Since 1983’s Nintendo Entertainment System, console gaming has grown from “kid hobby” into an integral part of entertainment in homes around the world. Some of these consoles have been very successful, and others have fared badly.
Today, however, we list the very best selling home consoles of all time. Keep in mind that we will only rank actual home consoles (no ‘portable only’ systems). Enjoy!
5. Nintendo Switch (2017) – 91.62 Million Units Sold
The Nintendo Switch, at its core, is a portable system, but the fact that it is marketed as a home/portable hybrid system, makes its inclusion on this list a no brainer. The Switch’s astronomical success (over 90 million units sold in little over four years) has the machine on pace to become Nintendo’s most successful ‘home’ system ever.
Many of us wondered whether Nintendo had ‘lost it’ after the disastrous Wii U period. Personally, I never felt that Nintendo would go the way of Sega after Wii U’s commercial failure for a few reasons.
First, even when in dire straights (console sales wise), Nintendo always did incredible numbers on first party software sales (Mario Kart 8 for the Wii U sold 8.4 million copies). The company has always made money and recovered investments on the strength of its software sales. This was true, even on the Nintendo 64, and Gamecube days.
Lastly, Nintendo’s portable machines have always performed incredibly well, which is exactly what set the stage for the Switch being a sure fire commercial hit. The Nintendo Switch was Nintendo’s clever way of consolidating its home console, and portable divisions into one.
Basically, Nintendo pulled out of the conventional home console race without telling anyone that it did. With games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and Super Mario Odyssey, the Switch is home to some of the greatest games ever made.
4. Nintendo Wii – 101.63 Million Units Sold
After four Nintendo console generations. The company saw its last two (Nintendo 64 and Gamecube) lose massive amounts of market ground to Sony, and new comer Microsoft. Nintendo realized that it could not win the conventional console race from the mighty PlayStation brand, and the new (but infinitely rich) comer, Microsoft with its Xbox brand.
Thus, Nintendo thought outside of the box with the Nintendo Wii. The Wii launched along side the PlayStation 3 in 2006. With the Xbox 360 firmly entrenched (with a year’s head start) in the market, the HD home console era had officially begun in 2005.
Nintendo would remain technologically stuck in standard definition with its Wii console. The Wii was, in the words of a wise forum poster (whose name I can’t quite recall),”an overclocked Gamecube” with motion controls.
The Wii marked Nintendo’s first departure from directly competing with other hardware making rivals, and while the system felt like a gimmick and lost the company some hardcore gamer support (which would come back to bite the company with the Wii U), it was also a commercial hit with customers who traditionally didn’t play games (the elderly and young children) everywhere.
Somehow, during an era where online Call of Duty ruled the day, The Nintendo Wii managed to outsell its much more powerful, and ‘hip’ rivals by 15 million units sold, and the company moved tons of first party software due to its success.
The Nintendo Wii was such a resounding hit that the Japanese giant tried to catch lighting in a bottle twice thinking that the underpowered and overpriced Wii U was a great idea…impressive indeed.
3. Sony PlayStation (1995) – 102.4 Million Units Sold
While console gaming, as we know it today, might not exist had Nintendo not gambled with its Nintendo Entertainment System back in the mid 1980s. It can also be said that console gaming (and video gaming in general) would not be as big today if Sony hadn’t taken the industry by storm a decade later in the mid 1990s with its PlayStation console.
Sony changed the way that the business relationship between hardware maker and 3rd party publishers (and development studios) worked. Before Sony, Nintendo controlled the industry with some of the most tyrannical practices imaginable, and Sony’s publisher friendly waters enticed many developing third parties to leave Nintendo’s ecosystem for PlayStation’s safer environment.
The PlayStation made video gaming a ‘cool’ past time for teenagers and adults alike. The machine had a large library of great, and affordable games in every single genre imaginable. Games like Gran Turismo, Tekken 3, Resident Evil 2, Metal Gear Solid, and Final Fantasy VII defined the system as the most popular and commercially successful machine of the decade.
2. PlayStation 4 (2013) – 116.4 Million Unit Sold
Coming into the PlayStation 4/Xbox One era, Sony’s success wasn’t a guaranteed bet. Sony had pretty much battled Microsoft to a standstill with the PlayStation 3. In the company’s defense that system (PS4) closed out its lifecycle with stronger exclusive software than the Xbox 360 did, at the time.
Sony’s focus on first party studios carried over to the PlayStation 4, but Microsoft also, unintentionally, aided Sony in its infamous 2013 E3 Press conference. Microsoft introduced a few strange policies (console needed to connect to the internet at least once every 24 hours in order to play games, physical copies of games couldn’t be shared, etc.) that shocked the gaming world, and opened the door for the PlayStation 4 to dominate sales early.
Unfortunately for Microsoft, despite its best efforts the PlayStation 4 never eased up on the throttle and became Sony’s 2nd most successful console in history. The PlayStation 4 had a marked advantage over the Xbox One in terms of hardware power (this wouldn’t change until the arrival of the Xbox One X), as it offered true 1080p gaming (a point that Sony cleverly stressed in the console’s early marketing) for $100 dollars less (The Xbox One came bundled with Kinect which drove the unit’s price point up).
Apart from that, Sony’s first party studios graced the PlayStation 4 with what perhaps is the PlayStation’s brand strongest lineup of exclusive content throughout its life cycle. The PlayStation 4 could do no wrong, and it set the stage for the PS5 to be a successful machine, despite shortages and production woes (chip shortages).
The PlayStation 4 is so strong that the biggest (current and future) Sony releases continue to be featured on the machine, as Sony cannot turn its back on its 115+ million installed base of users.
1. Sony PlayStation 2 – 155 Million Units Sold
It can be said that despite a successful September 9th, 1999 launch, the Sega Dreamcast was dead in the water thanks to the unprecedented PlayStation 2 ‘hype’. The PlayStation 2 arrived on November 2000 with a less than stellar launch lineup, but it didn’t matter.
The PlayStation 2 was more powerful (hardware wise) than Sega’s final hope, and it played DVDs, which was huge selling point at the turn of the millennium. Apart from that, in five short years (1995-2000) Sony had managed to earn 100 million PlayStation loyalists, and that fan base carried over to the company’s sophomore system.
In 2001, PS2’s Hardware (in terms of tech specs) supremacy would be toppled by more powerful machines in Microsoft’s Xbox and the Nintendo Gamecube, but by that point the console war was already over. All that was left to decide was who would take the distant (very distant) second place in sales (Xbox won that battle).
The PlayStation continued expanding the video gaming market with stellar titles such as Metal Gear Solid 2, Gran Turismo 3, Shadow of the Colossus, Final Fantasy X, and the era’s most important franchise in Grand Theft Auto.
Given the fact that Microsoft and Nintendo are doing well these days (even the Xbox One managed to hit the 50 million unit sold mark), it will be difficult for any future console to break the PlayStation 2’s record number of sales, and its place as the best selling home console ever.
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