The death of the arcade may have been greatly exaggerated, but it is true that they are a much less significant part of the games industry than they used to be in the ’80s and ’90s (although virtual reality arcades could very well bring them back in a big way). Before the majority of gamers started playing their video games in the comfort of their own homes, arcades were big business and generated an absurd amount of revenue. By 1982, the arcade industry generated more revenue than both pop music and Hollywood films combined; not bad for an industry that was less than a decade old at that point.
Countless arcade games were released in the industry’s heyday as companies flooded the market, trying to carve out their own slice of the pie, but which games were the most successful. Revenue numbers from that time are surprisingly difficult to track down, so only some of the games on this list have reliable dollar figures (shout out to Jaz Rignall, whose extensively-researched list of the top 10 highest-grossing arcade games of all time supplies much of these figures). As such, I’ve decided to break the list down by number of cabinets sold. As you’ll see, the discrepancy becomes quite significant as you near the top of the list, with only a handful of arcade games ever breaking the 100,000 mark. Though some have certainly aged better than others, all 25 of the following arcade games made their mark on gaming history in one way or another.
Here are the 25 best-selling arcade games of all time.
Cabinets Sold: 15,780
Adjusted for Inflation: N/A
First released in 1980 by Stern Electronics of Chicago, Berzerk is a multi-directional shooter and one of the earliest examples of a maze game, in which players have to navigates a maze while shooting enemies. Players control a green stick man (hey, this was cutting edge by 1980 standards) with a laser gun, who is controlled using a joystick and fire button. The objective of the game is to escape the maze, but players can earn additional points by destroying robot enemies, with bonus score awarded for destroying all robots in a maze. Additionally, you have to deal with Evil Otto, a bouncing smiley face enemy that can’t be killed and is constantly drawn to the player, throwing a bit of a wild card into the otherwise basic gameplay.
Berzerk was quite popular, but gained a reputation for having faulty hardware, as the cabinet’s optical 8-way joystick unit had a high failure rate. Stern had about 4,200 order cancellations for new games because of purchasers having bad experiences with the game previously, prompting Stern to issue free replacement joysticks. Another unfortunate milestone held by Berzerk is that it’s the first known video game to have coincided with a player’s death. In January 1981, 19-year old Jeff Dailey made the game’s top-ten list with a high score of 16,660 points and died suddenly of a heart attack just a few seconds after the game was over. Then, over a year later in October 1982, Peter Burkowski made the Berzerk top-ten list twice in fifteen minutes at Friar Tuck’s Game Room in Calumet City, Illinois and collapsed just a few seconds after the game was over. He also died from a heart attack and was only 18.
24. Dragon’s Lair
Cabinets Sold: 16,000
Revenue by 1983: $68.8 million
Adjusted for Inflation: $174.5 million
Released in 1983 amid the infamous video game crash of that year, Cinematronics’ Dragon’s Lair is often credited as the game that helped turn around the industry’s financial slump and it’s not difficult to see why. Featuring animation from veteran Disney animator Don Bluth and his studio, there was no other game at the time that looked as good as Dragon’s Lair. Rather than using sprite-based graphics, Dragon’s Lair employs fully animated cutscenes and though players have no direct control over their characters, the action is controlled through quick time events (QTE), with different full motion video (FMV) scenes playing out for correct or incorrect choices.
Cinematronics was able to achieve this visual fidelity by using LaserDisc, which offered significantly increased storage capacity. Dragon’s Lair would go on to be hailed as the most influential arcade game of 1983 and launch a number of ports, sequels, and spin-offs, though its fortunes at the arcade would dwindle rather quickly given its expensive cost and the unreliability of the LaserDisc drive.
Fun fact: Dragon’s Lair is featured prominently in the Season 2 premiere of Stranger Things.
23. Jungle Hunt
Cabinets Sold: 18,000
Adjusted for Inflation: N/A
The most striking thing about Taito’s Jungle Hunt is that, unlike most side-scrolling games of the era, it has players move the character from right-to-left, which practically feels like trying to read a book backward given how games like Super Mario Bros. and Mega Man trained us to go from left-to-right. While archaic by today’s standards, Jungle Hunt is notable for being one of the first video games to use parallax scrolling, a graphical technique that creates an illusion of depth in a 2D scene.
