The Biggest Falls From Grace That Will Go Down in Gaming History

The Biggest Falls From Grace That Will Go Down in Gaming History


Top 10 Falls From Grace in Video Game History

Taneli Palola
, posted on 12 July 2016 / 34,929 Views

While I've been doing research for my History of Video Games series I've also had the chance to see the rise and fall of countless video game publishers, developers, franchises, and creators who at one point or another were at the top of the video game industry. They had the eyes of the industry on them looking to see what great things they would do next, only to fall flat on their faces trying to replicate former glory. It's often a fascinating journey to watch unfold, and today we're going to count down ten of the most memorable ones.

Some of the entries below are certainly still around - some even have managed to find success after falling flat - but they are far from the heights that they once reached by creating some of the greatest games and platforms in video game history. Looking at critical reception, commercial success, and general perception by the public, the following ten entries are some of the most spectacular falls from grace in our industry.

10. LucasArts

Between 1987 and 1998 LucasArts created some of the greatest adventure games of all time, from Maniac Mansion in 1987 all the way to 1998's Grim Fandango. Following the release of these and other games (like Secret of Monkey Island, Sam & Max Hit the Road, and Full Throttle), LucasArts was arguably the best developer in the world when it came to adventure titles. However, after 1998 things began to change.

Between 1998 and 2014 LucasArts developed 75 games for various platforms. Of those 75, 59 were based on Star Wars, and of the remaining 16 five were based on Indiana Jones. That's 64 out of 75 games. Not exactly a very good track record for a company that once developed some of the most imaginative original games of all time. Things got even worse when the company was acquired by Disney in 2012.

In 2013 it was announced that LucasArts would cease all internal development of games, and became just a licensor for its existing properties. This meant that all of the games that were in development at the time were cancelled and around 150 employees were let go as a result. Today, less than 10 people remain within the company that was once among the best developers in the world.

9. John Romero

John Romero was at one point in the 90s quite possibly the most famous video game creator in the world. He was one of the main driving forces behind the popularization of first person shooters in the early 90s, thanks to his work on games like Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, and Quake. He was the rock star of video game world at the time, and rode a wave of momentum generated by his role in producing some of the most influential games of all time into huge levels of hype and goodwill for his first game after leaving iD Software and founding Ion Storm.

That game was Daikatana, one of the biggest commercial failures in video game history, and a product of an endless string of poor decisions that ultimately made Romero something of an unwanted developer in the industry. Since then he hasn't done much of note, although he is currently in the process of trying to get funding for a new FPS called Blacklight through Kickstarter.

8. Silent Hill

One of the greatest and most influential horror video game series ever created, Silent Hill has certainly seen better days. Starting in 1999 on the PS1 Silent Hill quickly earned both critical acclaim and commercial success which continued with both Silent Hill 2 and 3, with Silent Hill 4: The Room being in many ways the point at which the series lost its way. After this 4th game the series went on hiatus, and it was during this period that the series' original development team, known as Team Silent, was disbanded.

By the time Silent Hill returned in 2007 the games were no longer being developed internally by Konami. Instead, they were contracted out to a number of different western studios. The results have been just as varied as you'd expect, with most new Silent Hill games being forgettable attempts at capturing the greatness of the earlier titles without really understanding what made them great in the first place.

However, it seemed like the series might finally make a triumphant return when Konami released an interactive teaser titled P.T. This turned out to be for a new game called Silent Hills which was being developed by Kojima Productions as a collaboration between Hideo Kojima and Guillermo Del Toro. However, due to various issues between Konami and Kojima which eventually lead to the latter leaving the developer, the game was cancelled in 2015, leaving fans of the series to wonder what could have been.

Since then the series has practically disappeared; Konami apparently has little-to-no interest in actually making video games anymore, let alone great ones. It's difficult to say if Silent Hill will ever return but, considering the current state of Konami, it's not going to happen anytime soon.

7. Sega

In the early 90s Sega was on, or near to being, top of the world. It was the only console manufacturer that was able to challenge Nintendo's home console dominance until Sony came along, it was responsible for one of the biggest video game series in the world at the time (its flagship Sonic series; more on that later), and its Sega Genesis/Mega Drive platform had just become (and still is, of course) the company's best-selling console of all time. Unfortunately for Sega it was all downhill from then on.

