A history of video game console failures

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A history of video game console failures

The history of console gaming is littered with high-profile flops, middling also-rans and vaporware never-weres. In fact, the stories of console failures are perhaps even more compelling than the tales of those companies that crossed the finish line. Thankfully, for every Nintendo Switch, there are countless Virtual Boys.

So what, precisely, constitutes a console failure? Is a product really a flop if it brought users hours of joy? It’s important to note that “failure” is a relative concept. Both the Nintendo Wii U and the Gizmondo made the list, but one sold 13 million units and the other 24,000 and involved the Swedish mafia.

So join us as we celebrate some of the most colorful and fascinating console failures of the last three decades.

 

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1993: 3DO

In 1993, the Panasonic 3DO was named Time Magazine’s Product of the Year. Three years later, it was discontinued. The console was cutting-edge for its time — and sported a price tag to match. $700 was just way too steep for a product looking for a foothold in a market dominated by Nintendo and Sega. Gaming delays meant that the system only launched with one title: the futuristic racing game, Crash N Burn. The console would continue having trouble securing exclusive titles for the reminder of its short life, by which point Sony had entered the gaming market with a new system called the PlayStation.

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1995: Virtual Boy

In some ways, the Virtual Boy was pure Nintendo. It was one of the most innovative home consoles ever released, predating headsets like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive by decades. But the world wasn’t ready for the technology — or, rather, the technology wasn’t ready for the world. The big, plastic headset was painful to wear, headache inducing and the games were flat and monochrome — a giant disappointment after promises of VR immersion. It was a swing for the fences that was ultimately a spectacular whiff. The company only moved 800,000 units altogether, discontinuing the Virtual Boy less than a year after its release.

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1995: Sega Saturn

The Saturn is still remembered fondly by many of those who bought the system in the mid-’90s, but Saturn’s story was troubled from the start. Fearing Sony’s entry into the space, Sega pushed the product out the door too quickly, annoying retailers and developers in the process — not to mention all of the consumers who couldn’t find the unit on store shelves. Like so many other entries on this list, the Saturn also had a severe lack of launch titles, including the notable absence of a Sonic the Hedgehog title — the closest the company came to having its own Mario. Moving only a fraction of its competitors, the company pulled the plug on the console in 1998, but not before it began leaking info about the upcoming Dreamcast.

(Photo by Neil Godwin/GamesMaster Magazine via Getty Images)

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1996: Apple Pippin

Five years before Microsoft launched the first Xbox, Apple gave it a go with the Pippin. Manufactured by Bandai and based on the Macintosh platform, Apple seemed uncommitted to the project right out of the gate, relying on Bandai to do the heavy lifting for promotion. The system was expensive, the library was limited and the gaming space was overcrowded. In all, only 42,000 units were actually sold, before Steve Jobs put an end the project when he returned to the company the following year.

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2003: Nokia N-Gage

A phone that played video games — that was the crazy pipe dream of Nokia’s N-Gage. And The N-Gage didn’t fail for lack of trying. Nokia released two versions of the portable console-phone in back to back years. The company fixed some of the design flaws with 2004’s N-Gage QD, but that device only managed to sell two million units in two years (two-thirds of the total N-Gage sales), causing the company to end of life the line in 2006. Unable to let sleeping dogs lie, Nokia brought back the N-Gage name for a mobile gaming service, which was discontinued the following year.

(Photo by L. Cohen/WireImage)

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2004ish: The Phantom

Can a console that never really existed be considered a failure? True to its name the Phantom console was more ghost than video game system. The console promised state of the art specs and a then revolutionary direct download content system that did away with traditional physical gaming media. The company pushed back the system’s release date year after year, ultimately becoming one of gaming’s best known examples of vaporware. The company also suffered from shady business decisions, though they had nothing on what was coming the following year.

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2005: Gizmondo

Some day, the story of the Gizmondo will be the basis of an entertaining, but wholly unbelievable movie. Highlights of the Tiger Telematics handheld’s release include million-dollar celebrity parties, the Swedish mafia and a crashed  Ferrari Enzo. And at the end of the day, all Tiger Telematics had to show for it was 25,000 systems sold and $300 million in debt. Only 14 games were produced before the console crashed and burned less than a year after its release. Its best seller was a colorful billiards-style game called, no joke, Sticky Balls. A slew of other slated titles, including Momma Can I Mow The Lawn, didn’t make it out in time.

(Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

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2012: Wii U

Failure is, of course, relative. Nintendo’s second entry on the list managed to move north of 13 million units in its existence. Fresh off the successful Wii, the Wii U was the first out of the gate in the latest generation of consoles. The system featured a typically Nintendo innovative control scheme based around a touchscreen tablet, but the implementation was awkward and the company never quite found its footing. The product was discontinued after five years to make way for the far more fully formed Nintendo Switch.

(Photo by Chesnot/Getty Images)

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2013: Ouya

In Kickstarter terms, at least, Ouya was an unquestionable success. To this day, the set-top console is still the eighth most successful project in the history of the crowdfunding platform. The Android-based set-top box was certainly priced right, at $99 at retail. But the product was plagued with design issues, lacked original games and ultimately couldn’t find a place for itself in the massive gaming community. Ouya launched a scheme to help fund developers, but the device ultimately sank into obscurity two years after launch.

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