This will no doubt blow the minds of anyone who has grown up in a world inundated with sophisticated video game consoles, globally accessible online play and even ubiquitous mobile gaming, but as recently as 40 years ago the cultural phenomenon of video games did not even exist.
Take a second to let that sink in; 40 years ago kids were making do with non-digitized Battleship and analog playing cards like those tribes of unknown Amazonian rain forest dwellers that occasionally wander out of the jungle and into civilization for the first time; except that after about 25 minutes, most of those unknown tribes have seen enough and exercise the good sense to turn around and head back into the rainforest.
It was only with the introduction in 1977 of the Atari 2600 home gaming system that public interest began to surge into what has become a global entertainment force of nature. Video games are now a multi-billion dollar a year industry that is pushing the boundaries of their technological advancements to heights that could never have been predicted by the popularity of Pong.
This is not to say that gaming has been a one way ride to glory and success however, as the industry has also been plagued by some spectacular disasters on par with any Tom Cruise film from the 21st century. The relatively short history of gaming has seen some woeful examples of self destruction for a variety of reasons (over hype, technical deficiencies, poor game play, laughable execution, delays in release etc.), none of which have ever eased the massive financial losses these flops consistently spawned. For many fledgling and established video game companies alike, such disastrous turkeys have often meant not just bankruptcy, but a virtually total erasure from the history of the industry in epic style. Here then are ten of the most expensive video game failures of all time.
10) Shenmue (SEGA)
Development of this massively hyped open world adventure game began as early as 1987, though it wasn’t actually released until 1997, setting a very low bar (sadly) on qualifying for placement on this list. With a then unprecedented $70 million budget, Shenmue was supposed to be SEGA’s answer to PC gaming in both advanced graphics, intense game play, enthralling musical score and enormity of environment. However, due largely to its protracted development period, the game never gained a fraction of the attention it was expecting and counting on, and it very nearly bankrupted SEGA.
Envisioned as the first of numerous releases for the Dreamcast system as part of a multi-game series, Shenmue has reached legendary status, both for its unfathomable volume of technical problems as well as its legions of equally mystifying but rabidly devoted fans. Regardless, the game was an enormous financial disaster for SEGA, which effectively spelled the end of the company’s run as a major gaming system developer.
9) Duke Nukem Forever
This sequel to the massive popularity of the Duke Nukem PC video game was supposed to have been released in 1998. A huge advertising campaign featuring intense trailers generating increasing interest in Duke Nukem Forever notwithstanding, its release continued to be delayed until 2006. All things considered, this should have given the game the time and technology necessary to become the single greatest video game title of all time; it didn’t.
The interminable development period meant the game looked pitifully dated upon its release, with virtually nothing of note to separate it from its predecessor in terms of gameplay, innovation or just plain fun. A mere three years after its release, the game’s developer 3D Realms/Apogee Software Ltd. basically went bankrupt and is now reduced to a mere game publisher. Losses for Duke Nukem Forever have been estimated well into the multiple tens of millions of dollars.
8) Driv3r (Atari)
Developed by Atari and Reflections Interactive, this was to be the greatly advanced console third title sequel to the highly successful original Driver game for PCs in 1998 and its successor Driver 2. Tragically it was anything but. Driver 2 had improved so impressively on its predecessor’s innovation and open world experience (though not without its own fair share of criticisms as well), that this third incarnation had built enormous expectations for the game. The heat was really on for the developers to deliver as their chief industry rival Rockstar Games was enjoying wild success with each new installment of their massively popular Grand Theft Auto series.
Finally released in 2004 after nearly five years of tinkering, Driv3r was almost immediately universally panned. Gamers complained bitterly about its minimal 3 hour single player mode, the agonizingly frustrating controls, the jerky, disjointed movements of the character outside a vehicle and its overall total failure to improve on the franchise in even the most minute way. How bad was it? In 2005, Atari reported a quarterly loss of $16.9 million for the 6 month period following the release of Driv3r, and the game became a legendary cautionary tale for the industry.
7) Superman (Nintendo 64)
French developers Titus Software have the dubious honor of being responsible for this precipitously rushed to sale title that nevertheless managed to both manufacture a great deal of excitement and anticipation for the game while simultaneously leaving a trail of broken hearts in its wake.
Superman was plagued with basic control problems, production delays and serious technical issues from the beginning of development, problems which unfortunately were not even close to being resolved when it was released in 1999 for the Nintendo 64 system. Gamers immediately noticed a green cloud that seemed to waft over certain parts of the game, which was initially described by Nintendo as ‘Kryptonite fog’, but was in reality just a major visual malfunction that hadn’t been corrected. This was emblematic of how badly this game needed more time to work out its innumerable bugs before being blasted into the annals of history for all the wrong reasons.
The Man of Steel’s video game turned out to be a glitch-prone waste of time that couldn’t showcase either its own merits or those of the N64. Although its expedited development meant that it didn’t cost Titus a bundle to make, the game absolutely tanked with critics and gamers alike and was a huge disappointment at the cash register, to the tune of double digit millions of dollars.
6) Lair (PlayStation 3)
Released in 2007 for the PS3, Lair was developed by noted game producers Factor 5. It was supposed to be an enormous open world, Medieval themed adventure game featuring the main character flying around on a dragon, immersive battle scenes and gameplay, stunning graphics and an unforgettably intense, exciting experience. Suffice to say this was not the case.
Reviews for the game were decidedly unimpressed, with gamers finding the battle sequences repetitive and uninspiring, much of the storyline tedious and predictable and exhibiting little enthusiasm for its online Remote Play function, which was supposed to be the first game to sync with the PlayStation Portable via the internet, but was so plagued with technical issues that the option wasn’t even fully available until a year after the game’s release.
