Video Games are big business. They have been for almost forty years now. Arcades were one thing, but when Atari launched their first home console and brought gaming into the living room, a whole new era began. When Nintendo came in and proved that home video game consoles weren't just going to be a passing fad, that's when investors started paying attention. Today, a game console is a ubiquitous part of any home entertainment system. Most people have at least one sleeping under their TV. If not at home, then on the go as well thanks to handhelds.
But step back and really think about how successful game consoles have been. Not just in terms of cultural impact or presence, but in sheer numbers. If everybody's got at least one console, home or handheld, and each one costs upwards of 300 dollars or more, than how much money have some of these companies made? That's the question we want to take a look at today. What are the best-selling video game consoles of all time? How many of them were sold? We've done our research and the rankings on some of these may surprise you. We know we weren't expecting some of them.
Point of clarity before we proceed. Like most other rankings, we're basing our list on number of units sold. That's much easier to keep track of. Feel free to do the math yourself if you want a dollar amount. That said, let's look at the big winners of the console wars.
These are the 25 Best Selling Video Game Consoles (And How Many Units Were Sold).
25 Sega Saturn (9 Million Units)
Sega seemed like they were in a good position going into the fifth console generation. The Genesis had positioned them as a serious rival to Nintendo and they looked to be taking the lead in the new world of 3D graphics. But mismanagement at the corporate level doomed the Saturn before it could launch.
Sega hastily rejiggered the hardware to focus on 3D graphics, but it still lagged behind Nintendo or Sony. The lack of a new Sonic the Hedgehog game and a high price point hurt initial sales. When the PlayStation hit, the Saturn could never recover.
24 TurboGrafx-16 (10 Million Units)
Pour one out for the TurboGrafx-16, the only console not from a big name to crack the top 25. Released in 1989, it could never find a place for itself in a market dominated by Nintendo and Sega. Ironic, considering the TurboGrafx was ahead of both of them technologically.
Instead of bulky cartridges, this console used slim game cards that were more like floppy discs. Though a flop in North America, it was far more successful in Japan. Actually, the TurboGrafx outselling the NES there and the Sega Genesis doing the same in America prompted development of the SNES from Nintendo.
23 Sega Game Gear (10 Million Units)
After they managed to dent Nintendo's iron grip on the home market, Sega tried to do the same thing with handhelds. The Game Gear didn't have the same impact as the Genesis, but it wasn't for a lack of trying. At a time when the Game Boy was still in black & white with primitive pixels, the Game Gear offered full color graphics.
There was virtually no difference between playing Sonic the Hedgehog at home or on the Game Gear. But that high graphical quality was also the problem. Its battery life was dirt poor to maintain those visuals.
22 Wii U (13 Million Units)
The Wii had helped Nintendo regain its throne of the home console market. But then the Wii U squandered that advantage. It remains Nintendo's worst selling home console. Only the Virtual Boy was a bigger failure. There were a couple of factors that led to the Wii U failing as a Wii successor.
The marketing confused people, leading some to think the Game Pad was just a fancy new Wii peripheral. With no consumer interest, third parties fled the console, leaving it without any games. Finally, compared to its competitors, the Wii U was underpowered with poor online connectivity.
21 PlayStation Vita (15 Million Units)
Note that those sales number are still an estimate because Sony stopped releasing data on the Vita after a while. Yes, it performed that poorly for the company. Which Sony was both surprised by, but also should have seen coming. While the Vita promised home console quality on a handheld, it ended up being too powerful for its own good.
It was too expensive for developers to make games for, which led to no exclusive titles. Most gamers saw no reason to upgrade from the old PlayStation Portable. This was despite boasting high-end graphics and being the first dual-analog handheld.
20 GameCube (21 Million Units)
Nintendo's decision to stick with cartridges really hurt them on the Nintendo 64. The GameCube was meant to restore their reputation a bit. In that, it somewhat succeeded. Switching to discs brought back many third-party developers and the hardware could compete with the Xbox at times.
Nintendo also tried bucking their family-friendly image on the GameCube. This led to many classic experiments like Metroid Prime, Resident Evil 4, and Killer7. While most of its best games didn't remain exclusive, the system's strong library cultivated a loyal fanbase and sales. Though modest compared to others, it helped pave the way for the Wii.
19 Xbox (24 Million Units)
Seeing Microsoft enter the video game console market was a curious thing back in the day. Ever since Atari flamed out in the mid-80s, the console market had been a decidedly Japanese affair. A Western company throwing their hat in caught many people's attention.
And while the Xbox may have been a black cinder block that happened to play games, it had a profound impact on the market. Xbox Live became the first real online multiplayer network and with Halo, birthed an entire new subset of gaming. The Xbox wasn't an instant competitor, but it was in the game now.
