Depending on the report you look at, video games are an industry worth somewhere between $81-93 billion, and that number just keeps going up. Along with that money comes better graphics, more immersive worlds, and all kinds of tweaks and improvements to the gaming experience.
Despite all that, it’s typically a few game franchises that pull in the bulk of the money. While gaming studios do throw out a handful of new ideas every so often, when something hits, they keep going back to the same well. That’s why there are new Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty games every year – not to mention the ridiculous annual installments in every sports game series. All of these are proof that a fun game is sure to be rewarded by gamers, no matter how many times they’ve played pretty much the same game already.
So how do we explain some of the weirdest hit games of the past few years? I’m talking about some top-selling games that are a bunch of fun to play, but really should never have gotten made because they just sound dumb. You’ve probably played one or two yourself.
Here are some of those games. From oddball masterpieces to half-complete games that really aren’t worth the money, here are some of the games that, in defiance of logic, became successful.
People have made some pretty crazy things in Minecraft. From recreations of famous fictional starships, landmarks, and the entire land of Westeros, to a virtual 3-D printer and functioning virtual hard drives – it seems your imagination is the only limit when you’re deep in Minecraft’s pixilated world.
Let’s take a step back and acknowledge what this game is, though. You play a character that can build things with blocks. Virtual blocks. Even Minecraft creator Markus Persson didn’t anticipate how huge this game would get. In a farewell letter he wrote after selling the gaming company behind Minecraft to Microsoft, he said “Minecraft certainly became a huge hit, and people are telling me it’s changed games. I never meant for it to do either.”
What’s bananas is that this game, essentially virtual legos, was sold to Microsoft for $2.5 billion. Even crazier: Microsoft expects the investment to have paid itself off by mid 2015. Whatever your feelings about Minecraft, it’s unbelievable that such a simple idea led to such a monumental pay out.
4. Flappy Bird
Oh, the infamous Flappy Bird. So frustrating that hordes of casual gamers couldn’t put it down. So addictive that its creator, horrified to see what his dark imagination had wrought, removed it from circulation in an attempt to slow the juggernaut he had created.
Flappy Bird is a weird success story, mostly because it’s a truly horrible game. The controls are difficult to use, the hit boxes on the bird and the pipes make absolutely no sense, and there’s no variety. You die, you go back to the beginning, and you start again from zero.
That’s what sets this game apart from the others on this list. The rest of the games are weird or superficially bad ideas that were executed well and became justifiable successes. This is a game that has already existed (Helicopter / Jetman), just done so poorly that it became an ironic sensation. Indie developers out there, take note. You don’t need to make a bad idea good: You just need to redo a mediocre idea in the worst way.
Here’s a teensy bit of Blizzard history. The gaming company, now best known for the dull and popular World of Warcraft, began with three real-time strategy games that were essentially the medieval fantasy equivalent of Starcraft.
When the World of Warcraft juggernaut took over the franchise, fans of the RTS series – waiting ever since for another installment in the series they love – have had to twiddle their thumbs. But Blizzard knows fans of Warcraft want more, and that’s why they made Hearthstone, the electronic card game based on the series. Wait, what?
By all accounts, this game is tons of fun to play, and since the basic version is free, there’s lots of opportunity for new players to join in the fun. But, and this needs to be stressed, you’re staring at a screen full of virtual cards. Did they keep the mechanics of a traditional card game the same, but jazz it up with animated creatures duking it out on a battlefield, spells whizzing through the air and chaos being unleashed? Nope. The devs decided to show you a bunch of cards. Moving cards, but cards.
Still, with more than 20 million people playing the game, it would seem the team knew what they were doing.
2. The FIFA World Cup Game
Realistically, a person who enjoys playing sports video games will only see a large difference (aside from roster updates) every 2-3 years. That said, publishers put out a new edition of sports games every year, and, like clockwork, they’re snapped up by avid fans. Still, at least these games typically offer a fairly complete experience. In the case of the FIFA games, that means access to sides from all sorts of leagues, with frequent roster updates, the ability to customize tournaments, and yes, international teams, too.
So what do you get from your constantly (unnecessarily) updated game? You get to play as any of the international teams from qualifying through to the final of the world cup. That’s it. Sure, the game is a bunch of fun. Sure, you also get to play in virtual recreations of the stadiums used in the real life tournament. You know what you don’t get? Access to all the other stuff you’d find in the complete game. In this niche that preys on sports fandom, event games like the World Cup game are the absolute pits.
1. Kingdom Hearts
I love Kingdom Hearts. It’s a ton of fun to play around in this weird world where JRPG heroes and Disney characters exist side by side and battle it out with the forces of evil. If you’re a fan of the series, you know how great the combination works. If you’re not, you’re probably scratching your head and wondering how androgynous dudes with keyblades can possibly mix well with Goofy and Donald.
The first game came together when some of the Square Enix team (the studio behind Final Fantasy) were trying to figure out how to make a game that could compete with the newly-released Mario 64. They suggested that Disney characters would be the best bet, and as luck would have it, one of them ran into a Disney exec in an elevator.
Weird as the concept might be, the series took off in a big way, selling over 20 million copies across several platforms. If you’re looking for a single game that lets you have a go at Ursula the sea witch, Jafar, and an assortment of Final Fantasy baddies – and really, who isn’t? – you might want to run out and pick up a copy yourself.