List of commercial failures in video gaming
As a hit-driven business, the great majority of the video games industry's software releases have been commercial failures. In the early 21st century, rules of thumb noted by industry commentators estimated that 10% of published games generated 90% of revenue, that around 3% of PC games and 15% of console games have global sales of 100,000+ a year (with even this level insufficient to make high-budget titles profitable), and that about 20% of games make a profit.
Some of these have drastically changed the video game market since its birth in the late 1970s. For example, the flops of E.T. and Pac-Man for the Atari 2600 contributed to the video game crash of 1983. Some games, despite being commercial failures, are well received by certain groups of gamers and are considered cult games. Many of these games live on through emulation.
- 1 Video game hardware failures
- 1.1 3DO Interactive Multiplayer
- 1.2 Amstrad GX4000 and Amstrad CPC+ range
- 1.3 Apple Bandai Pippin
- 1.4 Atari Jaguar
- 1.5 Commodore 64 Games System
- 1.6 Commodore CDTV
- 1.7 digiBlast
- 1.8 Gizmondo
- 1.9 Nintendo 64DD
- 1.10 N-Gage
- 1.11 Philips CD-i
- 1.12 Pioneer LaserActive
- 1.13 PSX (DVR)
- 1.14 Sega 32X
- 1.15 uDraw GameTablet
- 1.16 Vectrex
- 1.17 Virtual Boy
- 2 Video and computer game software failures
- 2.1 APB: All Points Bulletin
- 2.2 Battlecruiser 3000AD
- 2.3 Beyond Good & Evil
- 2.4 Brütal Legend
- 2.5 Daikatana
- 2.6 Dominion: Storm Over Gift 3
- 2.7 Duke Nukem Forever
- 2.8 E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (Atari 2600)
- 2.9 Grim Fandango
- 2.10 The Last Express
- 2.11 MadWorld
- 2.12 Ōkami
- 2.13 Pac-Man (Atari 2600)
- 2.14 Psychonauts
- 2.15 Shenmue
- 2.16 Uru: Ages Beyond Myst
- 3 Arcade game failures
- 4 References
- 5 External links
Video game hardware failures
A commercial failure for a video game hardware platform is generally defined as a system that either fails to become adopted by a significant portion of the gaming marketplace, or fails to win significant mindshare of the target audience. This definition should be applied internationally, and not based strictly on the success or failure of a platform in any one given market (e.g. North America).
3DO Interactive Multiplayer
Co-designed by R. J. Mical and the team behind the Amiga, and marketed by Electronic Arts founder Trip Hawkins, this "multimedia machine" released in 1993 was marketed as a family entertainment device and not just a video game console. Though it supported a vast library of games including many exceptional third party releases, a refusal to reduce pricing until almost the end of the product's life (US$699.95 at release) hampered sales. The success of subsequent next generation systems led to the platform's demise and the company's exit from the hardware market. This exit also included The 3DO Company's sale of the platform's successor, the M2, to its investor Matsushita.
Amstrad GX4000 and Amstrad CPC+ range
In 1990, Amstrad attempted to enter the console gaming market with hardware based on its successful Amstrad CPC range but also capable of playing cartridge-based games with improved graphics and sound. This comprised the Amstrad CPC+ computers, including the same features as the existing CPCs, and the dedicated GX4000 console. However, only a few months later the Mega Drive, a much-anticipated 16-bit console, was released in Europe, and the GX4000's aging 8-bit technology proved unable to compete. Many of the games were also direct ports of existing CPC games (available more cheaply on tape or disc) with few if any graphical improvements. Fewer than thirty games were released on cartridge, and the GX4000's failure ended Amstrad's involvement in the gaming industry. The CPC+ range fared little better, as 8-bit computers had been all but superseded by similarly priced 16-bit machines such as the Amiga, though fans of the computer discovered software hacks that made the advanced console graphics and sound accessible to users.
Apple Bandai Pippin
A game console designed by Apple Computer and produced by Bandai (now Namco Bandai) in the mid-1990s based around a PowerPC 603e processor and the Mac OS. It featured a 4x CD-ROM drive and a video output that could connect to a standard television monitor. Apple intended to license the technology to third parties; however, the only Pippin licensee to release a product to market was Bandai. By the time the Bandai Pippin was released (1995 for Japan, 1996 for the United States), the market was already dominated by the Nintendo 64, PlayStation, and Sega Saturn. The Bandai Pippin also cost US$599 on launch, more expensive than the competition.
