Biggest Video Game Flops of All Time
Across the globe, video games bring in more money than movies and North American sports combined. There's serious cash to be made in gaming — and a whole lot to lose. Many developers risk everything on a single game. If it crashes and burns on release, investors lose millions of dollars, mass layoffs happen, and the studio closes.
It's a common occurrence in video gaming. Many tiny independent studios release games every year to zero fanfare and little to no sales, then quietly disband. But some games are so hyped that when they fail, everyone notices.
These games destroyed studios, were utter financial failures, caused huge lawsuits and plummeted the stock of gaming giants. Whether they deserved it or not, these are the biggest flops in video game history.
15. Rise of the Robots
Year released: 1994
Publishers: Time Warner Interactive, Acclaim Entertainment, Absolute Entertainment
Platforms: Amiga, Amiga CD32, PC DOS, Mega Drive, Game Gear, Super NES, 3DO Interactive Multiplayer, Philips CD-i
Fallout: Studio closed
The Hype Behind Rise of the Robots
"Rise of the Robots" was an insanely hyped video game made by Mirage, a United Kingdom-based development studio that is long dead.
The hype was mainly built on its graphics, which looked incredible for the time. The fighting game sported shiny robots that looked so crisp and clean compared to everything else on the market in the 16-bit era, and kids around the world were psyched for this game to come out. There were even talks of tie-in comics, a line of toys, a book and a movie.
Production was expensive, though it's unclear just how many millions. Queen guitarist Brian May did the soundtrack, but due to issues with his record company, the game only featured a snippet of his music.
What Happened to Rise of the Robots
Each of the robots took two months to render and had an unusual amount of frames of animation, which slowed down the actual gameplay. Which isn't good, considering fighting games need to be fast and responsive.
When the game released for computers, it came on 13 floppy disks that had to be swapped out every single time you fought a different character.
The game was absolutely abysmal when it was released, but reviews ranged from 5 percent (that's 5 percent) to 91 percent, depending on the magazine. That, in turn, led people to distrust game reviewers, who were clearly incentivized to give the game a fantastic review, according to Kotaku.
"Rise of the Robots" sold well because of the hype, but it destroyed trust in Mirage. The studio released a sequel, which was also terrible, and then it shuttered in 1997.
14. Cyberpunk 2077
Year released: 2020
Developers: CD Projekt Red
Publishers: CD Projekt
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, Stadia, Xbox One, PS4, PS5, Xbox Series X
Fallout: Lowered stock price, class-action lawsuits
The Hype Behind Cyberpunk 2077
It's not a debate that "Cyberpunk 2077" underdelivered, but there is some debate as to how much of a flop the game really is. Because it didn't bankrupt a company. In fact, it might even be profitable. But it wasn't the hit it should have been.
"Cyberpunk 2077" was first announced in May 2012. For five years or so, not much was known about the game. Then CD Projekt Red began its marketing campaign around 2018. Many, many features were promised: NPCs that had a daily life, in-depth character creation, game-changing decisions, driving with shooting and AI pathfinding, and a whole lot more. Leading up to its release, "Cyberpunk" was supposed to be the next big thing in gaming, with sales rivaling Rockstar's "GTA V."
The Polish gaming company had built enormous amounts of goodwill with gamers, mostly thanks to "The Witcher 3" and its plethora of content.
"Cyberpunk" had a release window of April 2020, which was pushed back to September. That was far less time than the game really needed. The developers were shocked when they heard the game had to ship that year. Realistically, it needed another two years of development time.
What Happened to Cyberpunk 2077
When it finally launched, the game was riddled with bugs and clearly unfinished. The PlayStation 3 and Xbox One versions ran so horribly that PlayStation removed the game from its online store and offered refunds.
"Cyberpunk " is estimated to cost $330 million to make. The game was so hyped that it sold eight million copies just on pre-orders and a total of 13.7 million copies in December. That alone was enough to recoup its development costs.
But that's not the whole story. CDPR refuses to explain how many copies of the game sold in Q1 2021, claiming, "We usually communicate unit sales when we reach certain milestones – round numbers that we can announce" during an earnings call.
On that same call, the company revealed its net profit for the first quarter of 2021 fell 64.7 percent to 32.5 million zlotys (about $8.8 million), far below the 80 million zlotys ($21.75 million) expected.
