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Killer App
Short for "killer application", a killer app is a game - or something not a game that's a category killer - so good that it's considered a must-own if you have the system it's released for, and is in fact a reason in and of itself to buy said system.

When you buy literature, you get a single self-contained experience: the book contains all there is to this particular adventure. When you buy a ticket for a film or a stage show, you get two hours of drama, and that's all there is to see (until the inevitable sequel, that is). But electronic hardware isn't like that. Music players, movie players, computers, video game consoles, tablet computers... They all require software to run, and each piece of software delivers a different experience: a photo-editing suite can't be used to balance your checkbook, for instance, or vice versa. As such, hardware and software are separate but interlinked categories, and one is used to judge the other: the same piece of software might run much more efficiently on one computer than another, and you'd factor that in when deciding what hardware or software to buy. And, just to add to the confusion, a fair amount of software is exclusive to one piece of hardware, or family of hardware: for instance, Microsoft for the longest time resisted releasing its "Office" suite of productivity software (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc) for iPad, to keep their competing "Surface" tablets relevant.

And that's where we get to this trope. A "killer app" is a piece of software that validates the hardware. It provides such an excellent user experience that it justifies buying the hardware.

The term is primarily used within the world of video gaming, but originated outside it: it was used, especially during the '90s Internet boom, to describe the mythical invention that everyone in America needed and which would make its developers — and their investors — rich beyond their wildest dreams. The term can also be used on a more serious context, used to refer to a very useful application which immediately becomes a "must-have". When the term is applied in this manner, only a very few applications apply, including word processors, spreadsheets, database management programs, email clients, and web browsers. The only thing everyone agrees on is that any new hardware attempting to launch itself should have a Killer App at hand, especially if the hardware itself is a video game console—that business is more software-driven than any other.

While most products that attain killer app status are extremely successful and popular, it should be noted here that "creating a true killer app" is akin to "writing the Great American Novel": everybody wants to, but nobody has yet created (or is likely to create) the definitive killer app.

Note that a killer app is more than just a good game. A game can be good, great, critically acclaimed, even an all-time classic... and still not be a killer app (conversely, not all killer apps are great by modern standards; some of them seem quite dated today). A killer app is insanely popular in its own time, enough so as to single-handedly drive sales for its system. The examples that follow, then, are not just the games that tropers loved, but rather the games that everyone loved; the ones that made their respective systems.

Arguing over which killer app provides the most bang for its buck is a large part of the Console Wars.

Compare Star-Making Role (equivalent for actors) and Breakthrough Hit (equivalent for creators).


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Atari 

    Colecovision 
  • Coleco's competitive acquisition of the console license for Nintendo's Donkey Kong is the main reason the ColecoVision console was a contender in the second generation Console Wars. It is rumored that the company released an intentionally poorly-designed version of the game for the Atari 2600, just to make their own system look even better by comparison.