Released by Atari Corporation in 1993, this 64-bit system was more powerful than its contemporaries, the Sega Genesis and the SNES (hence its "Do the Math" slogan); however, its sales were hurt by a lack of software and a number of crippling business practices on the part of Atari senior management. The system never attained critical mass in the market before the release of the PlayStation and Sega Saturn, and without strong leadership to drive a recovery, it failed alongside the company.
Commodore 64 Games System
Released only in Europe in 1990 and being Commodore International's first venture in the video game market, the C64GS was basically a Commodore 64 redesigned as a cartridge-based console. Aside from some hardware issues, the console did not get much attention from the public, who preferred to buy the cheaper original computer that had far more possibilities. Also, the console appeared during the apogee of the 16-bit era, which left no chance for it to succeed.
The CDTV was launched by Commodore in 1991. In common with the Philips CD-i and the 3DO, the CDTV was intended as an all-in-one home multimedia appliance that would play games, music, movies, and other interactive content. The name was short for "Commodore Dynamic Total Vision". The hardware was based on the Amiga computer with a single-speed CD-ROM drive rather than a floppy disk drive, in a case that was designed to integrate unobtrusively with a home entertainment center. However, the expected market for home multimedia appliances did not materialise, and the CDTV was discontinued in 1993, having sold only 30,000 units. Commodore's next attempt at a CD-based console, the Amiga CD32, was considerably more successful.
The digiBlast portable console was launched by Nikko at the end of 2005 and promised to be a cheap alternative (selling at approximately $117.86) to the Game Boy Advance and PlayStation Portable. Cartridges for games, cartoon (Winx Club, SpongeBob SquarePants) episodes, and music videos were released on the handheld. Also a cartridge for MP3 playback and a cartridge with a 1.3-megapixel camera were planned. A shortage of chips around the release date and thereafter resulted in a failed launch and loss of consumer interest.
A handheld gaming device including GPS and a digital camera was released by Tiger Telematics in the United Kingdom on 19 March 2005. With poor promotion, lack of games, short battery life, competition from the cheaper and more reputable Nintendo DS and PSP, and controversy surrounding the company, the system was a commercial failure. On 23 January 2006, the UK arm of Tiger Telematics went into administration. Several high-ranking Tiger executives were subsequently arrested for fraud and other illegal activities related to the Gizmondo. It is so far the world's worst selling handheld console in history and due to its failure in the European and American video game markets, it was not released in Australia or Japan. Tiger Telematics went bankrupt when it was discontinued in February 2006, just 11 months after it was released.
A disk drive add-on to the Nintendo 64, it was first announced at 1995's Nintendo Shoshinkai game show event (now called Nintendo World); however, the 64DD was delayed until its release in Japan on December 1, 1999. Nintendo, anticipating poor sales, sold the 64DD through its RANDnet subscription service rather than directly to retailers or consumers. As a result, the 64DD was only supported by Nintendo for a short period of time and only nine games were released for it. Most 64DD games were either cancelled entirely, released as normal Nintendo 64 games or ported to GameCube. During its lifetime, 15,000 sets were sold worldwide, while 85,000 sets became scrap.
Made by the Finnish mobile phone manufacturer Nokia, and released in 2003, the N-Gage was a small handheld console, designed to combine a feature-packed mobile/cellular phone with a handheld games console. The system was mocked for its taco-like design, and sales were so poor that the system's price dropped by $100 within a week after its release. Common complaints included the difficulty of swapping games and the fact that its cellphone feature required users to hold the device "sideways" (i.e. the long edge of the system) against their cheek. A redesigned version, the N-Gage QD, was released to eliminate these complaints. However, the N-Gage brand still suffered from a poor reputation and the QD did not address the popular complaint that the control layout was "too cluttered." The N-Gage failed to reach the popularity of the Game Boy Advance, Nintendo DS, or the Sony PSP. In November 2005, Nokia announced the failure of its product, in light of poor sales (fewer than three million units sold during the platform's three-year run, against projections of six million), and while gaming software is still being produced for its Series 60 phones, Nokia ceased to consider gaming a corporate priority until 2007, when it expected improved screen sizes and quality to increase demand. However, Nokia's presence in the cell phone market was soon eclipsed by the iPhone and later Android phones, causing development to gravitate to them and sealing the fate of the N-Gage brand. In 2012, Nokia abandoned development on the Symbian OS which was the base for N-Gage and transitioned to Windows Phone.
