The video game industry has experienced explosive growth, having sold more than 2.5 billion games worldwide. Sales of video games surpassed sales of music in 2008. This sales growth makes the best-selling video games interesting to investors, even if you do not play the games yourself. So what is the best-selling video game? (Some characters sell better than others, find out who leads the pack in 5 Top-Earning Video Game Characters.)

In Pictures: Consumer "Fads" That Never Faded

The sales total of video games depends on how it is measured. Many games are bundled with the gaming console. Sales numbers often include these sales as game sales. Then there are franchise sales. The successful games have sequels and derivative sales that are often better than the original. Total franchise sales are another important measure of the popularity of the game. Each of these segments offers an interesting perspective for an investor - and maybe for a gamer as well. (Find out how to invest in this industry in Power Up Your Portfolio With Video Game Stocks.)

Console or Hardware
As you might expect console or hardware sales significantly influence the sales of video games. Manufacturers bundle certain games with the hardware to encourage sales. The more hardware units available, the more games can be sold. According to NPD, in December 2009, Nintendo's Wii (OTC:NTDOY) sold 3.81 million units followed by the Nintendo DS selling 3.31 million units. The Sony (NYSE:SNE) PlayStation 3 sold 1.36 million and Microsoft's (Nasdaq:MSFT) Xbox 360 generated 1.31 million in unit sales.

From a total cumulative perspective, Nintendo's Wii leads with 71 million total units, followed by the Xbox 360 with 40 million and the PS3 coming in at third with 36 million units as of April 2010. From a video game makers perspective, it pays to be associated with the highest selling console.

Franchise
Unlike many movie sequels, updated video games tend to provide a better gaming experience. This helps draw in new gamers and generates additional sales. The best overall franchise was one of the first video games - initially released in 1981 - and remains a leader today. The Mario franchise has sold more than 222 million units from over 200 video games. There are 43 versions of the Pokemon game, the second most popular game. Mario holds international recognition as the mascot for Nintendo. Holding popular franchises gives you a leg up on new games and potential sales.

Worldwide Total Sales – Bundled Games
Back to the original question, who has the most sales worldwide? Here we need to distinguish how these sales are counted. Based on data provided by VGChartz, a company that tracks such things, games packaged with a console usually have the most sales. "Wii Sports" sits on top of the list. Next is "Super Mario Brothers", followed by "Pokemon Red/Green/Blue" and "Tetris", with "Duck Hunt" rounding out the top five. All of them are published by Nintendo.

In fact, Nintendo publishes the top 13 video games. "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" is published by Rockstar Games - a wholly-owned subsidiary of Take-Two Interactive (Nasdaq:TTWO) - and it comes in at number 14. This shows the power of having the most console sales along with a popular franchise.

Worldwide Total Sales – Individual Games
NPD Group published a list of the top selling video games that were not part of a bundle. Here "Wii Play" comes in first, followed by "Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock" published on multiple platforms by Activision Blizzard Inc (Nasdaq:ATVI), followed by "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" on PS2 and Xbox. Some games gained such popularity that they appear on both lists, with and without the console.

Demonstrating that the Mario franchise is maintaining its leadership, Nintendo's new "Super Mario Bros" leads with 2.82 million units sold followed by "Wii Fit Plus" and "Wii Sports Resort" each coming in at 2.41 and 1.79 million units sold as of December 2009. Activision's "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2" saw impressive Xbox sales of 1.63 million units, with an additional 1.12 for the PS3.

The Bottom Line
If market share or an economic moat is important to you as an investor, Nintendo leads the way with its Mario and Wii Sports franchises. As with any dominate player, investors have to watch out for a newcomer that creates an entirely new way to play video games. The fact that more money is being made in games than music means there are chances for investors to profit - as long as you pick the right company to put your coin into. (Learn more in Which Is Better: Dominance Or Innovation?)

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