Over the years, the world of gaming has seen an endless supply of failures.
The vast majority of these failed because they were fundamentally flawed. They may have been created with the best of intentions but the likes of the Virtual Boy, Kinect and the Atari Jaguar died on their arse because they simply weren’t very good.
On rare occasions, however, something will fail even if it works well and the concept is solid. For whatever reason – bad marketing, a lack of developer support, even just being ahead of its time – some genuinely good ideas have found themselves unceremoniously dumped in the reject pile.
I know what you’re thinking: I SMELL A LIST FEATURE.
Sure enough, dear reader, here is a list of ideas I genuinely liked but which ultimately didn’t find the success they may have deserved, and were eventually consigned to history’s Big Book Of Broken Dreams.
The Game Boy Micro
The final member of the Game Boy family launched in 2005, and was hyped by Nintendo as one of the smallest video game systems ever made.
It wasn’t kidding, mind you: at just 10 x 5cm in size and less than 2cm thick, the Micro easily fulfilled the promise many handhelds couldn’t: you could put it comfortably in your pocket without it looking like you were on the way to an enemy’s house to put a brick through their window.
Its dinky 2-inch screen was a thing of beauty: because it was so small its meagre 240×160 resolution still managed to look stunning, making every GBA game look sharp as a tack (though because of its size it couldn’t play original Game Boy or Game Boy Color carts).
My Japanese Famicom Game Boy Micro is one of my prized possessions, and I still take it with me on my travels to this day: it’s perfect for when you’re travelling light, especially since its battery can last anything from 5 to 10 hours depending on your brightness settings.
What went wrong?
Although the Game Boy Micro was a beautiful little piece of kit, it came at a time when the Game Boy Advance was already on its deathbed.
Nintendo’s shiny new DS system had already been on the market for up to a year (depending on the region) by the time the Micro launched, meaning most fans had already either moved on or decided they were happy enough with their Game Boy Advance SP.
As a result the Micro only sold 2.42 million units worldwide. That may seem like a decent number, but consider Nintendo shifted 81.5 million GBA systems in total and it’s clear the Micro simply turned up too late to the party.
Don’t you hate it when Nintendo, Sony or Microsoft release a fancy limited edition version of a console you already own?
Suddenly that system you loyally bought on launch day looks like a plain old wedge compared to the snazzy new version designed to look like R2-D2 or Pikachu.
In an alternate universe, this would never have happened. In 2005, both Microsoft and Nintendo came up with a clever way to ensure your console could always change according to your mood: faceplates.
The Xbox 360 and the aforementioned Game Boy Micro each let you remove the casing and replace it with another design of your choosing.
Naturally, this was an ‘each sold separately’ situation, but I’m sure you’d agree that in hindsight £12.99 on a new faceplate was a slightly less bitter pill to swallow than having to drop £300 on a brand new console.
What went wrong?
Simply put, no prick bought them. It turns out most gamers were happy enough with plain black, white or coloured systems and didn’t feel like changing designs on a whim.
Nintendo tried it again years later with the New 3DS, which also launched alongside a bunch of (fantastic) faceplates. Once again, no deal.
When the Xbox One launched in late 2013 (Jesus, has it been five years already?), Microsoft promised to shake up the achievement system that had been such a popular feature of the Xbox 360.
It did this with Challenges, timed achievements that had an expiry date and gave special awards like in-game items or one-off background images if you completed them.
Some of these Challenges were straightforward enough – win a game of Madden during its first week of release – while others required a little more work. Battlefield 4, for example, asked you to play 100 online matches within 21 days.
The point of Challenges was to give each game a more living and breathing achievement system rather than a flat 1000 Gamerscore that could be finished in a few days.
The way Microsoft envisaged it, developers would keep adding new Challenges on a regular basis so players could load up their old games and continue to enjoy them long after launch.
What went wrong?
Developers weren’t on board with the idea of continuing to add new achievements to their games after release with no clear benefit to them.
While at launch practically every game had its own series of Challenges, at the time of writing a mere three games, all of which – Forza Horizon 3, Gears Of War 4 and State Of Decay – are first-party, have active Challenges.
Pressure sensitive buttons
Way back in 1987, Capcom released the original Street Fighter in arcades. It had an interesting gimmick: the deluxe version of the cabinet featured just two buttons – punch and kick – which delivered different strengths of attack depending on how hard you hit them.