In 1991, electronics company Philips entered the console gaming business by creating the Compact Disc Interactive console, better known as the CD-i. Like the 3DO, the CD-i was marketed as not only a video game console, but also a multimedia console. Besides CD-i discs, the console was capable of playing Video CDs. The launch price was $700. It was originally intended to be an add-on for the Super NES, but the deal fell through. Nintendo, however, did give Philips the rights and permission to use five Nintendo characters for the CD-i games. In 1993, Philips released two Zelda games, Link: The Faces of Evil and Zelda: The Wand of Gamelon. A year later, Philips released another Zelda game, Zelda's Adventure, and a few months later, a Mario game titled Hotel Mario. All four of these Nintendo-themed games are commonly cited by critics as being among the worst ever made. Much criticism was also aimed at the CD-i's controller. Although it was extensively marketed by Philips, consumer interest remained low. Sales began to slow by 1994, and in 1998, Philips announced that the product had been discontinued. In all, roughly 570,000 units were sold, and only 133 games were created.
Made by the Pioneer LaserDisc Corporation in 1993 (a clone was produced by NEC as well), the LaserActive employed the trademark LaserDiscs as a medium for presenting games and also played the original LaserDisc movies. The LD-ROMs, as they were called, could hold 540 MB of data and up to 60 minutes of analog audio and video. In addition, expansion modules could be bought which allowed the LaserActive to play Sega Genesis and/or TurboGrafx-16 games, among other things. Very poor marketing combined with a high price tag for both the console itself ($969 in 1993) and the various modules (e.g., $599 for the Genesis module compared to $89 for the base console and $229 for Sega CD add-on to play CD-ROM based games) caused it to be quickly ignored by both the gaming public and the gaming press. Less than 40 games were produced in all (at about $120 each), almost all of which required the purchase of one of the modules, and games built for one module couldn't be used with another. The LaserActive was quietly discontinued one year later after total sales of roughly 10,000 units.
Built upon the PlayStation 2, the PSX enhanced multimedia derivative was touted to bring convergence to the living room in 2003. The device's failure in Japan, however, due to its high price and lack of consumer interest resulted in the cancellation of plans to release it in the rest of the world. Not only was it an unsuccessful attempt by Sony Computer Entertainment head Ken Kutaragi to revive the ailing consumer electronics division, it also hurt Sony's media convergence plans.
Unveiled at June 1994's Consumer Electronics Show, Sega presented the Sega 32X as the "poor man's entry into 'next generation' games." The product was originally conceived as an entirely new console by Sega of Japan and positioned as an inexpensive alternative for gamers into the 32-bit era, but at the suggestion of Sega of America research and development head Joe Miller, the console was converted into an add-on to the existing Mega Drive/Genesis and made more powerful, with two 32-bit central processing unit chips and a 3D graphics processor. Despite these changes, the console failed to attract either developers or consumers as the Sega Saturn had already been announced for release the next year. In part because of this, and also to rush the 32X to market before the holiday season in 1994, the 32X suffered from a poor library of titles, including Mega Drive/Genesis ports with improvements to the number of colors that appeared on screen. Originally released at US$159, Sega dropped the price to $99 in only a few months and ultimately cleared the remaining inventory at $19.95. About 665,000 units were sold.
The uDraw GameTablet is a graphics tablet developed by THQ for use on seventh generation gaming consoles, initially for the Wii in late 2010, and for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in late 2011. THQ also invested in several games that would uniquely use the tablet, such as uDraw Pictionary. The Wii had positive sales, with more than 1.7 million units sold, prompting the introduction of the unit for the other console systems. These units did not share the same popularity; 2012 holiday sales in North America fell $100 million below company targets with more than 1.4 million units left unsold by February 2012. THQ commented that if they had not attempted to sell these versions of uDraw, the company would have been profitable that respective quarter, but instead suffered an overall $56 million loss. Because of this failure, THQ was forced to shelve some of its less-successful franchises, such as the Red Faction series. THQ would eventually file for bankruptcy and sell off its assets in early 2013.