The first warning signs actually emerged quite early on - in 1991 - when Sega released the Sega CD peripheral for the Genesis. Admittedly, it wasn't a complete disaster, as it did have its share of great games and the CD was quickly growing in popularity at the time, so there was a clear justification for its release. The 32X on the other hand had no such excuses when it came out in late 1994 with the intention of bridging the gap between the Genesis and Sega's next console, the Saturn.

The problem here was that Saturn was already very close to release at the time (Saturn actually released before the 32X in Japan), so nobody cared about the 32X, making it a huge failure in just about every way. It had a very small software library and it cost more than the Genesis itself at that point in time. It was soon discontinued as focus turned to the Saturn. Unfortunately, the Saturn proved to be yet another misstep from Sega.

Everything about the Saturn was marked by panic and fear on Sega's part. Sony had recently announced its entry into the console market with the PlayStation, and Sega was clearly worried about the impact it would have on its upcoming new console. As a result, at E3 1995, Sega announced that instead of releasing on the originally planned date in September that year, the console would be available immediately at select retailers. Sega wanted to capitalize on an early US release, but ended up upsetting a number of developers and retailers who were caught badly off-guard by the sudden announcement.

As the Saturn's fortunes went from bad to worse over the next few years, Sega placed its hopes on the next home console - the Dreamcast. However, the company once again stumbled in how it handled the transition between the two consoles, basically abandoning the Saturn long before the Dreamcast had even been officially announced and leaking rumours concerning the Dreamcast to the public, effectively discouraging gamers from purchasing the Saturn.

With the Dreamcast at least Sega finally did some things right, but it was seemingly far too late in the day. Despite a successful US launch and a great early (and legacy) reception, interest in the console quickly began to wane as Sony's PS2 neared release. Ultimately, Sega couldn't recover from a string of bad decisions between 1994 and 1998, and in 2001 it exited the console market and shifted exclusively to game development. Sega is still a successful company and has a number of great franchises under its wing, but it's hard to not see that as a major demotion from being the second biggest console manufacturer in the world.

6. Konami

Up until a few years ago Konami was a respected developer and publisher that was generally praised for the classic series it had been responsible for in years past and present, including Metal Gear Solid, Castlevania, Contra, and many others. In addition Konami was synonymous with one of the most well-known and beloved video game creators in the world - Hideo Kojima. And then the rumours of the company's internal implosion began to surface.

The problems within Konami first came to light during the development of Metal Gear Solid V: Phantom Pain. Reports stated that Hideo Kojima had been involved in a falling out with Konami, and soon all mention of Kojima was removed from the game's marketing. Eventually Kojima ended up leaving Konami for good - the rift between the famed developer and Konami management being irreconcilable - and since then the company has been repeatedly criticized for its treatment of employees.


After the release of MGSV Konami hasn't exactly treated its franchises with respect either, instead leveraging their name value as a means to sell pachinko machines. Konami has since more or less abandoned its traditional video game business, deciding instead to focus on mobile gaming. Meanwhile, most of the company's IPs are left to rot in a corner somewhere, brought out only when it requires an easily recognisable name to sell something with. This is undoubtedly one of the biggest and most well-known falls from grace in the industry in recent years.

5. Sonic The Hedgehog

Sonic has gone through more than a few rough periods over the last 20 years or so. From 1991 to 1994 the series was one of the biggest and most beloved video game franchises in the world, with numerous hugely popular and well received releases coming under its banners in a very short time span. Then Sega started to experiment with the series with games like Sonic 3D Blast and Sonic R, and in doing so discovered 3D, which has been employed with some extremely varied results in Sonic games.

At first it seemed like the series would have a decently painless transition from 2D to 3D, with the two Sonic Adventure games being quite well received and providing a good foundation from which to improve upon. Unfortunately, everybody involved with the series seemed to have forgotten about the 'improve' part when games like Shadow The Hedgehog, Sonic The Hedgehog (2006), and Sonic Unleashed began to come out. 

The series had apparently finally found its footing when Sonic Colors and Sonic Generations received mostly positive reviews, giving people hope that maybe Sega did know what it was doing. Even after so many poor entries into the series Sonic games were still selling very well, with Generations moving over 4 million copies across all platforms. Of course, Sega then followed this up with Sonic: Lost World and then finally hit rock bottom with Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric.