The idea was met with a resounding “meh” and Capcom ditched the idea for the infinitely better Street Fighter II. The rest is… well, I’ve already written 27,000 words on the rest, so I really don’t need to finish this sentence.
The pressure-sensitive button gimmick lay dormant for 13 years, until it was brought back for a little-known device called the PlayStation 2.
Yes, most people have completely forgotten this, but the standard DualShock 2 controller that comes with the PS2 has pressure-sensitive face buttons and shoulder buttons, as well as a pressure-sensitive D-Pad.
This was most obvious in racing games, some of which featured analogue acceleration and braking which were dependent on how hard you pushed the button.
When Microsoft entered the console market with the Xbox a year later, it too gave its controller pressure-sensitive buttons, and this too was forgotten by most people (except those who were addicted to Dead Or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball and its odd pool-hopping mini-game).
What went wrong?
You’ll note this article is called “good IDEAS that failed”. The reality is that pressure sensitive buttons sounded great in theory but were a pain in the arse in practice.
Or, to be more specific, a pain in the thumbs. Jamming down the X button to make sure you were accelerating fully was extremely uncomfortable during long sessions.
Ultimately, not enough games supported analogue buttons to justify the cost of adding them to the PS3 and Xbox 360 controllers. Instead, they were given analogue triggers to make accelerating and braking in racing games far more comfortable.
No, I’m not talking about Kindles and Nooks. Long before that digital ink nonsense existed, Nintendo had its own e-Reader, and it was nothing to do with downloading torrents of Stephen King books.
Instead, it was a nifty little peripheral that plugged into the expansion port on the Game Boy Advance and came with a little barcode reader thingamajig.
The plan was that you’d be able to buy new cards for the e-Reader, which would then read the fancy barcodes on the sides of each card: these barcodes contained actual game code which could be processed by the device.
The results came in two forms: some e-Reader cards served as extra items for existing games, such as new town tunes and clothing designs for Animal Crossing (which needed an extra GameCube link cable), bonus levels for Super Mario Advance 4 or special trainer battles in Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire.
Others were standalone goodies you could scan when only the e-Reader was attached to the GBA with no other games: these included full NES games, mini-games for the card game Mario Party-e and Pikmin mini-games designed to promote Pikmin 2.
In a world before DLC, the e-Reader was a clever and cheap way to add new content to games in card form without having to make new cartridges or discs.
What went wrong?
Although it was a clever idea, in reality the e-Reader was a faff and a half to get going.
Scanning cards sometimes resulted in errors, meaning you had to scan them multiple times, which got frustrating quickly.
What’s more, only tiny amounts of data could be stored on the cards’ barcodes, meaning most half-decent items came on multiple cards. Each classic NES game, for example, consisted of five cards, each with two codes. You had to scan all ten codes in order to access the game.
Ultimately the idea didn’t take off, and Nintendo scrapped the e-Reader before it even made it to Europe.
Picture the scene. It’s November 2013 (seriously, I still can’t believe it’s been five years). You’ve just chucked £429 bastard pounds at your retailer of choice for a shiny new Xbox One, mandatory Kinect and all.
Your wallet is weeping tears of actual blood, so you have to start making budget cuts. First thing to go: that pricey gym membership. When you’ve dropped nearly half a grand on a gaming console, your fitness regime has to take a back seat.
Fret not, chubs! Microsoft had your back with Xbox Fitness, a free app that let you try out a variety of well-known fitness programmes – from P90X and Insanity to that one with Jillian Michaels – all while tracking your progress with Kinect.
It was essentially a way of gamifying exercise: as you performed the routines, Kinect would track your movements and tell you whether you were doing the exercises right.
It would also estimate your heart rate and how many calories you were burning, and would score you based on your accuracy, eventually earning you stamps which unlocked achievements (and Challenges, but we’ve already established they were stuffed too).
I genuinely loved Xbox Fitness, and lost around 15 lbs from the time the Xbox One launched to the time the service ended. Speaking of which…
What went wrong?
As with many of the non-gaming ideas presented as part of the overall Xbox One package, Microsoft failed to realise that launch window customers were gamers first and foremost.
Although Xbox Fitness got off to a good start with players making great use of the free trial exercises available for each programme, those trials didn’t translate into actual purchases of full multi-workout series.
Combine that with the fact that it required Kinect – which many already resented for bumping up the Xbox One’s cost – and it’s clear this one had an uphill climb from the beginning.