This is perhaps the most critically acclaimed "failure" console. Though its independent monitor could display only monochrome visuals, the console's vector-based graphics and arcade-style controller with analog joystick allowed developers to create a strong games library with faithful conversions of arcade hits and critically praised exclusives. However, its release shortly before the North American video game crash of 1983 doomed it to an early grave.
The red monochromatic 3-D "virtual reality" system failed due to issues related to players getting eye strain, stiff necks, and headaches when trying to play it, along with the console's price and unportability. It came out in 1995 and was Nintendo's first failed console release. Gunpei Yokoi, the designer of the platform and the person largely credited for the success of the original Game Boy handheld and the Metroid series of games, resigned from the company shortly after the Virtual Boy ceased sales in order to start his own company, although for reasons unrelated to the console's success. The Virtual Boy was included in a Time "50 Worst Inventions" list published in May 2010.
Video and computer game software failures
APB: All Points Bulletin
APB: All Points Bulletin was a multiplayer online game developed by Realtime Worlds in 2010. The game, incorporating concepts from their previous title Crackdown and past work by its lead developer David Jones, who had helped create the Grand Theft Auto series, was set around the idea of a large-scale urban battle between Enforcers and Criminals; players would be able to partake in large-scale on-going missions between the two sides. The game was originally set as both a Microsoft Windows and Xbox 360 title and as Realtime Worlds' flagship title for release in 2008, but instead the company set about developing Crackdown first, and later focused APB as a Windows-only title, potentially porting the game to the Xbox 360 later. Upon launch in June 2010, the game received lukewarm reviews, hampered by the existence of a week-long review embargo, and did not attract the expected number of subscribers to maintain its business model. Realtime Worlds, suffering from the commercial failure of the game, sold off a second project, Project MyWorld, and subsequently reduced its operations to administration and a skeleton crew to manage the APB servers while they attempted to find a buyer, including possibly Epic Games who had expressed interest in the title. However, without any acceptable offers, the company was forced to shut down APB in September 2010. Eventually, the game was sold to K2 Network, a company that has brought other Asian massive-multiplayer online games to the Western markets as free-to-play titles, and similar changes occurred to APB when it was relaunched by K2.
One of the most notorious PC gaming failures, Battlecruiser 3000AD (shortened BC3K) was hyped for almost a decade before its disastrous release in the U.S. and Europe. The game was the brainchild of Derek Smart, an independent game developer renowned for lengthy and aggressive online responses to perceived criticism. The concept behind BC3K was ambitious, giving the player the command of a large starship with all the requisite duties, including navigation, combat, resource management, and commanding crew members. Advertisements appeared in the gaming press in the mid-1990s hyping the game as, "The Last Thing You'll Ever Desire." Computer bulletin boards and Usenet groups were abuzz with discussion about the game. As time wore on and numerous delays were announced, excitement turned to frustration in the online community. Smart exacerbated the negative air by posting liberally on Usenet. The posts ignited one of the largest flame wars in Usenet history. During the development cycle, Smart refused to let other programmers have full access to his code and continued to change directions as new technology became available, causing the game to be in development for over seven years.
In November 1996, Take-Two Interactive finally released the game, reportedly over protests from Smart. The game was buggy, even unfinished in many areas, with outdated graphics, MIDI music, a cryptic interface, and almost no documentation, a huge problem since the commands were unintuitive (e.g. Alt-Ctrl-E to fire weapons). It was joked that the only thing that worked properly was the introductory movie. Critics and the gaming community were merciless, panning BC3K across the board. Smart continued to publicly battle his detractors, but kept working on the game, even in the face of harsh criticism. Eventually, a stable, playable version of the game was released as Battlecruiser 3000AD v2.0. Smart eventually released BC3K as freeware and went on to create several sequels under the Battlecruiser and Universal Combat titles.
Beyond Good & Evil
Although critically acclaimed and planned as the first part of a trilogy, Beyond Good & Evil (released in 2003) flopped commercially. Former Ubisoft employee Owen Hughes stated that it was felt that the simultaneous releases of internationally competing titles Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time and in Europe, XIII (all three published by Ubisoft and all of which had strong brand identity in their markets), made an impact on Beyond Good & Evil's ability to achieve interest with the public. The game's commercial failure led Ubisoft to postpone plans for any subsequent titles in the series. A sequel was announced at the end of the Ubidays 2008 opening conference, and an HD version of the original was released for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 via download in 2011. Alain Corre, Ubisoft's Executive Director of EMEA Territories, commented that the Xbox 360 release "did extremely well", but considered this success "too late" to make a difference in the game's poor sales.
