The 8 Ball 11.26.13: Top 8 Bad System Launches
Posted by Marc Morrison on 11.26.2013
From Sega Saturn and Nintendo Gamecube to the Dreamcast glitches, Sega 32X, and more, 411's Marc Morrison ranks the Top 8 Bad System Launches!
Welcome all to another edition of the 8 Ball. Given the recent topic of best launch titles, it's interesting to have the pendulum swing the other way and see what were some of the worst launches. There aren't a lot of games on our lists, it's more about what systems had problems, either from production, press, or lack of a games lineup that almost doomed them to fail. A lot of these systems did succeed despite these problems so it just goes to show you that problems can be fixed. Let's begin:
8. PS4 – HDMI
This is the most recent problem on this list but it is a pressing one. When the PS4 launched a decent number of my friends went out and bought one. I had four friends each buy a launch PS4, and one friend bought two of them. Of that total number of five friends, only one of them had a console that worked. That's a 16.67% success rate. Two of my other friends eventually did get their consoles working by bending the HDMI pin back into place, or doing some other console voodoo, but that is still exactly a good batting average. My three friends with still busted consoles, Jens, Alana Evans, and internet-famous John T. Drake are still without working PS4 consoles and that is kind of a bummer for all involved.
7. SegaCD/Sega 32X – Where's Sonic?
The 32X is seen by everyone as a failure, even those at Sega with the Sega CD not far behind. Its launch lineup consisted of three games; Doom, Star Wars Arcade and Virtua Racing Deluxe. Not exactly hitting it out of the park when it came to buy the system. The Sega CD's lineup was also garbage but at least there was more of it, so it could fool you into thinking the system actually mattered. And at least when you bought a Sega CD it came with a free (albeit crappy) game, Sewer Shark. While the Sega CD did eventually get a Sonic game, the much beloved Sonic CD, the 32X never got one, instead being relegated with Knuckles' Chaotix. And as we all know, that Chaotix game sold millions and gave rise to the biggest gaming franchise ever! Oh…wait, it didn't. Carry on.
6. Dreamcast glitches
The Dreamcast launch was a media sensation for those who lived in it (9/9/99), with a pretty cool console, and (at the time) an impressive game library. However looks were deceiving in this case. The Dreamcast launch was fraught with problems mainly due to certain games not actually working. I believe four titles had issues, Sonic Adventure, Hydro Thunder, Ready to Rumble, and Blue Stinger. These issues ranged from not booting at all, to sound bugs (the infamous Gerstmann clip above), to save issues. My friend and I went through 6 copies of Sonic Adventure at the local Toys R' Us to being able to find one that would actually boot. My copy of Hydro Thunder also had problems, being able to save the game but when I went to load it, the game would crash. That's not exactly the feeling you want when a new console launches.
5. PS3 – RIIIIIIDGE RACER
This was an E3 moment but still impactful of the Playstation 3 launch. It wasn't as brand-damaging as one of the later picks on this list but it still hurt. Hirai's kind of bone-headed mistake about trying to amp up a crowd over a weak line-up is one thing. But to focus on the idea that Ridge Racer was going to sell consoles, or that you could use your PSP as some sort of backwards mirror was something else. It was an embarrassing moment in what should have been a good conference. Then again, the PS3's relatively weak launch library didn't help matters much either.
4. Xbox 360 RRoD
This didn't happen exactly at launch but went on as the system became more popular and older. The 360 launch was rushed a bit, in trying to beat the PS3 and Wii to stores first. Due to this, things like "quality control" weren't exactly at the top of Microsoft's mind when getting the system to stores. Scores of people had consoles break on them, generating an aggravating red flashing light that didn't help people out at all in telling them the issue. It even happened to me with my first 360. This issue got so smelly that Microsoft had to extend the warranty for the system out massively, to 3 years, to get around it. They did eventually fix the problems with new hardware and revision updates but most people remember the famous RRoD from the 360 launch.
3. Nintendo Gamecube – Where's Mario?
Along with the 32X/Sega CD (and another launch coming up), I found the Nintendo Gamecube launch baffling due to the question of "Where is Mario?" Sega consoles didn't launch with Sonic games, save for the Dreamcast, but almost all Nintendo consoles have launched with some form of a Mario game. Even the Virtual Boy had Mario's Tennis on it! The closest the Gamecube came was Luigi's Mansion, which is a decent enough game, but not what Nintendo fans wanted when the system came out. Then again, considering the Mario game that the Gamecube got was Mario Sunshine, maybe they were right to not launch with it. This same argument ironically can't be applied to the Wii or Wii U, because while both systems didn't have new launch-day Mario games on them, they were backwards compatible with previous Mario games. So on the Wii you could play Mario Sunshine (if you wanted) and on the Wii U you could play Mario Galaxy 1 and 2 and those two were pretty solid games.
