When mobile phones started to be able to play games (who else remembers when those old Nokias could play Snake?) I don't think anyone really predicted we'll end up where we have. The invention of smartphones and tablets, and the introduction of social media, has provided brand new platforms to have new types of games that reach out to very large demographics. I'm sure when games such as Candy Crush Saga, Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja first started hitting mobile and social media platforms most "hardcore" gamers wrote them off as just being a fad. They'll never get as popular as "real" games, right?
Well, much to everyone's surprise, they took off big time, and only got more and more popular as smartphones and social media also got more popular. Angry Birds creator Rovio claims that as of July 2015, the series' games have been downloaded more than 3 billion times. Just let that sink in for a moment...more than THREE BILLION. That's basically about half of the world's population downloading Angry Birds. That's insane! Not only that, but the game has spawned a toy line, a comic book series, a TV series, a feature length movie and even a line of soft drinks (sodas).
Few people probably would have predicted just how huge mobile gaming was to become, and how quickly it would get there. The market is perhaps well and truly saturated at this point but that doesn't stop the onslaught of games hitting their various app stores on a daily basis. The scariest part is, it shows no signs of slowing down. It's now actually reached a point where Nintendo has released some original games to mobile platforms with Pokemon GO and Super Mario Run and Sony is also getting in on the action with Playstation franchises such as Wild Arms and Arc the Lad scheduled to make their mobile debuts in 2017.
Throughout the lifespan of the NES, Gameboy, SNES, Gameboy Advance and Nintendo 64 consoles, no company was associated more with Nintendo than Rare. The UK-based studio pumped out many exclusive games for the NES and Gameboy (with only a few games making it to other platforms), including classics such as R.C. Pro-Am, Cobra Triangle, Snake Rattle 'n' Roll and Battletoads. When they released Donkey Kong Country on the SNES however, Nintendo were so impressed with the end result that they purchased 49% of the studio so they became a first party developer. From there Rare produced hit after hit: more entries in the Donkey Kong Country/Land series, Killer Instinct, Goldeneye 007, Blast Corps, Banjo-Kazooie/Tooie, Conker's Bad Fur Day, Diddy Kong Racing, Jet Force Gemini and Perfect Dark, amongst other titles. It seemed like Rare and Nintendo were soulmates and nothing could come between them.
It all suddenly came to a screeching halt in 2002 though. It was announced that the unthinkable had happened - Rare had been purchased to become a first party developer for someone else...that someone else being Microsoft Game Studios, to develop games for their new entry into the console market called the Xbox. Although they continued to release some games for the Gameboy Advance for a few years after the acquisition, Rare's ultimate involvement with Nintendo consoles ended with Star Fox Adventures on the Gamecube. To date, since Microsoft's acquisition of the studio, Rare have been unusually quiet, producing only a handful of original titles to mixed reviews, a series of Kinect games, and a bunch of remasters and compilations. Most of the key staff that were around at the time have long since left the company, with many of them forming a new studio called Playtonic Games.
The separation of Rare and Nintendo was something that nobody saw coming, and one that is still lamented by many gamers even to this day. One wonders where both companies would be now if they had stayed together.
In the arcade scene throughout the 90's there were two fierce Japanese rivals in the genre of fighting games: Capcom, who were most famous for games such as Street Fighter and Darkstalkers, and SNK, most well known for games such as The King of Fighters and Samurai Shodown. If you frequented arcades during this time, you probably would have experienced the intense rivalry - you either sat in the Capcom camp, or the SNK camp. There was no sitting on the fence...it was serious business. If you were a fan of the games of one of these companies, you would not have even entertained the thought that the two might put their differences aside one day and actually work together, but that's exactly what happened. And not just for one game either, but a series of games. As legend tells it, the two companies agreed to sign a contract due to fan demand after misreading an issue of "Arcadia" magazine. The magazine was simply reporting on the releases of Street Fighter Alpha 3 and The King of Fighters '98 and comparing them, putting the title "KoF vs. SF" on the cover. Fans misinterpreted this as meaning that there was a game in development with the same title, but when they found out that wasn't the case, the demand was so high that the two companies supposedly got together and signed a contract.
The first of these games was SNK vs. Capcom: Match of the Millennium, released for the Neo Geo Pocket Colour in 1999. It was exactly as you'd expect it to be, a fighting game that featured characters created by both companies. From there we saw a series of more games released in the arcades and then ported to home consoles, with either Capcom or SNK taking the reigns as primary developer - and you could tell which one was the primary developer as they were listed first in the game's title. So we had Capcom vs. SNK: Millennium Fight 2000, Capcom vs. SNK 2: Mark of the Millennium 2001 and SNK vs. Capcom: SVC Chaos. SNK even created some card-based spinoff games, before closing their doors as SNK and being acquired by Playmore Corporation, rebranding to SNK Playmore (and now recently dropping the "Playmore" part of their name to once again be known as SNK).
