The virtual foundation
Video games have come a long way since their inception. In the beginning, they often took the form of text-based adventures and ambiguous displays of pixels meant to represent characters or objects. Now? We've got visuals so stunningly realistic that it's sometimes hard to tell a virtual car from a real one, and bite-sized downloadables stylized as throwbacks to the old days. But we wouldn't be where we are today without the following 50 games--the most important ones of all time.
The word "important" can mean a lot of things, so let's clear this up right away. When we say these are the most important of all time, we aren't referencing how good they are; instead, these are the games that ultimately shaped the industry as it is today. The games that invented or popularized genres, or transformed video games from "kids' toys" into acceptable pastimes for people of all ages and walks of life. After countless debates over which of them belonged on our list and why, we're proud to present our 50 most important games of all time.
50. Zork (1980)
Zork wasnt the first purely text-based adventure game--that honor belongs to Colossal Cave Adventure. But it is the one that people remember most fondly, for the imaginative landscapes and creatures it evoked using nothing more than white words on a black background. Without any graphics to lean on, the player was forced to visualize their surroundings in the minds eye--and like any gripping novel, Zorks world felt that much more tangible with each nugget of info or surveying of the surroundings.
Sure, the game had its limitations; you could no doubt open mailbox or read letter, but there was no way the game could understand your input of urinate pants while cowering in fear of being eaten by a grue. Regardless, Zork sparked the imaginations of all who played it, paving the way for entire generations of adventure games that would follow.
49. Gran Turismo (1997)
Gran Turismos importance is very simple to explain. Before it, racing games were almost exclusively arcadey racers that only tried to be as fun as possible. Gran Turismo instead simulated the level of grip your vehicles tires have with the road, and dressed it up with the most realistic graphics a 32-bit console could ever muster. Amazingly, the outcome of all this realism was still fun.
Chucking cars into corners, drifting through curves, and feeling the rumble through the new DualShock controller felt super-deluxe, and was reason enough to own a PlayStation. The series has undoubtedly lost its clout since GT3, but this game is still the single reason why arcade racers are so infrequent these days.
48. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
In 1982, Steven Spielberg created a magical Jesus-alien who descended upon American suburbia to bring light, hope, and life to all who made contact with him. Later that year, the same alien returned--only this time, he brought devastation.
E.T. certainly wasnt the only game that contributed to the gaming market crash of 1983. The glut of consoles choking the marketplace with their raft of rushed-out, piss-poor games had been weakening things for years. But E.T. was the high-profile, Christmas-released straw that shattered the camel's calcium-deficient spine. It crippled Atari with massive losses and set the whole house of cards crumbling. Which left the stage wide open for a company called Nintendo to enter and reboot things a couple of years later.
47. FarmVille (2009)
Even if youve never played FarmVille, chances are you've seen your Facebook feed inundated with requests to help your buddy find five pigs or save up enough gold for a new barn. And that's where its influence is abundantly obvious. In a new market where social gaming was suddenly a thing, Farmville succeeded in hooking in casual gamers who might otherwise have never touched a video game, taking over their lives and their social networks.
It may not have lasted forever, but it showed everyone how microtransactions in a free-to-play game could make billions of dollars, and is arguably the reason why the free-to-play model is so widespread today. For better or worse, you cant deny that FarmVille massaged its market brilliantly.
46. Resident Evil (1996)
Resident Evil didn't invent survival horror--that distinction falls to earlier games like Sweet Home (on which Resi is based) and Alone In The Dark--but it was certainly the game that popularized the genre when it appeared on the PlayStation back in 1996. Since then, Resident Evil has become a pop culture phenomenon, spawning games, films, comics and novels. And despite the questionable quality of recent entries, it remains one of the most important gaming brands.
Resident Evil 4 may be the series pinnacle, and Silent Hill 2 the height of the survival horror genre, but neither would have achieved so much--or even existed--without this original Raccoon City scare-fest.
45. RuneScape (2001)
Nobody threw around terms like browser-based game and free-to-play before Runescape. By todays standards, the classic, pre-overhaul world looks like it was comprised using MS Paint scrawlings. But in 2001, seeing a three-dimensional fantasy world functioning inside your Internet Explorer window was utterly stunning. And the fact that anyone could enter this medieval realm, at any time, meant that there was always something to do and someone to talk to.
Runescape offered all the questing, item drops, trading, and general socializing that one finds in an MMO, without asking anything of the player besides their time. Eventually, the option to subscribe was implemented--but Runescape never abandoned its non-paying players, and you can, to this day, venture into its densely populated world without spending a dime. It was the dawn of the F2P model of gaming thats slowly but surely becoming the MMO--if not the entire industry--standard.
