitable game at an even lower initial price point. “Siege” made $440 million in 2018, substantially more than the $239 million it generated in 2017 across both PC and consoles, according to SuperData research.