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List of commercial failures in computer and video gaming

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Some information in this article or section has not been verified and may not be reliable.
Please check for inaccuracies, and modify and cite sources as needed.

As a hit-driven business, the great majority of the computer and 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[9]; 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)[10]'; and that about 20% of games return at least some profit[11]. The rate of commercial failure has been estimated at 95% by the International Game Developers Association[12].

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 were high profile games of low quality, contributing to the video game crash of 1983. Some games, despite being commercial failures, are well received by certain group of gamers and are considered cult games. Many of these games live on through emulation.

Video game hardware failures

For the sake of scope, 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 market place, 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.


3DO Interactive Multiplayer

Co-designed by RJ Mical and the team behind the Amiga, and marketed by Electronic Arts founder Trip Hawkins, this "multimedia machine" was marketed as a family entertainment device and not just a video game console. Few titles utilized the console's full potential, which, along with its high price ($699.95 USD at release) and the inability of the console market to sustain multiple platforms, put it in an early grave. The final nail in the coffin was the scuttling of the project after the expensive development of the successor console, the M2. [1]

Amiga CD32

Released in 1993, the decline of the Amiga product line and Commodore's poor marketing and lack of product support could be blamed for the failure of this product. While it was initially billed as all the power of an Amiga computer in a console, it was not priced competitively to the Amiga 500/1200 lines. Additionally, the lack of original titles meant that few gamers wanted it when they could buy the more feature-intensive A1200. [citation needed] These were certainly factors, but Commodore was already treading water after its loss of the XOR patent infringement lawsuit. It was forbidden from shipping product into the US until it paid, which it was unable or unwilling to do. Eventually most of the consoles manufactured were seized to cover a portion of Commodore's debt to the Philippine manufacturer.[2]

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 Sega Mega Drive, a much-anticipated 16-bit console, was released in Europe, and the GX4000's ageing 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. Originally retailing at £99, GX4000s were reported as being sold for fractions of this price a short while later (the CPC magazine Amstrad Action holding an unofficial competition to find the cheapest), and the console was universally panned. Less 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.[3] [4]

Apple Pippin

A game console designed by Apple Computer 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, Sony PlayStation, and Sega Saturn. The Bandai Pippin cost US$599 on launch, more expensive than the competition. [5]

Atari Jaguar console

Released in 1993, this 64-bit system was (in theory) much more powerful than its contemporaries, the Sega Genesis and the SNES. However, a number of crippling business practices on the part of Atari senior management, a hard to hold/manipulate controller design and lack of quality software hurt sales. The system never attained critical mass in the market before the release of the Sony PlayStation and Sega Saturn and without strong leadership to drive it, it failed alongside the company.[6][7]

Commodore 64 Games System console

Released only in Europe 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 which had far more possibilities. Also, the console appeared during the apogee of the 16-bit era, which left no chance for it to succeed. [8]

digiBlast handheld games console

The digiBlast portable console was launched by Nikko at the end of 2005 and promised to be a cheap alternative (selling at approximately €80) to the Gameboy Advance and PSP. The handheld could be used for games on cartridges. Cartoon (WinX Club, Spongebob Squarepants) episodes and were released on cartridge as well as cartridges containing music videos. Also a cartridge for MP3 playback and a cartrige with a 1.3 Megapixel camera were planned. Due to a shortage of chips around the release date and thereafter resulted in a failed launch and loss of consumer interest. [9] [10]


A handheld gaming device including GPS and a digital camera was released by Tiger Telematics in the United Kingdom on 19 March 2005. The console sold poorly, due to a lack of games, and being unable to compete with the cheaper Nintendo DS and PlayStation Portable. 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. [11]

Virtual Boy

Mario's Tennis as displayed on a Virtual Boy emulator. The red/blue format simulates the Virtual Boy's 3D display.
Mario's Tennis as displayed on a Virtual Boy emulator. The red/blue format simulates the Virtual Boy's 3D display.

The red monochromatic 3-D "virtual reality" system failed due to issues related to players getting eye strain and headaches when trying to play it along with the problem that the system required the player to be isolated during play thus killing any social interaction while playing. It was the first (and, thus far, only) Nintendo console to flop. Gunpei Yokoi, who is largely credited for the success of Mario Bros., Donkey Kong, Game Boy, the Metroid series and many others, resigned from the company shortly thereafter to start his own company, though many connected his departure to the Virtual Boy failure.[12] Sadly, he died in a car crash two years later.