Brütal Legend is Double Fine Productions' second major title. The game is set in a world based on heavy metal music, includes a hundred-song soundtrack across numerous metal subgenres, and incorporates a celebrity voice cast including Jack Black, Lemmy Kilmister, Rob Halford, Ozzy Osbourne, Lita Ford, and Tim Curry. The game was originally to be published by Vivendi Games via Sierra Entertainment prior to its merger with Activision. Following the merger, Activision declined to publish Brütal Legend, and Double Fine turned to Electronic Arts as their publishing partner, delaying the game's release. Activision and Double Fine counter-sued each other for breach of contract, ultimately settling out of court. The game was designed as an action adventure/real-time strategy game similar to Herzog Zwei; as games in the real-time strategy genre generally do not perform well on consoles, Double Fine was told by both Vivendi and Electronic Arts to avoid stating this fact and emphasize other elements of the game. The game got panned for its real-time strategy elements that were not mentioned within the pre-release marketing, making it a difficult game to sell to players. Furthermore, its late-year release in October 2009 buried the title among many top-tier games, including Uncharted 2, Batman: Arkham Asylum and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. It only sold about 215,000 units within the first month, making it a "retail failure", and though Double Fine had begun on a sequel, Electronic Arts cancelled further development. According to Tim Schafer, president and lead developer of Double Fine, 1.4 million copies of the game had been sold by February 2011. Double Fine would go on to release four smaller and successful titles—Costume Quest, Stacking, Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster, and Iron Brigade—that were originally envisioned while Brütal Legend was between publishers.
One of the more infamous failures in modern PC gaming was Daikatana, which was drastically hyped due to creator John Romero's popular status as one of the key designers behind Doom. However, after being wrought with massive over-spending and serious delays, the game finally launched to incredibly poor critical reaction because of bugs, lackluster enemies, poor game play, and terrible production values, all of which were made worse by its heavy marketing campaign proclaiming it as the next "big thing" in first person shooters.
Dominion: Storm Over Gift 3
The first title released by Ion Storm, Dominion was a real time strategy title similar to Command & Conquer and Warcraft, based as a spin-off to the G-Nome canon. The game was originally developed by 7th Level, but was purchased by Ion Storm for US$1.8 million. The project originally had a budget of US$50,000 and was scheduled to be finished in three months with two staff members. Due to mismanagement and Ion Storm's inexperience, the project took over a year, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. Dominion was released in July 1998. It received bad reviews and sold poorly, falling far short of recouping its purchase price, let alone the cost of finishing it. The game divided employees working on Ion's marquee title, Daikatana, arguably leading to the walkout of several key development team members. It put a strain on Ion Storm's finances, leading the once well-funded startup to scramble for cash as Daikatana's development extended over several years.
Duke Nukem Forever
Duke Nukem Forever was a sequel to a successful series, initially announced in 1997, but spent fifteen years in development, and was frequently listed as a piece of vaporware video game software. The initial development with the Quake II Engine began in 1996 and the final game was developed by Gearbox software and released in 2011. The game was not well received and was named by several sites as their "most disappointing" game for the year. Because of its tangled development process it is very hard to know which companies made and which lost money over the game. According to Gearbox head Randy Pitchford, the game cost 3D Realms head George Broussard US$20-30 million of his own money. The sales were poorer than expected causing Take-Two to reduce their profit estimate for the quarter, though later in 2011 stated that Duke Nukem Forever would prove to be profitable for the company.
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (Atari 2600)
Despite selling 1.5 million copies, the game came nowhere near Atari's sales expectations; it had ordered production of five million copies, and many of the sold games were returned to Atari for refunds by consumers who were dissatisfied with the game. Millions of unsold cartridges were buried in a landfill in the New Mexico desert. The game is emblematic of the video game crash of 1983 and contributed to Atari's bankruptcy. Atari paid $25 million for the license to produce the game, which further contributed to a debt of $536 million (equivalent to $1.3 billion today). The company was divided and sold in 1984.