    Nintendo 
  • The first Super Mario Bros. for the original NES, credited with saving a dying video game industry. Super Mario Bros. 3 followed a few years later.
  • Super Mario World for the SNES, which was packaged with all SNES units. Super Mario All-Stars, a updated compilation of the NES Mario games (including the first domestic release of "The Lost Levels" of the original Japanese Mario Brothers 2), also proved the viability of the Updated Re-release concept.
  • The SNES also floated high on The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and the port of Street Fighter II, which was packaged with the console in some countries. The Donkey Kong Country series also allowed the SNES to remain popular into the 32-bit era, while Sega stumbled with the Sega CD, 32X and Sega Saturn confusion.
  • The Virtual Boy didn't really have much going for it, but those who have played Virtual Boy Wario Land agree that it was the one game truly worth playing on the console.
  • Initially Super Mario 64 and then Mario Kart 64, Golden Eye 1997, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, Banjo-Kazooie and Banjo-Tooie, Perfect Dark, Donkey Kong 64, and Star Fox 64 for the Nintendo 64. The system became famous for releasing two to three Killer Apps a year, and is considered to this very day one of Nintendo's greatest consoles.
  • Super Smash Bros. Melee is the absolute GameCube killer app, its quality far surpassed its predecessor, and it's still being played competitively more than 10 years after its release, a life of a Fighting Game surpassed only by Marvel vs. Capcom 2: New Age Of Heroes by 1 year.
  • Resident Evil 4, Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem and Metroid Prime convinced the hardcore gamers that the GameCube wasn't a kiddie wasteland. The Gamecube even had the most M-rated games out of any Nintendo console. To quote the Top 10 GameCube games video from ScrewAttack:
    When this game was first announced, we thought it was going to suck. How wrong we were. How wrong we were.
    • Resident Evil 4 was even released as part of Capcom's initiative to bring five new exclusive games to the GameCube to support the platform. Unfortunately, one of them (Dead Phoenix) was never released, three of them (Resident Evil 4, Viewtiful Joe, Killer7) were eventually ported to the PlayStation 2, and the only game to remain a GameCube exclusive (P.N.03) didn't sell many copies and was critically panned.
    • At the console's release, Star Wars: Rogue Squadron 2 was considered the Gamecube's Killer App at launch and even held the title after Smash Bros Melee was released a couple months later. When the console was released in Europe, Rogue Squadron 2 was it top selling game, beating out Nintendo's first party titles.
  • The Wii is an unusual case in that it has had a dozen or so killer apps, but relatively few quality third party titles. At launch, the general public bought it for Wii Sports. For hardcore gamers, it was The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess.
    • 2007 saw Wii Play, which helped ensure that most Wii owners would have multiple controllers, party games like Mario Party 8 and Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games, and Super Mario Galaxy, the 2nd best selling 3D platformer of all time. Wii Fit, which was released in the West in 2008, was more popular than the PS3 for a while, but support for the peripheral hardware never caught on.
    • 2008 had Mario Kart Wii and Super Smash Bros. Brawl Nintendo's premiere games for multiplayer and the best selling games in the history of their genres. The new Animal Crossing and Wii Music were likely meant to become Killer Apps, but poor reception amongst the hardcore audience turned these into mere hits.
    • 2009 was another year of multiple killer apps. New Super Mario Bros. Wii was the big holiday title, and is often given at least partial credit for the resurrection of platformers on consoles. Wii Sports Resort popularized the Wii MotionPlus, which would be used in other games such as Skyward Sword.
    • Since 2009, Ubisoft's Just Dance games have also become this for the Wii; one of the only games more popular with girls than with boys. However, the lack of big releases since late 2009 has been tied to the Wii's relative decline compared to the other 7th generation consoles.
  • The Wii U has had an extremely slow first year, and part of the problem seems to be that there hasn't been a must-have Killer App for the system yet. While there have been some good titles, the real system-sellers are expected to be Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros. for WiiU.
    • In April 2014, Nintendo started really pushing Mario Kart 8 to an almost aggressive extent. In addition to releasing a premium Wii U bundle in many regions note  they've also launched a program so that between May 30th (its release date) and July 31st, every copy that has been purchased—including those that come in the bundle—can be registered on Club Nintendo, their consumer loyalty program. The reward? One free Wii U game of your choice on top of everything else. North America gets 4 options to choose fromnote , while Europe and Australia get 10note . As a result, Mario Kart 8 sold 1.2 million copies in its first weekend alone and boosted the console's sales in every region. Wii U sales in Europe, for example, rose by 666 percent.
