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.