- The past 10 years of gaming have been a wild ride.
- Neither “Minecraft” nor “Pokémon Go” existed when this decade began, and all three major console makers launched new consoles – two in Nintendo’s case.
- We looked back at the past decade and put together a list of the 10 biggest, most impactful games.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
In December 2009, the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One were still years away. The Nintendo Switch? Further still.
Gaming on the iPhone was barely a year old, and smartphones weren’t yet able to power a cultural phenomenon like “Pokémon Go.”
But not everything was so different.
Online gaming was already a staple, even on home game consoles. “Minecraft” had already begun to emerge as a new generation’s “Super Mario Bros.”
It’s been a decade of evolution in gaming, and these are the 10 games that pushed the medium forward:
“Grand Theft Auto 5”
- Rockstar Games
“Grand Theft Auto 5” is the fifth major entry in the long-running, celebrated “Grand Theft Auto” series.
On paper, the game sounds like just another sequel in a medium rife with sequels. In reality, “Grand Theft Auto 5” is an ambitious, massive game that’s gone on to sell an absurd number of copies – it’s the third-best-selling game of all time as of this writing.
At its basest level, “Grand Theft Auto 5” is the most expertly realized open-world satire that the franchise’s creators at Rockstar Games have ever produced. On a slightly deeper level, the game was the foundation for “Grand Theft Auto Online” – a massive multiplayer online extension of the wildly popular single-player experience.
The game was bold from the start: It launched on the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3 in 2013 – the same year when the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 launched. Instead of embracing those new consoles, Rockstar stuck with the previous generation. The game subsequently arrived on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC and has gone on to become the sales juggernaut it is today.
Platform(s): Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PC
Release date: September 17, 2013
“The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild”
Nintendo really set the tone of the Nintendo Switch with “Breath of the Wild.”
“Breath of the Wild” was the biggest launch game for the Switch by a long shot, and if it didn’t succeed, the Switch might’ve been a goner.
Not only did the Switch turn out to be a wildly popular console, but the “Legend of Zelda” has never been more celebrated. “Breath of the Wild” met expectations as a huge launch game that acted as a catalyst for years of brisk console sales.
More than a great new entry in a classic franchise, “Breath of the Wild” moved forward the video game medium. Through meticulous game design that demanded more from players, Nintendo once again demonstrated its uncanny ability to redefine foundational aspects of gaming.
In “Breath of the Wild,” players are given the keys to a massive open world without limitations – a major derivation from the kind of guided experiences games are known for.
It’s the kind of game that changes player expectations: What they expect of themselves and what they expect from games.
Platform(s): Nintendo Wii U, Nintendo Switch
Release date: March 3, 3017
- “Fortnite”/Epic Games
“Fortnite” is just two years old, but it’s already one of the most influential video games ever made.
With more than 250 million registered players around the world, “Fortnite” has built an unrivaled player base by creating parity across more than half a dozen devices. No matter which device you use to play “Fortnite,” you’ll always be playing the same game, and you can always play with your friends.
There are no shortage of ways to play “Fortnite” either. The game’s most popular mode, “Battle Royale,” pits 100 players against one another in a fight for survival and was actually inspired by the popularity of another game, “PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds.” “Fortnite” players can also create their own game modes or just hang out together and practice their skills.
The developer Epic Games offers weekly updates that introduce tons of new playable characters, weapons, and features to “Fortnite,” keeping the game fresh. “Fortnite” is available free, but the game has made more than $2.5 billion by charging players for in-game items.
The popularity of “Fortnite” motivated Sony to reverse its stance on cross-platform play and let PlayStation players join matches with Xbox owners for the first time. After “Fortnite” began the cross-platform trend last year, games like “Call of Duty” and “Mortal Kombat” have been able to bridge their player bases too, removing a long-standing barrier within the industry.
Epic Games has used the billions in revenue generated by “Fortnite” to launch a new PC gaming store that’s changing the way video game publishers do business.
Platform(s): PC, Mac, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Android and iOS.
Release date: July 21, 2017
“League of Legends”
- Ben Gilbert / Tech Insider
“League of Legends” is one of the world’s most popular computer games, with more than 8 million players logging in to play every day. “LoL” helped establish a new genre, the multiplayer online battle arena, and it was one of the first games to establish itself as an ongoing service.
“League of Legends” employs a “freemium” business model that lets gamers play free with some parts of the game available for purchase. “LoL” brings in millions of players by removing the cost of entry, and dedicated players eventually became repeat customers thanks to the game’s à la carte business model.
The global popularity of “League of Legends” has also made it one of the most successful esports, with hundreds of professional players competing in organized leagues around the world.
A decade after creating “League of Legends,” the developer Riot Games is now one of America’s largest video game companies, with seven new games in the works for the coming years.
Release date: October 21, 2009
- REUTERS/Matthew Tostevin
“Minecraft” has been an explosive phenomenon since early in its life: It started as a work-in-progress game, made by a single man (Markus “Notch” Persson). It had rudimentary graphics and controls. It was available only on PC. It was prone to breaking, because it was an unfinished game being made by a single person.
And yet, millions of people bought and played that early version of “Minecraft.”
When Microsoft bought the game back in 2014 for $2.5 billion, the tech world was surprised and confused.
