The 50 Biggest Video Game Franchises by Total Revenue
When the world’s first video game, Tennis for Two, was revealed at a science fair in 1958, people were fascinated—there was clearly something special.
Since these humble beginnings, video games have rode waves of technological advancements to burgeon into a $100+ billion industry. To visualize this success, today’s infographic from TitleMax lists the top 50 highest-grossing video games franchises.
While this feat is impressive on its own, the way many of these franchises generate their revenue may come as a shock.
How Do Video Games Generate Billions?
Video games first saw large-scale commercial success in the 1980s, in what some describe as the “golden age of arcade games”. As arcades popped up across America, renowned classics like Pac-man and Space Invaders raked in large sums of money, one coin at a time.
Today, there are two revenue models generally followed by video game publishers—the traditional pay-to-play (P2P) model, and the newer free-to-play (F2P) model.
For much of the industry’s modern history, P2P models have been the default option. A developer incurs costs to produce its games, so it sells them to consumers to recover costs and make a profit.
Under a F2P model, however, the developer essentially distributes its games for free. Players don’t have to pay anything if they don’t want to, and the developer runs the risk that it may never recoup its costs.
So why would a developer ever choose a F2P model? Let’s look at industry data from 2019:
|Platform||Free-to-play (F2P) Revenue||Pay-to-play (P2P) Revenue|
Those aren’t typos. F2P games accounted for a whopping 82% of industry revenue in 2019. What’s more, is that this gap continues to grow: since the previous year, F2P revenue grew 6%, while P2P revenue fell by 5%.
The Power of Discretionary Spending
There’s a number of F2P franchises listed in today’s graphic which have grossed well over a billion dollars in total revenue.
|#15||League of Legends||Riot Games¹||PC||$8.4B|
|#21||Arena of Valor||Tencent||Mobile||$6.4B|
|#23||Clash of Clans||Supercell²||Mobile||$6.0B|
|#27||Candy Crush Saga||King³||Mobile||$4.9B|
|#46||Fortnite||Epic Games⁴||Console, Mobile, PC||$2.5B|
¹wholly-owned subsidiary of Tencent, ²majority-owned subsidiary of Tencent, ³wholly-owned subsidiary of Activision Blizzard, ⁴Tencent owns a 40% stake.
Because these types of games are often published for PC or mobile phone (most people have at least one of these), their accessibility becomes a key advantage. This is especially true in China, where video game consoles like Xbox have been banned in the past.
Yet, simply amassing a large player base isn’t enough. With no money being paid upfront, developers must create compelling incentives for players to willingly part with their cash.
League of Legends
League of Legends, one of the world’s most popular video games, is widely considered a successful pioneer in this regard.
When developer Riot Games chose a F2P model for its game, it took a gamble. The model was largely unproven for titles of its genre, and it’s main source of revenue was set to be the sale of purely cosmetic items called “character skins”.
Nobody would have tried Legends if we put a price point in front of it because the game is tough to sell
—Marc Merrill, Co-founder of Riot Games
Part of the game’s incentive to spend comes from its longevity—League of Legends has just entered its 11th year. Rather than release a new title, the developer makes continuous improvements to the existing game, with each iteration dubbed as a new “season”.
If a traditional P2P game represents a movie, League of Legends could then be considered a long-running TV show. For example, while there’s been one League of Legends since 2009, there’s been 11 Call of Duty titles over that same time frame.
Joining the Party
Some of the world’s most successful video game franchises, which have historically published games under the P2P model, are also expanding into free games with great success.
For Pokémon (#1 in gross revenue), product diversification is nothing new. While the franchise manages a universe of offerings from physical merchandise to movies, its free mobile augmented reality (AR) game, Pokémon Go, may be one of its most successful endeavors.
The game, which leads players out into the real world to catch virtual monsters, was a massive sensation when it launched in 2016. In fact, it was so popular (and distracting) it’s been estimated to have contributed to more than 100,000 car accidents.
