For every massive success that is an Xbox 360 or a Nintendo Entertainment System, there are an equal number of video game consoles that crash and burn in the marketplace. At the cost of many millions of dollars, these consoles helped bring down entire companies. Grab your joysticks and let’s laugh at a couple video game consoles that flopped.
When the first LaserDisc games like "Dragon’s Lair" hit arcades, '80s gamers were stunned. It was like they were controlling an actual
animated cartoon. Unfortunately, after a few plays most gamers realized that they weren’t terribly fun and the genre quickly died an ignoble death -- but not before the geniuses at RDI Video Systems tried to cash in on the craze with a home laserdisc game player, the Halcyon. This massive box retailed for a staggering $2,500 (in 1985 dollars!) and boasted speech recognition that didn’t work very well and an “artificial intelligence” that didn’t really do anything. Oh, and it also only had two games released before the company went bankrupt in a sea of debt
When cell phone gaming started looking like a viable market, Finnish phone manufacturer Nokia decided to create a system that was just for games. The end result was the N-Gage, one of the most ridiculous pieces of hardware ever made. Designed to compete with Nintendo’s Game Boy Advance, the N-Gage failed as both a gaming system and a phone. The buttons were horribly placed and to talk into it you needed to hold it sideways. In its launch week, it was outsold by the Game Boy Advance 100 to 1. Nokia took a huge bath on the system, producing two million units and selling a tiny fraction of them.
Toy companies have long looked at video games as just another market to take over, not realizing that the creation of a console is a specialized and difficult task. Mattel tried to get in on the act in 2006 with the Hyperscan, a nutty system that used CD-ROMs for games but let you scan trading cards to change the play experience. The system was made of incredibly cheap materials (it only retailed for $70) and the games were equally shoddy. It was intended for kids who weren’t yet old
enough for real video game systems. Only five games were released before Mattel took the thing off the market in 2006.
Nintendo is the undisputed master of the portable video game domain, selling millions and millions of Game Boys and other devices. They make it look easy, which is the only way we can explain Tiger Telematics, a Swedish carpet company, thinking they could do the same. Their console was the Gizmondo, a doomed portable that was on sale for less than a year. Prone to overheating and retailing for $400, the machine sold less than 30,000 units despite a hardcore marketing blitz.
Looking at the Apple of today, which can do no wrong in the hardware market, it’s easy to forget that they had some tough times in the 1990s. One of their lowest points was an attempt to crack the video game console market with the Pippin. In collaboration with Japanese game company Bandai, they created a white box based on the Mac OS to compete with the recently released Sony PlayStation. Unfortunately for Apple, not only was the Pippin woefully underpowered, it was also
insanely expensive, hitting retail at $600. And with only 18 games available (including can’t-miss titles like "Mr. Potato Head Saves Veggie Valley" and "Playskool Puzzles") gamers stayed away in droves. Only 42,000 consoles were sold out of more than 100,000 manufactured.
You need to hand it to Philips – they knew early on that disc storage was the future of video gaming. Unfortunately, they didn’t have the chops to capture the market. In 1991, the first CD-i consoles hit the market at a staggering $700 retail price. The system was remarkably robust, able to play all kinds of software, but the quality of the titles was uniformly horrible. The system is best remembered today for featuring titles starring Nintendo characters like Link from "The
Legend of Zelda" that were made by other developers and were hilariously bad. Sales were turgid, especially after the PlayStation and Nintendo 64 were introduced in 1995, and Philips cut bait on the CD-i in 1998.
Sega was pretty much always in second place during the video game wars of the '80s and '90s, but that wasn’t such a bad place to be. Unfortunately, a series of bad decisions led to their gradual decline. The first was probably the introduction of the Sega 32X, an add-on to the Sega Genesis that allowed the system to play CD-ROM games. In theory, it was pretty cool, boosting the system’s processing power and allowing it to play 32-bit games. In practice, though, it flopped hard because Sega was also
releasing a full-bore stand-alone CD-ROM system, the Saturn, just six months later. When a company competes with itself, it’s bound to lose, and the 32X fell off the market quickly.
The only thing worse than a video game console that fails on the open market is one that fails before it even gets to the market. Enter the Phantom. Developers at Infinium Labs first started hyping up their revolutionary console in 2003, claiming that it would offer games on demand through a subscription service, eliminating manufacturing costs and bringing a vast library of PC games to home gamers. The release date of the system got bumped multiple times until the console was canceled in 2006. Infinium lost almost $100 million of investor money on the project.
Even Nintendo can’t win them all, and they had a spectacular misfire with the Virtual Boy. Heralded as the next step in portable gaming, this headset-based system used a red LED display to project three-dimensional images right to the player’s eyes. Unfortunately, the machine induced painful eyestrain and neck pain while playing. Creator Gunpei Yokoi never intended the hardware to be released, considering it an interesting side project that could have use in the future, but Nintendo
believed that customers would go for it. They didn’t, and the Virtual Boy was discontinued in 1996.