44. King's Quest (1984)
Before 1983, graphics and adventure games werent exactly getting along. Sure, games like Mystery House gave you a visual depiction of where you were--but these scenes were little more than still images, and fairly simplistic ones at that. But Kings Quest said to hell with that, dropping players into the brown boots of Graham (Grahame, to you old folks), a controllable character that could actually move throughout the scenic backdrops. This kind of interactivity in a command-based adventure game was mind-blowing.
Beside the fact that your keyboard inputs could cause on-screen elements to react, Kings Quest also upheld the proud text-based tradition of brain-tickling puzzles. This time around, though, youd actually see Graham reach down to pick up an item, instead of having such a mundane action described to you. Without Kings Quests pioneering, point-and-click adventure games would be little more than digital picture books.
43. Dance Dance Revolution (1998)
Ladies and gentlemen, you owe a big debt to Dance Dance Revolution. Remember that time you managed to finally get close to that girl you really liked by doing a duet with her on "The Final Countdown" in Singstar? How about the time you finally got to hammer out "Free Bird" in Guitar Hero, despite your crippling inability to play a real guitar? Well, Dance Dance Revolution put rhythm action games on the map--and without DDR, none of these musical moments would've existed.
OK, so were simplifying it a little. By transforming simple rhythm-action games into social events at arcades, DDR paved the way for all party games,' and its fundamental message that games are more fun when played with friends is the same ethos behind Nintendos gender-and-age-spanning Wii consoles. On the flip-side, though, its also partly responsible for filling your living room with dust-gathering plastic instruments.
42. Sid Meier's Civilization (1991)
Though the term "4X" (explore, expand, exploit, exterminate) in relation to strategy games wasn't coined until 1993, Sid Meier's Civilization was the game that established the genre's core concepts. 4X strategy games typically involve building an empire and expanding it through military conquests, peaceful diplomacy, or a mixture of the two.
All the way back in 1991, Civ contained an impressive level of detail and became the standard by which future 4X games were judged. Many 4X concepts were borrowed from board games, such as Risk--and though there are many franchises structured around building and maintaining an empire, Civilization strikes an astounding balance between complexity and accessibility.
41. Gears of War (2006)
If you've played a third-person shooter since 2006, there's a good chance that it lifted features wholesale from Gears of War. Besides arguably being responsible for the influx of gritty grey/brown shooters that flooded the market, it also included the best cover system to date. Though some other games' cover system predate Gears' (Kill.Switch is often credited as the first real "cover shooter"), none had as large of an impact on the industry.
It's not just the inclusion of being able to hit a button to hide behind an object that makes Gears so influential. Epic Games built Gears around the cover system, creating the stop-and-pop style of gameplay that became popular in the years since. Because of Gears, third-person shooters need cover, just like first-person shooters needed the ability to look up. It changed the genre entirely, and it's gotten to the point where not being able to find cover in a third-person game makes it feel like a handicap.
40. Starsiege: Tribes (1998)
Quake III and Unreal might get most of the plaudits for popularizing the fast-paced, physics-driven future shooter arena experience, but Tribes got there first, with gameplay mechanics that modern shooters are still catching up to. If you ever wondered why Halo put jetpacks in Reach, Tribes is why.
Built solely around organized team games over huge cross-country maps, Tribes' real attractions are its standard use of rocket boosters for wide-ranging aerial combat. Its now-iconic skiing exploit, a physics trick which allowed smart players to accrue immense acceleration, unlocked vast high-flying potential for skilled players. It was amazing then, and the series' resurgence in 2012's Tribes: Ascend proved that there's still nothing else like it now.
39. Command & Conquer (1995)
The Command & Conquer name still raises eyebrows, but its all down to the impact the original had, making real-time strategy gaming an exciting thing to play. It felt strange to many at the time, as you didnt take direct control of the characters, instead ordering them around en masse.
C&C brought the idea of funding units with gathered resources to the forefront of gaming, requiring gamers to plan how they were going to play for the next 20 minutes or so, instead of simply reacting to second-by-second action. The original is impeccably designed, fiendishly addictive, and uncluttered by progressive ideas, making it plain to see why it was so influential.
38. SimCity (1989)
OK, so the SimCity name is currently dirt, thanks to the controversial always online model adopted by SimCity 2013. But that shouldnt detract from the fact that the first game popularized the entire simulation genre. Back in 1989, SimCity felt completely liberating, offering players the chance to design and build their own metropolis, micromanaging aspects of the process that seemed incredibly detailed at the time.
If it wasnt for SimCity, its unlikely that wed have played games like Civilization, Total War, or even The Sims. It even provided the template for massive mobile hits like Tiny Tower and Pixel People--games that are mere months old--demonstrating SimCitys incredible strength of concept.
37. Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos (2002)
Warcraft III was more than an amazing real-time strategy title, more than a classic story of a fallen hero, and more than a significant player in the competitive online gaming realm (though, all those things could almost qualify its existence on this list). The reason Warcraft III belongs among the most important games is because it gave birth to the MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena), an entire genre of games.
Sharing map creations and coming up with wacky games in the Warcraft III map editor was all the rage back in the day. But eventually, Defense of the Ancients came out into the wild and the tower defense game launched a new kind of competitive gaming experience. After DotA, other developers started their own MOBAs resulting in games like Demigod, and Riot Games' League of Legends.
36. Shenmue (1999)
Shenmue simultaneously typified everything that made Sega great and everything that made it fail as a platform holder. Yu Suzukis vision for an RPG based on Virtua was so ambitious that it demonstrated how the companys entire hardware business was unsustainable. Every Dreamcast owner would famously have needed to buy two copies of the game just for it to break even after its $47 million dollar development.
It didnt happen--leaving us with two sensational games but no closure on one of gamings most well-known stories. As a major contributing factor for one of the old big three leaving the console market, it is an infamous yet essential part of gamings history.
35. Myst (1993)
It may have been a good-looking but fiendishly difficult point-and-click adventure, but Myst changed the way games told stories. Instead of pushing players down a linear path, feeding them the narrative in an orderly fashion, Myst bounced us around time and space asking us to fill in the plot based on clues dotted throughout the world.
So, did you enjoy BioShock Infinite recently? How did games like Skyrim and Fallout work out for you? All good? Yup, they all owe a huge debt to Mysts pioneering, non-linear storytelling. Oh, and lets not forget Mysts important contribution to popularizing gaming as a hobby--its impressive sales were a big reason that the CD-ROM format became as popular as it did, back in the early '90s.
34. Metroid (1986)
Samus' plunge into the depths of the planet Zebes is one of the most beloved game experiences of all time. As opposed to the 2D side-scrollers of its age, Samus didn't just move from the left of the screen to the right to beat a level, kill a boss, and call it a day. Instead, she could explore rooms in every direction, and every new item she collected unlocked previously unreachable locations.
There has been an entire gaming genre named for the Metroid-style gameplay. Although the term "Metroidvania" refers to both Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, it was Samus who first blazed the trail. In the original Metroid there were no levels, just one giant world and a whole lot of locked doors. But the keys to those barriers were the items and weapons you found throughout the adventure. Exploration was essential, and retreading old ground with a new upgrade in hand was often the way to ultimately move forward. Many adventure titles still use the gameplay elements Metroid founded decades ago, and without this pioneer, todays adventure games would be very, very different.
33. League of Legends (2009)
Free-to-play gaming is nothing new, but for a long time the market was mostly filled with browser-based MMOs made specifically to strip you of your cash. League of Legends changed that perception, proving that there was more to F2P than pay-to-win--something it proved when League of Legends went from popular online game to worldwide eSports phenomenon.
Since LoL's release, dozens of games have copied its monetization strategy, focusing on customization and convenience instead of allowing players to buy their way to the top. And it's working. The fire has been lit, gaming is changing, and League of Legends--with 32 million registered players--is holding the matches.
32. Minecraft (2011)
On sale for two and a half years before its official, completed release, Minecraft's paid-for Alpha and Beta versions (along with free updates for all buyers of the pre-Beta versions) managed to create an immensely engaged, vocal community that built simmering viral hype right up to the game's eventual release. Players felt involved and valued, while non-players felt damnably intrigued as to what all the fuss was about. And so, seemingly overnight, Minecraft became huge.
Not just huge for an indie game, or huge for a downloadable game, or huge for a PC game--huge overall. So big that Hot Topic has a section dedicated to Minecraft shirts. So big that it has its own convention. So big that it created its own genre. Minecraft proved, once and for all, that a game made by a handful of people for barely any money could compete with the biggest AAA games around.
31. Diablo (1996)
Ah, lovely, lovely loot. Diablo popularized action-RPGs, stripping away the boring, slow-paced action of its predecessors and distilling the get loot aspect that made the genre so appealing in the first place. The result was a smooth, fast-paced, and still impressively-animated isometric dungeon-crawler, which spanned two wildly successful sequels and countless imitators.
But one of the games greatest pulls was its four-player cooperative gameplay. Taking on a dungeon with friends and sharing the spoils remains one of gamings finest social experiences. For a game thats now some 17 years old, playing it is still utterly compelling, and its carefully devised formula for addictive play has found its way into everything from World of Warcraft to Borderlands.