The fighting game series has however laid dormant since 2003 (the card games since 2006), possibly due to the fact that apparently, the contract that was signed only allowed for two fighting games each to be produced (the card games were exempt from this). According to some interviews it seems highly unlikely that the two companies would work together again, although in others it suggests that there could still be a chance. Stranger things have happened.
The Metal Gear Solid series is critically acclaimed, and the series' creator Hideo Kojima is considered one of the greatest and most influential game designers of all time. So when it was announced that Hideo Kojima and Konami were parting ways after almost 30 years at the end of 2015, this came as an incredible surprise to everyone.
The story is unfortunately quite messy, with a lot of hearsay and conjecture on what actually went on between Konami and Kojima. The public first became aware that not everything was sunshine and roses when the game Silent Hills was cancelled, despite a very well received playable teaser called P.T. - in fact the demo was removed from the Playstation store entirely. This project was to be a collaboration between Kojima and "Hellboy" director Guillermo del Toro. This news came alongside the announcement that Konami was refocusing its business strategy away from large AAA console games. Kojima was at the time working on the 5th entry in the MGS series: Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. News outlets started reporting that Kojima and his team were no longer full time employees at Konami and were instead essentially made contractors, with their contracts ending in December 2015. Statements were issued that ensured fans that Kojima would remain involved in the project until the end. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain would eventually release in September 2015, and would ultimately become Kojima's final project with Konami, but Kojima's name had noticeably been removed from the box art.
It was reported that Kojima left Komani's offices in October 2015, even having a farewell party. Konami however later denied this and simply said Kojima and his team were on an "extended break". In November however, it was revealed that Konami had shut the studio formally known as Kojima Productions. The next month, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain was nominated for five awards at The Game Awards 2015, and won two of them (Best Action/Adventure Game and Best Score/Soundtrack), but Kojima was not in attendance at the ceremony on December 3rd. Actor Kiefer Sutherland, one of the primary voice actors in the game, accepted the awards on his behalf. Afterwards, the show's producer Geoff Keighley didn't pull any punches, launching a scathing attack on Komani, explaining to the audience and viewers that they prevented Kojima from attending the awards show (you can easily find this video if you want to check it out).
After about a year internally, and months of public back and forth, it was finally announced on December 15th that Kojima had officially left Konami. Not long after this, it was announced that Kojima's new indie studio (also called Kojima Productions) was working with Sony to develop a new PS4-exclusive title. When all is said and done, considering the long history Kojima had at Konami, all of this sounds pretty unbelievable. How could the relationship between Konami and Hideo Kojima go so pear shaped that they split and all of this happened?
While he's obviously not going to be involved in any possible future entries in the MGS series, fans of Kojima's games should still be excited. Following the announcement of his termination at Konami and his new collaboration with Sony, he took to Twitter to say "My employment contract with Konami has been terminated as of Dec 15th, so today marks a new start for me. I'm committed to be involved in creative activities for as long as I live. Look forward to what's coming."
Duke Nukem Forever, the official sequel to 1996's Duke Nukem 3D, became a running joke in the video games industry. Somewhat ironically having the acronym "DNF" (used in athletics events to denote "Did Not Finish"), the game was in development for 14 years, and at many points was considered vapourware - a mythical game that would never see the light of day.
Duke Nukem Forever was first announced in 1997, after 3D Realms licensed the Quake II engine in the previous year to create the game, originally announcing a release date in 1998. Throughout the following couple of years, various screenshots, trailers and other material were released to the public. By mid 1998 however, the team had dropped the Quake II engine and decided to go with the better suited Unreal engine instead, which meant redoing the majority of the work they had already done. By the end of 1999 the game was still not close to even being half finished. There was reportedly an ongoing joke in the 3D Realms offices where they would not want creative director George Broussard to see new games, because he would inevitably want some element of them implemented in Duke Nukem Forever. After 3 years of nothing, a very well received trailer was shown at E3 in 2001, and hype for the game started again.
By 2003 though, there was still no sign of the game. Because the project was mostly self-financed, they weren't under any obligation from their publisher to get the game out in a timely fashion, preferring to just say "when it's done". A new release date was penned for the end of 2004 or beginning of 2005. However, the game was still a no-show by E3 2005. In early 2006, Broussard announced that many elements of the game were complete and they were just working on "making it fun". Despite the game's new publisher Take-Two offering a $500,000 bonus if the game shipped by the end of 2006, 3D Realms were still in no hurry, with Broussard saying they didn't care about or ask for the bonus. The end of 2006 came and went, and in 2007 Broussard stated that the game was still at least 2 years away.
At this point though, it seemed like they were finally serious about shipping the game, and doubled the team's size quite quickly in an effort to finish it. A new trailer and screenshots were released in 2007 and 2008, although the game still was not shown at E3. However, they had pretty much spent all of their own $20 million in development by this point, and asked Take-Two for an additional $6 million to complete the project. When Take-Two only offered $2.5 million and another $2.5 million on completion, Broussard turned it down and suspended development. The development team was laid off and there was a nasty lawsuit between 3D Realms and Take-Two. It seemed like Duke Nukem Forever was finally dead.