Players control an unnamed explorer as he attempts to rescue a woman taken prisoner by a tribe of cannibals, with the game being split into four distinct levels: a vine-swinging section, navigating crocodile-infested waters, dodging boulders, and rescuing the aforementioned woman before she is lowered into a flaming cauldron. Passing the final scene would make the scenes repeated with increased difficulty. The game would go on to be ported to multiple systems, including the Atari 2600, Atari 5200, Apple II and ColecoVision.
22. Missile Command
Cabinets Sold: 20,000
Revenue by 1991: $36.8 million
Adjusted for Inflation: $66.1 million
Who knew that game-ifying the ultimate Cold War-era nightmare could be so fun? Such is the premise of Missile Command, the 1980 arcade game published by Atari that tasks players with defending cities against constant attacks of ballistic missiles. By moving a crosshair across the sky background, players launch counter-missiles from one of three batteries as enemy fire comes in. The catch is that each battery has a limited number of missiles, which makes Missile Command an early example of a resource-management game, as running out of missiles in a level means that you effectively lose control of whatever else happens in that particular level.
Interestingly, there are two types of world records in regard to Missile Command: Marathon and Tournament settings. Marathon gives players additional bonus cities, meaning that players could theoretically play the game indefinitely. The current record is held by Victor Sandberg, who set a session of 71 hours and 41 minutes on December 30, 2013, with a final score of 103,809,990 on level 10,432. The current record holder of Tournament mode is Tony Temple, who posted a score of 4,472,570 on September 9, 2010.
Cabinets Sold: 20,000
Adjusted for Inflation: N/A
One of the few licensed arcade games to appear on this list, 1983’s Popeye is based on the famous King Features Syndicate strips and animated shorts of the same name and was actually developed and released by Nintendo. In an interesting twist, Nintendo had originally planned to use the Popeye characters in the game that would eventually become the original Donkey Kong, but was unable to secure the character licenses at the time of development. It’s easy to see some of that Donkey Kong influence in Popeye, as the game features levels in which Popeye must walk back and forth up and down stairs using a 4-way joystick.
However, the major difference between the two is that Popeye has no jump button. The only ability Popeye has is a punch command, which is actually pretty versatile, but also gives the game its challenge, as the game’s boss, the Sea Hag Brutus, has more movement capabilities than the player and can only be temporarily stunned by Popeye’s punches (and only then after he eats a can of spinach).
20. NBA Jam
Cabinets Sold: 20,000
Revenue by 1994: $1,1 billion ($55,000 per unit)
Adjusted for Inflation: $1.8 billion
BoomShakaLaka! NBA Jam is not an authentic recreation of professional basketball and yet, it’s still one of the most entertaining basketball games ever made. NBA Jam is all about style and sports heroics, which means that it regularly turns into a contest between super-powered basketball players. Which, for the record, is awesome. 2-on-2 arcade basketball has never been better.
The incredible thing about NBA Jam is that despite only selling about 20,000 cabinets, it’s still one of the highest-grossing arcade games of all time. The game raked in an estimated $1.1 billion by 1994, which averages out to a whopping average of $55,000 per cabinet. In other words, don’t let NBA Jam’s relatively low placement on this list fool you, as this is easily one of the most successful arcade games of all time.
19. Dig Dug
Cabinets Sold: 22,228
Revenue by 1983: $46.3 million
Adjusted for Inflation: $113.8 million
Featuring an iconic lead character and a winning formula of easy to pick up, but hard to master gameplay, Namco’s 1982 maze game Dig Dug burrowed its way into the hearts and minds of many arcade patrons. It’s difficult to pinpoint what exactly it is about Dig Dug that made it so addictive, but one component that often gets pointed to is the hero’s weapon, which is some sort of hookshot/pump thing that inflates enemies until they make a satisfying pop.
The game’s enemies are another highlight. The Pookas don’t pose much of a threat but can get you if you’re not careful. It’s the Fygars that you need to watch out for, as these flame-spewing bastards have long range and are surprisingly smart. Dig Dug is one of those games that reveals its intricacies the longer you play it — for instance, you get more points if you kill an enemy in the lower dirt tiers — which probably helps explain why the game became so popular.
