Older and wiser, the games industry is still no stranger to failure. Thankfully, due to a wider market and a new found ability to learn from the mistakes of the past, disasters come and go without toppling the biggest names in the industry (well, we assume they do). For those nostalgic for a time when pieces of dark colored plastic came and went in the blink of an eye, here’s a top ten list of games console failures:
10. Neo Geo
The absolute hardcore of the hardcore are typically defensive of the Neo Geo’s inevitable inclusion in lists such as these, and not without reason. The fact of the matter is that the Neo Geo was about a generation ahead of the rest of the home console market and it offered some fantastic Arcade quality gaming in the home. It was basically an Arcade machine in a home console format, after all.
Collectors swear by it, but hindsight is 20/20 and eBay prices for Neo Geo cartridges are considerably less than the obscene $300 you once had to pay per game. The console itself was $650, and bares inclusion for that alone. However, it’s only a failure so far as mainstream success is a criteria for failure. The Neo Geo was clearly only ever intended for the enthusiasts and with new software titles being released as late as 2004, it actually stuck around a lot longer than consoles that sold millions more units.
9. SEGA Saturn
SEGA’s true 32-bit machine was scuppered in part by the 32X, a diabolical piece of hardware we get to later. The Saturn wasn’t a bad machine by any stretch of the imagination, it was merely priced to reflect the fact that it was slightly more high powered than the Playstation and therefore more expensive to manufacture. The hardware was sound, but software was a problem. Sega came out two years after release and admitted that the development tools hadn’t been great, and it wasn’t long before all confidence was lost in the machine and the people who made it. SEGA lost 30% of its employees and $260 million.
8. The Original Xbox Gamepad
This list continues with a smaller scale failure. Or rather a big failure, with a daftly over sized controller that (in retrospect) actually provides something of a mission statement for the Xbox brand. Though Kinect is trying to bring that coveted wider audience into the living room, it undeniably has a software library built around having massive man hands. Forget your pansy Playstation-sized gamepad for the average palm. These weathered, hard skinned hands are for strangling, not moisturizing.
Rather patronizingly, a ‘type-S’ revision was made for the Japanese market, only to be officially adopted in every region a year after the console’s release. But the stupidest thing about this mistake was that SEGA had already done exactly the same thing with the Saturn. Chunkier western model replaced by more sensibly sized Japanese version two years after release.
7. Nokia N-Gage
Now here’s a case of being too ahead of its time. Mobile gaming has really taken off since the N-Gage crashed and burnt, to the extent that I’m not entirely sure I won’t be putting today’s more traditional handhelds (3DS and Vita) on a list like this in five years time. We’ve even got devices like the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play doing the N-Gage thing (and not necessarily doing it better).
So why did N-Gage kick start mobile phone gaming? Well, it wasn’t a capacitive touch-screen phone for starters (that’s arguably the real revolution in handheld gaming). But it was also a classic case of a ‘jack of all trades’ device. The full phone keypad necessitated buttons too small for gaming, the screen was daftly in portrait (rather than landscape) and when you used it as a phone, it looked like you speaking into a Taco.
6. Apple Pippin
History may have been thoroughly rewritten on this one since the iMac onwards, but if you concentrate, you may be able to remember a time when Apple products were desperately uncool. And thanks to the iPhone, the comic stylings of an Apple gaming console may also be lost on some of you.
The Pippin was very true to Apple’s form in the nineties. Firstly, it was grossly overpriced compared to competing devices with better features (Playstations were $300 at launch, the Pippin was double that). And secondly, only 18 games were ever made for it in North America. Manufacturing partner Bandai expanded the library to 80 titles in Japan, but it was doomed to obscurity.
5. Atari Jaguar
Lies, damned lies and statistics. Atari’s last stand was sold as the first ’64-bit gaming system’, but the claim was disputed considering that the fundamental components were using 32-bit instruction sets. Of course, this meant more to us back in the days when console power was still advertised in terms of ‘bits’. But it was clear that the Jaguar didn’t have either the power or the third party support to compete with the supposedly inferior consoles from Sony and SEGA.
The Jaguar killed an Atari brand that had already suffered major setbacks in the two preceding hardware generations. 125,000 consoles were sold two years after release, with nearly as many still in inventory. Some of these ended up in UK Game stores, sold as retro novelties in the early noughties.
4. Virtually Every CD-based Console
The optical media plague that spread across the industry in the early 90s seems very strange in retrospect. Not only did a whole host of new manufacturers try to crash the console market with consoles based around CD media (CD32, CD-i and the aforementioned Pippin), but CD add-ons started growing, abscess-like on already successful machines (Sega/Mega CD being the most obvious).
They were onto something of course. The Playstation proved that optical media was the way forward for consoles, and Nintendo lost significant market share when it stubbornly stuck to cartridges in the same era. Even they were tempted into the CD add-on game with the unfortunately named N64DD.
The problem was, the possibilities of games on compact disk inspired some very lazy thinking. CDs were used for music and movies, so CDs should be used for music and movie games! A high proportion of terrible FMV games (including Night Trap and Phantasmagoria) with minimal interactivity ensured that these platforms bombed, and bombed hard.
3. Current Generation Manufacturing and Design
The big players are making all the right decisions with their current designs. They’re in step with the march of technology, whilst offering technology that may or may not take. Aside from the Wii’s motion control gamble, they’ve been experimental without being too risky. The thing is, one major aspect of their internal design is fundamentally flawed (or it’s intelligently designed to fail, depending on your viewpoint).
The most famous flaw of this generation is the Xbox 360’s ‘Red Ring of Death’, but the ‘Yellow Light of Death’ in Playstation 3 models is equally baleful. The failure rate of 360 consoles was once said to be about one third of all units manufactured, and a lot of the problems its suffers are down to matters as simple as airflow, and the type of solder used in manufacture. Rather pathetically, it all seems to stem from the teasing that Microsoft received over the size of its original Xbox. The 360 had the liposuction treatment, and now sits there stuffing its face all the same, a ticking time bomb of heart-disease.
2. SEGA Mega Drive 32X
There’s something in the 32X philosophy that most consumers could surely get behind. Instead of buying an entirely new console every few years, simply plug something new into your old machine and enjoy several years of next generation gaming. In practice, you end up strapping 3/4s of a new console onto an old device that probably already has a pointless CD add-on, but it’s not an entirely unappealing idea.
SEGA themselves weren’t behind it anyway. Or perhaps it’s impossible to tell what exactly SEGA were behind, considering they were lining up the Neptune in addition to the Saturn. The 32X suffered the same curse of a limited games library that all the above consoles labored under and it was given the axe as soon as it became apparent that the Saturn was going to struggle against the competition.
1. Virtual Boy
The Goggles! They do nothing! Well actually, the goggles give you full parallax 3D game play and you can have it every colour of the rainbow. As long as it’s red. Oh, and they’re not even goggles, since the device rests on a stand and you peer into it, like a Mutoscope peep-show. With seventies visuals and a 19th Century form factor, the three quarters of a year the Virtual Boy spent on the market in 1995-6 is actually something of an achievement. Nintendo have a pretty flawless record with their hardware releases, but when they mess up, they clearly have to mess up well.