    • There's also EarthBound being released for the Wii U's Virtual Console, which became one of the top downloaded titles for the service. Not bad for a game that was an Acclaimed Flop when it first came out.
    • Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze additionally sold 130,000 copies (physical and digital) on its first eight days of release in the US alone, causing a 25% increase in hardware sales from one year prior. Not too shabby.
  • Castlevania: Circle of the Moon was considered a Killer App when it was first released for the Game Boy Advance. However, more than anything, the GBA was built on the base of the Updated Re-release, with every quality SNES title ported over for a new generation to open their wallets for, along with new nostalgia-heavy franchises like WarioWare. Likewise, Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire catalyzed the GBA sales at a very high rate. They are Pokémon games after all.
  • The Game Boy's original killer app was Tetris, but the aging system was revitalized late in its lifespan by another smash hit: Pokémon Red and Blue. The various sequels of the latter have kept the tradition, driving large sales of their native platforms.
    • To put this in better perspective, multiple Pokémon games are among the best-selling Game Boy Advance and DS games. The best selling titles on the Game Boy Advance were Ruby and Sapphire, which sold over 15 million units, FireRed/LeafGreen, which sold over 10 million units, and Emerald, with over 6 million units. Even the Pokemon Mystery Dungeon Rescue Team, a spinoff by a 3rd party which also was sold on the DS as Blue version, was one of the system's top 20 selling titles, beating out games like Kingdom Hearts, Golden Sun, Metroid: Fusion, and The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap. The series was not quite so dominant on the DS, but this was due to the market's growth outstripping the franchise, not a loss in popularity.
    • Pokémon is currently the second-best selling series in the world, with the Super Mario series (not counting spin-offs) leading by a mere 40 million games sold. After a ten year headstart. It remains to be seen if it will pass its older brother, it's too close to call at this point.
    • Pokémon Black and White, came out in September 2010, and it's already the fastest-selling DS game in history.
    • It's more than likely sales of the 3DS surged in anticipation for Pokémon X and Y It ended up selling four million copies in its first two days of sales and became the fastest-selling 3DS game of all time. (It probably didn't hurt that X and Y were the first Pokémon games to be released globally, rather than separate release dates for each region.)
  • Nintendogs, Brain Age (for older gamers), Mario Kart DS and New Super Mario Bros. (for the Nintendo Faithful), Animal Crossing: Wild World, and its quirkier casual games in general, for the Nintendo DS.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time again, this time for the Nintendo 3DS. Within two weeks, it had sold over 600,000 copies, or over 20% of the install base. It raised 3DS sales by over 50% the week it came out, despite not being released in America until the next week.
    • Monster Hunter 3G (at least if you live in Japan).
    • Those last two games were the two best selling games in Japan during 2011, despite only being out for less than two months. Super Mario 3D Land sold over five million copies in just two months worldwide, outselling games like Gears of War 3 and Skyrim on the 360. Mario Kart 7 sold 4.3 million in 5 weeks. Put together, the two Mario games represent a third of 3DS software sold in 2011. Combine those Mario games with Ocarina of Time and Nintendogs + cats, you have over one half of all 3DS software sold through 2011.
    • Animal Crossing: New Leaf seems to have become Japan's new killer app for the 3DS. The game sold two million copies in less than six weeks - the first 3DS game to reach that milestone in Japan - and has remained at the top of the Japanese charts since its release in November 2012. In the US, some have called it a Killer App for Nintendo's release of triple-A titles digitally through the E-Shop services, being a game for which having constant access on your systems at any time adds enough to the experience to assuage concerns over the lack of physical ownership of a cartridge.
    • Super Smash Bros. 4 for 3ds sold a million copies in its opening weekend in Japan alone. Though only time will tell if it surpasses Pokémon X and Y after its international release.
  • DSiWare had Photo Dojo, a fighting game where you could take pictures/sound recordings to create fighters, including yourself. Also, you could make your own stages this way.
  • When the NES first launched it came with R.O.B., your Robotic Operating Buddy. R.O.B. could play two games, both of them borderline unplayable, and the R.O.B. itself only seemed to function half the time. However, it was key in making the system seem less like a "videogame console" (which was a dirty word at the time, considering the video game crash of the early 80's). Essentially, it was a fake Killer App... something that seemed like the must-own technology of the future that handily snuck some more important hardware into homes.