Otherwise known as "64 Dynamic Drive", a Nintendo-produced hardware-expansion for the Nintendo 64 which was originally promised to be released a year after the launch of the N64. It would supposedly remedy many of the issues associated with the N64's limited proprietary cartridge format, such as allowing 64 MBs of storage, compared to the N64 cartridge's 8 MBs of storage, half of which would be fully writable, allowing games to save much more, such as user-created pictures or user-created levels. Several killer-apps were planned for the hardware, such as Earthbound 64 and Zelda Gaiden. It was finally release more than 3 years after the N64's launch, only in Japan, and in very limited supply. By this time most of the 64DD's killer apps were already ported or being ported to regular-N64 format, and N64 cartridges were now 32MBs large, removing the 64DDs largest selling points. [13] [14]

Nokia N-Gage

Made by the mobile phone manufacturer Nokia, the N-Gage was a small handheld console, designed to combine a feature-packed mobile/cellular phone with a handheld games console. Sales were poor and many video gamers mocked the system for its design. 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.[15] A redesigned version, the N-Gage QD, has since been 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, although the N-Gage's pioneering of mobile online gaming likely influenced the DS and PSP to include that feature. In November 2005, Nokia announced the failure of its product, in light of poor sales (less than 3 million units sold during the platform's 3 year run, against projections of 6 million), and while gaming software is still being produced for its Series 60 phones, Nokia has ceased to consider gaming a corporate priority until 2007, when it expects improved screen sizes and quality will increase demand.[16]


Built upon the PlayStation 2, the PSX enhanced multimedia derivative was touted to bring convergence to the living room.[17] The device failed in Japan, however, due to its high price and lack of consumer interest[18] and that cancelled plans to release it in North America and 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,[19] it also hurt Sony's media convergence plans.[20]

Computer and video game software failures

Dominion: Storm Over Gift 3

The first title released by Ion Storm, Dominion was a real time strategy title in the vein of Command & Conquer and Warcraft. The game was originally developed by 7th Level, but was purchased by Ion Storm for $1.8 million. Dominion was released in July, 1998. It received tepid to highly negative reviews and sold poorly, falling far short of recouping its purchase price, let alone the additional cost of developing it into a finished product. Dominion might well be forgotten, but for the part it played in the history of Ion Storm's demise. The game divided employees working on Ion's marquee title, Daikatana, arguably leading to the walkout of several key development team members. It also 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.[21]

E.T. (Atari 2600)

Reputedly coded in just six weeks, this game was rushed to the market for the 1982 holiday season, and it was based (very loosely) on the popular E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial movie that was a box office hit. The game was hard to play, simplistic and took place mostly in pits that the player had to somehow levitate out of. It was expected to sell millions, and even director Steven Spielberg seemed excited about the idea of having his hit movie made into a video game. Word of mouth spread fast but the video game sold extremely poorly during the holidays and beyond. Expectations were so high for this game by Atari, that warehouses were filled with cartridges for the would-be rush of buyers running to get the game. It turned out that the game was such a huge disaster, that millions of unsold excess cartridges ended up buried in a landfill in a New Mexico desert.[22] This game, along with just as rushed and ill-fated Pac-Man for the Atari 2600, is thought to be one of the main causes of the video game crash of 1983 and contributed to how Atari went from the US's greatest games publisher to a laughing stock. It is widely considered to be one of the first big video game flops ever.

The scale of the E.T. disaster has become almost legendary and the game is still well known nearly 25 years after its publication, despite the fact that few gamers today will have played the game. E.T. was ranked in 21st place in GameSpy's "25 Dumbest Moments in Video Game History".[23]

Grabbed by the Ghoulies

The first game to be developed by Rareware for Microsoft's Xbox system was eagerly anticipated for fans of the company and the game system alike. Rare had created several innovative smash hits on previous consoles, most notably Donkey Kong Country, Banjo-Kazooie and GoldenEye 007, and Microsoft had acquired Rare, paying US$377 million. Microsoft hyped the game heavily, and even pushed for the game to be released in time for Christmas (the most lucrative period for toys and video games alike). However, the game performed extremely poorly in terms of sales, due to mixed reviews from games magazines and journalists, a highly confusing storyline and content, and highly unorthodox controls.[24][25]

The Last Express

Released in 1997 after five years in development, this 6-million-dollar[26] 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,[27] and featuring intelligent writing and levels of character depth that were not often seen in computer games. Despite rave reviews,[28][29] Brøderbund, the game's publisher, did little to promote the game, apart from a brief mention in a press release,[30] and enthusiastic statements by Brøderbund executives.[31] Released in April, the game was not a success, selling only about 100,000 copies,[32] a million copies short of breaking even.[33]

After the release of the game, Mechner's company Smoking Car Productions quietly folded, and Brøderbund was acquired by The Learning Company,[34] who were only interested in Brøderbund's educational software, effectively putting the game out of print.