On the call, one analyst estimated the number of "Cyberpunk" sales at 800,000 for the entire quarter. CDPR said that wasn't correct, but didn't offer an alternative number. Assuming 800,000 is in the ballpark, "Cyberpunk" sales fell by 94 percent within its three-month launch window.
By March 2021, CDPR's market value dropped by 50 percent from December 2020.
Saying that's very bad is an understatement.
13. Marvel's Avengers
Year released: 2020
Developers: Crystal Dynamics
Publishers: Square Enix
Platforms: PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Stadia, Xbox SeriesX/S, Windows
Fallout: Approximately $67 million loss
The Hype Behind Marvel's Avengers
Marvel and Disney's line of "Avenger" movies made billions of dollars and dominated the box office in the 2010s. Surely any half-competent video game based on the IP would ride its coattails and become a bestseller, right?
Weirdly, no. "Marvel's Avengers" somehow missed the mark entirely.
What Happened to Marvel's Avengers
It is a third-person beat-em-up game with a strong emphasis on online co-op. But the game had underwhelming, repetitive loot-based gameplay and only shipped with six characters.
The game is said to have been hugely expensive to develop, costing about $100 million to develop. When it shipped, it only sold 60 percent of expected sales and ended up being the main reason for Square Enix's $67 million operating loss in the company's Q3 2020.
12. Def Jam Rapstar
Year released: 2010
Developers: 4mm Games
Platforms: PS3, Wii, Xbox 360
Fallout: Studio closure, lawsuits
The Hype Behind Def Jam Rapstar
You might not have even heard of "Def Jam Rapstar." Released in 2010 during the height of karaoke games, "Rapstar" was a karaoke game but with rap songs.
The game didn't do well when it released, selling poorly, but it received decent enough reviews, averaging in at around 75 percent on Metacritic.
What Happened to Def Jam Rapstar
The problem? The studio, 4mm Games, didn't account for the weird ins and outs of music licensing. In March 2012, music giant EMI sued the studio over 54 songs to the tune of $150,000 each, for a total of over $8 million.
That following May, the 4mm had run out of money. Around the same time, City National Bank sued "Rapstar" publisher Konami and Autumn Games, claiming it had defrauded them out of a $8.9 million line of credit used to create "Rapstar." 4mm shuttered that same month.
Year released: 2007
Developers: Factor 5
Publishers: Sony Computer Entertainment
Fallout: Studio closing
The Hype Behind Lair
"Lair" is a PlayStation exclusive video game for the PS3 which involved air-based combat with a dragon-riding knight in a high fantasy world. The game took three years, at its height had 120-140 people working on it, and cost about $25 million, according to Polygon's post-mortem feature.
It was a very hyped game, but inside Factor 5, the game was in trouble from the start. Originally intended to be an open-world type of game, the studio shifted gears, tossing out the developmental tools they were comfortable with and rewrote them from scratch for the upcoming PS3.
Then, in order to show off the PS3's new Sixaxis motion control system, Sony requested the studio redesign the controls to show off the new gimmick, which screwed up the field of view.
What Happened to Lair
Numerous internal problems led to a game that recieved a Metacritic score of 53. Sony sent out a guide telling reviewers how they should be playing the game. Predictably, that backfired.
Eventually, the bombing of "Lair," a falling out with LucasArts and a failed deal to produce a new Superman game led to the closing of Factor 5.
"'Lair' was a genuine ****-up by everybody involved, probably me the worst," recalled Julian Eggebrecht, one of Factor 5's cofounders.
10. Uru: Ages Beyond Myst
Year released: 2003
Developers: Cyan Worlds
Platforms: Microsoft Windows
Fallout: Almost bankrupted the developer
The Hype Behind Uru: Ages Beyond Myst
"Uru: Ages Beyond Myst" is an adventure game set in the popular Myst universe that took five years to make and cost $12 million to complete.
A good amount of that cost, roughly $18 million today, went into the multiplayer portion of the game, which was scrapped.
What Happened to Uru: Ages Beyond Myst
"Uru" only sold between 100,000 and 400,000 copies in the United States three years after it was released, which nearly bankrupted Cyan Worlds.
Interestingly, the online portion of the game, "Uru Live," was brought to life by modders and fans. The game is now open-source and free to play.