    Sega 
  • The Sonic the Hedgehog series on the Mega Drive/ Sega Genesis, as well as the first Madden NFL game for (U.S.) sports fans. The bloody version of the first Mortal Kombat also was a boon in distinguishing it from the SNES.
  • The Genesis port of the arcade version of Strider was also one of the system's earlier killer apps. In addition, the game holds the distinction of being the first game to be released on an 8-megabit cartridge.
  • The Genesis Version of Aladdin, made by Virgin Interactive in partnership with actual Disney animators, was the 3rd best selling game for the system, and this version did not come to the SNES, due to Capcom still holding the rights to make Disney games on Nintendo systems at the time. While the SNES version was a good game too, The Genesis version was more of a labor of love for Disney fans while the SNES version was more generic.
  • When Lunar: Silver Star Story was released in Japan, it sold almost as many copies as the Sega CD. That, and Sonic the Hedgehog CD, were, if not killer apps, the nearest thing the Sega CD/Mega CD had.
  • Sega's Virtua Fighter was such a huge hit in arcades that its various ports sold more than half of all 32X and Saturn machines in Japan.
    • Virtua Fighter 2 was the killer app for Saturn.
    • Sakura Taisen was the other Saturn killer app in Japan. It, and the second game recorded the biggest sales as a Saturn original title, and was ranked #13 place in the Famitsu's 100 all-time favorite games list, leading the series to become one of Sega's most successful franchises.
  • The Panzer Dragoon series are killer apps for the Saturn, despite the fact that the first was the only one that sold well.
  • Ni GHTS Into Dreams served as a primary reason to buy a Sega Saturn. Other games for the system with massive popularity include Virtua Fighter and Saturn Bomberman (often referred to by reviewers as the best game in its series).
  • The beyond-the-arcade port of Soul Calibur was the reason to get a Dreamcast, even though it wasn't enough to move sales of the system. Interestingly, the death of the Dreamcast (and the end of Sega's hardware history) was heralded by EA denying Sega a port of Madden NFL, the same killer app that made their own company what it is today, and wouldn't have done so without the parent company's help. Et Tu, Brute?
    • However, NFL2K was one of the rare sports killer apps, becoming one of the biggest sellers at launch along with another killer app in Sonic Adventure (The final true Sonic killer app), and garnering enough rave reviews that it instigated a still-strong backlash against Madden NFL once EA won the bid to become the sole manufacturer of NFL games. Although Sega was able to fill the void with that and its equally-well-received NBA 2K counterpart, no EA support did punch a big hole in the DC's third-party support.
    • Shenmue had generated considerable hype for the console, and is widely considered the best game on it, but its huge budget eventually led to it becoming a financial failure despite solid sales.