30. Halo 2 (2004)
The second Halo is the weakest game of the original trilogy but, bizarrely, its arguably the most important. While Combat Evolved was Microsofts Xbox system-seller, allowing the PC giant to gain a foothold in the console market, it was the follow-up that popularized online gaming on consoles, finally fulfilling the promise that earlier titles like Chu Chu Rocket had shown back in the Dreamcast era.
While Halo 2 was by no means the first game to include modes like King of the Hill and Oddball, these multiplayer variants helped to set the game apart from other, more vanilla shooters that just offered deathmatch or team deathmatch modes. Without Halo 2, Xbox Live might have never found its footing.
29. Tomb Raider (1996)
Lara Croft made her mark on the gaming industry with her dual wielding pistols, acrobatic platforming, and raiding of tombs (although her voluptuous figure might have had some to do with her popularity). Any way you look at it, Lara was one of the first significant female lead characters in video games, paving the way for other kickass female heroines.
Tomb Raider also did more for the industry than make Lara Croft a household name; it was one of the first successful third-person shooters of its time. Pulling out Lara's guns to circle strafe jungle cats and armed bad guys while climbing around a labyrinth of traps was awesome. It was an excellent balance between action and exploration--and now, third-person shooters released today still follow the same basic blueprint.
28. Final Fantasy VII (1997)
We won't sit here and try to convince you that Final Fantasy VII was the best Final Fantasy ever made, but it's certainly the most important. Why? Because it established a market for Japanese role-playing games in the West, and--due to its large size, which was too big to store on cartridge media--transitioned the Final Fantasy franchise from Nintendo consoles to Sony's PlayStation.
Love or hate its spiky-haired hero and his noble quest, FFVII is the most popular entry in the series. Its FMV cutscenes were a hit in 1997, and the move from 2D to 3D graphics built a lot hype for the game pre-release. Once available to the public, it garnered a ton of praise from gamers and critics alike, and it was almost single-handedly responsible for the success of the PlayStation. Thanks to booming sales of both the game and Sony's console, many JRPGs now considered to be classics followed suit.
27. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (2007)
No game has been more influential on this current generation of consoles than Modern Warfare. Before its release, Call of Duty was a popular but inconsistent shooter, known for its brutal single-player campaign--but Modern Warfare was the complete package. It was at once a thrilling single-player FPS with great characters, set-pieces and imaginative locations, combined with fast-paced multiplayer that brought together persistent online characters with great maps and Prestige-badge bragging-rights.
As a result, it captured the imagination of an entire generation of players. It has flooded into popular culture, is constantly held up as the high-watermark for modern FPS games--the dominant genre of this generation--and has essentially set the template that the majority of multiplayer shooters now follow. The Call of Duty series has split opinion in recent years, but theres little debate that COD4: Modern Warfare has changed the way we play shooters--on and offline--and reinvented what weve come to expect from blockbuster games.
26. StarCraft (1998)
Whereas most real-time strategy games in the mid '90s were content to pit two symmetrical (or slightly different) sides against one another, StarCraft was the first to introduce three completely unique races. This layer of strategy and depth practically redefined the RTS genre, resulting in StarCraft's immense level of success.
As global sales numbered in the millions, StarCraft became one of the first games to popularize eSports. It has become so popular, in fact, that it is now the national eSport of South Korea, where professional matches are played on various television channels and pro players become media celebrities. That's exactly the kind of world we want to live in.
25. Metal Gear Solid (1998)
A game lives or dies by its play mechanics, so this often becomes the focus--sometimes at the expense of story. But games like Metal Gear Solid proved that there was room for both. The tight stealth gameplay of MGS made every room full of guards a unique puzzle with multiple solutions, and the boss battles remain some of the most memorable in gaming history. Best of all, the gameplay was made even more enjoyable thanks to a cutting edge story that didnt talk down to its players.
By utilizing the CD-ROM storage of the PSOne, MGS used full voice acting to tell a dramatic story that asked deeper questions about society, war, and humanity than most games had ever dared attempt. You were invested in all the characters, following them through every twist and turn of the story, and every fourth-wall-breaking moment. Director Hideo Kojima decided that gamers and the medium were ready for more adult stories and themes, and that move was a necessary step forward for the industry.
24. Tetris (1984)
No Tetris, no handheld gaming. Simple as that. Launching Alexei Pachinov's sleep-killing tessellation simulator as a box-in with the Game Boy was a simple but game-changing move from Nintendo. Accessible, addictive, and most importantly a perfect cultural fit for gaming on the move, Tetris was, on every level, the perfect advert for the console.
It sold the Game Boy faster than any other game could have, and it established Nintendo as the go-to company for handheld consoles from that point on. And its influence can still be felt in the mobile gaming surge. All the biggest, best and enduring games follow Tetris' core design mantra. Its the philosophical blueprint for what a handheld game should be, never bettered since its NA release in 1986.
