How To Pick For Popularity
The absence of statistics and studies on video game sales makes our task difficult. We're basing our rankings on the numbers published by VGChartz and Wikipedia. The problem is that those resources only count the number of physical copies sold, leaving out online sales. Furthermore, VGChartz doesn’t break down sales for Windows, Mac, and Linux. And finally, it’s sometimes impossible to distinguish between PC and console sales because of the vague statistics discussed by game publishers.
So, in order to create the most accurate ranking possible, we tempered the results from those publications by referring to other rankings and taking each game’s cultural impact into consideration. That’s why, instead of calling this a list of best-selling PC games, we're working with the most popular PC titles, sorted in alphabetical order to limit the subjectivity of our approach.
We also made the decision to limit ourselves to one title per series in order to present more games and avoid the inevitable redundancy. For instance, The Sims is not included because The Sims 2 sold many more copies. There are also series that left their mark on video game culture, such as Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto. But each title from those families sold considerably less than the games in our list, which explains their absence.
Age Of Empires
Age of Empires has sold more than three million units, and is often described as a fusion between Civilization II and Warcraft II. Released in 1997, this strategy game requires players to build a civilization and live through several ages (e.g. stone, tools, bronze, iron) while attaining various objectives.
Anno 1503: The New World
1503 A.D.: The New World is a game that mixes real-time strategy and simulated city building. Developed in Austria and released on the market in 2003, it has also sold more than three million units.
Baldur’s Gate is a role-playing game (RPG) with sales exceeding two million units. Released in 1998, it is the first title to be set in the famous Forgotten Realms, and is heavily inspired by Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.
This famous FPS from Digital Illusions CE (DICE) was released in 2005. The game uses certain role-playing and strategy mechanisms to create captivating multiplayer gameplay. The story takes places in a fictional 21st century, and the game sold a million copies in the first month of its release. Today, Battlefield 2 has sold an estimated 10 million-plus copies around the world, outperforming Battlefield 3 (though estimates are difficult since EA lumps sales of computer and console versions together).
Command & Conquer: Red Alert
Released in 1996, Command & Conquer: Red Alert sold more than three million units, even if the uptake was slower than the title's follow-up, Red Alert 2. Fan enthusiasm bolstered this RTS game though, which has now become freeware (download it here).
Cossacks: European Wars
Cossacks: European Wars is an RTS released in 2001 for Windows 95 and 98, selling more than four million copies. The game also won many awards and kudos from the press for its graphical detail and the impressive opening scene.
While it’s true that Counter-Strike is a mod of Half-Life, we decided to mention it here because some estimates suggest more than four million copies have been sold. It also had a significant impact on the FPS genre. Besides popularizing the gameplay with a new generation of enthusiasts, it's partially responsible for the spread of video game tournaments.
According to a document from Crytek, Crysis sold more than three million copies and was one of the most popular titles in the series. This FPS, released in 2007, is set in a future where an extraterrestrial structure has been discovered. With the help of a motorized exoskeleton nanosuit, the protagonist fights both North Korea and a race of aliens.
Diablo III is the newest game in our list of popular titles; it only surfaced in 2012. Blizzard has already sold more than 12 million copies though, which also makes this one of the most popular games out there. Incidentally, it holds the record for fastest-selling game in the world, with 3.5 million copies sold in just 24 hours.
The famous FPS Doom 3 sold more than 3.5 million copies, and is the most popular game from id Software to date. This reboot of the series abandons the storyline from the other titles, though it offers similar gameplay in spite of its incursion into the horror genre, and absence of duct tape.