Like any creative medium, games fail. A lot. Creatively, critically commercially, even morally, games that don't succeed seem to outnumber the ones that do sometimes. But, behind every failure is a story. Sometimes the budget ran out, sometimes development shifted suddenly halfway through, sometimes the market wasn't right for the game, sometimes the game just sort of sucks and no one can do anything about it.
But other times, a whole host of things go wrong and stop a game from succeeding in any number of ways. This month, in our look at failure within the industry, what causes it, and what goes wrong, we want to take a look at some of gaming's more interesting failures, commercial, critical and otherwise.
Final Fantasy 12:
Okay, so FF12 wasn't technically a failure in and of itself. Leading up to it, fans were pumped, if a little on edge due to to the game's constant delays, and afterwards, even though it sold well, many people were disappointed by the notion that the game "played itself". But, over all, it's hard to call the game a failure in the traditional sense. It was relatively well received by reviewers and fans, who eventually soured on it over the years, or put it out of mind while anticipating Final Fantasy 13.
The failure actually comes from behind the scenes, when the entire project was changed about halfway through development. Square Enix had published one numbered Final Fantasy a year between 1999 and 2002. Four straight years of Final Fantasy- five if you count X-2. The assumption was that FF12 was going to be the middle-tier project that would come out in 2004, while Square Enix prepped FF13 as their big show-stopper to cap the PS2 era of Final Fantasy in 2006. Of course, it didn't quite work out as planned. SE gave the game to Yasumi Matsuno, developer of Vagrant Story and Final Fantasy Tactics, who took what many assumed would stick a little closer to the established mold of FFX and turned it into a hyper-complicated game of AI programming in an enormous open world.
Mastsuno's scope almost killed the game, but it was his story ideas that pushed him out of the project. Originally, side character Basch was going to be the lead, but executives reportedly didn't like the idea of an older protagonist, and instead asked that the teenaged Vaan be made the main character. No one knows what the last straw was, but eventually, Matsuno left his position as director due to "health concerns". it's possible the project go so large and out of control that managing it was stressful enough, or that requests from higher-ups just pushed him out, but regardless of what happened, those executives then put Final Fantasy mainstay Akitoshi Kawazu on the project, who managed to preform triage on the half-finished game and put out...something. Kawazu mostly expresses regrets about the story these days. Presumably Matsuno's original plot was a more complicated story of political machinations, sort of like Final Fantasy Tactics. But in the end, it just sort of became Star Wars, with Basch playing the part of Luke, and Vaan as a less awful C-3PO.
But, FF12's massive delays and ballooned budget pushed Final Fantasy 13 off of the PS2 and onto next-gen consoles, where it managed to almost single-handedly cripple Square Enix, a position they're in to this day. Who knows, if FF12 came in on time and under budget, maybe FF13 wouldn't have been the financial and managerial nightmare that ruined Square Enix for half a decade.
Okami is one of those classic critical darlings that never managed to make a commercial dent. Except, unlike pretty much every single other piece of media that has that distinction, Okami had three tries at success. First on PS2, where presumably it was ignored due to coming out about two months before the PS3 and Wii launches and also The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, another action-adventure game starring a lupine protagonist.
Then it got another shot on the Wii, where it launched with an IGN-watermarked cover to an audience of casual gamers who were understandably more interested in motion controlled bowling than a sumi-e journey through Japanese mythology. Finally, it got an HD port for PSN, where it uh...well, no one really knows how that did, but it didn't really seem to set the world on fire, considering we aren't exactly drowning in sequels. According to Capcom's figures, the two physical releases of Okami didn't crack 600,000 sales, and Guinness once put it down as the least commercially successful winner of a game of the year award in 2010.
Clover, the internal team at Capcom that developed the game also disbanded shortly after the game came out, as most of the major players left to form their own studio, Platinum Games. Unfortunately, it made it look like the game's commercial failure killed Clover, a beloved studio with a bunch of cult classics under their belt. Unfortunately, since video game sales numbers are hard to come by, it's hard to tell how the HD port, or even how the DS sequel, Okamiden, sold. But it's pretty safe to assume that, all together, the franchise pulled in one million sales, possibly a little less. Kind of a sad fate for what some people call one of the best games of all time.