Fun Fact #2: In addition to Dragon’s Lair, Dig Dug also plays a prominent role in Stranger Things season 2 and actually forms the basis of a pretty significant plot point involving the mysterious “MadMax,” who is able to set a ridiculously high score.
18. Robotron: 2084
Cabinets Sold: 23,000
Adjusted for Inflation: N/A
Twin-stick shooters have been one of the most popular genres in the indie scene ever since Geometry Wars blew everyone away back in 2005 and one thing that all of these games have in common is that they owe a significant debt to Eugene Jarvis’ 1982 arcade classic Robotron 2084, which pretty much invented the twin-stick shooter as we know it. As the title implies, Robotron is set in the year 2084 in a world where robots have taken over the world and wiped out most of humanity. The game tasks you with surviving against waves of robot enemies as you fight to save the last human family.
Featuring simple but addictive gameplay, Robotron: 2084 sold an impressive 23,000 arcade cabinets over its lifetime, but specific models like the mini and cocktail cabinets have become rare collector’s items. Although it’s considered to be a highly influential game nowadays, Robotron never quite gained the mass popularity of its contemporaries such as Asteroid and Galaga, as its twin-stick design and high degree of difficulty made it less accessible overall. Still, Robotron was able to carve out a successful niche for itself and is now viewed as one of the greatest games to come out of the arcade golden age.
17. Mortal Kombat
Cabinets Sold: 24,000
Revenue by 2002: $570 million
Adjusted for Inflation: $775.5 million
Remembered today more for its influence than its finessed fighting mechanics, the original Mortal Kombat wolfed down over half a billion dollars worth of quarters in its arcade heyday primarily due to its over the top violent content. At the time of its release, there were much better fighting games on the market than Mortal Kombat but America’s young and impressionable arcade-goers couldn’t get enough of the game’s fatalities — the gory end of fight finishing moves that ended up being the game’s big selling point.
In fact, it was this game specifically that generated enough controversy in US Congress for the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) to be established, in response to the call that video games be policed by government regulations. Of course, this controversy only helped Mortal Kombat’s popularity and the series would go on to spawn numerous sequels, one of which ended up being even more successful in the arcade.
16. Pole Position (1982)
Cabinets Sold: 24,550
Revenue by 1988: $60.9 million
Adjusted for Inflation: $126 million
The original arcade racer, Pole Position was so popular that it ended up being the highest-grossing arcade game of 1983, selling over 21,000 machines that year alone. Pole Position essentially established the arcade racing template, as Namco/Atari sold the game in two configurations: a standard upright cabinet and a cockpit cabinet. Both cabinets featured a steering wheel and accelerator, but only the cockpit cabinet had a brake pedal and if you saw one of these in your local arcade, you knew they had splurged for the “good” version of Pole Position.
Looking back, it’s easy to see why Pole Position took the arcade world by storm in the early ’80s, as it achieved a lot of “firsts” in the racing genre, including the first game to feature a track based on a real racing circuit and the first game to feature a qualifying lap. The game’s full-color landscapes and pseudo-3D visuals were also quite impressive for their time. Pole Position would go on to spawn all sorts of ports, sequels, and even a Saturday morning cartoon and is widely regarded as one of the most influential video games of all time for essentially creating the racing genre as we know it today.
Cabinets Sold: 25,000
Adjusted for Inflation: N/A
Q*bert is one of those rare arcade games where its title character is probably better remembered than the actual game he starred in, as the loveable fuzz ball with the giant hose for a nose went on to star in his own Saturday morning cartoon, among other merchandising opportunities. That being said, it’s easy to see why Q*bert proved to be such a commercial and critical success, as there simply wasn’t anything like it back in 1982. Featuring impressive visuals and unique puzzle gameplay, Q*bert revolves around moving the title character around pyramid cubes, changing each one’s color as they go. It sounds simple, but a number of enemies with funny names appear along the way to try and impede your progress and things quickly get more complicated in later stages.
Q*bert would end up being Gottieb’s only big critical and commercial arcade hit, and gave the industry one of its first true mascots — and one who swore, no less!