9. The Last Express
Year released: 1997
Developers: Smoking Car Productions
Fallout: Studio closed, millions lost
The Hype Behind The Last Express
"The Last Express" is a point-and-click mystery adventure game that takes place on the Orient Express.
Despite being extremely well-received by critics, the game was "a total commercial failure," according to its lead programmer, Mark Moran.
The game took four years to produce and was severely over budget by the time it was released. "[T]he game would have had to be one of the top-selling games of all time in order to break even," noted Moran. Smoking Car Productions had 60 full-time employees at its peak.
What Happened to The Last Express
One of their biggest problems? The entire marketing team quit just before the game came out. Reasons why are unclear, but the game was only available on shelves for about two months before it became impossible to find. Smoking Car Productions went under.
"The Last Express" has since been re-released on Android, Windows, iOS and macOs, 14 years after the game initially released and horribly flopped.
8. Aliens: Colonial Marines
Year released: 2013
Developers: Gearbox Software, TimeGate Studios
Platforms: Windows, PS3, Xbox 360
Fallout: Class-action lawsuit, layoffs, millions lost
The Hype Behind Aliens: Colonial Marines
Sega acquired the license to the "Alien" franchise in 2006, with initial plans to create two titles: an RPG and a first-person shooter game. The RPG was scrapped, and what we got was "Aliens: Colonial Marines," one of the worst games ever made.
Here's what happened. Gearbox Software was tasked with making this game, but it was already developing its "Borderlands" series and "Duke Nukem Forever."
With the success of "Borderlands" in 2009, Gearbox switched focus to "Borderlands 2" and contracted work on "Colonial Marines" out to TimeGate Studios. Gearbox also lied to Sega about the outsourcing, which led to a round of layoffs at Gearbox in 2008.
What Happened to Aliens: Colonial Marines
When Gearbox finally shifted back to "Colonial Marines," they found the work done by TimeGate to be terrible. By the time its E3 demo debuted in 2011, the game was in development for four years.
The demo didn't represent what the game was at all, either. In 2013, after the game was released to negative reviews, players launched a class-action lawsuit against Sega for using fake and misleading demos of the game. The publisher paid $1.25 million to settle the suit.
Randy Pitchford, CEO of Gearbox, claimed he lost $10 million-$15 million of his own money. TimeGate cut 25 of its staff shortly after the game was released, then shuttered a few months later.
7. Overkill's The Walking Dead
Year released: 2018
Developers: Overkill Software
Publishers: Starbreeze Publishing
Platforms: Microsoft Windows
Fallout: At least 60 jobs and millions of dollars lost
The Hype Behind Overkill's The Walking Dead
Overkill Software is the studio behind the "Payday" series, which raked in an enormous amount of money. Starbreeze is Overkill's parent company, and by all accounts, was horribly mismanaged by about 2014.
That was around the time that Starbreeze acquired the rights to "The Walking Dead" series and planned to make a game that was like "Payday" but set in the zombie-filled universe of AMC's hit series. It was originally conceptualized as a "Destiny"-like, persistent universe. That didn't pan out.
In 2017, after about two years of work on the title, Starbreeze told its team they were switching engines, from the familiar Valhalla to Unreal. All of that work, gone.
"I don't even want to know how much money was wasted on that thing," one former employee told Eurogamer. "There was the salary for us, the web developers, the contractors based in L.A., San Francisco, the lead tech guys working in LA and San Francisco, Dhruva, who were doing all these assets for it — it was an insane waste of money."
What Happened to Overkill's The Walking Dead
Constant changes from Starbreeze executives made development laborious and slow. When "Overkill's The Walking Dead" was released in 2018, it was met with very negative reviews. It was just a poor, four-player "Payday" clone.
Worse, it only ever came out on PC. Plans to bring the game to console were scrapped. Even worse than that, you can't even buy the game today. Skybound Entertainment, which owns "The Walking Dead" comic IP, terminated its licensing contract with Starbreeze in February 2019.
It needed to sell millions. It sold under 100,000. The only way to buy it is through gray-market CD key sellers.
Starbreeze restructured but managed to survive and was able to find over $60 million in financing for "Payday 3" in 2021.
6. All Points Bulletin
Year released: 2010
Developers: Realtime Worlds, Reloaded Productions
Publishers: Realtime Worlds, Electronic Arts, K2 Network, Little Orbit
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, Xbox One, PS4
Fallout: 150 jobs lost, $105 million down the drain
The Hype Behind All Points Bulletin
"All Points Bulletin," which got released in 2010, was supposed to be a "Grand Theft Auto"-style MMO with an open world, cops and robbers gameplay. When it launched, it was a buggy, un-fun mess that somehow cost $105 million to make (that's about $129 million today).