In a preview for Beyond: Two Souls, then 1Up's Bob Mackey called David Cage a magician, not a game designer. He pointed out that Cage's real talent is convincing people that the choices they make in his stories actually have consequences, that they're always in control when he's really the one orchestrating everything from the director's chair. What's really interesting is that Indigo Prophecy, Cage's first big game, is sort of what happens when the cheap magic trick that is a Quantic Dream game goes off without a plan.
See, Indigo Prophecy is a fairly interesting, if weird, game about Lucas Kane, who was possesed to stab a man to death and now seeks to figure out what possessed him. At some point, the game managed to twist into a plot about an impressively stereotypical depiction of a Mayan oracle, a cult of evil AIs called the Purple Clan, and their fight over a magical messiah child who somehow has the power to stop them all, because reasons. In a post-mortem on Gamasutra, Cage explains that he put less effort into the latter parts of the game, because he was so focused on making sure the first few hours hooked the player. Of course, compromises then had to be made, and the game's ending makes absolutely zero sense as a result. Supposedly, the entire second act of Cage's originally 2000 page script had to be cut due to time and budget constraints, which left somewhat of a bad taste in players' mouths as they finished the game and had literally no clue what was going on.
The other problem was the tech. Cage had a pretty elaborate vision for what interactive storytelling could be, but between the chunky PS2-era character models, and the game's signature multiple-viewpoint gimmick, the technology just couldn't keep up with a fully immersive story told from multiple perspectives by digital actors. Of course, Cage's lesson was to lower the complexity of his later projects and focus purely on graphics, because he figured that was the real problem, but hey, we can't win every time, can we?
When we were putting together this list, I joked that it might as well be the Quantic Dream list of Failures, but Built to Play's big boss Arman pointed out that Indigo Prophecy is the only game where Cage really had to compromise. It's the only time the tech wasn't sufficient for his goals, the only time he wasn't experienced in making an interactive story. It's the only time he bit off more than he could chew and tried something genuinely innovative and interesting, but it's also the only time he really failed his own vision. I guess that failure pushed him into making simpler games, or at the very least, games with Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe in them.
Daikatana is gaming's highest profile failure. Sure, Duke Nukem Forever took longer, and was technically a bigger name, but nothing failed harder on every single level than Daikatana. No game, before or after has ever inspired as much disappointment, hatred, and regret on the part of both its fans and creators, and it's all summed up with one simple sentence.
"John Romero is going to make you his bitch."
To be fair, that godawful ad wasn't the reason the game failed, but it's certainly emblematic of Daikatana's problem- it just got too big and too out of control. John Romero was famous for his work at id software on Wolfenstein, Doom and Quake, and people were pretty pumped for his first big post-id software game. Romero figured he could finish a game in seven months and be ready for Christmas 1997, around the time that ad started showing up in magazines. Romero's initial design doc called for a crazy amount of content for the time, with 24 levels, 25 weapons and 64 enemy types, but he assumed that by licensing the Quake engine he and his team were familiar with, they could pull it off.
But, by the time they were showing the game off at E3, it looked completely outdated next to id's Quake II engine. The game was delayed to 1998, until they got their hands on that engine and found out that none of their existing code would run on it. It took until 1999 to switch over to the Quake II engine, and through all the delays, Romero had been getting the rockstar treatment from his PR. His studio, Ion Storm, was one of the first to focus on developers as personalities, an admirable position, but it led them to rent out a multi-million dollar office at the top of a Dallas skyscraper, and inspired fighting within the studio, which eventually caused most of the design team to splinter off and form the (now defunct) Gathering of Developers studio.
The 1997 ad, combined with all of the later coverage of Romero's Ferrari-driving, pro-gamer dating lifestyle alienated gamers, and by the time the game came out in April of 2000, the damage was done. It didn't help that Daikatana was (and is) a thoroughly mediocre game, and early demos ran at abysmal frame rates, making it look even worse than it actually was. Very rarely do games live and die on PR, but one does have to wonder if Daikatana's messy development would have even been remembered if it wasn't for Romero becoming the biggest deal in gaming for a few months there.