    NEC 
  • When the TurboGrafx-16's CD add-on came out, NEC's marketing division, TTI, was quick to promote the two CD Shoot 'em Up titles available for it, Gate of Thunder and Lords of Thunder, as being its flagship titles, even ahead of console mascot Bonk. Ys Books 1 & 2 was also highly lauded. In Japan, the first big game produced for the CD-ROM unit was Tengai Makyou: Ziria, but neither it nor its more popular sequel was ever exported.

    Play Station 

    Xbox 
  • The Halo franchise cemented the Xbox as "the FPS console", leading to the FPS "arms race" between Microsoft and Sony that lasted through The Noughties. Halo 2 is this for the Xbox Live multiplayer service, Halo 3 is this for the Xbox 360, and Halo: Combat Evolved single-handedly saved Microsoft from being a mere footnote in the Console Wars.
  • The game that proved the Xbox could do something other than FPS was Knights of the Old Republic, which spurred sales off the console close to Halo levels.
  • Gears of War and BioShock were among the first great games for the Xbox 360.
    • Mass Effect and its sequels kept the Xbox afloat when the Halo franchise finally started to run out of steam.
  • Like the Game Boy Advance, Xbox LIVE Arcade has sold mainly on a stream of solid indie, ranging from Geometry Wars to 'Splosion Man.
  • This trope is mostly inverted when it comes to Japan, as they has not taken to either system much like it's competition. So far, the closest the 360 has to a killer app there is a hit game that boosts sales for a week or so then they fall back to just selling a few thousand a week until the next hit game. These "boost" games include Blue Dragon (Akira Toriyama's involvement helped, too), Ace Combat 6, Tales of Vesperia (which is the best-selling 360 game in Japan and was even sold with 360s for a while, so it was a Fanboy issue when it was later ported to the PS3) and Star Ocean The Last Hope.
    • For XboxLive in Japan, the Killer App is The iDOLM@STER, even if it isn't for the 360 itself. On the release of the Xbox 360 version, Microsoft sold over 4 times as many Microsoft points as they had in the past. THE iDOLM@STER singlehandedly resparked the sales for the XBOX 360 on Japan. The success was so great that in some stores they had to close the doors at early in the morning because they were sold out.
  • The Forza Motorsport series is Microsoft's racing killer app, designed to target the Playstation's Gran Turismo series. Forza has sold millions, and the wide variety of cars, customization, and painting makes it the go-to racing simulator for the Xbox.