23. Virtua Racing (1992)
3D gaming wasnt anything new in 1994. But gobsmacking wonder-visuals like those of Virtua Racing most certainly were. Segas Model 1 hardware could chuck around 180,000 flat-shaded polygons every second, effectively making everything else obsolete. These polygons ran at 60 frames per second and looked rock-solid, allowing gamers to feel like this racetrack really existed somewhere behind the TV screen.
And, being 3D, you could move the camera. The four camera options could be switched in real-time, smoothly swooping out and back towards the car, passing through the roll cage and into the drivers head, where you watched virtual hands see-saw at the wheel, polygonal fingers flipping the paddle shift in mimicry of your own. Put simply, Virtua Racing was an unbelievable leap forward.
22. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998)
Making games in the third dimension was one of the greatest challenges in game design history. Some had found ways to make it work in a controlled area such as a racetrack or a square fighting ring, but giving a player an entire world to explore seemed too big a challenge. Super Mario 64 found a way to make it work as a platformer focused on singular goals, but The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time built a fully-realized 3D world that changed everyones expectations of just how big a game world could be.
Z-targeting, the combat, and fast travel all seem fairly obvious inclusions now for 3D gameplay, but were new ground when Ocarina set the standard for navigating a polygonal world. Ocarina captured the same of wonder for open exploration that the original had, only this digital landscape felt more real than anything gamers had ever experienced. Many games have eclipsed Ocarinas digital real estate in the years since, but few have felt as big as Ocarina did in 1997.
21. World of Warcraft (2004)
MMO veterans will recount tales of epic raids in EverQuest or the dangerous frontiers of Ultima Online, but only one game in the genre can boast a subscription base that, at its peak, surpassed 10 million players: World of Warcraft. Of course, WoW wasn't the first MMO, and yes, it clearly drew a lot of influence from the games that preceded it--but it's the MMO responsible for putting the mainstream spotlight on the genre.
It certainly wasn't without its problems (anyone from the pre-launch beta days will tell you WoW was a mess back then), but WoW made playing MMOs more acceptable than it had ever been. Players signed up by the millions to adventure with others in Azeroth, spawning countless famous figures (Leeeeeeeroy Jenkiiiiiiins), memes (more DoTs!), and player-made add-ons, the best of which often became full features built into the game itself. Never before had an MMO been more accessible--or more successful.
20. Angry Birds (2009)
Some gamers might not want to admit it, but Angry Birds does deserve a spot as one of the most important games of all time. Flinging the colorful team of birds at the evil green pigs, hunkered down in their makeshift castles, has become a cultural phenomenon. It's hard to even walk into a store without seeing a barrage of Angry Birds merchandise in the form of hats and t-shirts.
But the game's popularity isn't what makes it important--it's the fact that Angry Birds launched the current mobile gaming explosion of the last few years. How? It was downloaded over 12 million times when it released in December 2009, that's how. Mobile gaming became a viable platform where developers could earn the big bucks, giving birth to the stream of games that are now killing the time during commutes, poops, and boring conversations.
19. GoldenEye 007 (1997)
PC gamers had been scoring headshots and blasting each other over LAN wires for years, but first-person shooting hadnt yet caught on for consoles, despite ports of Doom and other hits. Many rejected the idea of playing without a mouse and keyboard--so developer Rare took the relatively simple idea of a shooter based on a James Bond film and found a way to make FPS gameplay just as undeniably addictive on a TV as it was on computers.
GoldenEye had all the deathmatches and king of the hill modes that were popularized in PC shooters, but they were rebalanced to work with the N64s analogue stick and Z-trigger shooting. It may look ugly and sluggish today, but the four-player title enthralled a huge new audience that couldnt put down the split-screen action. GoldenEye proved that console gamers were ready for FPS titles, which would eventually grow into billion-dollar franchises that rule gaming sales charts today.
18. Mortal Kombat (1992)
While violence certainly existed in video games prior to 1992, Mortal Kombat was the game that put it in the spotlight, inciting the rash of court cases and controversy that ultimately led to the formation of the Entertainment Software Rating Board. Never before had games featured the level of gore and brutality present in Mortal Kombat; specifically, its Fatality finishing moves were so shockingly violent that they resulted in widespread consumer panic and eventual Congressional hearings.
The ESRB spawned from said hearings is the basis by which a game's content is assessed, allowing parents and gamers to make informed purchasing decisions. And, though the effects of video game violence remains a hot topic to this day, it all began with those two magical words: "Finish him!"
