Not so long ago, the idea of a video game franchise selling five million units would have been unthinkable. With the explosion of gaming worldwide, now a single game in a popular franchise can expect to move well over 10 million units. As with Hollywood films, there are stars that can move more units than others. Here we'll take a look at the colorful characters that propelled these games to success.
Methods and Measurement
Unfortunately, Mario has never filed a tax return, although he has held jobs as a plumber, adventurer, race car driver and professional tennis player. This makes it a little difficult to measure the earnings of any one character. Instead, we'll go for the less-ideal method of using the total sales for video games featuring these high-powered stars.
Furthermore, we're going to make a big assumption about the relative worth of the video games sold. In order to factor out the fact that inflation has made the value of a single video game much higher than back in the '80s, we will assume that all video game units are equivalent, so the only important measure is how many units these characters have sold. Now that the technical talk is over, let's get to the rankings.
The "Legend of Zelda" series by Nintendo stars green-clad adventurer Link, and establishes a theme for the top five: longevity. The long history of the Zelda series, started in 1986, has helped sell more than 59 million units, as of April 2010. Like another elite star, Link is almost always seeking his princess and defeating whatever foes he meets along the way.
Sonic The Hedgehog
Introduced by Sega to compete with a certain Italian plumber, "Sonic the Hedgehog" shot onto the scene and quickly powered its way up the popularity scale. To date, the game's high-powered hedgehog hero has sold more than 70 million units, often in games where the primary goal is to rip through level after level in a blue blur. Because the colors flashed so rapidly on this game series, it is believed that it may have triggered seizures in susceptible children. But despite the risks, Sonic is still around even though Sega's days as a console maker are over.
Former NFL player John Madden's career as a TV commentator ended in 2009, but his flamboyant delivery lives on in the "Madden NFL" video game series by Electronic Arts. Currently, sales for the series are roughly 94 million units sold. As with many video games, the Great Recession has taken some of the steam out of the market, but it seems that gamers are coming up with the cash to live out their football fantasies, complete with Madden's trademark tones.
With a name combining the Japanese onomatopoeia for sparkling and the sound a mouse makes, Pikachu is the most recognizable character in the "Pokemon" franchise, which is owned by Nintendo. At roughly 200 million units sold, Pikachu is bigger than just video games; its vast interests include games, shows, comic books, figurines and much more. This electric mouse-like creature's unusual business earned Pikachu a spot on the Forbes list of top-earning fictional characters. A list, coincidently, led by another yellow fellow with a penchant for honey.
Mario has had the longest, most successful video game career in history. This tiny plumber with the 12-foot vertical leap has been getting Princess Peach out of scrapes for years, as well as taking on different roles in more than 200 appearances. This has helped him move roughly 262 million video game units. And don't assume the little guy's gut is slowing him down either - the latest version of "Mario Kart" for the Nintendo Wii was one of the top-selling games in 2008 and 2009.
Photo courtesy of JD Hancock