    PC/MAC 
  • Arguably, the original classic Mac's killer app was it's four channel sampled audio, a feature very nearly nixed by Steve Jobs. The feature went on to become the Mac's selling point in the US as the feature meant that the Mac could have "talkie" games that was impossible with PCs of that era (PCs only started having sound cards that was capable of sampled audio with the SoundBlaster, which was released in late 1988. Macs had sampled audio support since it's birth in 1984). In fact, one could argue that the demonstration of MacinTalk during it's launch was one of the major selling points. This, combined with the fact that early 90s Macs were the also the first computers to ship with CD-ROM drives as standard equipment, cemented it's status as an edutainment machine in schools and as the all-rounded family multimedia machine in homes in the 90s. Of course, it helped that Myst was one of the killer apps for the platform, appearing for the Mac first before being ported to Windows note .
  • Doom. The biggest Killer App in all of PC gaming history, with over 4 million copies sold. Before Doom, PC games were a niche hobby, a small subset that was to consolenote  players what video games were to the general populace. Doom made PC gaming mainstream, and let the world know that those computers they were using for their essays and spread sheets could do something that not just matched, but even surpassed what those boxes next to their TVs could do. To call it the Super Mario Bros. of PC gaming is an understatement; it singlehandedly made the PC the new Nintendo, and only after its success can you watch a movie or TV show and see anybody playing video games on their computers as opposed to sitting by the television playing on a console. Even to this very day it's the first (and often only) title that comes to non-gamers' minds when they think of PC games, with Call of Duty only recently supplanting this honor.
    • Doom was indirectly the Trope Maker for Windows as a serious gaming platform. Prior to Windows 95, you were limited to Solitaire and Minesweeper and the occasional more advanced title like Myst. And then Bill Gates read the result of a study that found that Doom was installed on more computers in the world than Windows was. Intent on remedying this, Bill made damn sure that Windows 95 would have its own compatible version of Doom.
  • The most important game on PC in terms of actually selling hardware was Links 486. This game actually forced owners to upgrade from 386 to 486 processors just to play it.
  • Try thinking of a PC game before King's Quest. Outside of the Zork series of Text Adventures, it's not a very easy task. The colorful, imaginative adventures that Sierra brought to life gave gamers something appealing that console games, with their straightforward running and jumping and shooting, just couldn't offer: an interactive, immersive world you could get lost in as it unfolded in vivid graphics, text details and cutscenes. Even if they aren't exactly vivid by today's (or even the latter half of the decade's) standards, it was enough to convince a lot of people why you would want to play video games on the "homework machine".
  • Bungie seems to make killer apps wherever they go. Mac's killer app? The Marathon Trilogy. The Xbox's? Halo.
  • In the same vein as Doom, Half-Life and its sequels pushed the success of PC games even further, with their slick design and fantastic presentation bridging the gap between "casual" gamers raised on mascot platformers and Japanese RPGs and "hardcore" gaming formats.
    • Counter-Strike was, ironically, both the killer app for the early 2000's golden age of 'real world' LAN Gaming cafes/centres, as well as the reason they crashed in popularity from 2004 onwards, when the Source remake became the killer app for Steam and home-based online multiplayer.
    • Valve did it again with Team Fortress 2 in 2007, which is, to this very day, their most successful game of all time, and tied with DOTA 2 (also by Valve) as the most popular game on Steam.
  • Star Wars: Rebel Assault was THE killer app for CD-ROM, although some say that the time of CD-ROM had dawned and Rebel Assault was just the first major game...
  • There are two candidates for the cross-platform killer app for CD-ROM drives: The 7th Guest and Myst, both often bundled with the drives people bought in order to play them. Interestingly, unlike many of the other games on the list, they currently have a bit of a Seinfeld Is Unfunny status.
  • Attempts had been made for ages to sell 3D accelerators, and while 3dfx's Voodoo made a good argument, it was Unreal that caused people to pour hundreds of dollars into enough system upgrades to see it rendered through Glide.
    • You mean GLQuake wasn't reason enough? (While it's not the first 3D-accelerated version of Quake, with VQuake for Rendition Verite cards having been released earlier, GLQuake made 3dfx Voodoo Graphics cards sell like hotcakes.)
  • Crysis has been a boon to graphics card manufacturers, as hardcore computer gamers have been working hard to build systems that can render its incredible graphics at full detail, even four years after its release!
    • It was also important because at the time, other developers who weren't abandoning the PC altogether were making ports that used graphics vastly inferior to that of an Xbox 360 or a PlayStation 3 for no good reason and the rest of the time just ported in the laziest way possible, leaving the inferior graphics and control schemes of the consoles. Some say that this game single-handedly saved the platform and jump-started its renaissance.
  • Since Macs have historically had few compatible games, every gamer who owns one is essentially required to get certain games. Some examples are the Marathon Trilogy, and anything made by Blizzard Entertainment.
    • Preemptively, Valve releasing Steam and the Source-based games on Mac (Portal 2 and Left 4 Dead 2 in particular) have caused a huge jump of interest in Mac gaming. The same thing has happened to Linux since the announcement that Valve would be porting Steam to Ubuntu.
  • The Sims can be credited with kicking off the resurgence of casual gaming of the 2000s (along with internet games).
  • The Age of Empires series, Age of Empires II in particular, was one of the most successful and well crafted PC RTS games of its time, and still maintains a large player and modding community despite being a decade old.
  • The LAMP server (Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP) let people build servers using off-the-shelf PC hardware, giving Linux a huge boost in its early days. Along with powering much of the Internet, it quickly became the standard for individually-owned game servers.
  • Windows XP only really started to die off in favour of Windows 7 when Battlefield 3 was announced to be Windows 7/Vista exclusive. Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 making the same announcement a year later likely helped as well.
  • Telltale Games singlehandedly resurrected the Adventure Game genre.