These last two releases seem to have finally been enough for even the most devoted fans of the series to give up hope, as neither game managed to reach 1 million copies sold. Sega itself has confirmed that Sonic Boom is the lowest selling game in franchise history. Basically, Sonic The Hedgehog has now reached its lowest point both commercially and critically in its 25 year history. Quite a sorry state of affairs for a game series that was once among the biggest in the world.

4. Spyro The Dragon

It's sad that I have to include Spyro the Dragon on this list, but there's no denying the fact that the series has fallen far since the PS1 era when it was one of the highest profile platforming franchises around. The first three games sold over 12 million copies combined, but then Insomniac Games left the series behind as it moved from the PS1 to the PS2. Of course, that wasn't the end for Spyro, although it probably should have been.

Since then the series has bounced from publisher to publisher, until it eventually ended up in Activision's hands, where Spyro has become pretty much just a side character in the Skylanders series. The first Skylanders game at least still carried his name, but since then Spyro's been relegated to the supporting cast in a spin-off series to his own games. 

As a side note, originally I also intended to include Crash Bandicoot on this list, but then Sony announced the remakes of the original trilogy at E3 this year, which at least makes it possible for the series to make a comeback at some point. Spyro, on the other hand, shows no signs of receiving such treatment.

3. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater

Remember when Tony Hawk's Pro Skater was still one of the biggest and most critically acclaimed series around? You know, about ten years ago or so. Funny how things change. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 on the PS1 is still one of the highest rated games of all time, while 2015's Pro Skater 5 is one of the lowest rated titles on every single platform it was available for.

There really isn't much more to say about this one. The Tony Hawk's Pro Skater series hasn't really been viewed as anything other than the butt of jokes for years now, not because it couldn't still be great, but simply due to a string of poor releases over the last ten years. Maybe one day someone will figure out how to make the series successful again, but I wouldn't hold my breath.

2. Duke Nukem

The more I think about it, the more I realize that in many ways the reputation Duke Nukem had as a great series was based almost entirely on a single game – Duke Nukem 3D. The first two games were 2D action platformers which helped popularize the genre on PC in the early 90s, but they were never going to be huge games. Duke Nukem 3D blew up and the series quickly gained incredible levels of popularity, but outside of a handful of spin-offs 3D Realms was never able to capitalize on its success.

The development hell that took place during the creation of Duke Nukem Forever have been well documented, with a number of game engine changes pushing the release date back further and further until it became a meme before the term meme even took off. Until, against all odds, it was actually released in 2011, only to prove to be a dated relic of the late 90s without a clear identity of its own. It was trying to be too many things at once, taking inspiration from both the fast-paced shooters of the past while also striving for realism in some of its mechanics.

It's now been five years since the last new release in the series, and while it's always possible for Duke to make a comeback it just feels like time has passed this series by. 

1. Atari

Once the biggest video game developers and console manufacturers in the world from the late 70s to the early 80s, Atari had the entire industry in the palm of its hand and controlled the vast majority of video game sales in North America with the Atari 2600. And then the mistakes began to pile up. The company's follow-up consoles - the 5200 in 1982 and the 7800 in 1986 - were failures both commercially and critically, especially in comparison to the 2600.

The market itself was becoming oversaturated with horrible games, a situation Atari was in many ways responsible for. The firm tried to make a few comebacks over the next decade, most notably with the misguided Jaguar console, but it was never really able to get off the ground with any of them. Atari was then split into two soon after the 1983 video game market crash - into Atari Games, which lasted until 2003 under various owners until being dissolved by Midway Games, and Atari Corporation, which went defunct in 1996.

The Atari that exists today is barely a shadow of its former self. The video game giant of years past is now just a name brand adopted by Infogrames in 2009 after it acquired the rights to all of Atari's assets. Since then Infogrames has published a handful of poorly received games based on old Atari properties and entered the social casino gaming industry.

To make matters even more confusing, Atari SA is the parent company formerly known as infogrames, while Atari Inc is the video game developer owned by Atari SA. Furthermore, Atari Interactive is another subsidiary that acts as a publisher for the company's PC games. At least I think that's how it goes. Basically, the Atari(s) that is/are still around has/have very little to do with the Atari that was once at the top of the video game world. It's a disappointing end for a company as important to the development of the whole video game industry as Atari.

Those are, in my opinion, the biggest and most notable falls from grace in the history of video games thus far. Naturally there are many more that have taken place over the last several decades, so if you think I missed any let me know in the comments. As always, thanks for reading.

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