10 of the Biggest Screw-Ups in Video Game History

The video game industry is a bunch of companies trying to make a buck. Sometimes things go well and customers gladly hand over their hard-earned cash in exchange for many, many hours of gaming entertainment. Other times things don’t go so smoothly. Companies make mistakes, things fall apart, the center cannot hold. Screw-ups are loosed upon the world.

We all know that hindsight is 20/20 and that real-time decisions are based on the best available information. That said, the gaming world has seen some truly painful screw-ups, both big and small. But why go small when you can go big? Here are some of the most major screw-ups to come out of the video game industry over the years.

1. Xbox One reveal

There’s a reason the PlayStation 4 is outselling the Xbox One roughly two to one, and it started at the beginning, when Microsoft first revealed the Xbox One console at the 2013 Electronic Entertainment Expo.

E3, as it’s generally called, is a conference devoted primarily to video games, so basically everyone who’s interested in gaming pays attention. It’s also when game companies know the wider media is watching, so they tend to use that opportunity to unveil their biggest projects.

Microsoft’s big project that year was the Xbox One. But instead of unveiling it to the world as the high-end gaming device it was, the company yammered on about everything it could do besides play video games. The marketing message was that the Xbox One would become the center of your living room.

Worse yet, Microsoft announced some baffling new software ideas that would severely limit how you could share and sell your games. The reaction to these announcements wasn’t pretty. Gamers, who should have been the Xbox One’s target audience, didn’t know what to make of it because Microsoft spent so little time talking about its gaming capabilities.

Sony used Microsoft’s confusing messaging to its advantage by devoting its entire PlayStation 4 announcement that year to games. It worked. Even though Microsoft eventually backpedaled on some of its poorly received ideas, gamers had already turned away, leaving Xbox One to fall far behind PS4 even today.

2. PlayStation Network outage

Nathan Drake stands with gun in hand in a jungle.

Nathan Drake from Uncharted | Source: Sony

Sony might have trumped Microsoft at E3 2013, but in 2011, it suffered an indignity of its own. Hackers attacked the PlayStation Network and stole sensitive personal information from all 77 million registered PSN accounts. At the time, it one of the largest security breaches in history.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, Sony turned off the network to fix it, blocking customers from playing games online or streaming media from services like Netflix and Hulu. The outage lasted 23 days, during which PlayStation 3 owners were left out in the cold.

Once the network was back online, Sony added an additional 30 days to the subscriptions of all PlayStation Plus members, and threw in a few games by way of apology.

3. Virtual Boy

The Virtual Boy headset

The Virtual Boy headset | Source: Nintendo

Some products come out before their time. Nintendo’s Virtual Boy came out way before its time. This clunky headset-on-a-tripod launched in 1995, offering the few people who bought it an extremely rudimentary 3D gaming experience.

Nintendo sold only 770,000 units, with only a grand total of 14 games even being released in the U.S. Once it was clear the Virtual Boy was a failure, Nintendo quickly swept it under the rug and moved on to other projects.

4. Ouya

The tiny Ouya console

The tiny Ouya console | Source: Ouya

One of Kickstarter’s highest earning projects at the time of its funding (to the tune of $8.5 million), the Ouya promised to deliver high-quality console gaming for the low, low price of $99. Despite the early interest from Kickstarter funders, the Ouya arrived with a thud when it launched at retail in June 2013.

Apparently most gamers would rather wait for the impending release of the Xbox One and PS4 than drop a hundred bucks on a glorified smartphone chip that plugged into a TV. The company soon ran out of money and got scooped up by Razer Inc., which discontinued the Ouya in 2015.

5. Konami running its franchises into the ground

Simon Belmont in front of Dracula's castle.

Simon Belmont in front of Dracula’s castle | Source: Konami

Few companies have made as big of a mark on gaming as Konami, thanks to franchises like Metal Gear, Contra, Castlevania, Dance Dance Revolution, and Silent Hill. So it’s been such a shame to see Konami run its video game business into the ground. Now that most of the development talent has left the company, there’s little reason to think any of those franchises have a future outside of shoddy mobile games or pachinko machines in Japan. Konami is a big company with many interests outside of video games. It’s just a shame to see all those great franchises left to wither on the vine.

6. Overpriced PlayStation 3

By the time Microsoft bungled the Xbox One announcement, Sony had already made a fool of itself in 2006 by assuming its success with PlayStation 2 would carry over to PlayStation 3. To be fair, it’s easy to see how Sony got cocky. The PS2 is the best-selling video game console of all time, with over 155 million units sold during its production run.

That said, Sony should have been a little more careful when it revealed the PS3 at E3 2006. The company said it would charge a whopping $500 for the 20GB version and $600 for the 60GB version. When asked about the pricing, Sony’s Ken Kutaragi told Joystiq that Sony’s goal was “for consumers to think to themselves ‘I will work more hours to buy one.’ We want people to feel that they want it, irrespective of anything else.”

Wow.

7. Sonic overload

Sonic the hedgehog carries a princess in this 2006 reboot

Sonic the hedgehog carries a princess in this 2006 reboot | Source: Sega

In the days of the Genesis and NES, it seemed like Sonic and Mario went toe to toe in terms of popularity. As the years went by, Sega made all kinds of mistakes, launching an endless stream of poorly received Sonic games, while Nintendo kept the bar of quality high for Mario. Nowadays when Sega announces a new Sonic game, the world either expects to be disappointed, or simply ignores it altogether. Perhaps Sega should have taken more care with its one-time mascot. Or perhaps Sonic games were never all that good to begin with.

8. Capcom ditching Mega Man

Mega Man and robot villains

Mega Man and robot villains | Source: Capcom

The Mega Man series has had a similar run to Sonic. Both franchises have been over-used to the point of exhaustion over the past few decades, but the difference is that Mega Man had a lot of great games. Fans love the Blue Bomber, but in recent years Capcom hasn’t seemed interested in doing much of anything with him, aside from re-releasing old games in the Mega Man Collection. Why doesn’t Capcom continue making new games in the classic style? Or continue one of the many successful offshoot series? Who knows!

9. Confusing Wii U announcement

Considering how much Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo have riding on them, it’s kind of amazing that all three companies have turned major console announcements into total disasters. Nintendo’s turn came at E3 2011, when it announced the Wii U.

Nintendo only showed off the GamePad controller, leaving the actual console out of the announcement. This had the unfortunate effect of making attendees confused over whether the Wii U even was a new console, or if it was simply an add-on to the original Wii.

Nintendo also failed to convince anyone of why they would want a touchscreen on their controller, something the company never seemed to figure out outside of Super Mario Maker. Despite some great games, the Wii U turned out to be a failure that Nintendo killed off early to move onto the next thing.

10. Nintendo blowing a partnership with Sony

Mario and co. next to a Nintendo logo

Mario and co. next to a Nintendo logo | Source: Nintendo

The gaming landscape could be a very different place if things had gone differently in the ‘90s. When Nintendo was looking to add more power to the Super Nintendo, it began negotiations with Sony to produce a Super NES CD-ROM peripheral that would have significantly increased the console’s graphical capabilities.

Negotiations were slow going, and eventually Nintendo went behind Sony’s back and partnered with Phillips to make the doomed device. This didn’t sit well with Sony, so the company went to work on a console of its own. The result was the PlayStation, a console that ushered in a new era in gaming that’s still being written today. What would have happened if the Sony/Nintendo partnership had worked out? We’ll never know.

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