To help recoup those costs, the game had a strange subscription-based service, where players could buy 20 hours of time for $6.99 or subscribe for an unlimited playtime option for $9.99 a month. That was in addition to the base game, which sold for $49.99 and came with 50 hours of gameplay.
What Happened to All Points Bulletin
The game released in June, and by August, Realtime Worlds was placed in administration — basically the U.K.'s version of bankruptcy. Around 150 employees were laid off.
"I must say I was shocked at quite how quickly it went down in the end. It felt like we were being let go decently, and then BOOM – not getting paid anything, owed last month's wages, our notice periods, redundancy pay and unused holidays. A substantial amount of money, all told," one ex-staffer wrote on his blog.
By November, another company bought APB for just £1.5 million ($2.1 million). The game was sold again to Little Orbit and is free to play as "All Points Bulletin Reloaded." Apparently, some people still play it.
Year released: 2017
Developers: Boss Key Productions
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, PS4
Fallout: Closed studio
The Hype Behind Lawbreakers
Lawbreakers was an online hero shooter that was dead in the water as soon as it launched.
Developed by "Gears of War" creator Cliff Bleszinski and his newly formed studio, BossKey Productions, "Lawbreakers" was originally going to be free to play, but switched to a $29.99 price tag. That was a bold move since it was entering a market dominated by "Overwatch."
And for whatever reason, Bleszinkski made the decision not to publish the game on the Xbox One, where shooters are extremely popular, and instead released it for only PC and PS4.
What Happened to Lawbreakers
Despite having a closed beta, which peaked at nearly 7,500 players in June 2017, the game was down to a peak player base of 3,000 by the time it released in August. A month later, it was down to just 1,000 players.
The game limped along with a double-digit player base for the rest of its short lifespan. Boss Key Productions shuttered in May 2018, and the "Lawbreakers" servers shut down in September 2018. The game is no longer available to purchase.
Probably the worst thing about the failure is that "Lawbreakers" was, by nearly all accounts, a solid game. But it just couldn't find a player base.
4. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning
Year released: 2012
Developers: 38 Studios, Big Huge Games
Publishers: 38 Studios, Electronic Arts
Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows
Fallout: Studio closed, $125 million lost
The Hype Behind Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning
"Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning" was a failure on many, many different fronts.
38 Studios was founded by retired Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, who was also a big video game player and dreamed about making his own Microsoft-sized tech studio. He was rich from playing in Major League Baseball and reportedly invested $50 million of his own money into the startup.
After recruiting some friends, including author R.A. Salvatore and "Spawn" creator Todd McFarlane, in 2010 Schilling managed to secure a $75 million loan in bonds with the government of Rhode Island. The terms were pretty simple: Move the fledgling studio to the state and bring in 450 jobs. For context, it was a bad time for Rhode Island, which had unemployment numbers rising to almost 12 percent. Any boost seemed like a good one.
"Reckoning" was sold as a massively multiplayer game that would be the new "World of Warcraft." But by the time 38 Studios got to work on it, they settled for a scaled-down, single-player fantasy role-playing game.
What Happened to Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning
Within 10 months, 38 Studios moved to Rhode Island and brought in 160 jobs, exceeding milestone expectations. According to The New York Times, the studio was burning through money to hire new people and create more jobs, spending "several million dollars a month with no end in sight." R. A. Salvatore alone cost $2 million (it doesn't seem like he ever received that paycheck).
Two years later, "Reckoning" was released to decent reviews but terrible sales figures. The game sold 1.2 million copies within three months, but Rhode Island governor Lincoln Chafee, called the game a "failure," saying that it needed to sell more than three million copies just to break even.
The whole fiasco was quite the scandal. 38 Studios went bankrupt, leaving the Rhode Island state government to pay back the bond investors and Schilling out $50 million.
3. Duke Nukem Forever
Year released: 2011
Developers: 3D Realms
Publishers: 2K Games
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, macOS
Fallout: Company closed, layoffs
The Hype Behind Duke Nukem Forever
"Duke Nukem Forever" was announced way back in 1997, right after 1996's "Duke Nukem 3D" established itself as one of the most popular shooters on the late decade and sold 3.5 million copies.