14. Mortal Kombat II
Cabinets Sold: 27,000
Revenue by 2002: $600 million
Adjusted for Inflation: $816.4 million
Arriving just a year after the first game, Mortal Kombat II improved upon its predecessor in nearly every way, featuring updated graphics, five new characters and most importantly, improved gameplay, with better combos and new Fatalities. Much like Street Fighter II before it, the second Mortal Kombat made everyone forget all about the first and is still considered to be one of the best games in the franchise. Speaking of franchises, the enormous success of the sequel led Midway to spin Mortal Kombat off into a whole bunch of different merchandise, including comics, a collectible “Kard” game, movies, and home console ports.
Mortal Kombat II was even able to surpass the original game in both cabinets sold (27,000) and revenue ($600 million), making it one of the most successful arcade fighters of all time.
Cabinets Sold: 29,000
Revenue by 1982: $62.4 million
Adjusted for Inflation: $158.2 million
A somewhat unique entry in the space shooter genre, Atari’s 1981 release Tempest takes place on a three-dimensional surface, in which players take control of a spaceship that moves between various segments, destroying enemies along the way. Tempest was one of the first games to make use of Atari’s Color-QuadraScan vector display technology and while it looks positively dated now, the game’s 3D graphics looked quite impressive in their time. While Tempest may not have looked very accessible, it was actually the first game to allow players to choose their starting level, opening up the game to a wider array of skill levels.
However, there was still significant challenge to be had, as the game’s progressive level design meant that players couldn’t memorize level layouts. Tempest’s fast lane-switching gameplay and colorful and you can see its influence in later lane-switching titles like Root Beer Tapper and the rhythm game Amplitude.
12. Mr. Do!
Cabinets Sold: 30,000
Adjusted for Inflation: N/A
A maze game very much in the style of Dig Dug, Mr. Do! may not have the name recognition of some of the more popular titles on this list, but it still managed to sell an impressive 30,000 cabinets in the United States alone, so gamers obviously took to its cherry-collecting premise. As the titular circus clown Mr. Do (fun fact: he’s a snowman in the Japanese version, so Americans definitely got the inferior version of the character), players must dig tunnels and collect cherries while dodging red monsters that look kinda like little dinosaurs. Fortunately, Mr. Do does have offensive capabilities in the form of a bouncing power ball, but he’s defenseless once it leaves his hands. He can also drop apples on enemies.
Mr. Do! would go on to spawn three sequels: Mr. Do’s Castle in 1983 and Do! Run Run and Mr. Do’s Wilde Ride, both of which were released in 1984.
11. Donkey Kong Jr.
Cabinets Sold: 30,000
Adjusted for Inflation: N/A
Although it never attained the same level of commercial success as the original, Donkey Kong Jr. is a worthy second installment in the Donkey Kong series, changing up both the central gameplay mechanics and overall premise quite significantly. In Donkey Kong Jr., the tables have turned, with Donkey Kong being captured by Mario, who appears here in his only role as an antagonist in a Nintendo game. It’s up to DK’s son to rescue his father and he must do so across four different stages, each of which offers a different sort of obstacle to overcome. Unlike the original game, which centered around climbing ladders and jumping over barrels, Donkey Kong Jr.’s levels are jungle-themed and involve things like swinging from vines and jumping over crocodiles.
Donkey Kong Jr. would go on to sell around 30,000 cabinets; a paltry sum when compared to its enormously successful predecessor but still enough to make it one of the better selling arcade games in history. It also showed that Nintendo was more than up to the task of creating fun, diverse sequels to its games and helped pave the way for the introduction of the Nintendo Entertainment System just a few years later.
10. OutRun (1986)
Cabinets Sold: 30,000
Revenue by 1993: $393.06 million
Adjusted for Inflation: $665.85 million
While Pole Position helped establish the conventions of the arcade racer, Sega’s 1986 release OutRun arguably pushed the genre to the next level. Looking back, OutRun is rather brilliant in its simplicity: it’s just you, your car (a Ferrari Testarossa Spider) and the road, as you race from checkpoint to checkpoint trying to maximize your distance before the timer expires. The reason this gameplay loop was so captivating back in 1986 has a lot to do with just how impressive OutRun was from a technical perspective, as the game’s visuals, sound effects, and vehicle handling were all considered groundbreaking at the time.