Four years since its release, Pokémon Go is a shining example of what the F2P model can achieve—the game has racked up over 1 billion downloads and generated an incredible $3 billion in revenues.
|Year||Gross Revenue||% Change|
Source: Sensor Tower Store Intelligence
Part of Pokémon Go’s incentive to spend comes from its incredibly unique social experience—it
turns real world landmarks into hubs where players can gather. By simply leveraging the capabilities of existing smartphones, it’s also extremely accessible.
Is Free the New Norm?
As more and more franchises successfully expand into free games, it’s clear that the F2P model will be the primary driver of future growth. The relatively higher accessibility of F2P games is also crucial to tap into the quickly growing esports industry.
However, traditional P2P games, which are now being called “premium games”, still have some merit to them. These games are often associated with a higher level of quality which people are happy to pay for.
Yet, as the legitimacy and success of the F2P model continues to develop, this quality gap could also shrink in the future.
Editor’s note: The revenue figures in today’s infographic include merchandise and other related products.
Here’s What Happens Every Minute on the Internet in 2020
A lot can happen in an internet minute. This graphic looks at the enormous numbers behind the online services billions use every day.
What Happens Every Minute on the Internet in 2020
In 2020, an unfathomable amount of digital activity is occurring at any given moment. This ongoing explosion in activity is the aggregate output of 4.5 billion internet users today, a number that’s projected to increase even further in coming years.
This powerful visual from Domo helps capture what happens each minute in today’s hyper-connected internet era, and it’s actually the eighth edition produced since the year 2012.
What can we learn from the evolution of what happens in an internet minute?
How Times Have Changed
Over its relatively short history, the internet has been a catalyst for both the rise and demise of new companies and platforms.
By looking at which brands have appeared in the graphic in earlier years, we can roughly chart the prominence of certain tech segments, as well as observe brands with the most staying power.
As you can see above, platforms like Tumblr, Flickr, and Foursquare showed some promise, but eventually got omitted from the graphic as they dropped off in relevance.
Meanwhile, tech companies like Facebook, Amazon, and Google have had impressive staying power, evolving to become some of the biggest companies in the world. In the process, they’ve caught up to longer-standing titans like Apple and Microsoft at the top of the food chain.
The New “New Thing”
Not surprisingly, much of the internet landscape looks different in 2020. Here are a few of the digital hot spots today.
Nearly $240,000 worth of transactions occur on Venmo per minute. This has served as a catalyst for parent company PayPal, which evolved along successfully with fintech trends. PayPal’s stock now trades at near all-time highs.
Even before COVID-19 resulted in shuttered storefronts and surging online orders, e-commerce was a booming industry. It’s now estimated that $1 million is now spent per minute online. Amazon ships an astounding 6,659 packages every minute to keep up with this demand.
In a predominantly remote-working environment, tools like Zoom and Microsoft Teams host 208,333 and 52,083 users each minute respectively. Particularly in the pandemic era, it seems that this trend is here to stay.
The accelerated world we are in today means that many companies do not sustain a competitive advantage for as long. Social media companies have dwindled as observed above, and this is similarly reflected in the average lifespan of an S&P 500 company.
A typical company’s tenure on the S&P 500 is expected to shrink rapidly in the next few years:
- 1964: 33 years
- 2016: 24 years
- 2027E: 12 years
Companies are shaving anywhere between 15-20 years off those highs, with estimates of further declines. This metric symbolizes the rapid evolution of the business landscape.
What Lies Ahead
It’s seemingly easy to forget mankind is still very early in the developments when it comes to the internet. But in this short period, its rise to prominence and the broad digitization of the world has left us with a very eventful timeline.
If the last decade serves as a reference point, one can expect further and intensifying competition among tech companies. After all, the reward—winning in today’s digital economy—reaps much greater value.
All signs point to internet activity advancing to further heights, if not because of 5G and its associated breakthroughs, then perhaps due to the steady rise in people gaining internet access.
Ranked: The Most Popular Websites Since 1993
This animation provides an interesting overview of the websites with the highest traffic over the last few decades, and how the rankings have changed.