2. Xbox One DRM
Another E3 moment that was/still is enshrined with how the Xbox One was launched. While Hirai made a few bone-headed mistakes, nothing could compare to the disaster of the E3 conference for the Xbox One and how it still adversely affects the launch still. Things like "Mandatory Kinect plugged in", "Mandatory 24 hour online sign in", "No used games", TV being an integral part of the console, the Killer Instinct rape talk, and the entirety of the gameplay video of Ryse almost doomed the console before the start. The vitriol that was raised about Microsoft's asinine policies caused them to back-peddle almost immediately in hilarious fashion. Like many of you, I'm glad those policies aren't in place anymore, but I have to question who actually thought them up in the first place and if they still have a job there. And Sony's PS4 sharing video (above) was really the icing on the cake.
1. Sega Saturn – All of it
To say the Sega Saturn was a "disaster" is being nice. It's launch had three problems with it that doomed the console from the start: 1. The surprise announcement that day of E3 going "Guess what guys, it's out now!" Yeah, way to build up press and interest in a project. This also didn't help with the nascent game library, launching with only five games. 2. Due to this, KB Toys, which was still influential at the time of release going , "Yeah, thanks but no thanks" and refused to stock the console due to Sega's rash decision. Then finally: 3. Sony's announcement of "$300" then dropping the mic. Coming in $100 cheaper, this was a critical element in parents wanting to buy their kids a new console. The Saturn was practically doomed at the start and unlike with the Xbox One almost pulling it around, Sega never got the chance and was quickly outpaced by the Playstation.
The Better Half with Liana K
My 8 "Favorite" Console Launch Fails
Now that Sony and Microsoft are battling head-to-head for supremacy in the eighth generation of video game consoles – oh yeah, the Wii-U is on shelves too, as well as the Ouya and god knows how many other Kickstarter-backed endeavors... Anyway as I was saying, the PS4 and the Xbox One are for sale, so this is as good a time as any to look back at previous hardward launches, for better and for worse. What was most amazing to me was to learn just how many successful consoles got off to rocky starts. A study of video game history shows that only four factors actually impact the success or failure of a console:
1. Developer support
2. Big, popular games
3. Releasing early in a console cycle
That's it. Everything else can be overcome if you have three of those four major factors. So my list for this week contains some consoles that succeeded, some that failed, and some that failed so terribly that you may not have even known they existed. Two factors went into the ranking here: notoriety of the problem, and actual damage to the company's bottom line. It was, however, exceptionally difficult to separate the truly awful launches from the merely lacklustre ones, and what this list shows is that a strong launch doesn't matter as much as a strong finish – Just ask the PS3, SNES, and... well, keep reading. On with the fail!
8: PS3 North American Launch Supply Shortages
The biggest factors in the PS3's early struggles were a high price point and the Xbox 360's one-year head start. While Sony evnetually proved that timing isn't everything, they could have caught up to Xbox sooner were it not for a series of launch missteps. Sony couldn't manufacture as many PS3s as promised by its launch, and the short supplies led to shootings, muggings, and other forms of petty consumer thuggery. This brand of insanity is fine if the focus is a Cabbage Patch doll or Tickle Me Elmo, but video games have too many negative stereotypes relating to violence. Every time something like this happens, it leads to some sort of knee-jerk attempt at censorship, because we collectively learned nothing from comic books' Ten Cent Plague era. The bungled PS3 launch also added to the video game media's already surly attitude toward the expensive system, and that bad attitude lingered until Microsoft made a hash of their E3 2013 press briefing.
7: Sega Brands Itself the "Nintendon't" With Genesis
We Sega fans already knew we were nerds among nerds for choosing the Sega Master System for its superior tech over the much more popular Nintendo Entertainment System, aka the Super Mario Delivery System. We were the video game hipsters who knew that Safari Hunt and Gangster Town were vastly superior light phaser games than Duck Hunt. We were having the original "mature gaming" debates comparing Altered Beast to Mario. We were happy being inferior in numbers but elite in taste. But then Sega launched the Genesis, and the marketing team reminded everyone that Sega was the company that wasn't Nintendo, firmly solidifying its position as the "Other video game console". While that may have worked in the short term by appealing to the angsty teenage boys which would also make up the Grunge rock movement, it condemned Sega to also-ran status the way Pepsi is not Coke and Burger King is not McDonald's. There's a reason Sega doesn't make consoles anymore.
6: The Gamecube Launches Without Mario
The Nintendo 64 launch was successful despite having only two games available, because one was a Mario platformer. The Gamecube opted to go with Luigi's Mansion, and the console launched with a thud. While Wii Sports managed to temporarily kick Nintendo's Mario dependance, Nintendo's brand is generally synonymous with Mario, for better or for worse.
5: Ouya's Kickstarter Hype Fizzles Fast
What happens when you launch a product and everyone who wants one already has it? You get the Ouya Android console. The Ouya was an interesting idea that became a Kickstarter fad instead of a legitimate player in the console market, mainly because it missed the fact that mobile gaming is a different lifestyle than console ecosystems. Furthermore, real app junkies buy iphones, and why would anyone pay an extra hundred bucks for games they can already experience on the $600 cell phone they'll have to replace when they accidentally run it through the washing machine? The Ouya appealed to a relatively small group of console gamers who liked the idea of running android games in convenient (for them) console format. Thing is? They're the minority. Most people are happy playing phone games on their phones.