Pac-Man (Atari 2600)

Pac Man for the Atari 2600
Pac Man for the Atari 2600

The home version of the highly popular Pac Man arcade game was eagerly anticipated, but was an incredible failure. In 1983, Atari created 12 million cartridges (despite having sold no more than 10 million 2600 systems in total) in hopes of the Pac Man cart boosting system sales. Atari did sell close to 7 million cartridges, but the game was a poor adaptation of the arcade version, and consumers and critics alike gave it low ratings. The game was rushed to make the 1983 Christmas season. As such, it was missing a lot of the charm of the arcade original. The high number of unsold units (over 5 million), coupled with the expense of a large marketing campaign, led to large losses for Atari. This game, along with the disastrous E.T., is 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, as Nintendo and Sega, and later Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft, rose to become the chief players in a market Atari once completely dominated.[35] The 2600 version of Ms. Pac-Man, in contrast, was far more faithful to the arcade version.


Despite being a critical success[36] and being highly innovative for a platformer, the game sold less than 90,000 copies on the PC, Xbox, and PS2. The game led to troubles at publisher Majesco, including the resignation of its CEO[37] and the plummeting of the company's stock, prompting a class-action lawsuit by the company's stockholders.[38] Many gaming experts believe that this game is the "poster child" for the recent failures in innovative games.[39] Its poor sales have also been blamed on a lack of marketing coupled with a high-end, $50 price tag. Since this, the game has been placed onto Valve's digital distribution service, "Steam", where it is currently selling for a price of US $19.95. Considering Valve's penchant for not releasing sales statistics, it is not currently known how the game is doing on this new market.

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines

In an attempt to cash in on the popularity of the Terminator movie franchise, Atari released Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines to correspond with the third movie in the franchise. The game was widely panned by videogame reviewers [40]and failed to catch on with gamers. A major reason for the game's failure was Atari's failure to release the game in a timely fashion. The game was only released in November 2003, several months after the movie and too late to capitalize on its movie tie-in.

Arcade game failures

I, Robot

Released by Atari in 1983, I, Robot was the first video game ever to use 3-D polygon graphics, and the first that allowed the player to change camera angles.[41] It also had gameplay that rewarded planning and stealth as much as reflexes and trigger speed, and even offered players the option, instead of playing the primary game, of selecting a sandbox mode called "Doodle City," where they could make artwork by playing around with the polygons. Today, I, Robot is frequently described as a game that was too far ahead of its time; polygon graphics, player-controlled camera angles, and even sandboxes are now commonplace, but in 1983 gamers and operators who were used to much more straightforward fare like Galaga and Pac-Man didn't know what to make of it, and as a result it became one of Atari's biggest arcade flops.[42] Production estimates vary, but all agree that there were never more than 1500 units made at most, which is believed to be the lowest production run of any Atari arcade title.[43]

Jack the Giantkiller

In 1982, the President of Cinematronics arranged a one-time purchase of 5000 PCB boards from Japan. The boards were used in the manufacture of several games, but the majority of them were reserved for a new arcade game called 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.[44]

Radar Scope

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. American operators were unimpressed, however, and Nintendo of America was stuck with about 2,000 unsold Radar Scope machines sitting in the warehouse.[45] Facing a potential financial disaster, Nintendo assigned a young designer named 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.[46] That new game was the smash hit Donkey Kong, and Nintendo was able to recoup its investment by converting the remaining unsold Radar Scope units to Donkey Kong and selling those.[47]


Sundance was an arcade vector game. Producer Cinematronics planned to manufacture about 1000 Sundance units, but sales suffered from a combination of poor game play 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,[48] 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.[49] The units that survived all of that 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 explicitly referred to Sundance as "a total dog."[50]


