Video games, much like with movies and televisions shows, can vary hugely in quality. While the vast majority will be reasonable, some individual titles will be exceptional. However, it is not just quality that determines whether a new game will be successful. Although the best selling titles will usually have been created to a very high standard, history has shown that creating a good product does not necessarily mean that it will go on to perform well commercially. Sometimes, brilliant games will just fail to capture the imagination of the public for a variety of reasons and will struggle to sell enough copies to be considered a success. This article will look at examples that were unarguably good games, which received critical acclaim, but ultimately ended up being flops at retail.
This action-adventure game developed by Clover Studio released in 2006 for the PlayStation 2, and later saw releases on both the Nintendo Wii and PlayStation 3. Set in ancient Japan, it sees the player take the role of a God in wolf form, attempting to save the world from being destroyed. It was widely praised by critics for its unique visual style of cel shaded graphics and innovative gameplay. Despite this, it only managed to sell 600,000 copies in three years, becoming the least commercially successful winner of a Game of the Year award according to Guinness World Records.
11. Grim Fandango
Grim Fandango is widely considered to be a great graphic adventure game from developer LucasArts, a studio who had (in the past) excelled in creating brilliant adventure games such as, The Secret of Monkey Island, Manic Mansion and Full Throttle. Released in 1998, it won near universal acclaim for having an outstanding art direction and entertaining characters. Even with this positive reception though, Grim Fandango didn’t sell more than 500,000 copies. Its failings at a commercial level were mainly due to the graphic adventure genre losing popularity, as action-based games rose to prominence.
10. Jet Set Radio Future
After the success of Jet Set Radio on the Dreamcast, the studio set about making another game in the series. While not a direct sequel, Jet Set Radio Future was more of a reboot for the franchise. Featuring a much bigger world, more advanced cel shaded graphics, engaging soundtrack and the same trademark gameplay that made the first game such a hit. Even with these improvements though, it failed to perform well at retail. Many long-time fans didn’t feel the need to buy it, as it was not a true sequel and it failed to attract the attention of many who hadn’t played the original. This left it with a very small audience.
Using all of the experience he had gathered working for LucasArts in creating classic adventure games, Tim Schafer crafted a stunning 3D platformer known as Psychonauts. It has been hailed by critics to be the best platformer not on a Nintendo console, due to its clever puzzles, precise gameplay and beautiful graphics. While it was originally due to be published by Microsoft as an exclusive for the Xbox console, the company backed out, leaving the game with almost no marketing or publicity when it neared release. This led to it performing poorly at retail, where it struggled to compete with other releases.
When Shenmue released in 2000, it was considered to be one of the most advanced games ever made. Combining a variety of different genres, it had a large open world brought to life with amazing graphics and interactive elements that made the world feel alive. It went on to win numerous awards and is regularly listed on critics best games of all time lists, but still went on to struggle at retail. Costing $70 million to make, it failed to return that investment with only around 1 million units sold worldwide.
7. Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath
The Oddworld series has typically always been incredibly strong, with each entry receiving glowing reviews from the press. Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath went on a step further to become what most players regard as the best in the entire franchise. Fusing together several different genres effortless, it was lauded for its slick gameplay and accessibility that meant everyone would be able to enjoy it. Even with such praise, it could only move around 500,000 copies, which was blamed on EA’s marketing of the game as a first-person shooter, when the market was saturated with titles from that genre.
6. Space Station Silicon Valley
Space Station Silicon Valley was a well received 3D platform game from the developer that later evolved in Rockstar North. It revolves around a robot who must take control of various different animals to survive and featured innovative gameplay mechanics, uniquely designed levels and a humorous story. With a rather small marketing budget and the fact that it had to compete with the likes of Super Mario 64 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, the game could just not gather enough momentum to be considered a hit.
5. Thief: Deadly Shadows
The Thief series had long been held by fans and critics alike, to be perhaps the best ever in the stealth genre. Deadly Shadows kept up this tradition and introduced new gameplay mechanics, along with a deeply unsettling story with a creepy atmosphere, to create a title that was an exceptional entry to the genre. Unfortunately for this particular title, the Xbox was already dominated by another stealth-based game called Splinter Cell. With the market effectively corned by Ubisoft’s own entry into the genre, Thief: Deadly Shadows struggled to make an impression on the player base and didn’t perform at retail.
4. Beyond Good & Evil
This action-adventure science fiction romp received near critical acclaim when it released in 2003. Receiving several Game of the Year nominations for its superb gameplay and puzzles, while its excellent soundtrack and solid storytelling were also highly praised. One of the biggest reasons that Beyond Good & Evil suffered had nothing to do with how good it was. The 2003 Christmas period in which it released was absolutely packed with blockbuster games, such as Prince of Persia, Call of Duty and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. This left small less publicized games with a mountain to climb in order to attract attention.
3. Brutal Legend
Another Tim Schafer game, it was positively reviewed by critics. While some parts of the game were less enthusiastically spoken about, the excellent story and all star cast that included the lies of Jack Black and Ozzy Osbourne was well received. After launching in 2009 though, Brutal Legend failed commercially, selling just 200,000 in the first few months. An October release meant that it had to compete with the likes of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, Uncharted 2 and Batman: Arkham Asylum, all of which sold incredibly well. Early reviews also criticized the game for its real-time strategy elements that had not been publicized previously, putting off gamers who thought it was going to be solely an adventure game.
MadWorld, a beat ‘em up game that released in 2009, was thought by many to be the best adult orientated game that was ever released. With a very distinct art style and over-the-top fighting style, it made for a very fun game that was unique on the Nintendo Wii. Despite all of that, MadWorld only managed to sell in the region of 200,000 copies in total. It is likely that the adult themes and violence played a part in the poor sales, as the vast majority of other games on the Wii were aimed towards children and families.
1. Conker’s Bad Fur Day
Rare are well known for creating some of the best games in the 1990s and early 2000s. Primarily famous because of their work on Nintendo consoles with games such as GoldenEye, Perfect Dark, Donkey Kong Country and Banjo-Kazooie, they very rarely went wrong with any game they produced. This remained the case with Conker’s Bad Fury Day, their last entry on a Nintendo home console. The game was widely praised for its gameplay and graphics, becoming one of the highest rated games on the console. This wasn’t enough to help it sell, though. Its poor performance was due in part to a lack of advertising because of its adult themes and the fact that it came so late in the Nintendo 64’s life cycle.