What were the most adored online video games in the U.S. in the early 2000s? We wanted to know, so we surveyed Americans to find out.
The early 2000s were a powerhouse for online video games. The gaming industry had just reached the tipping point of modern gaming, when increased computing power and screen resolutions allowed for the first truly impressive 3D environments for players to roam about.
But besides improved graphics and advanced gameplay mechanics, something else revolutionized video games in the early 2000s—the Internet.
As the dot-com bubble burst and web developers were throwing everything but the kitchen sink at their websites, some video games began to be distributed and played online. Additionally, home consoles like the Microsoft Xbox and Sony PlayStation 2 featured internet connections that allowed players to explore alongside, interact with, and battle against their peers from around the country.
Because online gaming was an important part of the development of the Internet, and continues to grow as an industry today, we wanted to find out what the most popular early-2000s video game is in every U.S. state.
To satiate our burning nostalgia and learn more about the origins of the now-massive online gaming industry, we plugged into the source. Using Google Trends, we used 29 search terms to find the most popular 2000s online games in every U.S. state.
We also surveyed more than 2,000 participants across the U.S., asking them about their favorite 2000s online games. Then, we gathered data on their gaming habits, from weekly play time to the ways their gaming habits have changed over the last 20 years. Read on to see what we found.
In its infancy, online gaming was a hotbed of creativity with developers adding online components to everything from fantasy role-playing games to sci-fi shooters to farming simulators. Other developers were making games for players to discover on internet sites, which swelled in popularity, too.
However, some favorites quickly emerged from the chaos. World of Warcraft is a behemoth of an online adventure in which players take up medieval weapons and magic to fight for good or evil in a sprawling fantasy landscape. Players in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Washington deemed it the most popular.
Grand Theft Auto IV released an online component allowing players to cause mayhem in a virtual city together. It’s a favorite of Colorado, Florida, Illinois, and other states across the nation.
The Sims saw most of its popularity in the South with a couple of Midwestern states joining in to guide their own virtual humans through a digitized imagining of real life and its troubles.
Interestingly, Halo: Combat Evolved, Microsoft’s killer app for the original Xbox in 2001, was the most popular in only two states. While gamers may not be searching for the legendary title as often since the 2021 release of Halo Infinite, the original not only became incredibly popular as an online game but also revolutionized the way first-person shooters looked and played on consoles.
Using our map and Google Trends search data, we analyzed the most popular online video games in the U.S. overall. It’s no surprise to see Grand Theft Auto, the secret fix of kids and bane of mothers everywhere, reach the top position with eight states overall.
The Sims, another game about role-playing in a virtual world (with heaps less violence), scored eight states as well.
Wii Sports, somewhat of a tech demo or proof of concept for the Wii’s revolutionary motion controls, won the hearts, minds, and internet connections of gamers in six states overall.
World of Warcraft was one of the early defining games for the Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG) genre, and came out victorious over other online games in five states.
Webkinz won in four states, Call of Duty took the high score in three states, and Club Penguin slid into popularity in three states.
We didn’t stop after learning which 2000s games are the most popular. Instead, we dove into gamer behavior and how it has evolved over the last 20 years.
Notably, the average number of hours Americans spend gaming per week has declined from 16.4 hours in the early 2000s to 9.7 hours today. However, hobbyists now have a variety of ways to interact with their favorite games that they didn’t before, from Twitch streaming to let’s plays, gameplay videos, and reviews on sites such as YouTube.
Men and women both escape into online worlds, albeit very different ones. While men gravitate to fantastical, action-oriented games such as Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty, and World of Warcraft, women prefer games that simulate a peaceful aspect of real life. The top three games for women were The Sims, Wii Sports, and Farmville.
Regardless of gender, it’s no secret that fictional characters are created to be as physically and emotionally attractive as the developers want them to be. As a result, one in three millennials have had a crush on a video game character.
Finally, our survey data showed that 61% of gamers prefer Sony’s PlayStation platform over Microsoft’s Xbox family of consoles. The biggest names in gaming, like Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo, are constantly vying for the limited attention of American gamers. Sony may be slightly ahead for now, but we’re sure Microsoft’s spokespeople would say the war has just begun.
If people say money talks, gamers are a chatty bunch. Based on our survey respondents, more than one in three Americans spends up to $100 each year on gaming. Another 30% ratchets yearly gaming spending up to $101-300.
A surprising 12% even spend between $301 and $500 per year. It’s easy to understand why—with most triple-A video game titles selling for $60 each, spending $300 means buying just five games a year without any spending on consoles, controllers, or other accessories.
During the aughts, online gaming played a significant part in shaping networking technology and the Internet as we know it today. Now, the video game streaming industry has its early 2000s roots to thank for its growing popularity.
At SimpleTexting, we know how important it is to reach your customers where they spend their time. For some, that means partnering with influencers who stream the most popular online games for large audiences, and for others, it means speaking to the customers directly via SMS marketing.
If you think SMS marketing can help you reach your target audience, we’d love to help. Learn more about easy, fast, and affordable SMS marketing today.
Dani Henion is the content team lead at SimpleTexting and is continuously looking for ways to make text messaging strategies and tips more accessible to SMBs. When she's not writing or planning new SMS content, you'll find her decorating elaborate sugar cookies or thrifting in Atlanta.More Posts from Dani Henion
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