Long story short, Xbox Fitness’ sales were nowhere near as healthy as the trainers in its routines, and it coughed and spluttered along until July 2017, at which point it was taken round the back of the virtual gym, shot in the head and dumped in a nearby bin. By which I mean Microsoft turned the servers off.
1 vs 100
At the 2009 CES show, Microsoft’s head of Xbox 360 operations Robert Bach introduced a new service called Xbox Live Primetime.
The idea was that some 360 games would be based on scheduled programming, just like a TV channel, which meant everyone would see the same live content at the same time and would be able to discuss it online, at work or in school the next day.
The first Xbox Live Primetime game was 1 vs 100, a live game show created in collaboration with Endemol (the TV company behind the likes of Big Brother and Deal Or No Deal).
Throughout the week, players could take part in trivia contests, with their scores automatically appearing on national leaderboards after each question. The better you did in these regular contests, the more likely you’d play a part in the main live shows.
Taking place every Tuesday and Friday, these two-hour shows were hosted by an actual person. Each round chose a single player (‘the One’) and put them against 100 other players (‘the Mob’), in an attempt to see who would get a question wrong first. If the One survived, they would win up to 10,000 Microsoft Points (about £85 in store credit), whereas if they got knocked out the winnings would be split among whoever was still left in the Mob.
Meanwhile, everyone else taking part was considered the ‘crowd’, and could still play along, answering questions in the hope of being selected as the 1 or 100 for the next round.
It was legitimately glorious, and I didn’t miss a single live show during its two seasons.
What went wrong?
Despite getting a Guinness world record for most contestants in a game show (the North American version had 114,000 players taking part one night), Microsoft struggled to make 1 vs 100 profitable despite sorting out ad deals with Sprint and Honda.
After two fantastic seasons, the big M pulled the plug on both 1 vs 100 and the Xbox Live Primetime concept as a whole.
It’s probably for the best: after all, it’s not like a regular live national trivia show with real-life hosts and cash prizes would eventually become popular given enough time.
There was no denying that the Wii had completely transformed the gaming landscape. The revolutionary (ahem) Wii Remote wasn’t just user-friendly, it would drive the user home after a drunken night out and help them into bed.
After introducing (or re-introducing) a whole new audience to video games, how could Nintendo possibly go one better for its upcoming Project Café system? Easy: asymmetric gaming. Oh, and it was now called the Wii U, not Project Café.
“But what in the sweet realm of John the Baptist is asymmetric gaming?” people asked in slack-jawed confusion.
“Don’t worry,” Nintendo replied. “We’ll show you. In the world’s longest E3 stage demonstration of all time.”
Sure enough, at E3 2012, Nintendo’s Katsuya Eguchi spent
seven months nine minutes explaining how Nintendo Land worked, in particular the Luigi’s Ghost Mansion mini-game.
Long story short, it turned out that asymmetric gaming was a form of multiplayer in which one player sees the action from one angle (on the Wii U GamePad screen) while the others see it from another angle (on the TV).
When the Wii U launched, Nintendo Land actually turned out to be much better than its dull-as-dishwater E3 presentation made it seem. Anyone lucky enough to play the game with three or four pals almost certainly had a great time with its multiplayer mini-games based o the likes of Mario, Animal Crossing, Zelda and Metroid.
It seemed clear that this asymmetric gaming lark was actually quite good fun. Now it was over to other developers to see if they could get similarly inventive use out of the GamePad.
What went wrong?
Nothing really: the Wii U was an enormous success and now every school pupil in the world is assigned one on their first day, such is its importance to natural development.
Nah, not really. It turned out Nintendo Land ended up being the best use of asymmetric gameplay throughout the Wii U’s entire lifespan, and the idea died on its arse.
After all, following the sheer simplistic genius that was the Wii Remote – where anyone watching Wii Sports tennis knew exactly how it worked within seconds – something that required 10 minutes to explain was never going to be as popular.
God, I’d have hated to have been the only person working on a much-loved unofficial Nintendo publication’s website when that thing launched. Actually, hang on.
Sony has been trying for years to tap into the casual market the Wii (and DS, to a lesser extent) managed to reach, and has even been attempting it since long before those systems existed.
Some of these efforts worked well: the likes of Buzz and Singstar made the PS2 a popular gizmo during parties. Other efforts, meanwhile, were… well, they were Wonderbook.
PlayLink is one of the the latest attempts, and the idea is sound on paper at least. It’s a name given to a series of PS4 games that can be played with smartphones and tablets as controllers.