It helped that OutRun also featured a variety of selectable “radio stations,” which helped give it a sense of style to go alongside its awesome cockpit-style cabinet. OutRun’s influence can be found in pretty much every arcade racer, including the likes of Need For Speed, Test Drive, and Burnout.
Cabinets Sold: 40,000
Adjusted for Inflation: N/A
Developed by Namco to compete directly with the Taito Corporation’s highly successful Space Invaders, which had been released the previous year, Galaxian is arguably the superior game, even if it never did match its competitor’s sales numbers. The main difference between Space Invaders and Galaxian is that while the former was black and white, and only featured enemies that could move vertically and horizontally as they descended, Galaxian had full color and featured enemies with more elaborate patterns, contributing to a more complex and difficult game.
Although its sequel, Galaga, is easily the superior game, it never quite matched the commercial success of Galaxian, which managed to sell 40,000 cabinets to arcades around the United States.
Cabinets Sold: 55,988
Revenue by 1991: $115.65 million
Adjusted for Inflation: $207.85 million
Taking the gameplay model of Space Invaders and adding an insectoid twist, Centipede is another classic arcade shooter where players must stop a descending enemy from reaching the bottom of the screen. In this case, designers Ed Logg and Dona Bailey replace alien spaceships with a single centipede that can split into multiple centipedes as it is dismembered by enemy fire. Eventually, other insect enemies begin harassing the player too, including fleas that drop vertically, spiders that move across the player area in a zig-zag fashion and scorpions that move horizontally and poison the various mushrooms that litter the playfield.
Centipede would go on to sell over 55,000 cabinets, generating revenue of $115 million and spawning many different ports, sequels, and spinoffs.
Cabinets Sold: 60,000
Revenue by 1993: $1 billion
Adjusted for Inflation: $1.69 billion
The brainchild of Eugene Jarvis (who would go on to create the aforementioned Robotron: 2084) and Larry DeMar, Defender’s enormous success is somewhat surprising in hindsight, given its rather complex design. Featuring five buttons and a joystick, Defender’s control scheme was intimidating, to say the least, and even if you got a handle on it, the game itself was still quite difficult, with sophisticated enemy ship patterns that were tough to get a handle on.
Still, for anyone who had burnt out on similar games like Space Invaders and Asteroids, Defender felt like the next natural step up. With its high energy, shoot ’em up gameplay, players ate up Defender’s difficult-to-master but rewarding design and helped make it one of the most successful arcade games of all time, with lifetime revenue around the $1 billion mark.
Cabinets Sold: 100,000
Revenue by 1991: $800 million
Adjusted for Inflation: $1.43 billion
An important title in the popular and competitive space shooter genre from arcade’s golden age, Asteroids built upon earlier titles like Space Wars and Space Invaders to deliver an experience that was unlike anything else back in 1979. Featuring a much more sophisticated movement system than the static Space Invaders, Asteroids thrust players into a threats-from-all-sides scenario and featured a unique forward momentum movement system that was difficult to master.
Although it was never able to top the immense popularity of Space Invaders, Asteroids still managed to move approximately 100,00 cabinets worldwide, generating $800 million in the process. It would go on to be widely imitated and inspire a number of other space shooters, including Defender and Gravitar.
5. Ms. Pac-Man
Cabinets Sold: 125,000
Revenue by 1987: $1.2 billion
Adjusted for Inflation: $2.58 billion
Pac-Man is a game that appealed to both men and women alike, but that didn’t stop Midway from deciding to target the female demographic directly with Ms. Pac-Man, whose title character was really just Pac-Man with a pink bow. Fortunately, Ms. Pac-Man turned out to be more than just a reskin of the original game, as it added four new maze designs and improved ghost A.I. that had Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clye behave more randomly. This resulted in Ms. Pac-Man being considerably more challenging than its predecessor, as players could no longer simply memorize enemy patterns in order to beat levels.
Although it was never able to top the original release, Ms. Pac-Man still managed to become one of the most successful arcade games of all time, selling 125,000 cabinets and generating $1.2 billion in revenue. Not bad for a game that was initially released without Namco’s permission!
