5 biggest flops in video game history

Humans are, by nature, pretty terrible people. Watching a cute little girl eat an ice cream cone is endearing, but seeing the top fall off is entertaining.

There is a little bit of evil in all of us; it’s the reason Call of Duty sells a lot better than My Little Pony. It’s the reason almost anyone who’s played The Sims has invited their neighbor over for some basketball and then removed the exit.

Our disinterest in Avatar’s commercial success is matched only by our delight at Waterworld’s failure. In that spirit then, today we’re going to take a look at some of the biggest commercial flops in videogame history – some of them deserved, and some of them not. Depending on how sadistic you are, you may enjoy the latter more than the former.

#5: Daikatana

If you’re gonna do a list like this, you might as well start it off right. This won’t be the first time I put this game on a list, and I’m sure it won’t be the last either. Sometimes, you just have to keep these developers honest.

John Romero was at the top of his game when he began work on Daikatana, an industry legend due to his work at id Software, creating iconic franchises such as Quake, Doom and Wolfenstein.

So when marketing campaigns came out of the floodgates proclaiming Romero was “going to make us his bitch” and that we’re all going to “suck it down”, people were confused at being insulted – but mostly excited. This was obviously going to be like, the kiefest (people still said “kief” in 2000) thing ever. I think you know what happened next.

It was awful. Having gone through a Duke Nukem Forever-esque series of delays and an engine switch halfway through, the game came out messy and buggy. Couple this with the fact that your character was constantly attached to computer-controlled allies who weren’t allowed to die and the whole thing felt like a really long escort mission. With bad gameplay. It eventually sold 200,000 copies, but it’s estimated that precisely none of those 200,000 “sucked it” [citation needed].

I will use literally any excuse to show this image.

#4: Tim Schafer

“Chris Kemp you silly billy”, you may be saying, “Tim Schafer isn’t a game!” Astute observation, but bear with me. This man has made video game flops into an industry. He’s like the video game developer version of Uwe Boll, but instead of his games being heinous poo-piles, they’re actually really, really good. Which is weird, since no one bought them. These ones actually make me kind of sad, like watching the Dalai Lama drop his ice-cream cone. And then slipping on it.

Grim Fandango was the first LucasArts adventure game to use 3D graphics, and it hauled in a ton of great reviews and awards. Which would have looked great in the trophy case if that wasn’t being used as storage for unsold game boxes. The game sold so poorly, and was so good, that it is remembered as signalling the death of the adventure game genre in the 1990s.

But hey, it happens right? People knew Schafer was a genius. That’s why they gave him money to make Psychonauts, which was awesome. It racked up even more positive reviews and awards. Unfortunately, among these awards was Gamespot’s not-so-coveted “Best Game No One Played” award. The fallout on this flop was so bad that publisher Majesco’s stock plummeted, the CEO quit and the stockholders took out a class-action lawsuit. Also, somewhere in the Himalayas, a Tibetan deity got ice-cream on his nice new sandals.

“One scoop of choc-chip please. And chuck a Flake in there. And some sprinkles.”

#3: Shenmue

This Sega Dreamcast flop set a new record upon its release – most expensive game ever made at 70 million US dollars. It’s the video game equivalent of Waterworld; it’s not that the sales figures were necessarily bad, it’s that the budget was so hilariously overambitious that Sega had to start hoping people would buy multiples just to make a profit on it. People didn’t.

It did pull an impressive average review score of 89%, in a time before video game reviewers handed out gold stars like a disgruntled kindergarten teacher trying to waste office supplies. To this day it’s considered a highly impressive and innovative game for its time.

Hey that’s not a PS2. Wait, what the hell is that thing?

#2: Messiah

A lot of you reading this may have just experienced one of those “Ohhhhhh, yes” moments where this is the first time you’ve thought about Messiah in 12 years, easily one of the most forgettable games of all time.

A product of Shiny Entertainment, Messiah was heralded by a hype tsunami that would send Indonesians running for high ground. The game was all over the internet and magazines with its intriguing premise – you control a cute little cherub who jumps in and out of people as he pleases in order to fight evil.

Unfortunately, after various delays people began to lose interest, and when we eventually got a playable demo it was bugged, broken and boring.

By the time the game actually released, no one really cared anymore. The PC debut sold so poorly the console versions were scrapped, and you all forgot about it until just now.

If only he’d prayed for decent sales instead of a new tricycle.

#1: E.T. – The Extra Terrestrial

Being an Atari game, its likely that most people reading this never had the displeasure of playing this ridiculous farce. However it’s such a hilarious part of gaming history (and in many ways an important one) that it easily deserves the top spot on this list. This is a game so bad that it almost destroyed an entire industry.

In a holiday season of 1982 rush that would make Bobby Kotick blush, ET was pushed through development in a laughable 5 weeks. Atari spent a whopping 25-million 1982 dollars on the movie name rights and was clearly hoping to sell the game on the title alone. After all, the game certainly didn’t sell itself, as it asked players to navigate a weird looking monster (that in no way resembled ET) around uninspired settings collecting grey pixel blocks (supposedly parts of a telephone).

Atari were so sure of success in fact that they ordered five million copies of the game, an optimistic figure considering the game only sold 1.5 million copies. On top of the 3.5 million copies left sitting in a warehouse, a ton of the cartridges were sent back by angry customers.

This enormous failure, coupled with Atari’s similarly horrible Pac-Man port, is credited with almost destroying the video game industry. Between 1983 and 1985, on the back of these two flops, revenues of $3.2 billion in 1983 dropped a sickening 97 percent to $100 million in 1985. Atari was sold off, and millions of ET cartridges were buried in the New Mexico desert. Seriously.

Analysts at the time speculated that the video-game industry may cease to exist in the long term. Luckily the NES changed that, and now we have Activision.

That thing in the middle is ET. Haha. No, but really.

Forum discussion

Join the conversation

5 biggest flops in video game history

Related posts