10. Wii Sports (2006). It’s rare that gaming itself evolves, and when it does it’s important that a game is there to hold the hands of an entire industry and lead us all into the future. Love it or hate it, Wii Sports was that game, and as the last several years of game industry conferences have shown, motion sensing is the future of gaming for at least the near future. But that’s not the only reason it made the list. Neither is the “fact” that the Wii-bundled game is the bestselling game of all time, by almost twice the amount of the second bestselling game of all time. It’s this high on the list because it did something that only games like Pong, Pac-Man, or the original Mario could do: it got everyone to game. Sure, everyone picks up a controller every now and then, and we’ve all gotten our parents or grandparents to play video games at holiday gatherings, but Wii Sports had moms stealing the Wii from their kids at nights and even found its way into retirement homes. Growing up, we always dreamed of the day that we could retire and just play video games all day, and some of our grandparents are already doing it! Wii Sports didn’t just influence the future of the industry, it saw the future and pulled it to the present.
9. Donkey Kong (1981). Nintendo was originally a Hanafuda card production company by the name “Nintendo Koppai”, and later started a taxi company and even a chain of love hotels! After struggling in a sex industry, Nintendo set its sights on the children’s toy industry (you’d think the logical next step would have been adult toys, right?) and then finally the arcade industry in 1975 with EVR Race, though they had been distributing the Magnavox Odyssey video game console since 1974. Nintendo struggled once again in yet another new business market, but then in 1977 they put their faith in a student product developer named Shigeru Miyamoto, and that event proved to one of the most influential actions in the entire history of the game industry. Donkey Kong playtested very poorly for being too different from other arcade hits of its time, but Nintendo trusted Miyamoto and it ending up making them $280 million in two years of sales (the equivalent of $650 million in 2011, which only five films in 2011 accomplished in worldwide sales), and Nintendo's two American distributors, Ron Judy and Al Stone, became millionaires after Donkey Kong’s first year of sales thanks to the commissions they received. Without Donkey Kong, there likely never would have been Super Mario Bros., or even a Nintendo game company that existed past the 1980s. An honorable mention goes out to Game & Watch (1980), which also helped boost Nintendo’s profits and reach.
8. Unreal Tournament (1999). If you’re surprised to see this game so high on the list, then that’s probably because you’re not aware that Unreal Tournament was the birth of the Unreal Engine. Now on its third iteration, the Unreal Engine 3 isn’t just influential on the video game industry, it’s absolutely mandatory for most bestselling high budget influential games to even exist. Batman: Arkham Asylum (2009), Borderlands (2009), Gears of War (2006), Mass Effect (2007), Mirror’s Edge (2008), and TERA (2012) are just some of the hundreds of games that have relied on the game engine. Without it, the game industry would be forced to make each of their games from scratch or build their own game engines before even making a single game, which only the wealthiest and most successful companies in the industry are usually capable of doing. In that sense, a huge Pac-Man pie graph of the game industry is standing on the software shoulders of Epic Games and their golden code. Epic Games just revealed the Unreal Engine 4 tech demo video, and it looks like it’s only going to continue to be an essential pillar of the entire game industry.
7. Catacomb 3-D (1991). If I walked into a high profile game industry conference and asked everyone to raise their hand if they knew what Doom was, there wouldn’t be a single person who didn’t throw up a Wolfenstein salute. If I asked them to keep their hands raised if they knew what Catacomb 3-D was, I wouldn’t be surprised if far more than half of the crowed lowered their gaming grips. Gamers under the age of 25 likely don’t know of Catacomb 3-D’s existence, but it and Hovertank 3D are the two id Software games that invented the modern day FPS genre for Doom to dominate a few years later. It introduced the concept of showing the player’s hand or weapon on the screen while exploring a labyrinth of 3D halls and rooms, and it even influenced the art style of id’s Wolfenstein 3D (1992) that would follow the Catacomb 3-D series. SNK’s 1990 Neo-Geo game, The Super Spy, deserves an honorable mention for stumbling upon FPS gameplay mechanics a year earlier without knowing the potential it truly held.
6. The Legend of Zelda (1986). This game didn’t just start the colossal Zelda series, it also invented much of the adventure genre’s foundations and influenced every genre in existence by showing that games could and should be larger than one-sitting experiences. To pull off its boast worthy game length, it was the first console game that let players actually save their games rather than using password codes to retrieve their previous progress. While other RPGs were still expanding on turn based combat, Zelda made the entire genre feel archaic overnight by offering real-time combat animations to help you safely explore a living, nonlinear world. Single weapons from the game were advanced enough to have been the basis for entire games in that 8-bit era, but instead Shigeru Miyamoto gave you an entire inventory arsenal and blew your mind when you discovered the world was filled with several dungeons that were each the size of some video games of its time. The Legend of Zelda was decades ahead of its time, and from a game design standpoint it might be the single greatest catalyst the video game industry has ever experienced.
5. Maze War (1973). Guess what? The first FPS ever was an online one! Suck on that, Halo 2 fans! This primitive game’s players could use an lmlac to connect to ARPANET servers and play with other lmlac gamers from around America. In fact, there’s a heated debate over whether Maze War (which wasn’t updated with online play until sometime in 1974) or Spasim (March of 1974) was the first online game of all time, with Spasim’s creator, Jim Bowery, offering $500 to anyone who can prove that his space simulation shooter wasn’t the first 3D multiplayer game.) This debate gets even more confusing when you find out that Empire was written on the PLATO computer system in 1973.
