In the modern gaming generation we’re used to seeing three (four if you count PC) platforms duking it out. Occasionally they come together to announce some games, make sly comments about the other platforms, announce exclusives, and then they all go away at the end of it. We’re so used to this cyclical pattern and stagnation that it’s actually easy to forget that every now and again someone else tries their very best to create a new console to compete. The problem is, could you name any of them? Let alone say you actually bought one? And it’s not just newcomers who fail either. Even the big established names like Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony make mistakes and release duds.
But which ones are the biggest duds? That’s a good question. We’ve gone out and scoured the archives to find the biggest console failures ever released. Prepare yourselves for a not-so-fun blast from the past.
Remember this guy? No? Most people don’t. It was an attempt to cram a Gameboy into a phone and the result was clunky and uncomfortable. It didn’t really work as a phone and wasn’t much good as a gaming platform either. In a cringeworthy display of confidence Nokia announced that the N-Gage sold 400,000 units in the first two weeks (a moderately-okay performance) but later had to admit that this was actually the amount of units they shipped to retailers. Actual sale figures revealed just 5000 US sales and a paltry 800 (ouch!) in the UK. This device was flagged by poor battery life, a limited library of games, and a whopping $299 price tag that put people off. It was also frequently mocked for resembling a taco because of its curved design. Ultimately, the N-Gage was a premature attempt to bring gaming to our phones and it just didn’t work. It wouldn’t really be until the advent of 3G, wifi and the app store that such a cross-over would become feasible.
Nothing exploded quite as badly as the Gizmondo. It burst onto the scene in the mid-2000s with the confidence of a young up-start. It had a long list of features that, at the time, were impressive. It could play movies, track GPS, send SMS messages, take photos, and had pretty good hardware powering it. What proceeded after that announcement was an enormous marketing campaign, including movie-appearances, a performance at Le Mans, celebrity endorsements and crazy publicity stunts to attract attention. Looking-in at this point in time it might have looked like the Gizmondo was prepared to take on the likes of Sony and Nintendo but afterwards everything just imploded.
First, it sold barely 25,000 units but had spent millions on marketing. Second, a load of the company’s executives were directly connected to the Swedish mafia and were jailed for crimes like fraud. Third, one of those same execs crashed a Ferrari going 160mph and was promptly jailed for driving like an ass. And finally, just as the remnants of the company were getting ready to fight back with one more release, they were also deported to Denmark for a different set of fraud charges. When a platform’s release is followed by half the developers ending up in jail, you know it’s bad. Another sign of how woeful this thing’s release was? Its best-selling game is called “Sticky Balls”. Yup, that’s never good.
3. Virtual Boy
They’re not all going to be newcomers to the market. Sometimes, a big mess-up comes from the likes of Nintendo who, you’d think, would know better. But in the heady days of 1995 the Virtual Boy must have looked like it had potential to someone or else it wouldn’t have been made. What exactly was it? Well it was a VR set made in 1995. You would think, looking at the immense difficulties VR has experienced to come to market in the year 2017, that trying to do the same thing in 1995 when games had barely even begun to move into 3D graphics, would be obviously daft. But nope, Nintendo gave it a good go. Not only were people unimpressed by the headaches, high price, low-choice of games, and clunky design (which are all complaints about VR that are still present) but the Virtual Boy also featured monochrome 3D graphics that were a major step back from traditional consoles. Nintendo later revisited full 3D gaming with the Nintendo 3DS and succeed, but this early effort will likely remain as one of the biggest gaming failures of its generation. Maybe hindsight is 20/20, but did no one look at 2D platformers like Mario and think “This probably isn’t the ideal fit for VR”?
4. The Steambox
The Steambox is something that seems to have slipped everyone by. It was initially announced as an attempt by Valve software to address the shortcomings of the modern console generation. The main drawing points of this console were to be upgradeable components, dual-booting for Windows and Steam, a controller that used haptic feedback which rivalled the sensitivity of mouse and keyboard, and the ability to stream games across devices with great ease. Valve wanted to challenge consoles and bring PC gaming’s strengths to bear in the hope of gaining a chunk of that console market. But, somewhere along the line, it just didn’t happen. Perhaps the biggest setback was that Steambox did not have a single manufacturer, make, or model. Instead Valve licensed their OS to companies like Alienware and Xi3 who simply struggled to make a high-end PC that could compete with consoles for price and lacked the motivation to try very hard.
Another problem was that developers failed to embrace the SteamOS so almost no games were released. If you wanted to play the full Steam library on the Steambox you could only stream from another device, so you still needed to buy a gaming PC as well as the Steambox. The controller was released independently in a stripped-down state and was given lukewarm reviews. And when other companies like Alienware finally gave up waiting for Valve to get the OS going, they just released their Steamboxes as upgradeable units that used Windows, required a mouse and keyboard, cost thousands of pounds, and… uh, how is this a console and not a PC? The last news of a renewed Steambox effort was due to come in April 2017 but nothing happened and, as of now, it looks like that’s the end of it.
5. uDrawTablet and THQ
The uDraw Tablet was a weird device. It was, essentially, a drawing tablet for a gaming console. It was released for the Wii where, well, it did surprisingly well. There were kid friendly games on the Wii that made the most of the tablet’s features. The problem came after when THQ went a little bit crazy and started producing the things at an unprecedented rate. Further efforts were put into releasing versions for the PS3 and Xbox 360 whose more mature audiences never took to the tablet’s kitschy gimmick. THQ initially reported that the uDraw sold tens of millions of units but, just like the N-Gage, those were just the units they had in storage. The truth is THQ pumped millions and millions into manufacturing and developing the uDraw, and there just wasn’t the market to support it. Maybe a more reserved company could have made something of the uDraw. It was quite well-received critically and sold well amongst children. But THQ threw everything, everything, they had at this device in the bizarre belief it would make them billions. The uDraw’s failure in this regard was so colossal, with reports of whole warehouses just filled up with the damn things all made with company cash, that it’s considered a major contributor to THQ declaring bankruptcy. So while the uDraw wasn’t in itself a major implosion of failure, its mismanaged stock and development still led to the death of a huge publisher with 23 years of history. Ouch…