But clearly that early success has persisted under Microsoft’s care across the past five years.
“What we find is that it’s a game that players keep coming back to,” Helen Chiang, the “Minecraft” studio head, told Business Insider in a phone interview earlier this year. “It may not always be the one that’s in the forefront, because there are a lot of great games that continue to come out, but it’s one that they love to return to.”
So, why is “Minecraft” so popular? Think of “Minecraft” as virtual Lego.
It’s a system for fitting pieces together to create something – sometimes amazing somethings – from nothing. “Minecraft” provides endless building blocks and a blank canvas; it’s up to you to create something incredible, or silly, or referential, or whatever else using the tools it provides. The tools are blessedly user-friendly, as are the systems for employing those tools.
With that in mind, it’s easy to understand why “Minecraft” has been such a hit. That it’s graphically rudimentary and simple to play just makes it all the more accessible to a massive audience
Platform(s): PC, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS, Xbox 360, Raspberry Pi, Windows Phone, PlayStation 3, Fire OS, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation Vita, Universal Windows Platform, Wii U, Apple tvOS, Nintendo Switch, New Nintendo 3DS
Release date: November 18, 2011
“The Elder Scrolls V: Skryim”
For over nine years, across multiple console generations, people have been exploring the vast, open-ended world of “Skyrim.”
Like “Grand Theft Auto 5,” “Skyrim” on paper sounds pretty unexciting: “the latest entry in a long-running franchise.” And it is that! But it’s also the game that took the “Elder Scrolls” series from a beloved, somewhat popular franchise into a blockbuster.
If you want to sneak around and rob everyone, you can do that. If you want to strong-arm your way through the game, shooting down dragons (really) and cutting through every enemy in your path, that’s also an option. And there are countless other paths to take through “Skyrim” – it’s a massive game that rewards repeated playthroughs and lots of experimentation.
Over nine years later, “Skyrim” remains the gold standard in open-ended role-playing games.
Platform(s): PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, VR
Release date: November 11, 2011
“The Last of Us”
- Naughty Dog / Sony Computer Entertainment America
“The Last of Us” set a new standard for storytelling in video games, weaving themes about loss, trauma, and love into a cross-country tour of postapocalyptic America.
On the surface, the world of “The Last of Us,” doesn’t seem much different from that of “The Walking Dead,” but the game’s creators use the interactive environment as a tool to tell a larger story.
The dual protagonists in “The Last of Us,” Joel and Ellie, are brought to life by the short, heartfelt conversations that fill the game’s quiet moments of exploration. Curious players will find diary entries, movie posters, and other artifacts that reveal more about the game’s setting.
Beyond the story, “The Last of Us,” reached a new high for third-person action games with intense combat that put an emphasis on scarce resources, stealth, and survival.
“The Last of Us” was one of the last major releases on the PlayStation 3 and was a major influence on the next generation of single-player games for the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4.
Platform(s): PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4
Release date: June 14, 2013
- The Pokemon Company
“Pokémon Go” sparked a global phenomenon when it was released in 2016, encouraging Pokémon fans to take to the streets and go looking for their favorite collectible creatures.
While the game launched with just a fraction of the features players could find in Nintendo’s main Pokémon games, “Pokémon Go” features some of the most successful implementation of augmented-reality technology to date and rewards players for exploring their real-world surroundings
The Pokémon franchise was already iconic, but being able to access “Pokémon Go” free from a smartphone inspired tons of nongamers to give a Pokémon video game a try for the first time.
With its innovative use of augmented reality and GPS technology, “Pokémon Go” showed millions of people a new way to play games.
Platform(s): Android, iOS
Release date: July 6, 2016
- Carlo Allegri/Reuters
“‘Candy Crush?’ Really?” you ask.
Yes, “Candy Crush!” Really! It might be the most impactful game on this list, by some measures.
Few games are more ubiquitous, with more accessibility. “Candy Crush” is probably the game most responsible for getting people who don’t play games to play games.
It is, of course, a take on the long-running match-three game concept: Match like-colored candy in groups of three or more to remove them from the board. It’s a video game, in so far as it’s a digital application with interaction, but it’s far from the likes of “Call of Duty” and “Grand Theft Auto.”
It’s a far simpler, easier-to-understand entry point to video games – and for that, it’s hardly comparable to the rest of the games on this list.
Platform(s): Web, Android, iOS, Fire OS, Windows Phone
Release date: April 12, 2012
“Dark Souls” set a new standard for action games with its intense combat and staggering difficulty. At a time when most action games were power fantasies that let superpowered players dice their way through dozens of enemies, “Dark Souls” was built to challenge players at every turn and reward them for their patience and determination.
Though the game is tough at first, overcoming each new enemy in “Dark Souls” brings a sense of progress and achievement that feels thoroughly earned, harking back to games from the ’80s and ’90s that were intentionally tough to increase the replay value.
“Dark Souls” is so hard that it has become a trope among video game critics to compare any difficult game to “Dark Souls,” regardless of the genre. But at the same time, “Dark Souls” has inspired games across genres to find that ideal balance of difficulty, progress, and achievement.
Platform(s): PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC, Nintendo Switch
Release date: September 22, 2011