17. Super Mario 64 (1996)
Mario set the standard for platformers with Super Mario Bros., but success in the past isn't always a guarantee of continued triumph; history is full of examples of characters failing to adapt with the times. Super Mario 64 could have proven disastrous for the pudgy plumber if the dimensional jump wasn't perfect, but he stuck the landing. In the end, Super Mario 64 did for 3D platformers--and 3D gaming in general--what the original did for games in general back in 1985.
Mario's 3D adventures served as a proof of concept for 3D worlds. It showed how navigation and the camera should work, and, more importantly, it demonstrated the full benefits of gaming in the third dimension. While the PlayStation was wholly capable of rendering 3D, few games attempted anything as dramatic for the first two years of the console's life. After Mario 64, though, the floodgates were opened, and game developers finally embraced 3D after seeing exactly what it was capable of.
16. Space Invaders (1978)
Space Invaders saved gaming (for the first time). It also brought video games into the mainstream like no other game before it, and set the wheels in motion for two of the industry's most important figures to step into the fray a little later down the line.
The first arcade game to truly explode out of dingy bars and into locations such as restaurants and shopping centers, Invaders single-handedly reinvigorated the public interest in gaming after the first video games crash of 1977 (brought about by the over-saturation of identikit Pong clones). It also inspired a previously disinterested young chap called Shigeru Miyamoto to start paying attention to games, and had a similar effect on a guy called Hideo Kojima. So yeah--it was a big deal.
15. Quake (1996)
Doom may have led the sprint when Wolfenstein 3D fired the starting pistol for the FPS genre, but it was Quake that set the pace for the rest of the pack, dictating the tone and rules for near enough everything that followed. It was technologically revolutionary, featuring full 3D environments and enemies, the latter of which could now be gibbed, resulting in flying chunks of meat that actually hit the walls. The controls, too, were incredibly versatile, introducing staples such as the rocket jump and strafe-jumping, which opened up new possibilities for speedrunning enthusiasts.
But most importantly, it also took Dooms Deathmatch phenomenon and ran with it, working within the confines of the mid-1990s limited online technology to provide fast, responsive, and utterly brilliant multiplayer gaming that spawned a slew of pretenders to its crown. Look at the games industry now, and you can still see the ripples from the splash Quake made. The reason Call of Duty is the biggest game on the planet is because of Quake and the core gameplay mechanics it represents.
14. Donkey Kong (1981)
Old arcade games like Donkey Kong seem so archaic now that its hard to think of a time when they would be considered advanced--but DK certainly was. The market was dominated by space shooters such as Space Invaders, with the simple goal of killing everything on screen. Comparatively, Donkey Kong used its colorful graphics to tell a story with a beginning, middle, and close: Ape kidnaps girl, man fights ape, man frees girl. That plot was far deeper than what players were getting at the time, so they were quickly hooked by this strange-yet-relatable narrative--one that pushed gaming storytelling further than many people give it credit for.
The gameplay was pretty novel as well, relying mainly on Marios jumping prowess. Instead of blasting everything with a laser, players had to focus on precision and timing to beat Donkey Kong, carefully hopping from one platform to another. That little hop would go on to become the dominant gameplay type for years to come, and it all started with Mario jumping over barrels. In addition, this game solidified Nintendos place as a top tier game maker, a position it still maintains today.
13. Street Fighter II (1991)
Fighting games have a long and storied history, but no game among them is more essential to the genre than Street Fighter II. Capcoms one-on-one 2D fighter set the standards that would be aped for years to come, building a rock-solid foundation for a genre that had previously stood on shaky ground. With an unforgettable cast, incredible accessibility, and an ocean of depth awaiting dedicated players, it enchanted gamers in arcades and homes alike with its near-infinite replayability--something that persists over 20 years later.
Street Fighter IIs success also planted the seed for one of the most passionate communities in all of gaming--a diverse array players who strive for good sportsmanship and shared knowledge. Its a game that managed to turn Shoryuken into a household word, and its characters are some of the most iconic in the entire medium of video games.
12. Pac-Man (1980)
There were games before Pac-Man, but do you know what they didn't have? A song dedicated to them that hit #8 on Billboard's Top 100. Pac-Man reached an unprecedented level of popularity in arcades, shooting it from "game that people were lining up around the building to play" to "game that was a true pop culture phenomenon."
Pac-Man was a massive hit--likely bigger than you realize. In its first year, the game made $1 billion in quarters, outpacing even Star Wars in terms of the most popular media product, and proving that games were, indeed, capable of turning an incredible profit.
11. Wii Sports (2006)
Scoff if you want, but before you start ranting about waggle controls, consider that Wii Sports has sold over 80 million copies. Seriously, think about that--80 million copies. Sure, you could argue that the numbers were bolstered due to the game being a pack-in with the Wii in North America, but that's still an insane figure. Hell, we'd actually argue that most of the parents and grandparents that bought a Wii did so specifically because of Wii Sports--the console was essentially bundled with the game at that point, not the other way around.