4. Donkey Kong
Cabinets Sold: 132,000
Revenue by 1982: $280 million
Adjusted for Inflation: $710.2 million
It cannot be overstated how important Donkey Kong is to video games as a whole. Nintendo’s popular arcade classic not only pretty much invented the platforming genre, it also helped Nintendo break into the American gaming market. This was also the first game created by legendary designer Shigeru Miyamoto, who would go on to create both Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda, just to name a few.
Upon its release, Donkey Kong looked quite unique next to many of its contemporaries, as space shooters and maze-chase games were the most common genres of the era. They didn’t realize it at the time, but players were seeing gaming history being written with Donkey Kong, as both its eponymous ape and the game’s hero Jumpman — who would later come to be known as Mario — would go on to become two of the most popular characters in video game history. It’s little surprise then that Donkey Kong would become one of the best-selling arcade games ever, with a whopping 132,000 cabinets sold. The game would also become a favorite among high score chasers, with a documentary film highlighting a particularly intense rivalry called The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters being released in 2007.
3. Street Fighter II
Cabinets Sold: 200,000 (60,000 SF II, 140,000 Championship Edition)
Revenue by 1995: $2.31 billion
Adjusted for Inflation: $3.71 billion
It’s hard to think of another arcade classic that has managed to age quite as well as Street Fighter II has. Capcom was onto something with its original 1987 hit, but it was Street Fighter II that solidified the series as the pinnacle of 2D fighting game design, to the point where the game is still viewed as a top-tier title in the competitive scene more than a quarter century after its original release. Street Fighter II was so successful in fact that it is cited as a key title in helping spur an arcade resurgence in the early ’90s after arcade operators suffered declining revenues in the mid-80s.
Things only got better for Capcom with the release of the Championship Edition cabinet in April 1992, which introduces rebalanced gameplay, four playable Grand Masters, and the ability to play mirror matches. The Championship Edition was so successful, in fact, that it sold more than double the amount of cabinets as the standard edition. Jaz Rignall estimates that Street Fighter II earned an estimated $2.3 billion in revenue at the arcade alone, which doesn’t factor in the other $1.5 billion it made through home console ports.
2. Space Invaders
Cabinets Sold: 360,000
Revenue by 1982: $2.7 billion
Adjusted for Inflation: $6.85 billion
One of the earliest arcade releases and the one that is often credited with kicking off the “Golden Age of Arcade,” Taito/Midway’s Space Invaders is living proof that being first is sometimes everything, as even though many other games would improve upon the Space Invaders formula, none of them came close to matching its overwhelming commercial success. Launched in Japan in June 1978, it didn’t take long for Space Invaders to become a cultural phenomenon, eventually selling 360,000 cabinets worldwide and generating over $2.7 billion in revenue — in fact, Space Invaders earned more in its first year in the United States than the movie Star Wars did in that same period. This is a testament to Space Invaders’ simple, yet addictive gameplay formula, which put players in control of a ship trying to stop a horde of descending aliens.
It’s not unreasonable to say that Space Invaders is one of the most important video games ever made, as numerous game designers, including Shigeru Miyamoto and Hideo Kojima have cited it as the title that got them interested in video games.
Cabinets Sold: 400,000
Revenue by 1985: $3.5 billion
Adjusted for Inflation: $7.96 billion
Really, this one should come as no surprise. Much like the pellets he eats in-game, Pac-Man has devoured more quarters than any other arcade game in history, to the tune of $3.5 billion by 1990 (or $6.5 billion when adjusted for inflation). Released in 1980, Pac-Man was gaming’s first true mascot, with arcade patrons worldwide taking to the lovable yellow eating machine and his game’s addictive maze-chase gameplay. Even though Namco would go on to chase the female demographic directly a few years later with Ms. Pac-Man, the original was such a massive hit precisely because it appealed to such a broad audience, including women. It was a nonviolent game (well, unless you count Pac-Man chowing down on ghosts as violent) and unlike many of its contemporaries, was NOT another space shooter.
With a whopping 400,000 cabinets sold, Pac-Man was one of the biggest cultural phenomena of the 1980s and stands as one of the most important video games ever made. It also stands the test of time and is every bit as addictive today as it was back when it was eating the nation’s allowances for breakfast.