    SNK 

    Other Systems 
  • Platform Fighter Towerfall was the closest thing the Kickstarted Ouya console had to a killer app before Towerfall: Ascension came to PS 4 and PC.
  • The BBC Micro was guaranteed good sales in the education and office market thanks to being Backed By The Government.note  But without sales of Elite, it's unlikely they'd have made much if any headway in the home computer market, much less become as iconic in British geek culture as they are.

    Genre 
  • Popcap Games owns the casual genre. Most casual games are tweaked knockoffs of Popcap's efforts, which in turn are just variations of match-3, spot-the-difference, time-management and various simple luck/skill-based physics minigames. Doesn't matter. Popcap owns the entire genre. There are still entire blocks of people who would never call themselves 'gamers' who are obsessed with Bejeweled.
  • Team Fortress Classic was, for the longest time, THE online shooter. Counter-Strike took over, and the market has since fragmented between WW2 and futuristic/modern shooters.
  • Guitar Hero turned Rhythm Games from weird J-Pop things (in the eyes of many) to a major western phenomenon.
  • Though it had less casual-appeal than the above, Dance Dance Revolution kept the arcade scene afloat single-handedly, and no doubt was an inspiration for the physicality of gaming aspects that would become part of the Wii's appeal. Years later, Just Dance would turn dancing games into a genre in its own right, and incidentally helped Ubisoft become the Wii's biggest supporter outside of Nintendo.
  • Do you like Real-Time Strategy games? Then you must have tried two of Blizzard Entertainment's best games: Starcraft and Warcraft III. Or the Command & Conquer series. In the following years, the Dawn of War series or Company of Heroes also count.
  • Similarly, do you like turn-based 4X? If so, then at least one of the Civilization games is probably in your library.
  • For MMORPGs, World of Warcraft. It's the one everyone's heard of, and it has slightly more players than the next 2 biggest (Guild Wars and Knight Online) put together. And for browser MMORPGs, it's Runescape.
  • Do you like Japanese RPGs? You probably have a Franchise/{{Pokémon}}, Final Fantasy, or Dragon Quest game. In fact, Dragon Quest is such a killer app in Japan that even Salarymen will take a day off and students from the most prodigious schools will cut class just to buy a copy on the day it becomes available for sale.
  • While still relatively obscure overseas (except for the Persona series,) Shin Megami Tensei is right up there with Japanese role-playing games in Japan.
  • Do you like Western RPGs? You've probably played The Elder Scrolls, series or Baldur's Gate.
  • High fantasy not your thing? Then you've probably got at least one Fallout or Mass Effect game in your library.
  • Professional Wrestling has really only had one game that could be considered a killer app - WWF No Mercy for the N64. No Mercy had a big roster, an in-depth storyline mode, a very detailed for the time create-a-wrestler, many different types of matches, and good multiplayer. Even people who don't like professional wrestling often like No Mercy, and the game still has an active modding community today. The next closest example would probably have to be WWE Smackdown: Here Comes The Pain

    Formats 
  • MYST was the killer app that transformed CD-ROM from mildly interesting computer curiosity into an absolute must-have feature.
    • Myst was a killer app for the Mac, as was originally written for the Mac and appeared around the time CD-ROM drives first started becoming standard equipment on Macs.
    • When the game was eventually ported to the PC, it also made sound cards a must in every PC. One must have a sound card to fully enjoy the game, and after the title, any PC that doesn't have a sound card is considered a poor man's PC. Prior to that, sound cards were largely considered a luxury peripheral that is unnecessary for mainstream gaming. It also helps that all sound cards made back then has a built-in SCSI controller, which is needed if you're going to add a CD-ROM drive to the PC because all CD drives manufactured at that time only supported the SCSI interface (mainly because Macs, Amigas and Atari STs back then used SCSI for the hard disk and CD-ROM drive, and thus SCSI came as standard on them).
  • The Matrix is widely acknowledged to be the killer app for the DVD format. Every store front had the hallway assault and the rooftop bullet time sequence playing on the screens and so many people bought their first DVD player with a copy of The Matrix that the movie might as well have been bundled with the player. It was the first DVD million-seller.
    • Also a two-in-one of sorts: The PlayStation 2 benefited greatly from having a built-in DVD player. In some regions it was in fact the cheapest DVD player on the market for several months.
    • A lot of people also bought DVD players just to use Netflix.
  • The Blu-ray format had a similar Killer App: Avatar sold 1.5 million copies on its first day, 6.2 million after three weeks. It's also not surprising that the PlayStation 3 is the most popular Blu-ray player.
  • If you can call an industry a Killer App for one product: The force that turned VCRs from neat toys to must-have appliances and also settled the VHS/Betamax format wars? Porn.
    • Porn is actually a driving force behind a lot of entertainment-related technological advances (see below.)
  • The Simpsons, Family Guy and Firefly proved that DVD series boxsets were both financially lucrative and did not ruin reruns of regular TV. See also Uncancelled.
    • The case was proved long before Firefly came along. Babylon 5, for example, made half a billion dollars for Warner Bros several years earlier.
  • Half-Life 2 and Counter Strike Source was responsible for Steam's success today, and the popularity of digital distribution as a whole, though that might have something to do with the games requiring Steam to play.
  • What The Matrix was to DVDs, Dire Straits' album Brothers in Arms was to CDs, as it was the first album to sell over a million copies in the format and the first to outsell the LP version. The albums's insanely high sound quality showed off what those shiny little discs could do.
    • Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon was also a killer app for CDs, as the album's high sound quality had long been used to demonstrate audio equipment. At one point in The Eighties EMI had an entire CD plant dedicated to churning out copies of Dark Side of the Moon, and this was when there were only two CD pressing plants in the entire world!
  • The Beatles' Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds have been cited as killer apps for albums for pop/rock music.
  • Angry Birds lives on as one of the most popular games for many formats, but especially for iOS devices.
  • Netflix is the killer app for a lot of streaming set-top boxes, including Apple TV and Roku.