The idea is that not everyone knows how to use a DualShock 4, but everyone knows how to use their phone. Therefore, PlayLink games are ideal for party scenarios.
That’s the theory. The reality is that there are already six PlayLink games available, and I’m willing to bet the vast majority of people reading this haven’t played any (except for maybe That’s You! because it’s free for PS Plus members).
What went wrong?
I’m probably jumping the gun a bit here by already declaring PlayLink a failure, but the reality is that there’s just no buzz (pun always intended) around social media for any PlayLink games.
Sony isn’t exactly bending over backwards to let us know it exists, either, and the fact that every player has to download a bespoke mobile app for each game (instead of a general PlayLink app) means it isn’t quite as straightforward as it appears.
I may very well be wrong, but I’d imagine in a couple of years we’ll be considering PlayLink’s success level more in line with the PlayStation Eye than the EyeToy.
Finally, I’d like to take this moment to pay my respects to the best idea this generation, and its all-too-early demise.
Just like it did during the last years of the Xbox 360, Microsoft hyped the Xbox One as more than a gaming device: it was a media service too.
A bunch of media apps were going to be available from day one, including such delights as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, NFL, ESPN, TED, Skype and plenty more.
You could even hook your Xbox One up to your TV aerial or cable box and watch telly through the system’s HDMI passthrough.
But what if you couldn’t decide whether to watch a TV show or play a game? Simple, you could do both at the same time.
Snap was a brilliant feature that let you split your screen into two windows. The bigger window would show your game, while the smaller one would show an app.
This meant you could play Forza while binging The Office. Or kill zombies in Dead Rising 3 while tracking your total kill count in the Achievements app. Or play some FIFA while running a Spotify radio channel.
I used Snap all the time. It was fantastically useful during duller gaming moments, like Forza’s hours-long endurance races. It let me kill two birds with one stone, and I was massively grateful for it.
What went wrong?
Again, many Xbox One gamers didn’t give a seventh of a shit about media, if it meant their games would take a hit.
It quickly became clear that the Xbox One was slightly less powerful than the PS4, and part of the reason for that was the percentage of its memory set aside for various non-gaming tasks, in particular Kinect and the OS (including the Snap feature).
Essentially, developers were only allowed to make use of a certain percentage of the Xbox One’s memory, in case a player wanted to Snap a Twitch stream at the same time.
Eventually Microsoft decided that Snap was doing more harm than good, and in early 2017 the feature was dropped.
It’s a shame, because the Xbox One S and X, with their expanded memory, would have been brilliant opportunities to bring Snap back. Alas, it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen, which means I’m going to have to continue to sit my laptop in front of me if I ever want to play GTA V while simultaneously watching Sailor Moon.
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Really nice article Chris.
It reminds me of the good old days when companies told gamers what they wanted.
I did like alot of these ideas but alot of them where never truly realised by the development teams at other studios.
I’m going to go buy a Gameboy micro now….
I didn’t realise it sold less than the Wii U.
My cuz @joffocakes had the Japanese gold version of it, and lost it when his flat fell down. 😥
I really loved the Game Boy Micro, I had one for 10 years. I wore it on a lanyard around my neck at school and they had a policy where you had to hand in your consoles at the start on the day, and get them back at the end of the day. They never found it, and lunchtimes were all the better for it!!!
Nice article Chris! But I couldn’t agree less that playlink is not going well. It had six games released for the system last year, it is getting six more this year, and the games are genuinenly well fun. I have spent a good proportion of my last year at university making my way up the Pyramid of Knowledge in Knowledge is Power, and most the people I have played it with have gone out and purchased it since (granted that is perhaps because they are always on sale). I think it is spreading as a word of mouth kind of thing and I must be honest, I do not see it as a failure at all, especially if they are releasing six more games this year for it.
I hope you’re right Tom, because I do like the idea (hence it being in this list). Will be happy to eat my words and update this article accordingly if it hasn’t been abandoned in a year or two!
It sounds a lot like the Jackbox Party Packs, which are legitimately some of the best multiplayer fun I’ve had.
Pour one out for 1v100. It was way ahead of its time.
Sony’s analog D-pad took the buscuit and it’s the cream at the centre of its bourbon was WipEout Fusion.
Everyone knows the only WipEout that was remotely playable with analog controls was WipEout 64 (because Nintendo) and the proper control method is tapping the D-pad. This works for every instalment except Fusion which amongst its many faults supported the analog d-pad. Thankfully you could turn it off, but a game should not be made borderline playable by having to turn off the default control method.