18 Atari 2600 (27 Million Units)
While it's no longer in even the top fifteen best-selling consoles, the Atari 2600 was the console to beat for the longest time. The reason why is quite simple. The Atari 2600 basically invented the home video game console market. Before it, video games were relegated to the arcades. But Atari brought them into your home.
All the things we expect from console gaming started here. Interchangeable game cartridges. Multiple controllers. A vast library of titles. The company kept supporting it for fourteen years. Though poor quality control may have doomed its market dominance, Atari already made its place in gaming history.
17 Sega Genesis (30 Million Units)
Tired of trying to compete with the NES, Sega decided to just outdo it. Nintendo hadn't made a 16-bit console yet, so they'd release one first. Enter the Sega Genesis. While hardware-wise, the Genesis was not too dissimilar to what the SNES would be using later, Sega distinguished their machine in their marketing.
Nintendo were seen as making games for kids, so Sega aimed at older teenage audiences. Their message was clear in their marketing, for which Sonic the Hedgehog was the face. Genesis does what Nintendon't. Sega would never replicate its success, but its reputation would live on forever.
16 Nintendo 64 (32 Million Units)
The Nintendo 64 was the console that finally broke Nintendo's console domination. The mistakes they made with it are what allowed Sony to usurp their throne. Which is ironic because it seemed like they were in a good position. At the beginning of that console generation, Nintendo could boast having the best 3D graphics.
But Sony soon eclipsed them and other poor decisions hurt the 64. Sticking with cartridges instead of moving to discs to prevent piracy, Nintendo alienated third-party developers. Making them stick to a family-friendly image as the audience grew older didn't help. Classic games couldn't save Nintendo this time.
15 Nintendo Switch (34 Million Units)
As the newest console on this list, it's impressive that the Nintendo Switch has already cracked the top twenty. The machine's versatility could be one explanation. With its modular controllers and ability to switch from a home to handheld console, the Switch combines some of the best qualities of both forms of gaming.
But its real strength lies where it always does with Nintendo, in its games. Landmark titles like Breath of the Wild have given hardcore gamers experiences they haven't had in years. Plus, a robust online store gives new developers and indie darlings a place to shine.
14 Xbox One (43 Million Units)
Ever since the original Xbox, Microsoft has been trying to do more than create a new gaming console. They've been trying to create an all-in-one entertainment machine that functions almost like a PC. With the Xbox One, they've come the closest yet. Mixing gaming with online video, music, live TV, and so much more.
It's the gaming side where they've had issues though. At release, Microsoft had odd policies about used games and DRM that many criticized and mocked them for. Tying in their Kinect motion-control device to the system also seemed bizarre when many consoles were moving away from motion controls.
13 SNES (49 Million Units)
Half of the most infamous console war of all time, Nintendo weren't heavily invested in making the Super Nintendo (or SNES) at first. The NES was still popular and selling well. But the rivalry with Sega and dissatisfaction from third-party developers pushed their hand.
Lucky they did, though, as the SNES became as much a classic as its predecessor. Home to many classics of the 16-bit era, the SNES matched its competitor the Genesis on graphics quality and still had Nintendo's library of classic franchises to draw on. Too bad it kind of indirectly led to the PlayStation.
12 NES (61 Million Units)
The home video game console was effectively dry in 1983. After the disaster of ET and some other high-profile duds, Atari had tanked the whole market. But that was when a Japanese company called Nintendo came onto the scene. They'd had success in Japan with a console they called the Famicom and were looking to introduce it to North America.
With a redesign, the machine was dubbed the Nintendo Entertainment System (Or NES). To get around Atari's tainting the console market, Nintendo released their system with a toy robot called R.O.B. to avoid stigma. From there, a legend was born.
11 Nintendo 3DS (75 Million Units)
Many were skeptical when Nintendo announced they were making a handheld with 3D games. The Virtual Boy experiment still hung in people's memory, and at a time when 3D movies were going out of style, it sounded like a gimmick. The 3D might have been, but no one could doubt that it worked.
Nintendo delivered on 3D without glasses, even if most ended up turning it off. Gimmick aside though, the 3DS built off the solid foundation of the Nintendo DS to be another strong entry in Nintendo's handheld lineage. With the Wii U underselling, the 3DS kept Nintendo afloat.
10 PlayStation Portable (80 Million Units)
The PlayStation Portable is best known as a "successful failure." Meaning that it didn't achieve its goal of dethroning Nintendo in the handheld market, but it wasn't a complete dud either. In fairness to Sony, it made sense on paper for them to be optimistic.
They'd won the last two console generations and were bringing the same methods to the PlayStation Portable. Discs instead of cartridges. Better graphic quality. Multimedia focus. Good third party support. But what are detriments to home consoles aren't for handhelds. Sony misread the market, but the PSP eventually carved out a niche for itself.
