Epic Fail: Gaming Failures


Posted November 27, 2007 - By Stephen Johnson

TheFeed is proud to present Epic Fail, a brand new feature that brings you the greatest failures in the world of videogames, popular culture and technology. We're not talking run-of-the-mill defeat here; Epic Fail is reserved for the top of the bottom: Grand-scale fiascos only.

To kick off Epic Fail, we've compiled the below list of the most egregious failures in the current generation of videogaming. Because we can, we've defined the "Current" generation as beginning five years ago and ending this morning at 8 AM.

10) The Phantom: Originally announced in 2002, this never to-be-released gaming platform had a seemingly solid idea at its core: A set-top launch console that could play PC games, meaning thousands of Phantom games would be available at launch and development would be a snap. The problem was, like its namesake, The Phantom remained invisible. Reportedly, Phantom Entertainment has lost more than $62.7 million since it began work on The Phantom, without a single unit ever being sold. The SEC has implied Phantom's president was running a  "pump and dump" stock scheme in promoting the Phantom.

9) Advent Rising: Okay, it's hard to call a game with ratings like 67% on gamerankings.com a total failure, but the expectations for this 3rd person action title were so high before the game's 2005 release, anything short of magnificent was a failure. The game had everything going for it: Written by Orson Scott Card, and hyped to the moon, Advent Rising was planned as the first in a three part series. It had a comic book. There was a million-dollar contest at the game's launch for the first player to find a hidden symbol in-game. But when it came out for the PC and Xbox, it got mixed reviews and gamers were like "meh." As far as the million bucks: Majesco was forced to cancel the contest when security issues with Xbox Live's global time syncing made the contest unfair.

8) Psychonauts: This isn't a failure on the part of the game's developer or programmers. The fault here lies squarely with you, the gaming community. Psychonauts was hailed by some as the best videogames of all time, but due to marketing problems, bad timings and a lack of imagination on the part of the gaming community, Psychonauts sold only 100,000 copies. After Advent Rising and Psychonauts, Majesco announced its plans to withdraw from the "big budget console game marketplace" and now makes Wii games and titles for the casual market.

7) Sonic The Hedgehog (360):  How could you possibly mess up the first next-gen outing of long-beloved videogame character Sonic the Hedgehog? By putting him in the middle of a glitched up mess of a game that manages to do everything wrong: The story is dumb. The controls barely work. The level design is pedestrian.The camera angles are horrible.  It looks like a dog crap. You don't even get to play as Sonic very often.  Overall, Sonic is more like watching an alcoholic hitting rock bottom than playing an enjoyable videogame.

6) Gizmondo: This GPS-enabled handheld system looked, smelled and tasted like shady since it was announced in 2005. There were hardly any games for it. No one bought it, and the funnest thing that ever happened in the history of the system was Tiger Telemetrics' president Bo Stefan Eriksson crashing a million dollar sports car in Malibu, then being accused of being involved in organized crime.

5) N-Gage: Nokia, the creators and marketers of the N-Gage, will join their comrades who made Gizmondo in whatever level of hell is reserved for makers of over-hyped, under-performing handheld gaming systems. The N-Gage had a solid idea at its core--a cellphone that plays games--but the device's design was so bad, both playing games and talking on the phone were awkward, plus most of the few N-Gage titles that saw release were buggy, lagged-out messes. The device sold only 2 million units in 3 years, against projections of 6 million. Even Nokia themselves admitted the N-Gage was ultimately a failure...and a costly one at that.

4) The PlayStation 3's launch: It's hard to believe how much things have changed for Sony in the last year. Twelve months ago, the electronics giant was the 800 pound-gorilla of the gaming industry, sporting the most successful console ever and a seeming lock on the entire "next-gen" market. Twelve months later, their actual sales aer nowhere near their predictions, they've cut console prices to the bone and Nintendo has soundly thrashed them in next-gen console sales.

The PS3's launch failed epically due to a combination of weak launch titles, a way-too-high-price, a lack of dynamic exlcusive games, bad judgment about the market's desire for a top-of-the-line gaming machine, an inexplicable advertising campaign, and general arrogance on the part of Sony's executives. On the positive side, a recent sales up-tick spawned by lowered prices points a future in which a bruised Sony is still a contender.

3) E.T. The Extra Terrestrial. Yeah, the ultimate failure of E.T. for the Atari 2600 happened in 1982, but you can't compile a list of videogame failures without including this one. The failure of this game nearly killed the entire industry; it's so epic, the failure traveled through time to the present.

2) Red Ring Of Death: The finicky, loud and ugly 360 has never been lauded for its great design, but the system's problems are more than aesthetic. With a failure rate reportedly hovered around 30%, it's a wonder Bill Gates' upstart machine was even able to stay in business, and, we imagine, without Micrososft's deep pockets it wouldn't' have. After all, no matter how good Halo 3 is, you can't play it on a bricked machine, and gamers who are left with broken consoles are unlikely to become lifelong, loyal customers. 

1) Every North American MMO Since World of Warcraft:  It was only a few years ago when the entire game industry seemed geared toward everything massively multiplayer. A quick look at 2004 and 2005's E3 rundown reveals dozens of MMOs either in development or planned. WoW killed or crippled all of them. The reasons are many, but a huge contributing factor is simply how good World of Warcraft is as a game. WoW perfectly balances fun and challenge, and keeps its players involved no matter where on the hardcore-to-casual spectrum they happen to fall. Its painless beginning quests and easy early-level progression are fun for more casual gamers, while end-game, 40-man raids and endless grinds appeal to the hardcore community. In contrast to WoW, consider The Sims Online and Star Wars: Galaxies, two games that veered wildly in opposite directions but failed the same way: Epically. 

The Sims Online launched in December 2002, and we bet you don't even remember it exists. At the time, a Sims MMO seemed like a no-brainer. EA sunk $25 million in the game in the hopes that the huge built-in fan base of The Sims players would love an online version of their favorite game. Can't lose, right? Sadly, while TSO was graphically impressive, EA forgot to actually include a game in the the game, seemingly because it believed casual gamers would run screaming from even the slightest challenge. The decision to keep it stupid-easy made The Sims Online little more than an animated chat-room that cost 10 bucks a month to play.  Pre-launch P.R. trumpeted the game's servers as being able to handle more than a million people, but they never got close. Today TSO is a virtual ghost town.

Star Wars Galaxies had the opposite problem as The Sims Online. Its complexity demanded so much of gamers, and its worthwhile accomplishments were so time-consuming, only the most super-dedicated players and lovers of the grind could hope to achieve the highest honor in the game: Jedi status.

Eventually, Sony Online got tired of hemorrhaging money and swung SW:G in the other direction, making "Jedi" a level zero character class, meaning everyone who earned Jedi status legitimately had all but wasted those many, many hours of grinding. The existence of thousands of Jedis (because what other class would you pick?) messes with the Star Wars Universe's mythology almost as much as the last three movies. Sony also gutted the game's complex crafting and abilities systems and generally nerfed the hell out of the experience, dumbing everything way down. All of this, of course, alienated the dwindling fanbase of the game even further. The backlash was strong, and current estimates of the game'smarket share hover around 1.4% compared to WoW's 52%.

Honorable Mention: G4tv: We made the list for interrupting the exclusive first television airing of the Halo 3 trailer at the 2007 E3 convention in order to show a commercial.  Mistakes were made. Heads were rolled. Etc.

Epic Fail: Gaming Failures


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