Wii Sports launched gaming into the mainstream like no game had before. It was referenced in movies, played on talk shows, and flashed in commercials. It lowered the barrier of entry for games so that anyone could play them, while also showing off that console gaming could be accessible for everyone. And, at the same time, it was a proving point for motion gaming, which would continue to grow for the next eight years, leading to Sony creating Move, and Microsoft developing Kinect.
10. Grand Theft Auto III (2001)
Up until the release of Grand Theft Auto III in 2001, playing an open-world game mostly just meant "you can kind of go over that way a bit." But GTA III introduced us to an experience we'd never seen before: Liberty City was full of places to explore, things to do, and innocent people to beat up for cash money. You could do it all--or do nothing, if you felt so inclined; either way, fun always ensued.
While its many missions and distractions could keep you busy for hours, the simple act of driving across Liberty City's streets or causing mass panic (or using cheat codes to arm every citizen with a rocket launcher) kept us glued to our PS2s for years. Many sandbox games would eventually try to imitate GTA's success, but it remains the granddaddy of open-world thrills.
9. Half-Life (1998)
Half-Life was a trailblazer in many aspects. It moved the first-person shooter genre forward in terms of storytelling and level design, and spawned one of the most popular competitive online shooters ever. Before Half-Life, most games that had a story to tell were broken down into gameplay sections and cinematic cut scenes. Gordon Freeman's FPS adventure took video game storytelling to a new level by plopping you right in the frying pan and never taking a break. You witnessed the events of the game, including dialogue scenes, through the eyes of the silent protagonist. It was a new way to experience a story, as one of the participants rather than a spectator on the sidelines.
Storytelling accomplishments aside, Half-Life also helped popularize the competitive online gaming scene with Counter-Strike. Originally just a mod pitting bomb defusing counter-terrorists against AK-47-wielding terrorists, Counter-Strike's popularity exploded, spawning multiple game versions and updates over the last decade. The shooter is still played competitively in eSports competitions today, and many purists still stand by the balance and gameplay of the original's version 1.6.
8. Pokemon Red & Blue (1996)
Pokemon was the first video game to really achieve the same kind of child-baiting hysteria that the biggest toys and cartoons of the '80s and '90s did. The concept was simple, really: Combine cute cartoon animals with a competitive, obsessive-compulsive collecting mechanic (which could easily be transferred into merchandise designs) and you have playground gold.
15 years later--and with a whole multimedia empire behind it--Pokemon has proven more popular and enduring than Tamagotchis, Furbies, and Pogs combined. It has spawned a legion of imitators, all hoping for their own swig from the lightning bottle, but none ever managing to equal Nintendos achievement. And despite various missteps and commercial failings in other areas, Pokemon has kept Ninty printing money whenever it wants.
7. EverQuest (1999)
We all harbor an inner drug addict--it just needs to get a taste of the right stuff to reveal itself. EverQuest brought legions of repressed meth head personas to the surface, plunging them into a fantasy world that would eclipse the real one for its most dedicated players. That dangerously addictive quality was the product of brilliant design, which took the collaborative role-playing of MUDs and brought it to life in a sprawling, colorful 3D world. Players could follow the narrative of the mystical realm SOE crafted for them--or they could tell their own stories through the emergent narrative that naturally arises when you put dozens of players together.
EQ was, in essence, the proof of concept for all MMOs that followed. Yes, players do enjoy having a gear progression that mimics a carrot on a stick. Yes, it is fun to band together with a group of your peers to take on a daunting challenge. And yes, some people will play and pay for a monthly subscription fee until theyve lost their jobs, homes, and families. Hey, nobody ever said progress had to be pretty.
6. The Legend of Zelda (1986)
For most home console players, gaming was incredibly straightforward: you pressed start, ran to the right, and eventually you fought a boss. So just imagine your surprise after plugging The Legend of Zeldas gold cartridge into your NES. Youre dropped into a strange world and you can go in one of four directions on the map. As you walk around you see this open world is so much bigger than you imagined, and that theres adventure lurking in every corner--so long as you can find it.
The original Zelda game popularized epic quests and adventure back when few thought it was possible to build such a world within a console game. The adventure was so big Nintendo had to embrace the then-fresh concept of battery-backed saves, a novel idea that let you save your progress and return to it later. It inspired many games that followed, and not just the ones that embraced Tolkien-esque fantasy, either. You can bet that games like Grand Theft Auto and Skyrim wouldnt exist if Link hadnt bothered to pick up his sword. Mario had reopened the door for console gaming, but Zelda expanded the mediums horizons exponentially.