4: The Kinect Launch Featuring Cirque Du Soleil
This is my personal favorite, even if it was a relatively small factor in the grand scheme of things. It needs video to explain just how bizarre it was. Being packed sardine-style into the Galen Center on the night before E3 is a yearly hazing... I mean ritual... for game media, but we normally aren't forced to wear white ponchos with bulky shoulders as if we're being indoctrinated into a cult. Then we were forced to watch an overblown pantomime of a boy being abducted from his parents' couch by cave people, where he then scaled rocks like a Hobbit in Mordor while playing video games. Then he climbed onto what I named "The giant Xbox Ball of Wank" and we discovered that the cultist outfits had shoulders that lit up, making us all unwilling participants in an Xbox promo video ultimately designed to rope non-gamers into the Kinect brand. The staggering cost of this one-night-only display of Cirque's trademark acro-balletic pretension blew minds, but not, I think, in the way Xbox had hoped: the general consensus from the crowd was "WTF was that?!" and it became an icebreaker joke on the show floor for the entirety of E3.
3: Xbox 360's Red Ring of Death
Nothing connected to the Red Ring of Death saga makes any sense, and the whole thing is a classic example of people acting against their own best interests to hang with the "cool" kids. Hardware failure rates on the Xbox 360 were reported to range between 1-out-of-6 to 2-out-of-3 machines being defective. Then Microsoft "solved" the problem with a three-year warranty, meaning fans would have to buy a new Xbox every three years. I personally suffered through four RRODs and two new Xbox 360 systems. My husband ended up treating me to a third: a used Halo Special Edition that embarrasses me every time I look at it or my cat accidentally turns it on, but damn it, it plays games.
I do realize that I've rewarded Xbox for their crappy manufacturing by replacing the system, and this is the reason that the RROD doesn't rank higher on this list despite it's meme-status infamy: it didn't actually damage sales. People went out and bought 1 million Xbox Ones on the first day they were available, so there was no holding Microsoft accountable for poor quality. If there are serious problems with the Xbox One, we've completely lost our ability to complain.
2: Everything About the Atari Jaguar
Apparently Atari thought the path to success with video games' first 64-bit system – kinda -- was to make a console with an achilles heel in the memory controller and a gamepad that looked like a telephone. But Atari also decided to leave gaping holes in the support documentation that third-party developers were given, making the game design process long and unpredictable. This led to an environment where third-party developers avoided the console, and consumers didn't know when the tiny number of games developed for the system were actually going to come out. This was ironic, since the Jaguar's terrible marketing slogan was "Do the Math", while the game catalogue arithmetic told shoppers to buy the Playstation! Don't tell people to think logically when logic says "don't buy your crap!" The Jaguar sold under 250,000 units, and had a life-cycle of less than three years.
1: Wii-U: The System Nintendo Couldn't Explain
The Wii, for all its shortcomings, was a fresh idea – adding exercise to games. The Wii-U was a bunch of ideas thrown in a blender without a real creative direction to unify them. This led to confusion regarding whether the Wii-U was an entirely new system or just an add-on to existing Wiis, and Nintendo's awkward, by-the-numbers press briefing left everyone in attendance terribly confused.
Since the media assembled at E3 didn't know what the hell this new thing was, they couldn't explain it. Since they couldn't explain it, they couldn't even properly make fun of it. Because they couldn't make fun of it, they didn't really cover it at all. By this point, Nintendo's once-dominant consumer base had eroded to kids playing Skylanders, soccer moms and seniors content with Wii Sports and Wii Fit, and people like me who gave their Wiis to their mothers so mom could play Wii Fit. Therefore, no one felt the need to go out and buy another white plastic home for Mario, Zelda... and little else that didn't feel more natural on an Xbox or Playstation.
I really didn't come up with a lot of other picks for this list. I came up with some failed system launches, the Virtual Boy, the Lynx, the Jaguar, and so on, but those don't really count. The other idea I considered was putting the game "Kileak: The DNA Imperative" on my list, just because it was horrible. My god, was it bad. But I doubt anyone who reads this knows what the hell it is, so I decided not.
The General Roundup
I don't have a lot of responses to comments last week. My list only really elicited two: one about Pokemon being low, and one about Mario Bros one being terrible. However Liana's list got a number of responses, so I'll let her respond:
Liana here: I'm really glad lots of people care about pirates as much as I do! Confession: I totally forgot Guybrush Threepwood was a pirate, which means I'm going to have to go back and revisit the Monkey Island games. Regarding Balthier from Final Fantasy XII however, I couldn't even come close to finishing that game, so I have no idea what he's like as a character on the whole, as opposed to a neat design. Obviously there are more than eight pirates in video games, and I like it when people point out their personal favourites! That goes for every week! There have been times I wanted to include someone or something else, but only had eight spots, so continuing the conversation is great!