    Other 
  • NewTek's Video Toaster was the one selling point of the Commodore Amiga that made said machine popular at video production houses and film studios.
  • Toonami is credited with ushering in the mainstream Japanophilia boom of the early-to-mid 2000s, primarily for introducing the anime phenomenon to the west.
  • Let's not mince words: Porn is the killer app of EVERY new form of communication, to the point that format wars have been decided based on which one was better for/more accepting of porn. The sole exception might be how porn took up HD-DVD first, which eventually lost out to Blu-Ray. However by the time the war was settled, Sony had made it clear they weren't going to make the same mistake they made with Betamax.
  • For the Apple ][, the killer app wasn't a game at all (though there were an awful lot of those): it was the first electronic spreadsheet, VisiCalc. And for the IBM PC, it was the spreadsheet program Lotus 1-2-3.
    • Spreadsheets seem to get a lot of this: Excel, for example, is Microsoft Office's Killer App. It also helped two WIMP platforms get off the ground: first, it was one of the killer apps for Macintosh, and a couple of years later (1987) Excel became the main reason to use the fledgling Microsoft Windows.
      • Spreadsheet programs attract the killer app label because the complex financial and statistical functions they enable are exponentially more difficult—sometimes functionally impossible—without the visual/computational assistance of the spreadsheet. Think about how headache- and eyestrain-inducing a complex spreadsheet is (unless you're into that sort of thing). Then imagine ALL the same information presented in a hard-copy ledger. Killer. App.
    • VisiCalc alone was selling more Apple ][ than all of its games combined, actually, and its need for a screen real estate and RAM was a real driver for the Language Card (which added more memory) and 80-column Card (self-evident), and a real reason why both these upgrades were later officially incorporated into the motherboard design.
      • Apple would eventually have its own killer app for the //e (and its ProDOS operating system) with AppleWorks, one of the first integrated software packages (combining a spreadsheet, word processor, and database). Apple didn't even advertise it heavily at first, because they didn't want to step on the toes of their third-party vendors (nor overshadow their own AppleWriter), but it still sold so well that it even outsold Lotus 1-2-3 for a while. Its later-generation versions, however (sold by Apple-spinoff Claris, spun off to dodge accusations of antitrust violation under the product name ClarisWorks, on both Mac and PC, were eclipsed by Microsoft Office and by Corel's iconic word-processing product WordPerfect.
  • Almost all of the killer apps for Mac OS X are made by Apple. Half of them come with the system.
    • Apple originally made a number of killer apps directly on the original Macintosh's launch — MacPaint, MacDraw, and MacWrite — that have been the gold standard ever since for WIMP GUI image editors, drawing programs and word processors. But it was the first WYSIWYG page layout program, PageMaker, that made desktop publishing possible and guaranteed the Mac's most lucrative niche.
    • You could argue that Apple's OS is the killer app of the Macintosh, and recently, Parallels is a very good killer app for Intel Macs since it makes the "you can't play as many games on a Mac" argument obsolete.
  • In America, I Love Lucy, Texaco Star Theater, the Army-McCarthy hearings, and the 1960 Presidential debates were television's Killer Apps. In Britain, the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II was this.
    • Sick as it sounds, you could argue that JFK's assassination was also a killer app. Everyone watched the news, and forget about work happening the next day.
    • The moon landings were this in, of all places, South Africa. When the people of South Africa realized that they were the only people in the Western world who couldn't watch Neil Armstrong take his one small, historic step on the surface of the moon, they pressured their government to end its ban on television programming (which it viewed as a morally corrupting influence). They finally lifted the ban in 1975.
    • Ironically, for Japan, which was still only barely out of the post-war devastation and overwhelmingly poor (it was worse there than in North Korea, actually) it was also the Elizabeth II coronation. People were drawing five-year loans with a ridiculously rip-off rates only to be able to watch it.
  • In Britain, the killer app for colour TV was snooker. The 1969 BBC show Pot Black, which showed a single frame of snooker each week, was made to increase the sales of colour TV sets. Although it was really more of a Demo App showing what could be done with colour TV that wasn't possible with black and white. People didn't rush out to buy colour TV sets just to watch the snooker - it took until 1977 for the number of households with colour TV to exceed those with black and white.
    • The series produced the all-time infamous quote from commentator Ted Lowe: "And for those of you who are watching in black and white, the pink is by the cushion next to the green".
    • In America, Star Trek was the killer app for color TV, which was also part of why the original series was able to stay on the air as long as it did. While NBC had wanted to cancel it, their parent company RCA wanted to keep it for two reasons: they owned the patent for color TV, and Star Trek was the primary reason Americans bought them. RCA made more money selling them to Star Trek fans than NBC lost by not giving its time slot to something else.
  • The 1990 Gulf War was proverbially the killer app for 24-hour cable news, specifically CNN. Where national networks had to eventually return to their regularly scheduled programming after Iraqi phone lines were cut off, CNN had previously had a permanent line installed and continued broadcasting round-the-clock.
  • The addition of GPS has been a huge mover for handheld computers. Presumably the medium as a whole is based around the want for calendar and contact programs.
  • Taxi work seems to be the Killer App for hybrid cars. No fuel is consumed idling in dense city traffic or waiting for fares, the battery packs are barely affected by massive mileage and indeed seem to thrive on constantly being in use compared to being parked 22-plus hours a day like most personal cars, and both the financial and environmental cost/benefit ratios increase compared to private use.
    • Buses fall into this as well.
  • The Internet had been around in a form similar to what we use today since at least the early 1980s, but it was NCSA Mosaic, the first easy to use web browser avaialable for PCs and Macs, that made the network a must-have for computers.
  • Bittorrent is the killer app for consumer internet download speed, download caps, and hard drive capacity. YouTube was also a killer app for broadband.
  • MTV was the killer app for cable TV. For sports fans, the killer app was ESPN.
  • Unix's killer app, as with Mac OS, was originally the platform itself, with the ability to redirect input and output at the shell. Another killer app was Usenet, a precursor to modern social media.
  • Twitter, Facebook and other social media services are arguably the killer apps for smartphones and tablets.
    • Blackberry messenger was a killer app for Blackberry phones, unfortunately for them that changed once cross platform messaging apps appeared in Android and iOS.
  • The Bible was the killer app for the printing press, and with it mass literacy, compulsory education in the Western world, and the Protestant Reformation.
  • Guns were part of the reason for the development of interchangeable parts and mass producing.
    • If one wants to get a little dark, World War II was the killer app for the above as they were applied to firearms, especially after the logistics nightmare that was caused by the lack of these among the Allies' standard Chauchat machine guns back in World War I. It's part of the reason the famous Thompson SMG was retired literally right after the war ended - other SMG designs that came about as the war progressed did the job just as well but could be produced at half the cost and much faster.
  • Travel. There are some places every tourist will go when traveling to specific cities or countries. Examples can be the Eiffel Tower for France or the Liberty Statue in New York.
  • Some people have suggested invoking killer app when it comes to buying new electronics, namely by testing the hardware by using something that would prove its quality. Specifically, in one article about buying a new television, the reporter suggested taking a DVD of Moulin Rouge! to the electronics store with you, saying that if a TV could stand up to its fast pace and bright color palette, it can handle almost anything.
  • South Park was this to Comedy Central. When it was picked up, channel viewership was mediocre among cable networks, and there were still cable providers who didn't provide it in their basic package. It created a boom of overall channel viewership and a demand for Comedy Central. The Daily Show and Colbert Report are also credited with building and keeping audience, but not quite in the same numbers or rate as South Park.
  • The getting the NFL's NFC coverage from CBS (as well stealing some of their staff) turned Fox from a group of stations that aired The Simpsons and Married... with Children into something that it's ancestor Du Mont couldn't: the Fourth Network of American Television.

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