Though painful, initial financial losses suffered on Lair paled in comparison to the floodgate of legal woes it opened for Factor 5, which were devastating. It culminated in 2009 with the company forced to close its US division and face a plethora of lawsuits from partners and employees following their filing for bankruptcy.
5) Pac-Man (Atari 2600)
Now we come to the Big 5 people, starting with a hallowed classic.
We’re all familiar with Pac-Man, that spherically adorable little yellow eating machine whose appearance in 1980 literally created the social phenomenon of gaming. By 1983 however, the video game industry experienced ‘The Crash,’ a dramatic and unexpected decline in the public’s interest in gaming that foretold doom and gloom for many of the industry’s originators, among them Atari.
Having survived from its inception in 1972, the company was hanging on by a thread as they were among the first to feel the effects of the industry’s rapid downturn. It was therefore some Atari executive’s brilliant idea to reach back to a classic arcade game such as Pac-Man and bank on the game’s entrenched fan base and its nostalgic appeal.
This strategy might have had a chance had it not been for the fact that even at this primitive time in gaming history, a three year step backward was a giant leap in gaming technology. Although almost 7 million people were duped into purchasing what was an insultingly archaic and simplistic game so technologically inferior to its arcade version that it was embarrassing (though it’s still Atari’s best selling title, believe it or not), reviews were justifiably not kind.
The game was a joke compared to its arcade cousin, and despite its strong sales, the company started feeling the heat as criticism from Pac-Man began to permeate to anything with their name on it. Atari wound up not for the first time facing total bankruptcy as the company posted a fourth quarter report of $356 million in losses in 1983.
That little yellow Dude deserved better.
Developed by Ion Storm (largely by its mystical status founder, John Romero) as a combination FPS and RPG, the game was released in 2000 after much fanfare for the N64 and PC platforms. The game was the story of a future Martial Arts instructor in Japan in 2455 AD seeking an ancient magical sword (the Daikatana, not surprisingly) in a dystopian and soulless world ruled by despotic corporate overlords.
Despite nearly 3 years in development, the game was not well received to say the least, with critics complaining of a convoluted and inconsistent storyline, monotonous battle sequences, intolerable and frequent cut scenes and little in the way of any advancements in graphics or gameplay that lived up to its considerable hype.
The game’s history was storied, with original developer Ion Storm being bought out in 1999 by Eidos which had already pumped $25 million into the project. Having eventually sold a disappointing 200,000 copies, Daikatana almost certainly lost considerably more and became known as one of the epic industry failures of all time.
Messiah is about a cherubic Angle named ‘Bob’ who is sent by God to battle Satan in a crime infested future city known as Faktur (I kid you not) in order to save humanity, so…it had that going for it.
Produced by Shiny Entertainment and released for PC in 2000 after four tortuous years in development, the game was a platform adventure and shooter with Bob turning out to be quite the miniature little demon, a decidedly aggressive bad ass and remorseless killing machine when it came to doing God’s Divine work down here in the dirt. It was also a glitch-ridden mess that was embarrassingly short, frustratingly repetitive and never caught the imagination of the public, despite all the cool Satanic overtones.
Although it offered some impressive graphics for the day, there wasn’t much in the way of innovative game play and it was an uninspiring commercial flop. Originally released for PC, the game was such a commercial failure that its console versions were abandoned and the game has become little more than a woeful tale that it may not be better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven.
2) Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness (PlayStation 2)
Released in 2003 by publisher Eidos, the game had a turbulent creation period which saw it pass from two different development teams and countless delays. Hoping to build on the success of the Lara Croft franchise, Angel of Darkness was to be a larger environment focusing on a darker storyline that had the trigger happy heroine revealing some decidedly grim character traits.
Like so many before it, the hype this game generated prior to release was overblown times ten, especially considering the game took years to arrive and delivered so little. Gamers who had been breathlessly awaiting it didn’t take long to discover that although it had some visually appealing elements, there was little in the way of the kinds of innovation it had claimed; many found it only a marginal improvement on the series that was repetitive and not very challenging, glitch prone and incomplete and riddled with consistent controller issues. In short, the game was a massive flop that for a time looked to be the end of the franchise, but somehow, Lara has survived.
1) E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (Atari 2600)
And here we are; this is the game that set the unimpressive standard for everything wrong with crappy video games. Riding the enormous popularity of the 1982 Steven Spielberg classic, Atari decided that this was the perfect title to revamp their rapidly tanking company on the waning strength of their 2600 console. Had the game actually delivered an entertaining experience, they may well have been right. However, the rush to get any version of the game while in development to market, meant that what people actually plunked down good money for, was an abomination.
Literally one of (if not) the most agonizingly lame and poorly designed games in the history of leisure entertainment, it has become synonymous with the mind numbing stupidity of the industry; it was about as fun as cutting your toenails too short but not nearly as engrossing. Almost from the moment in arrived on store shelves, the game was brutalized for being an insulting waste of money. Legend has it that having sunk all of their available capital into the game’s development and marketing, Atari was mortgaging its future on this thing, and were they in for a rude surprise.
Having produced hundreds of thousands of those iconic little black cartridges, Atari basically wound up with the most voluminous and unwanted Christmas present in history, leading to the greatest video game rumor ever; that rather than be reminded of their folly, Atari decided to bury the offending games in a landfill. Atari’s losses on this puppy were epic, and they basically clawed their way back to legitimacy by abandoning console production and eating a multi-million dollar debt.
That little alien sure packed a punch.
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