After Hours

Geek Trivia: What is the all-time best-selling video game that gamers paid to play?

Not counting giveaways, freemiums, or games bundled with consoles, what video game has sold the most copies in history?

This week saw the 28th anniversary of the release of one of the most successful video games of all time. On June 6, 1984, the first version of Tetris was unveiled and quickly took the world by storm. While Tetris has appeared on every major gaming platform from the Commodore 64 to the iPhone, it arguably gained its greatest notoriety as the cartridge game bundled with the original Nintendo Game Boy.

On the strength of that bundling, Tetris became the best-selling video game in Game Boy history, with roughly 35 million units sold. Of course, the bulk of these sales came from the bundling itself. This begs the question, was Tetris popular, or was the Game Boy good enough to make any bundled game an all-time hit?

Similarly, the best-selling console game of all time at 79 million units sold is Wii Sports, which was bundled with the Nintendo Wii. So, is Wii Sports an all-time great video game, or just the happy recipient of the Wii's unparalleled popularity? (Conversely, would the Wii have sold as well if Wii Sports wasn't there to demonstrate the console's motion-play capabilities from day one?)

The line gets blurrier with mobile games for smartphones and tablets. Angry Birds is the current record-holder in this arena, with roughly 1 billion games downloaded. The catch with Angry Birds is that the game is free, supported by in-game ads and paid upgrades. Would slingshot pig-smashing be as popular if everyone had to pay for the privilege? Probably not.

Perhaps there should be a separate category for unbundled games that cost money, so we can get a real sense of which video game players are most willing to shell out cash to play.


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Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger — amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can a...

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