Known for being the first adventure game by LucasArts to use three-dimensional graphics, Grim Fandango received positive reviews and won numerous awards. It was originally thought that the game sold well during the 1998 holiday season. However, the game's sales appeared to be crowded out by other titles released during the late 1998 season, including Half-Life, Metal Gear Solid and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Based on data provided by PC Data (now owned by NPD Group), the game sold about 95,000 copies up to 2003 in North America, excluding online sales. Worldwide sales are estimated between 100,000 and 500,000 units. Developer Tim Schafer along with others of the Grim Fandango development team would leave LucasArts after this project to begin a new company (Double Fine Productions) and go on to produce the similarly problematic Psychonauts and Brütal Legend. Grim Fandango's poor sales are considered a contributing factor to the demise of the adventure game genre in the 1990s.
The Last Express
Released in 1997 after five years in development, this $6 million adventure game was the brainchild of Jordan Mechner, the creator of Prince of Persia. The game was noted for taking place in almost complete real-time, using Art Nouveau-style characters that were rotoscoped from a 22-day live-action video shoot, and featuring intelligent writing and levels of character depth that were not often seen in computer games. Despite rave reviews, Brøderbund, the game's publisher, did little to promote the game, apart from a brief mention in a press release and enthusiastic statements by Brøderbund executives, in part due to the entire Brøderbund marketing team quitting in the weeks before its release. Released in April, the game was not a success, selling only about 100,000 copies, a million copies short of breaking even.
After the release of the game, Mechner's company Smoking Car Productions quietly folded, and Brøderbund was acquired by The Learning Company, who were only interested in Brøderbund's educational software, effectively putting the game out of print. Mechner was later able to reacquire the rights to the game, and in 2012, worked with DotEmu to release an iOS port of the title.
MadWorld is a beat 'em up title for the Wii developed by Platinum Games and distributed by Sega in March 2009. The game was purposely designed as an extremely violent video game. The game features a distinctive black-and-white graphic style that borrows from both Frank Miller's Sin City and other Japanese and Western comics. This monotone coloring is only broken by blood that comes from attacking and killing foes in numerous, gruesome, and over-the-top manners. Though there had been violent games available for the Wii from the day it was launched (e.g. Red Steel), many perceived MadWorld as one of the first mature titles for the system, causing some initial outrage from concerned consumers about the normally family-friendly system. MadWorld was well received by critics, but this did not translate into commercial sales; only 123,000 units of the game sold in the United States during its first six months on the market. Sega considered these sales to be "disappointing".
Ōkami was a product of Clover Studios with direction by Hideki Kamiya, previously known for his work on the Resident Evil and Devil May Cry series. The game is favorably compared to a Zelda-type adventure, and is based on the quest of the goddess-wolf Amaterasu using a "celestial brush" to draw in magical effects on screen and to restore the cursed land of ancient Nippon. Released first in 2006 on the PlayStation 2, it later received a port to the Wii system, where the brush controls were reworked for the motion controls of the Wiimote. The game was well received by critics, with Metacritic aggregate scores of 93% and 90% for the PlayStation 2 and Wii versions, respectively, and was considered one of the best titles for 2006; IGN named it their Game of the Year. Despite its strong praise, the game sold fewer than 600,000 units by March 2009. These factors have led for Ōkami to be called the "least commercially successful winner of a game of the year award" in the 2010 version of the Guinness World Records Gamer's Edition. Shortly after its release, Capcom disbanded Clover Studios, though many of its employees went on to form Platinum Games and produce Madworld and the more successful Bayonetta. Strong fan support of the game led to a sequel, Ōkamiden, on the Nintendo DS, and a high-definition remake for the PlayStation 3.
Pac-Man (Atari 2600)
The home version of the highly popular Pac-Man arcade game was eagerly anticipated, but was a commercial disappointment for Atari. The game was rushed to make the 1981 Christmas season. In 1982, Atari created 12 million cartridges, even though there were only 10 million Atari 2600s sold at the time, in hopes of the game boosting system sales. Pac-Man did sell close to seven million cartridges, but consumers and critics alike gave it low ratings. The high number of unsold units (over five million), coupled with the expense of a large marketing campaign, led to large losses for Atari. This game, along with E.T., are often blamed for sparking the video game crash of 1983. Shortly after the disappointment of Pac-Man, Atari reported a huge quarterly loss, prompting parent company Warner Communications to sell the division off in 1984. Atari never regained a prominent position in the home console market.
