The Scientifically Proven Best Video Games of All Time #73: The Sims

“The Scientifically Proven Best Video Games of All Time” is a statistical meta-analysis of 44 “Best Video Games of All Time” lists that were published between 1995 and 2016. Catch up on how we decided to sort the games and the rest of the Top 100 in the Introduction.

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What is the best-selling video game of all time? It’s a surprisingly hard question to answer as game publishers, unlike Hollywood film studios, refuse to release sales figures for their games on a title-by-title basis. But for years now, the conventional narrative has been that The Sims became the best-selling PC game of all time in 2002 after dethroning Myst, the graphical adventure game that sold more CD-ROM drives than every other piece of “multimedia” software combined.

Developed by Maxis, The Sims delivered a smaller, more personal, simulation that differed greatly from the macro scale of designer Will Wright’s previous games, SimCity and SimCity 2000. Instead of pulling the camera back, giving the “mayor” control of an entire city, The Sims moved the camera in close, allowing the player to interact with the day-to-day minutiae of a single family. Part Real World, part Demon Seed, and part Barbie Dream House, this approach allowed players to bypass the mayoral office and step right into the shoes of a god. However, it was a literal “Act of God” that encouraged developer Will Wright to create The Sims in the first place.

Wright has spent the majority of his adult life in California, and in 1991, his home was destroyed during the devastating Oakland-Berkeley Firestorm. Afterwards, the developer returned to his home, and realized just how few of his possessions were unharmed in the blaze. The idea for The Sims began to percolate in the back of his mind as he contemplated how he would rebuild his life:

“I started to wonder about all the things we have and how we purchased them for a reason. Why do we need x or y or z? Why do we think something will make me happier? It almost came down to Maslow’s pyramid of needs,” he says.

The Firestorm made Wright step back from his life and ask himself “what is life made up of”, he says. “Rarely do you do that in your real life. When something like this happens, you get a big picture. Where do I want to live? What sort of things do I need to buy? You see your life almost as a project in process.

Like Wright, most players initially used their godlike powers as a decorating tool and stayed on the Barbie Dream House side of the spectrum in The Sims, ultimately furnishing their home with functional appliances, kitschy couches, and funky wallpaper. But others definitely wanted to explore the Real World as the game also included options for crushes, relationships (straight and same-sex, a rarity for games at the time), marriage, and sex (thanks to the Livin’ Large expansion).

While both of these approaches are valid ways to play The Sims, just as many people went the demonic poltergeist route and tortured their Sims endlessly. The doorless bathroom with no toilet… the locked house and the small fire… the shrinking room… the game offered up an untold number of ways to terrorize your Sims. And apparently, many experts view this as completely normal.

Dr. Susan Krauss Whitbourne, a psychology professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, pointed out just how normal this attitude could be to The Sims Official Magazine: “Players who torture their Sims may not be as much of a subset as we might think. People may simply be curious about what happens when they create these situations, and the results can even be seen as funny. There are many different ways of playing the game, and these endless choices are what bring about enjoyment.”

So is it any wonder The Sims is the best-selling PC game of all time and that the franchise as a whole has sold more than 200 million copies?

But wait, you’ll say, what about Nintendo’s claim that the original Super Mario Bros. sold 40 million copies on the NES? That’s true as well, but the vast majority of those 40 million copies were actually bundled with the console itself. Does that still count? Some would say yes while others would say no. The situation gets even more complicated thanks to the 20 years that have passed since the NES was discontinued and Nintendo’s love of nostalgia. The publisher has made it their mission to constantly re-release Super Mario Bros. at every turn.

The Game Boy Color received the first re-release in 1999 (as the slightly modified Super Mario Bros. DX), and Nintendo followed that up with an exact replica of the original game for the Game Boy Advance in 2004. Not surprisingly, Super Mario Bros. has also become a staple on Nintendo’s “Virtual Console” download service. Each time the service has launched on a new console (the Wii, the 3DS, and the Wii U), Super Mario Bros. is there in its original form to be re-purchased by players. And before we go any further, how do you count the sales of Super Mario All-Stars, a Super NES compilation of the first four Mario games on a single cartridge (which was itself re-released for the Wii)?

Wading deeper into the mess, different publishers often talk about different things when they refer to sales figures. In early 2017, Take-Two Interactive announced that they’ve “sold-in” 75 million copies of Grand Theft Auto V. That announcement made Grand Theft Auto V a worthy contender for the crown, but “sold-in” numbers are reported by publishers when they’re looking for an impressive-sounding euphemism for how many copies of a game have been produced. Granted, a very high percentage of those copies have likely been sold to consumers, but “sold-in” numbers aren’t going to tell us the whole story.