9 Game Boy Advance (81 Million Units)
Since the release of the Game Boy, Nintendo basically had a stranglehold on the handheld side of the console market. If so, then the Game Boy Advance cemented that dominance going forward. Though the Game Boy had evolved slightly over the years, the Advance took everything about it and made it better.
More colorful graphics and a built-in backlight improved the visuals. The batteries lasted longer and were rechargeable. You could even hook it up to the GameCube for extra fun. But another side of the GBA was its catalog of retro ports that let new gamers experience classic games first hand.
8 Xbox 360 (84 Million Units)
Unlike the consoles of older generations, Microsoft doesn't radically change much when making a new Xbox. For the most part, they just polish up everything that already worked with the last one. That's what happened with the Xbox 360. Released a year before any of its competitors, the 360 took an early lead in the console war.
Despite having problems like the infamous Red Ring where overheating systems would stop functioning. Still, the ease of development attracted many developers, including from the PC side of gaming. The 360 maintained its market lead until getting steamrolled by the surprise behemoth of the Wii.
7 PlayStation 3 (87 Million Units)
Sony learned a good lesson about hubris with the PlayStation 3. After capturing the console crown from Nintendo and fending off newcomer Microsoft, they went into the next console generation on top. But an unnecessary fight hampered them.
Trying to replicate the same success with Blu-Ray they had with DVDs on PS2, Sony got caught in a format war with HD-DVD that took too much of their attention. They won, but the PS3 had other problem. High sales cost and difficulty for developers plagued the machine's early years. Though it recovered later, these initial missteps hurt it long-term.
6 PlayStation 4 (96 Million Units)
Those early debacles with the PlayStation 3 wounded Sony's pride. They were determined not to make the same mistakes with the PlayStation 4. So far, it seems like they haven't. The PS4 is much more developer friendly, cutting costs and time. Sony even approached many for input when they were designing the system.
The iconic DualShock controller was overhauled as well. Now streamlined, it fits in players' hands more comfortably, has some motion control built in, and has cut down on unnecessary buttons. A rival to Xbox Live has even been put in place. Time will tell if it pays off for Sony.
5 Wii (101 Million Units)
Going into the seventh generation of consoles, it looked like Nintendo were done for. They'd lost the previous two and their reputation was as Video Game Disney. Good only for families and little kids. But then something unexpected happened. They released the Wii.
Written off as a gimmick at first because of its motion controls and casual audience marketing, the Wii took everybody by surprise. Soon enough, stories of seniors playing Wii Sports were all over the news. Nintendo's bold experiment rolled over Sony and Microsoft to become the generation's winning console. If only for a moment, they were kings again.
4 PlayStation 1 (103 Million Units)
In an act of supreme irony, Nintendo was responsible for the console that ultimate ended their market domination. The PlayStation was born out of a failed contract between Nintendo and Sony. When it fell apart, Sony took their prototype and turned into their own console.
The PlayStation took advantage of Nintendo's complacency to meet a changing market. It was at the vanguard of the move to CD-based gaming and 3D graphics. Plus, it understood that the audience for games was growing up and marketed itself as more mature to meet their demands. It looked like it came out of nowhere.
3 Game Boy/Game Boy Color (119 Million Units)
For some reason, they both get listed together in all our research. Was there even a handheld console market before Nintendo introduced the Game Boy? Yes, but it was way different than the one that came after. Earlier handheld were too focused on replicating a home console experience on the go.
Nintendo though focused on what a portable system would need to do. It had to be light, durable, inexpensive, and have a good battery life. They succeeded on all these fronts by sacrificing processor power and graphics. So the Game Boy might have looked bad, but it played great.
2 Nintendo DS (155 Million Units)
Say what you will about Nintendo, they're always willing to try new things. Though the PSP fell short of expectations, Nintendo had a real competitor in the handheld market for the first time. To hedge their bets, they'd need more than another Game Boy. This led to the DS, named for its dual screens.
The bottom screen was a touchpad, bringing a whole new element to gameplay and heralding the Wii's similar gameplay innovation. It was also another factor in Nintendo pursuing customers outside of gamers, which they felt necessary to keep the medium fresh and alive. That clearly worked.
1 PlayStation 2 (157 Million Units)
There are a couple of reasons the PS2 has claimed the top spot. The first and most well-known is that it could play DVDs. Remember, the PS2 was released in the early 2000s, just as DVDs were becoming cheap and widely available. The fact that the PS2 cost less than most dedicated DVD players made it attractive to consumers aside from its games.
That low price and PS1 backwards compatibility added to its value. A huge games library ensured that it lasted well into the following console generation. Nothing has really come close to matching it.