Despite being a critical success for its high level of innovation, including winning GameSpot's 2005 Best Game No One Played award, the game initially sold fewer than 100,000 copies. The game led to troubles at publisher Majesco, including the resignation of its CEO and the plummeting of the company's stock, prompting a class-action lawsuit by the company's stockholders. The game has been declared the "poster child" for the recent failures in innovative games. Its poor sales have also been blamed on a lack of marketing. However, today the game remains a popular title on various digital download services. The creator of Psychonauts, Tim Schafer, has a cult following due to his unique and eccentric style. Eventually, Double Fine would go on to acquire the full rights to publishing the game, and with funding from Dracogen, created a Mac OS X and Linux port of the game, which was sold as part of a Humble Bundle in 2012 with nearly 600,000 bundles sold; according to Schafer, "We made more on Psychonauts [in 2012] than we ever have before."
Shenmue on the Dreamcast is more notorious for its overambitious budget than its poor sales figures. At the time of release in 1999, the game had the record for the most expensive production costs (over US$70 million), and its five-year production time. In comparison, the games' total sale was 1.2 million copies. Shenmue, however, was a critical hit, earning an average review score of 89%. The game was supposed to be the initial installment of a trilogy. The second installment was eventually released in 2001, but by this time the Dreamcast was floundering, so the game only saw a release in Japan and Europe. Sega eventually released it for American audiences for the Xbox, but the poor performance of both titles combined with restructuring have made Sega reluctant to complete the trilogy for fear of failure to return on the investment.
Uru: Ages Beyond Myst
The fourth game in the popular Myst series, released in 2003. It was developed by Cyan Worlds shortly after Riven was completed. The game took Cyan Worlds more than five years and $12 million to complete and was codenamed DIRT ("D'ni in real time"), then MUDPIE (meaning "Multi-User DIRT, Persistent / Personal Interactive Entertainment / Experience / Exploration / Environment"). Though it had generally positive reception, the sales were disappointing. In comparison, the first three Myst games had sold more than 12 million units collectively before Uru's release. Uru's poor sales were also considered a factor in financially burdening Cyan, contributing to the company's near closure in 2005.
Arcade game failures
Released by Atari in 1983, I, Robot was the first video game to use 3-D polygon graphics, and the first that allowed the player to change camera angles. It also had gameplay that rewarded planning and stealth as much as reflexes and trigger speed, and included a sandbox mode called "Doodle City," where players could make artwork using the polygons. Production estimates vary, but all agree that there were no more than 1500 units made.
Jack the Giantkiller
In 1982, the President of Cinematronics arranged a one-time purchase of 5000 printed circuit boards from Japan. The boards were used in the manufacture of several games, but the majority of them were reserved for the new arcade game Jack the Giantkiller, based on the classic fairy tale Jack and the Beanstalk. Between the purchase price of the boards and other expenses, Cinematronics invested almost two million dollars into Jack the Giantkiller. It completely flopped in the arcade and many of the boards went unsold, costing the company a huge amount of money at a time when it was already having financial difficulties.
Radar Scope was one of the first arcade games released by Nintendo. It was released in Japan first, and a brief run of success there led Nintendo to order 3,000 units for the American market in 1980. American operators were unimpressed, however, and Nintendo of America was stuck with about 2,000 unsold Radar Scope machines sitting in the warehouse.
Facing a potential financial disaster, Nintendo assigned the game's designer, Shigeru Miyamoto, to revamp the game. Instead he designed a brand new game that could be run in the same cabinets and on the same hardware as Radar Scope. That new game was the smash hit Donkey Kong, and Nintendo was able to recoup its investment in 1981 by converting the remaining unsold Radar Scope units to Donkey Kong and selling those.
Sundance was an arcade vector game, released in 1979. Producer Cinematronics planned to manufacture about 1000 Sundance units, but sales suffered from a combination of poor gameplay and an abnormally high rate of manufacturing defects. The fallout rate in production was about 50%, the vector monitor (made by an outside vendor) had a defective picture tube that would arc and burn out if the game was left in certain positions during shipping, and according to programmer Tim Skelly, the circuit boards required a lot of cut-and-jumpering between mother and daughter boards that also made for a very fragile setup. The units that survived to reach arcade floors were not a hit with gamers—Skelly himself reportedly felt that the gameplay lacked the "anxiety element" necessary in a good game and asked Cinematronics not to release it, and in an April 1983 interview with Video Games Magazine he referred to Sundance as "a total dog".
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