4. pedit5 (1975). Like all PLATO software, pedit5 was executed on a mainframe computer and played on terminals located elsewhere. Sadly, the PLATO system was created strictly for educational purposes, which meant admins deleted any games on the network if they found them. The only known dungeon crawling predecessor to pedit5 is m199h, which was deleted and became a game that time forgot. Luckily pedit5 was saved before it too was deleted, and it became the original dungeon crawling video game. Some of the famous games that it heavily influenced are dnd (1975), Adventure (1975), Moria (1975), Colossal Cave Adventure (1976), Telengard (1976), Beneath Apple Manor (1978), Zork (1979), and most importantly of all, Rogue (1980). With the addition of randomly generated ASCII dungeons and items, as well as a “line of sight” visual mechanic, Rogue was so groundbreaking that it spawned its own subgenre that simply became called Roguelike. An honorable mention goes out to Moria (1975) for allowing ten players to form a party and explore the game together while messaging each other years before any of this would be seen again by the game industry. It even arguably invented the town portal scroll mechanic!
3. Magnavox Odyssey’s Tennis (1972). The game industry is filled with famous names of influential game designers, but too many generations of gamers have forgotten or simply never knew the name of the man who created the first video game console: Ralph Baer. Here’s a quote from him on how he came up with the Magnavox Odyssey: “I’m sitting around the East Side Bus Terminal during a business trip to New York, thinking about what you can do with a TV set other than tuning in channels you don’t want. And I came up with the concept of doing games, building something for $19.95. This was 1966, in August. Now you’ve got to remember, I’m a division manager. I have a $7 or $8 million direct labor payroll. I can put a couple of guys on the bench who can work on something. Nobody needs to know. Doesn’t even ripple my overhead. And that’s how I started . . . My boss came up to play with our rifle; we had a plastic rifle by then. And he used to shoot at the target spot [on a television screen] from the hip. He was pretty good at it, and that kind of got his attention. We got more friendly. And it kept the project alive.” It was Ralph’s lazy engineer, Bill Rusch, who suggested in 1967 that they should make a game that involved a spot flying across the screen, which ended up becoming the Pong predecessor known simply as Tennis on the Magnavox Odyssey. If you skipped my whole top 100 list and jumped straight to the top 10, then shame on you for missing out on some fascinating video game history regarding the lawsuits involving Tennis and Pong. Fun Fact: Ralph Baer, along with Howard J. Morrison, also invented the memory game, Simon. Ralph Baer is arguably the most influential person in the history of video games, and I hope his name eventually becomes as famous and ubiquitous as Shigeru Miyamoto.
2. Space Invaders (1978). How influential was this arcade space shooter? I’ll let this jaw dropping quote from The Medium of the Video Game speak for itself: “A few months after its release, however, the game had become so popular that Japan was suffering a national coin shortage . . . Prior to its advent a top-selling arcade game meant about 15,000 units sold. Taito sold 300,000 Space Invaders, 60,000 of them in the United States.” You know video games have “made it” when they cause a national coin shortage! While Pong conquered the early video game industry, Space Invaders was the first video game to conquer the entire entertainment industry. Star Wars inspired Tomohiro Nishikado to make Space Invaders, but Star Wars (1977) only earned $775 million ($2.7 billion when adjusted for inflation) while Space Invaders was reported to earn over $600 million each year, as of 1982, four years after its release. Beyond measurable numbers, Space Invaders is also gaspingly influential in another staggering way: “Space Invaders. Before I saw it, I was never particularly interested in video games and certainly never thought I would make video games.” That quote comes from this famous TIME interview with Shigeru Miyamoto, the man who would create the most influential video game of all time . . .
1. Super Mario Bros. (1985). This game is the Jesus of the entire gaming industry. Not only was it a worshiped savior for the video game market, but it also marked the end of one game era and the birth of a new one. Arcade games and Atari games mostly became a thing of the past, and console games finally became an accepted and established form of gaming for the future. It all revolves around this pixel profit pyramid that made Nintendo the most influential force in gaming across several decades, consoles, and handhelds. Decades after 0 A.M. (After Mario), when the industry finally evolved to 3D graphics, Mario was still around and as strong as ever, like an immortal Mickey Mouse icon. The bestselling game of all time for two decades? Check. The most famous game music of all time? Check. The most famous game character of all time? Check. The most famous game villain of all time? Check. More spinoff series than any other game? Check. The unchallenged bestselling game franchise of all time, with over half a billion game sales? Checkmate. Super Mario Bros. directly and powerfully influenced not only games, not just every gamer and game designer ever, but an entire generation of people around the planet, and the after effects of this game are still being felt to this day. I don’t see any game ever being more influential than Super Mario Bros. until we have virtual reality gaming machines implanted into our brains, though it’s likely that the bestseller for that device will be yet another timeless Mario game. Super Mario Bros. is the pinnacle of the human brain’s ability to create, play, and share memorable experiences in video games.
If you read my entire list, then thank you for joining me on this adventure through the video game industry. If you ever feel the need to be inspired, then I encourage you to come back and flip through these industry defining games again in the future. Maybe one day I will have to modify it to include a game you worked on!