The characters may be fictional and the franchises may thrive on fantasy, but the emotions gamers feel towards their games - and their fellow gamers - are very, very real.
Indeed, during lockdown, the video game realm became more tactile, more real than the world outside. And it introduced millions of noobs to gaming, where, unlike the outside world, it was at least possible to attend a birthday party.
Today, the world is home to an estimated 3.09 billion video gamers, a figure that has risen by one-third in just seven years.
And while 89% of these gamers reckon that gaming brings different types of people together, part of the fun (and sometimes the problem) of gaming is choosing your camp and expressing an opinion. Put simply, some franchises and characters spark joy in some gamers, while the same IP gets right under the skin of others. Yes, even Animal Crossing.
Despite the 'global village' effect of gaming, gamer preferences differ from country to country. The culture(s) of games and play is our business, so Liberty Games decided to investigate and find which franchises, characters and consoles are most loved and hated in every country.
Liberty Games created lists of the biggest franchises and most iconic gaming heroes of all time and a list of today's top consoles. We gathered a huge sample of geotagged tweets mentioning the names on our lists and analysed them for positivity vs negativity using HuggingFace, an AI sentiment analysis tool.
A successful franchise is a treasure chest for game developers. In an industry of conflicting opinions, hitting on a game world in which gamers feel invested pays off time and again through sequels, merchandise and the occasional Hollywood adaptation. As social networking becomes a bigger part of gaming, developers who can 'lock in' gamers to their franchise of choice can watch their fortunes soar. Here are the game worlds that create the warmest glow from country to country.
Some games are popular in very specific territories: Ireland is the only country to rate Gears of War as its top franchise. Conversely, Halo is the most loved game in 14 countries, mostly across Asia, Africa and Latin America. The sci-fi shoot 'em up has prevailed in gamers' hearts even as it has passed from developer to developer, with players entranced by the storytelling and engaged by the game's novel multiplayer options. However, when tweets are analysed on a global scale, Halo is not the world's most loved franchise:
Spyro The Dragon? The "cutest dragon in video games" is also one of the most playable, making his eponymous game franchise a pleasure to play. Debuting nearly a quarter of a century ago, the Spyro franchise dropped out of sight in 2008 - and it seems absence makes the heart grow fonder. Fans kept calling for more, and Vicarious Visions finally remade the original trilogy in 2018. While the only country to have Spyro as its fave is the UK, globally, 55.9% of Spyro-themed tweets are positive, making it the world's favourite.
What about the franchises fans hate? Battlefield has alienated much of Europe and Asia, ranking as the most despised game in 17 countries. 2021's Battlefield 2042 instalment has done much of the damage, proving an enormous let-down after mouth-watering trailers. Fans decry its bugs, flawed gameplay and baffling inclusion of Christmas-themed skins.
While some characters are visually iconic enough to transcend the gaming world and materialise in movie spin-offs, memes and merchandise, the real bonding takes when gamers inhabit a character and make them do heroic/cute/awful things. In the UK, the master assassin Ezio Auditore da Firenze gets the most love. The Assassin's Creed character is loved for his skill and his charisma, and affection for him has grown as the character has developed across multiple games set in the Italian Renaissance.
Perhaps with the exception of the Pong paddle, Pac-Man is just about the simplest archetypal video game character - yet he remains the most loved in Brazil and the United Arab Emirates 42 years after his debut. His name derives from the Japanese equivalent of "nom nom" and was altered from Puck-Man to save embarrassing graffiti appearing on his arcade machines.
But it is another 1980s icon who takes the crown: Mario is the most loved video game character, whether counted by the number of countries in which he's the favourite (21) or by global aggregate (41.7% of tweets about Mario are positive). Nintendo characters dominate the most loved list. Pac-Man, Ezio, Rayman, and Wheatley are the only characters here that weren't developed or published by Nintendo, and each is most loved in two countries.
Believe it or not, there are places on Earth - 14 of them - where Luigi is considered a source of great annoyance. There is even an I HATE LUIGI Twitter account devoted, as you would expect, entirely to anti-Luigi talk. While some find the character to be an unnecessary addition to the Marioverse, others take exception to the belated efforts Nintendo made to set him apart from his older brother by making him more vulnerable.
Every gamer has their favourite console, but then everybody loves Nintendo. With a 130-year history since the company was established to make and sell playing cards in 1899, the company combines a sense of industrial age clunkiness with the cutting-edge technical (and marketing) prowess that made its name synonymous with video gaming in the 1980s. Nintendo inspires the most positivity of any console on Twitter in 58 countries, including the UK and the U.S.
Originally created for the arcade game Donkey Kong, Mario faces stiff competition in popularity contests from his own games: brother Luigi and dinosaur sidekick Yoshi are among the Marioverse characters challenging Mario closely for his title of most loved Nintendo character. Measured by sentiment analysis on Twitter, Mario is number one in the public's heart, while Luigi ranks at number nine despite his unpopularity among great swathes of the gamer community.
Beyond the Mario franchise, characters from the Legend of Zelda also prove popular. In third place is Link, the game's central protagonist, who has evolved in interesting ways throughout the series while remaining plain enough for players to project their own identities upon. In second place is Princess Zelda herself, whose rescue was the goal of early games but who became a playable character in later spin-offs. This evolution beyond mere 'damsel in distress' is part of what's kept Zelda relevant and at the forefront of the Nintendo community's imagination.
Long dismissed as a subculture, gaming is now a fact of everyday life - whether it's something you experience on a console, a home arcade machine or filtered through the broader world of pop culture.
While the future of Twitter hangs in the balance, the world of gaming seems assured to go from strength to strength. According to one survey, 40% of gamers who took up the hobby at the start of the pandemic intend to keep playing now that we've reached the next level. With mobile gaming fast eclipsing console culture, the casual gamer is a serious consideration for developers, who must also cater to smaller screens. And AI generation has become a legitimate source of inspiration and may help smaller indie developers to scale their work.
Your next most loved game franchise and character may not appear quite where, or quite how, you expect.
Using Wikipedia, we built a seed list of the 60 biggest gaming franchises. Then, taking the most common entries in 10 lists compiled by authoritative gaming websites, we found the 50 most iconic gaming protagonists. We also compiled a list of the 30 most notable Nintendo characters via Nintendo Fandom and collected a list of the major consoles for this current generation.
Next, we pulled a large sample of tweets from each country mentioning these franchises, characters and consoles. Characters with more generic names, such as "Sam Fisher," were required to have other keywords related to the game within the tweet.
We then analysed all tweets using an AI sentiment tool that analyses the text and attributes a positive and negative score. If a tweet had more than a 50% predicted probability of being positive, it was labelled as positive, and vice versa for negative tweets. This enabled us to calculate the percentage of positive and negative tweets for each franchise, character and console in every country.
We then labelled the 'Most Loved' as the character/franchise/console with the highest percentage of positive tweets and vice versa for the 'Most Hated.' The data was collected in November 2022.