3D Realms' cofounders and "Duke Nukem 3D" creators Scott Miller and George Broussard spearheaded the development, which fell into a developmental hell that included a never-ending pursuit of new technology.
According to Wired, they licensed the Quake II engine for upward of $500,000 in 1997, then switched again several months later to use the Unreal engine. Everything they did needed to be scrapped again.
Feature creep was a major significant factor in slow development time, as was perfectionism, which was paired with wealth. 3D Realms had loads of money from "Duke Nukem" and other popular titles, and by 2009, Broussard and Millard had sunk $20 million of their own money into the game.
What Happened to Duke Nukem Forever
By that time, the game was still nowhere near finished, so they went to publisher Take-Two and asked for $6 million to finish the game. Take-Two refused, as they had already fronted 3D realms $2.5 million in 2007.
Without any further funding, 3D Realms disbanded and all employees were laid off ... and then Take-Two sued them for breach of contract for failing to deliver a game.
3D Realms accused Take-Two of attempting to try and steal the Duke Nukem IP. Ultimately, the lawsuit was dismissed, but then Gearbox Software bought the rights to "Duke Nukem" and finished the game. Take-Two remained the game's publisher.
"Duke Nukem Forever" released in June 2011 after 15 years, and it was an absolute train wreck of a game, with outdated humor, awful graphics and overall terrible gameplay. It sold only half of what was expected in its first month, but Take-Two claimed it had become profitable by August 2011.
Of course, that's not counting the $20 million-plus that 3D Realms had invested into the game over those 15 years.
Year released: 2000
Developers: Ion Storm
Publishers: Eidos Interactive, Kemco
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, Nintendo 64
Fallout: Over $25 million lost
The Hype Behind Daikatana
"Doom," which was released in 1993, was an industry-changing game that established its lead designer, John Romero, as a rock star in the gaming world. After leaving id Software, he formed his own company in 1996, Ion Storm, along with former id Software designer/programmer Tom Hall.
The company was flush with cash from investors, including Eidos Interactive, which signed a six-game deal. The company was divided into two teams: Ion Storm Austin and Ion Storm Dallas, which opened its doors in a 22,000-square-foot penthouse office in Dallas' Chase Tower.
"Daikatana" was Romero's brainchild and the company's launch title. They planned to get the game out in less than a year, by 1998. Infamously, the studio took out two-page ads in gaming magazines that read, "John Romero's about to make you his *****." It was an idiotic move and soured the press and public on the game.
What Happened to Daikatana
Worse, "Daikatana" wasn't released until 2000. By 1999's E3, the game looked horribly outdated because it ran on the Quake 2 engine, which had been eclipsed by the Half Life 2 engine. Eidos Interactive had bankrolled the game to the sum of $25 million and wanted the thing finished, and purchased a controlling share in Ion Storm.
"Daikatana" was released in the summer of 2000, three years late, had truly awful AI and received mostly negative reviews.
It needed to sell 2.5 million copies to be profitable. It sold 40,351 copies, or about 1.6 percent of that. Romero was never attached to a big-name game ever again.
1. ET: The Extra-Terrestrial
Year released: 1982
Platforms: Atari 2600
Fallout: Killed Atari, helped crash the gaming industry, $20-plus million lost
The Hype Behind ET: The Extra-Terrestrial
What more can be said about this game that hasn't already been said? "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial" is known as the worst game ever made, and numerous YouTube videos, feature articles and even documentaries have detailed the ins and outs of this total failure.
But here's the skinny. Atari wanted to cash in on the success of Stephen Spielberg's "E.T" and needed a game done by Christmas of 1982. It was June.
Atari's CEO personally called up wiz-kid programmer Howard Scott Warshaw and offered him $200,000 plus an all-expenses-paid trip to Hawaii if he could make an entire "E.T" game in five weeks.
What Happened to E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial
Warshaw said sure. Then, he produced one of the worst video games of all time. Millions of copies went unsold, hundreds of thousands of them were returned to retailers, and Atari was out millions and millions of dollars. While the game itself might have only cost $200,000 (about $553,000 today), Atari spent about $22 million to get the rights.
In 1983, the video game market crashed because the market was saturated with poor or middling games like "E.T." Atari lost $563 million and was sold.