And if we’re going to count titles that come bundled with console hardware, nothing tops Nintendo’s Wii Sports. While a few copies of the game have been sold on their own (likely a few million, but work with me here), most of the game’s 82.79 million copies sold were tallied thanks to its inclusion in the box of one of the most popular consoles of all time.

Yet, Mojang’s Minecraft has managed to sell more than 100 million copies without breaking a sweat. 106,859,714 copies (as of June 2, 2016) to be exact. The sandbox-style creation game has mesmerized the world the same way that Mario did back in the 1980s, and Minecraft’s ubiquity on modern platforms (including, but not limited to, the PC, PS4, Xbox One, Wii U, and mobile devices) has made it the perfect game to introduce young players to a controller. Minecraft’s uniquely singular design has allowed it to reach such a ridiculous number of copies sold that I can’t even fathom how another game could top it…

Two. Billion. In January 2014, Rovio’s Peter Vesterbacka gave a speech at a mobile gaming convention. During the course of his talk, the company’s Chief Marketing Officer revealed that the eight games in the Angry Birds series has been downloaded more than two billion times. That’s an impressive number but it doesn’t represent the sale of two billion copies as many versions of Angry Birds are offered for free through the mobile marketplaces.

You know what, I give up. We will never know what the best-selling game of all time is.

Though The Sims might no longer hold the crown as the best-selling game of all time, its influence on the current state of gaming is undeniable. Side quests and optional activities found in open world games like Grand Theft Auto can be directly traced back to the “do anything” attitude of The Sims. And Minecraft gives players the opportunity to redesign an entire world… much like The Sims did with a suburban living room nine years earlier.

The Sims was originally released for the PC in 2000, and new and used copies of the game are still available to purchase from many online retailers. Electronic Arts and Maxis later brought the game to consoles in 2003, and used copies of The Sims for the GameCube, PS2, and Xbox are also plentiful.

Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Maxis
Release Date: February 4, 2000

Average Ranking: 72.54
Selection Percentage: 38.46% (15/39)
Scientifically Proven Score: 134.08

Publication Rankings For The Sims
Hyper (1995)

Next Gen (1996)

Next Gen (1999)

Edge (2000)

GI (2001) 80

GameSpy (2001)


Edge (2003)


EW/G4TV (2003)

GameSpot (2003) 1*

IGN (2003)


1UP (2004)


The Age (2005)

IGN (2005) NR

Yahoo! Games UK (2005)


Edge (2007)


IGN (2007)

IGN HoF (2007)

Stuff UK (2008)


Edge (2009)


Empire (2009)

GI (2009) 70

FHM (2010)


GamesTM (2010)


The Phoenix (2010)

Gamereactor (2011) NR

GamesRadar (2011)


Stuff UK (2011)


1UP (2012)

G4TV (2012) 91

GamesRadar (2012)


Time (2012)


EPN (2013)

GamesRadar (2013) NR

Gaming Bolt (2013)


PC & Tech Authority (2013)


GamesRadar (2014)

Popular Mechanics (2014) NR

Slant Magazine (2014)


Stuff UK (2014)


Edge (2015)

GamesRadar (2015) NR

IGN (2015)


GamesMaster (2016)


Time (2016)


Hill, Owen – Mojang – We’ve sold Minecraft many, many times! LOOK! – 2016

Hinkle, David – Joystiq – How The Sims got its same-sex relationships – 2013

McLaughlin, Rus – IGN – IGN Presents: The History of Super Mario Bros. – 2010

Nintendo – Top Selling Title Sales Units > Wii Software – 2016

Seeking Alpha – Take-Two Interactive Software (TTWO) Q3 2017 Results – Earnings Call Transcript – 2017

Strong National Museum of Play, The – 2016 World Video Game Hall of Fame Inductees Announced – 2016

Tanner, Nicole – The Sims Official Magazine – The Psychology of The Sims – 2012

Taylor, Tracey – Berkeleyside – Inspired to make The Sims after losing a home – 2011

Walker, Trey – GameSpot – The Sims overtakes Myst – 2006

Wildgoose, David – MCV Pacific – Angry Birds has as many active players as people registered on Twitter – 2014

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John Scalzo is Warp Zoned’s Editor-In-Chief and resident retro gaming expert. You can follow him on Twitter or email him at john AT warpzoned DOT com.

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