The video game industry is a lucrative business, with some home consoles selling tens of millions of units worldwide. How well each console sold is a great measure of what went right during that particular generation. It’s an effective way to gauge a specific manufacturer’s success while seeing what gamers gravitated toward — and whether or not a console has gimmicky features or ideas that stick around.
Before getting into the bestselling consoles, it’s important to note that this list does not include dedicated handhelds. These figures do not account for used system sales since manufacturers don’t have a way to track those transactions (and don’t earn profit from them, anyway). In addition, newer systems like the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X aren’t included on this list simply because they haven’t been around long enough to reach major sales milestones (though they’re both on track to become some of the bestselling consoles of all time).
These systems are also home to some of the bestselling games of all time, which we have a separate list for.
Many gamers have a soft spot for the SNES — a system that featured some of the most beloved games of all time. Games like Super Mario Kart, Chrono Trigger, Earthbound, Super Metroid, and Super Mario World are just some of the titles you might remember. It took most of what the original NES did well and improved upon it, giving its audience exciting and memorable 16-bit experiences. Though it didn’t sell quite as well as the NES, it still did respectably, and we owe a lot to what this system was able to do in 1991.
It might be surprising, but despite “losing” the previous generation, Microsoft has still done well with the Xbox One. Even after getting off to such a rough start following the system’s reveal in 2013, the Xbox One was able to turn things around, thanks to its many consumer-friendly features like Xbox Game Pass, Play Anywhere, and Games with Gold. Microsoft has not publicly announced the system’s exact sales figures, but an estimated 50.56 million have been sold since its release seven years ago.
Video games would not be what they are today without the NES, period. At the time, it gave consumers a way to have arcade-like experiences at home and revolutionized the idea of video games in general. Though home consoles existed prior to this, it’s the machine that put them on the map, giving people a way to affordably play games at home. It was also the start of so many beloved franchises we love today, like Zelda, Mario, Metroid, and Mega Man. Other consoles went on to outsell it, but its impact is just as important today as it was over 35 years ago.
Much like the NES and SNES before it, the Xbox 360 revolutionized the way we play games. It popularized HD visuals, providing consumers with stunning experiences that hold up even today. Although other consoles featured online functionality before it, the Xbox 360 made online console gaming much more mainstream. But the games are what truly make this machine shine. Titles like Gears of War, Halo 3, Grand Theft Auto IV, Fallout 3, BioShock, and Mass Effect are just some of the impressive games this system has. Considering how softly the original Xbox sold, Microsoft struck gold with the Xbox 360. It reached around 85 million units sold as of April 2022.
As with the Xbox One, the PS3 got off to a rocky start. Telling your audience to get a second job to afford a $600 machine was most definitely not the way to go, but Sony managed to turn things around to outsell the Xbox 360. The PS3 had fantastic ideas, but once again, games are what resonated with its audience. At its peak, the console was pushing indie titles like Journey, Hotline Miami, and Guacamelee!, and its AAA experiences like the Uncharted trilogy, Metal Gear Solid 4, God of War 3, Gran Turismo 5, and The Last of Us gave its audience a reason to buy the console. While it had its shortcomings, the PS3 is an important benchmark in video game history. As of 2017, the machine sold over 87 million units.
There hasn’t been anything quite like the Wii. It was a system grandma could play. Everyone wanted one, and for the first year or two after it launched, it was sold out everywhere. Though it was aimed at a broader audience, focusing on casual experiences like Wii Sports and Wii Fit, the system still had a handful of games for “core” gamers. The Super Mario Galaxy games are still considered some of the best of all time, while entries like The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword are fondly remembered today. Say what you want about the gimmicky motion controls — the Wii was a behemoth that managed to surpass 101 million units sold.
If you can believe it, the original PlayStation (as we know it) almost didn’t happen. At the time, Nintendo and PlayStation were in talks to partner with one another for the 64-bit console generation. As you can probably guess, it never happened. And we’re so glad it didn’t. Sony went off to create the PlayStation, which is the console many of us grew up with. It featured a breadth of marquee titles like Crash Bandicoot, Spyro, Resident Evil, Tekken, Silent Hill, Metal Gear Solid, and Final Fantasy VII. As one of the first disc-based consoles, it gave its users a way to listen to music via CDs, which likely bolstered its sales, leading to over 102 million units sold.
Although the Switch is playable in handheld mode, we’re counting it as a home console — especially since it’s the main system Nintendo is supporting currently. And what a system it is. It’s one of the most unique consoles in history, giving its audience the ability to take it on the go, play it at home, or play in tabletop mode with friends. Not only has it surpassed the sales of the Xbox One, SNES, and others, but it’s done so in record time. According to Nintendo, games for the Switch will continue to release for years to come, so it has the potential to outsell the PS4 worldwide. Currently, the Switch sits at around 107 million units sold. With tremendous experiences like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey, and even third-party games like The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, it’s easy to see why it’s done so well.
Sony got off on the right foot with the PS4. From the very start of its life cycle in 2013, the messaging was clear, the price was right, and the games were (and still are) monumental. It expanded upon the ideas introduced with the PS3, with a higher focus on online fidelity and its user experience. Its lineup of games is arguably one of the strongest in history, with the likes of Bloodborne, God of War, Marvel’s Spider-Man, Red Dead Redemption 2, Persona 5, Uncharted 4, and Horizon Zero Dawn, captivating audiences around the globe. As of May 2022, the PS4 has surpassed 117 million units sold.
The PS2 was, without a doubt, the bestselling gaming console ever. Its sales statistics were so huge that we couldn’t imagine another console comparing for a long while. The PS2 was one of the era’s most affordable DVD players and also allowed you to play over 3,500 published games. It was an amazing time to game thanks to all those options, and the PS2 sold well all over the globe. Whatever you needed – Gran Turismo 4, Final Fantasy X, Metal Gear Solid 3, God of War, or even Grand Theft Auto III — the PS2 had you covered. It reached over 157 million units sold as of April 2022.
The PS2 took over a decade for Sony to design, build, and release — but it was well worth the wait. The PS2 capitalized on the original console’s best elements and eliminated the problems. The console set the stage for many of the most popular and beloved video game franchises of our time. The PS2 is iconic, holding a place in gamers’ hearts that has lasted through changing times and trends. Playing remastered games or sequels gives the best sense of well-being and nostalgia. We’re still waiting for another console to change the game as significantly as the PS2.