Video-game companies are huge corporations with a lot of money on the line. They put an immense amount of work into getting everything right. Unfortunately, gamers can be an unpredictable lot, and even the best market research sometimes misses the mark.
Here are four of gaming's biggest blunders. And to be clear, when I use the word "blunder" I don't just mean "flop." Anyone can try hard and fail, but it takes skill to misjudge what gamers want this badly.
The entire console market goes crazy.
A bubble is what happens when people start to think that an investment is far more valuable than it really is. One reason the economy is so rough right now is that a few years back, people thought houses could never decrease in value. And a very similar thing happened to the video game market in the early 1980s.
Video game consoles had been around a while, and they seemed to be taking off. In fact, it seemed as if video games printed money for the companies that made them—and, as you'd expect, the market became completely saturated with second-rate titles and consoles.
But people only put up with so much crap, whether it's inflated home prices or unplayable video games. So they stopped buying, and from 1983 to 1985, video game revenues almost vanished—sales fell 97 percent. This doesn't mean video games ceased to exist—the Commodore 64 was popular, as were arcades—but Atari practically died, and other electronics giants left the console market.
The message was simple: Don't expect us to buy bad games.
Nintendo creates a monster.
You may not know this, but the Sony PlayStation was never supposed to exist.
When Nintendo was creating and selling the Super NES, a major idea they had floating around was to add a CD drive. The tradeoff was that while cartridges load faster, discs can carry much more data—and thus bigger games. So, Nintendo teamed up with Sony to make a disc system, and a Super Nintendo with Sony's technology attached was even shown at CES in 1991, less than a year after the basic Super Nintendo was released in Japan.
Apparently, however, none of the geniuses at these two megacorporations thought to nail down an agreement beforehand as to how the profits from the new console would be split up. Sony naturally wanted a sizable piece of the pie, but Nintendo wasn't used to sharing and threatened to team up with Philips instead. When negotiations fell apart, Nintendo backed out of the arrangement, infuriating Sony executives. (The Philips deal never worked out either.)
Sony moved the technology into a new project—which eventually became the PlayStation.
Needless to say, the PlayStation was incredibly successful. The disc drive was also capable of playing DVDs, making a PlayStation purchase a two-for-one deal for working families. Thanks to the greater amount of storage space, even the Final Fantasy franchise, which had been released on Nintendo consoles for years, appeared on the PlayStation instead of the Nintendo 64. Sony dominated the console market for two generations. Until…
Sony gets overconfident.
After the rousing success of the PSX and the PS2, Sony knew it had something valuable in the PS3. Just how valuable? Well, $500 valuable, said the price tag at launch—and that was still selling the console at a loss. This was twice the price of the Nintendo Wii and significantly more expensive than the Xbox 360.
The most recent numbers say that to date, the Xbox 360 and the PS3 have sold about the same number of units. But that's only because the PS3 has caught up in recent years. In the beginning of this generation, Nintendo was far and away the winner, and the Xbox 360 was unquestionably in second place. It wasn't until the price came down that the PS3 became competitive.
Game companies should always remember: An awesome console or two will earn you customer loyalty, but at the end of the day, the price tag is still important.
Two words: Virtual Boy.
No list of gaming blunders is complete without the Virtual Boy.
As I said at the beginning of this piece, anyone can try hard and fail. But that's not what happened with the Virtual Boy. The console's creator, Gunpei Yokoi, had also made the Game & Watch and the Game Boy. He knew what he was doing—and he knew that the console wasn't ready for prime time. And yet Nintendo pushed it out the door.
The rest is history—the ridiculous physical setup and the awkward monochrome graphics doomed the Virtual Boy to a speedy demise. The three-quarters of a million people who bought it were stuck with a very limited library of games. And worst of all, we will never know what it could have been after a few more years of work.
Date: June 12, 2012
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*