  1. ^ Matsushita to apply M2 tech to video editing Television Digest with Consumer Electronics, March 2, 1998
  2. ^ The Amiga History guide,
  3. ^ [1] Dark Watcher's Console history
  4. ^ [2] What Console
  5. ^ 25 worst Tech Products of All Time PC World, May 26, 2006
  6. ^ Atari Jaguar History,
  7. ^ Stahl, Ted. History of Computing: Videogames - Modern Age. The History of Computing Project.
  8. ^ Bo Zimmerman's Commodore Gallery
  9. ^ [3]Gizmondo
  10. ^ [4]GreyInnovation
  11. ^ Gizmondo Bizzaro!
  12. ^ n-sider profile, Gunpei Yokoi
  13. ^ IGN:Everything about the 64DD
  14. ^ 64DD
  15. ^ Nokia's Folly CNN Money, October 6, 2003
  16. ^ Nokia holds fire on mobile gaming, Nov 23, 2005
  17. ^ "Sony adds Bells and Whistles to PlayStation 2", San Francisco Gate, May 29, 2003
  18. ^ "Next Gen Console Wars: Revenge of Kutaragi", TeamXbox website, June 13, 2005
  19. ^ "Mr. Idei's Kurosawa Ending", Robert X. Cringely, March 10, 2005
  20. ^ "PSX Failure is a Blow to Sony's Convergence Dreams" Rob Fahey, October 9, 2004
  21. ^ Biederman, Christine (January 14, 1999). "Stormy Weather: Hot new computer game maker ION Storm appears to have all it needs for success -- top talent, plenty of money, and legions of anxious fans. So why is its future so cloudy?". Dallas Observer.
  22. ^ Five Million E.T. Pieces, Snopes, March 2001
  23. ^ The 25 Dumbest Moments in Video Game History, GameSpy, June 2003
  24. ^ Grabbed by the Ghoulies GamingTrend review
  25. ^ Grabbed by the Ghoulies Gamespot review
  26. ^ The Last Express Interview - Archived from Retrieved on 2006-08-19.
  27. ^ Mark Moran - Programming - Resume. Mark Moran. Retrieved on 2006-08-19.
  28. ^ The Last Express Review (from the Internet Archive). Games Domain. Retrieved on 2006-08-19.
  29. ^ The Last Express Review (from the Internet Archive). Computer Games Online. Retrieved on 2006-08-19.
  30. ^ Broderbund Software - Press News. Coming Soon Magazine. Retrieved on 2006-08-19.
  31. ^ Conference Call, 03/27/97: Broderbund Q2. The Motley Fool. Retrieved on 2006-08-19.
  32. ^ Mark Moran - Programming - Interviews. Mark Moran. Retrieved on 2006-08-19.
  33. ^ Mark Moran - Programming - The Last Express. Mark Moran. Retrieved on 2006-08-19.
  34. ^ The Learning Co. buys Broderbund. CNET News. Retrieved on 2006-08-19.
  35. ^ Mikkelson, Barbara and David (2001-03-21). "Five Million E.T. Pieces". Urban Legends Reference Pages. Retrieved on 2006-07-20.
  36. ^ "Gamespot: Best of 2005 Special Achivement", Gamespot
  37. ^ "Majesco stock plummets as CEO quits", Gamespot Xbox, July 12, 2005
  38. ^ "Stockholders sue Majesco en masse", Gamespot Xbox, July 19, 2005
  39. ^ "Bitter medicine: What does the game industry have against innovation?", Gamespot Xbox, December 20, 2005
  40. ^ "GameRankings", GameRankings
  41. ^ Jeff Anderson's I, Robot page
  42. ^ I, Robot entry on KLOV
  43. ^ Crucial Classics: I, Robot from
  44. ^ [5] Jack and the 'Company' Killer
  45. ^ [6] Radar
  46. ^ [7] GameSpot: The History of Nintendo
  47. ^ [8] Radar Scope at
  48. ^ Sundance
  49. ^ Tim Skelly's history of Cinematronics
  50. ^ interview with Tim Skelly Video Games magazine

External links

  • -Why-a-product-fails-in-market-place
  • The Dumbest 25 moments in gaming from GameSpy
  • The all time worst games from MobyGames
  • Top and Bottom Games from Game Rankings
  • EGM's Crapstravaganza: The 20 Worst Video Games of All Time from
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