5. The Sims (2000)
If The Sims did one thing, it proved that game developers could get a whole lot of people addicted to a game and keep them playing for years on end thanks to expansion packs. The Sims allowed players to live out a simulated life where they could watch their Sim eat, sleep, work, and in some cases, starve to death in a house with no doors. Players created their Sim's homes, determined which relationships they had, and managed their Sim's moods. The open-ended gameplay spawned an enormous, dedicated following of players along with dozens of sequels and expansions.
Maxis' The Sims changed (or took over) many people's lives when it released back in 2000. How many people exactly? Well, more than any other game in the history of video games. When it released, the original game sold more than 16 million copies, earning itself five Guinness World records, including "World's Biggest-Selling Simulation Series", and "Best Selling PC Game of All Time." Not too shabby for a game where you can watch a little version of yourself watch TV.
4. Doom (1993)
Back in the day, they werent called first-person shooters. They were called Doom clones. With one space marine, eight weapons, and a crapton of demonic monsters that needed killing, Doom took the core appeals of Wolfenstein and ramped them all the way up. More gore, more atmosphere, more fun--it all merged into an intense experience that stimulated people in a way no other game had. Spraying shotgun shells, rockets, and BFG plasma at gruesome creatures in what felt like a lifelike environment was a violent, carnal delight.
To say that Doom made waves would be an understatement deserving of a revved chainsaw to the chest. The shareware found its way into every office cubicle and school computer lab across the nation. Conservatives were up in arms at the bountiful carnage and Satanic themes that saturated such a beloved game. But more than anything, Doom solidified the first-person shooting experience as a bona fide genre--the same genre that makes this industry millions of dollars each year. Were it not for id Softwares bold, bloody leap forward, the modern gaming landscape would be unrecognizable.
3. Super Mario Bros. (1985)
In 1985 the video game market was nearly dead, but Nintendo (then known for arcade games and LCD handhelds called Game & Watch) wanted to save it--and it had just the killer app to do it. Bundled with the Nintendo Entertainment System, Super Mario Bros. became a cultural phenomenon, selling millions of NES consoles to the masses that couldnt resist exploring Marios unique Mushroom Kingdom.
Aside from almost single-handedly resurrecting the home gaming market, Super Mario Bros. was also revolutionary from a design standpoint. Compared to the single screen games of the era, the scrolling world it presented seemed never-ending, and players were compelled to keep going forward to see all they possibly could. And while its true a couple games before SMB featured side-scrolling gameplay, the refined controls and tight physics of Mario were genre-defining, copied by hundreds of games that followed it. Platformers stayed the dominant genre for some time, because thanks to Mario, that style encompassed video games for an entire generation of people.
2. Pong (1972)
For a game that didn't involve anything more than a moving pixel and two straight lines representing paddles, Pong sure had an incredibly powerful impact on the video game industry. By which we mean, Atari's wildly successful arcade game launched it. In the early '70s, Atari co-founder Nolan Bushnell hired a new employee by the name of Allan Alcorn and, because Alcorn had no experience in games, tasked him with developing a simple game based on table tennis as a warm-up project. That "test" became Pong, one of the most successful coin-op arcade games in history.
In fact, it was so successful that several companies began developing their own versions of Pong (itself inspired by a ping-pong game game included in the Magnavox Odyssey), which Atari tried to circumvent by developing a home console version of the game. Home Pong's success surpassed that of its arcade cousin, proving that some serious money could be made through virtual entertainment.
1. Spacewar! (1961)
Programmed by Steve Russell in 1961, Spacewar! pitted two players against each other, each controlling a tiny ship that spun around a gravity well in the center of the screen. Both ships had limited ammo and fuel, as well as a "hyperspace" ability that could be used as a last-ditch attempt to avoid an enemy's shot--pretty complex for a game running on a computer only marginally more powerful than a sun dial.
What, you haven't played Spacewar!? That's fine, we won't hold it against you. It's not like you have a Programmed Data Processor-1 computer sitting in your basement or anything. But despite being relatively unknown in 2013, it's unarguably significant to the history of video games for one, important reason: It's the very first one to gain any semblance of popularity. Like, ever. Spacewar! wasn't a replica of a real-world sport, either--it was its own thing, and that originality inspired development of future games like Computer Space, Tank, and Combat. It laid the foundation for our industry, and earns its place as the most important game ever made. Though there were some experimental game-type-things before it, Spacewar! is the one that's most directly related to the foundation of the game industry.
Looking to the future
Are there other games incredibly important to the video game industry's colorful history? Absolutely. But these are the 50 that we feel are the most impactful. What games would you include on your list, and why? Let us know in the comments below.