When it comes to video games, there are some franchises that everyone knows about. Names like Mario, Sonic, Lara Croft, Solid Snake, and Link are iconic because of this. But as spectacular as those games are, one of the most popular genres is often overlooked when discussing the greatest video games ever.
That genre is sports. Franchises like Madden, NBA 2K, and FIFA are among the best-selling video games each year. That shouldn't be undervalued. But what sports game series is the king? We've looked at every active major sports gaming franchise and ranked them based on factors like popularity, consistent quality, and history.
10 NBA Live
If this list was being made during the 2000s, you can bet that EA Sports' NBA Live would rank higher. Back then, it was on top of the basketball video game world. The first official release was NBA Live 95 and it changed the way we played basketball games forever. The series was consistently a commercial and critical success.
Things changed as we neared the end of the 2000s. The series fell way behind its competition. Their attempt to release NBA Elite 11 was canceled due to a barrage of problems. NBA Live 14 marked a return to the series but it never threatened to be great again. NBA Live 20 was also canceled and the franchise has sadly kind of become a laughingstock.
9 EA Sports UFC
In the past decade or so, there has been a rise in the popularity of mixed martial arts. When that happens, it's a given that a developer would come along and make a game out of it. EA Sports did that with 2014's EA Sports UFC release. With the official Ultimate Fighting Championship license, players could control all of their favorites.
Like the sport itself, this series of games have done well on a commercial level. That 2014 release spawned two successful sequels. Two things hold it back from being higher on the list. It doesn't boast a long history and each entry has only been met with good acclaim but never great.
8 WWE 2K
WWE video games have been around for about as long as anyone can remember. THQ took over their entries in 2000, which eventually led to the Smackdown vs. Raw batch of games. In 2013, 2K Sports was handed the reins and it became the WWE 2K franchise for the next several years.
Most of these games were met with positive responses from critics and at least one was in contention for the best wrestling game ever made. They also do quite well in terms of sales as the only major wrestling game on the market for most of those years. But there has been a lack of innovation in recent years and the latest entry, WWE 2K20, was a huge mess riddled with glitches and bugs.
7 Out Of The Park Baseball
Out of the Park Baseball is easily the most unique entry on this list. Instead of stepping on the field or court and playing the games, it puts you in the seat of the general manager and coach. The gamer gets to take on the tasks of making lineup changes, wheeling and dealing for trades, and negotiating with free agents.
The series is backed by an impressive ability to keep track of stats and it pays attention to the little details. It has been around since 1999 and features the official licenses of the MLB and MLBPA. With several awards and some prominent celebrity fans like Curt Schilling and pro wrestler Steve Corino, there's no wonder this has been so successful.
6 Pro Evolution Soccer
You may not know but Pro Evolution Soccer is one of the longest-running franchises in sports gaming history. The first release came way back in 1995 and was known as J.League Jikkyou Winning Eleven. In 2001, the first officially titled Pro Evolution Soccer came in 2001.
The only reason you may have overlooked this franchise is that its biggest rival, EA Sports' FIFA, is such a huge deal. But Pro Evolution Soccer is one of a handful of gaming franchises to surpass 100 million copies sold. Each year, it is met with rave reviews which makes it one of the most consistently strong games in the world.
5 Madden NFL
It has sold more than 130 million copies and amassed over $4 billion in sales. EA Sports' Madden NFL franchise is as iconic as it gets in the video game industry. Each year's release feels like a holiday to fans and it has become big enough for massive tournaments to be held and televised around the world.
In the early 2000s, this series was pushed hard by NFL 2K and it made both games better. But once EA Sports inked an exclusive deal with the NFL, effectively killing the competition, Madden NFL kind of rested on its laurels. The games are still good and a few have been great but it no longer feels like the innovative spectacle that it once was. Still, it's a blockbuster series and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.
Like a lot of EA Sports series, NHL has been around for longer than most. The first release was in 1991 but it was NHL '94 that put it on the map. That version is still considered one of the best sports games ever released. Most of the entries received positive reviews and when they didn't, EA Sports usually managed to right the ship the following year.
Even when 2K was releasing their NHL games, they often weren't able to keep up with what EA Sports was offering up. Each year, this game is typically very strong and does quite well in terms of sales. The franchise remains the undisputed champion of the hockey video game world.
3 MLB The Show
As soon as a licensing deal removed MVP Baseball from the mix, Sony's MLB The Show franchise took over the baseball genre. Though that time came in the mid-200s, this series has been around since the late 1990s. It prides itself on being one of the most realistic adaptations of the sport in history.
MLB The Show has brought out innovative modes like Road to the Show, Diamond Dynasty, and March to October. The game would sell more if it were available on multiple platforms but that's not a possibility. Instead, it manages to shine bright as a PlayStation exclusive.
As noted earlier, the reason that more people don't talk about Pro Evolution Soccer is because of EA Sports' FIFA franchise. Beginning back in 1993, this series has dominated the soccer gaming world to the tune of selling more than 260 million copies. With soccer being the most popular sport in the world, that should come as no surprise.
The most impressive thing about this series is probably its outstanding level of consistency. If you take a look back at almost every installment of this franchise, you'll see games met with high praise. Regardless of the console or year, you won't find any bad entries.
1 NBA 2K
NBA Live became obsolete for more than its own issues. The rise of NBA 2K as the most prominent sports gaming franchise played a major part. First released in 1999 for the Sega Dreamcast with NBA 2K, it let everyone else know that a new contender had arrived. The series spent the next few years building itself up into a force.
Since then, NBA 2K has reigned supreme. The MyLeague mode is extensive, MyCareer features dynamite storytelling, the commentary is the best in any sports game, the rosters as unbelievably deep, and the gameplay is top-notch. NBA 2K dominates in terms of quality and sales numbers.