Twenty years ago, people would queue around the block for a chance to play the latest games. You’d see fans lining up outside stores like Electronics Boutique just for a chance to get the title they wanted.
Now, though, with digital distribution, that’s all changed. Games are still causing disruption and breaking the internet.
Numerous games fall into this category. Some are what you might expect, but others seem to come out of nowhere, as you’ll discover below.
Of course, they didn’t literally break the internet (though some gave it a good go). Instead, they changed the conversation or zeitgeist about gaming, bringing new people into the conversation, and thrilling long-timers looking for something new.
But what were these games? Let’s take a look.
Minecraft, released in 2011, was one of the first games that could legitimately claim to have broken the internet. The sandbox builder provided players with near-limitless possibilities to create stunning worlds where anything was possible.
What made Minecraft unique was how you could do what you wanted. For instance, you had people trying to recreate Bethesda’s Skyrim in blocky format, complete with dungeon runs, dragons, and people saying “Then I got an arrow to the knee.”
Minecraft also gained popular appeal (unlike most games). It appeared on TV numerous times and regular members of the public flocked to it in droves. It was semi-magical to watch. Reddit went crazy, of course.
Another game that broke the internet was Rocket League. This car-based soccer game combined two genres in a way that people never expected. (Why didn’t anyone think of it before?) Reviewers on YouTube and gaming sites across the internet greeted the title with near-universal acclaim, calling it a breath of fresh air in a year that saw many disappointing titles released.
What made it special was the unique gameplay. People loved using cars with fast-paced action to score against the opposing side.
The game also offered cross-platform support. You could play Rocket League on the PC, PlayStation, Xbox, and Nintendo Switch, allowing the total size of the community to grow significantly.
There was even a competitive esports component (which continues to this day). Players became ultra-competitive with the game, thanks to its superior and nuanced mechanics.
Pokemon Go was released in 2016 and nothing was quite the same from that point onwards. The game’s developers realized they could use players’ smartphones as handheld devices that enabled them to spot cute critters digitally imposed on the real world.
Once word got out, towns and cities across the world were filled with players staring intently at their phones, trying to capture Pokemon in their environments. Suddenly, you had couch potatoes walking thousands of steps per day, just to complete their critter collections.
Of course, the media absolutely loved the phenomenon. There were stories about people skipping work to find Pokemon, and even some people getting injured because they weren’t looking where they were going when crossing the road.
Incredibly, people continued playing this title for years. The prospect of never knowing what critters you’d find in the real world was compelling.
Fortnite was another game that practically broke the internet when it launched in 2017. The developers based the concept on the battle royale format. But the game took on a life of its own, breaking all expectations for the title.
Unlike many other games in the genre, Fortnite became a social hub. People would often log on just to talk to each other and make friends. Sometimes, artists use it for virtual events. It even hosted conferences (Since when does that happen in a video game?)
Because of this social involvement, Fortnite constantly evolved and changed. Players and developers worked together to give it a unique feel that encouraged people to keep coming back. Even five years after launch, it had an active community that got the internet buzzing. People constantly played around with wacky skins and new maps to maintain their interest.
Doom: Eternal launched in Spring 2020, just as the pandemic was getting underway. ID Software couldn’t have timed the launch any better. People trapped at home jumped on the game and started live-streaming their efforts to defeat its many levels.
What was astonishing about Doom: Eternal was the gameplay loop. It really was something new, changing the first-person shooter genre forever. ID’s system required players to use all the tools at their disposal to survive while making sure they kept moving. Different boss types and even gun duals made it more compelling than the 2016 Doom reboot (which was already a fantastic game).
As expected, Doom: Eternal sold millions of copies, and ID Software was heralded by gamers as the new CD Projekt Red after the release of Cyberpunk 2077. (ID had actually been around since the early 1990s and were the geniuses behind the original Doom games).
Candy Crush Saga
Candy Crush Saga was released in 2012 and immediately proved that smartphone gaming could be fun. (At that point, smartphones had only been around for five years, and only mainstream for perhaps two). People, including British Prime Ministers, appeared to be addicted.
Candy Crush Saga’s success came from its gameplay loop, colorful graphics, and social media involvement. It also had problem-solving elements that upgraded on other games’ formats, with cute graphics and sound effects.
However, unlike an online chess or pool game, Candy Crush was also controversial. Developers included compelling microtransactions where players could pay for perks to help them on their gaming journey. Being one of the first instances of this predatory pricing practice, people took to the internet to voice their concerns. Even so, it still became one of the highest-grossing mobile games in history.
You can probably think of some more games that broke the internet, like World of Warcraft in 2004 and Flappy Bird in 2013. However, what’s interesting about these titles is the many ways in which they did it. Some offered good old-fashioned value, while others were plain addictive.