The Most Popular Websites Since 1993
The internet has become an increasingly important part of our everyday lives.
While it’s hard to imagine modern life without Google or YouTube, it’s interesting to reflect on how much the web has changed over the last few decades.
This animation by Captain Gizmo provides a historical rundown of the most popular websites since 1993, showing how much the internet has evolved since the early ’90s.
The Top Websites
While the web has changed drastically over the years, the top-ranking websites have remained relatively consistent. Here’s a look at the websites with the most traffic since 1993, and when each site held the number one spot:
|Date Range||Top Ranking Website||Highest Number of Monthly Visits|
|Jan 1993 - Jun 2000||AOL||405,000,000
|Jul 2000 - May 2006||Yahoo||5,500,000,000
|Jun 2006 - Jul 2008||8,300,000,000
|Aug 2008 - Jun 2010||Yahoo||11,600,000,000
|Jul 2010 - current||81,000,000,000
*Note: Numbers rounded for clarity.
AOL was one of the first major web portals, back in the era of CD-ROMs and dial-up modems. In its heyday, the company dominated the market, largely due to an aggressive free trial campaign that cost millions (possibly even billions) of dollars to execute.
Despite the large investment, the campaign worked—at its peak, AOL had over 30 million users, and a market cap of over $200 billion. It was the most popular website online until the early 2000s, when broadband started to replace dial-up. As the sands shifted, AOL struggled to stay relevant and was eventually sold to Verizon for just $4.4 billion.
Following AOL’s downfall, Yahoo became the next internet giant.
Starting off as a web directory, Yahoo was the first website to offer localized indexes for major cities. At Yahoo’s zenith, it was worth $125 billion, but a series of missed opportunities and failed acquisitions meant that it could not keep up. Like AOL, Yahoo is now also owned by Verizon, but remains a top 10 website globally.
It’s no surprise that Google currently comes in at number one. It started out in the early ’90s as a university research project. Today, it’s become virtually synonymous with the internet, which makes sense, considering 90% of all internet searches are made on Google-owned properties.
Old School Search Engines
Prior to Google’s success, there were several other go-to search engines that paved the way for Google in many ways:
- WebCrawler: One of the earlier search engines, WebCrawler was the first search engine to enable full-text search. At one point, the website was so popular, it’s server would constantly crash, making it virtually unusable during peak hours.
- Lycos: This was another pivotal search engine, created in 1994 (a year before Yahoo). Lycos was the first of its kind to incorporate relevance retrieval, prefix matching, and word proximity.
- Infoseek: As Netscape’s default search engine, Infoseek was popular during the web browser’s heyday. Eventually, Infoseek was purchased by Disney and rebranded to go.com.
Unlike Infoseek, Lycos and WebCrawler have somehow managed to stick around—both companies still exist today. Of course, they’re nowhere near comparable to Google in terms of revenue or daily search volume.
The Evolution of Social Media
Unless you are a Gen Zer, you probably remember MySpace. Like Lycos and WebCrawler, MySpace technically still exists, although it’s certainly not the high traffic site it used to be.
Created in 2004, MySpace became a hub for musicians and music fans on the web. In just a year, the website saw massive growth, and by 2005, it was acquired by News Corp. MySpace continued to dominate the social media landscape until 2008, when Facebook took over as the internet’s most popular social media platform.
Facebook’s story is well-known at this point. The Zuckerberg-led creation was a social networking site that was exclusive to Harvard students, but it soon opened up to dozens of other universities and then finally the general public in 2006. Just two years later, and the site had 100 million active users, rising to the top of the social media spectrum.
Although Facebook often finds itself mired in controversy today, the site remains the world’s most popular social media platform on the internet with close to 3 billion users.
It’s hard to predict what the future holds for Facebook, or for any of the other websites currently dominating the web.
If anything is clear from the above animation, it’s that the list of the world’s most popular websites is constantly shifting—and only time will tell what the next few decades will bring.
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