However, a number of ex-3D Realms employees, who would eventually form Triptych Games, secretly kept working on the game. They happened to be housed in the same building as Gearbox Software, a studio that was co-founded by a guy that very briefly had worked on Duke Nukem Forever in its very early stages - Randy Pitchford. 3D Realms approached Gearbox and asked if they could help them finish it and port it to consoles, and Pitchford agreed. It was announced that the game would be released in May 2011. There was one more delay to come though before it finally went gold, but this was only for one month, and Gearbox had some fun when announcing the delay via a video. After 14 years, the game was released in June 2011.
After a history like that (and that's the abridged version) you could be forgiven for thinking that the game would never exist. But, it is actually a thing. It's real. While the game ended up receiving pretty average reviews at best, the fact that it does exist after all of that is pretty amazing.
Believe it or not, the digital games distribution and DRM platform Steam has been around since 2003. Doesn't time fly? When the service was first launched, few would have predicted how big it would become, to the point where it is now the primary (and sometimes only) method of purchasing and playing PC games. Initially launched on Windows, it now supports Linux and OSX as well.
The concept was initially conceived by Valve as an easier way to make sure players were running the latest version of Counter-Strike. They pitched the idea to several companies (including Microsoft), but didn't have any takers, so they took matters into their own hands and did it themselves. After a beta period where their servers couldn't cope with the traffic of thousands of Counter-Strike players, the service launched officially in September 2003.
The much anticipated Half-Life 2 would release the following year, and in what was an incredibly ballsy move at the time for such a fledgling service, Valve decided to make Steam a requirement to install before you could play it, even for boxed retail copies. This was obviously met with a lot of scepticism and concern from many players looking forward to the game - would the servers choke under the load again, like they did in the beta period? Why was it necessary to install the service even if you had an original disc? What would happen if your internet connection died while playing?
As history tells us, the gamble paid off, even though as predicted, many gamers did have issues trying to play the game initially. The requirement resulted in tens of thousands of new Steam accounts being created, and by October 2005 Valve announced that the service was now profitable for them. Around this time, third parties begun using Steam to distribute their games, and by 2007 there were millions of active users on the platform. Fast forward to September 2015, and there are more than 125 million active users and almost 7,000 games available.
The fact Valve took such a big risk with Half-Life 2 and Steam was something that was very unexpected at the time, but it ultimately worked. The growth of Steam itself since then is also somewhat unbelievable, but that's a story for another day.
It's pretty common knowledge at this point that during the reign of the SNES, Nintendo and Sony were working together on creating a CD drive add-on for the console. Ultimately, Nintendo decided it didn't want to go down that path with Sony and decided to enter a licensing agreement with Phillips instead involving the ill-fated CD-i. When this was publicly announced, it was news to Sony. Sony then took the work they had already done and continued working on it as their own product that would eventually become the Playstation.
Squaresoft's Final Fantasy series had always been Nintendo exclusive, first on the NES and then the SNES. However, unhappy with Nintendo's decision to make their Nintendo 64 console cartridge based, they made the move over to Sony's new CD based Playstation console for Final Fantasy VII, as they could not deliver the game they wanted on the Nintendo 64 due to the limitations of the cartridge format. This was a "what the hell?" moment that nobody would have seen coming. Squaresoft were a once prolific developer for Nintendo platforms, not just with the Final Fantasy games but many of their others as well (Secret of Mana, Breath of Fire, Romancing SaGa and Chrono Trigger, to name some titles) - then all of a sudden they completely abandoned them. The split between Nintendo and Squaresoft went on for years...Squaresoft even took not-so-subtle swipes at Nintendo in their advertising campaigns for FF7. It was a split that would last almost a decade until 2003, when Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles was released on the Gamecube after Squaresoft merged with Enix to form Square Enix (although a couple of GBA titles did sneak in before this). Even after that point, the majority of Square Enix games appeared on Nintendo's portable systems and not their main consoles.
Sony's decision to make Final Fantasy VII Playstation exclusive had a big impact on the industry, as the game was aggressively marketed and sold very well. The game contributed heavily to the overall success of the Playstation alongside other titles like Capcom's Resident Evil, Namco's Ridge Racer Revolution and Tekken 3, Konami's Metal Gear Solid and Naughty Dog's Crash Bandicoot, and helped Sony establish a foothold in the industry. The tech giant that was once known for their Walkmans are now better known for their video game consoles.
In another "what the hell"? moment in recent memory as far as video games go, it was announced in late 2015 that Cloud Strife, the protagonist from Final Fantasy VII, would be added to Super Smash Bros. for Wii U/3DS as a downloadable character. His inclusion in the game indicated that Square and Nintendo have very much repaired the damage that was caused all those years ago, as Cloud was essentially the public face of the split between the two companies.
The two major players in video games in the late 80's through to the mid 90's where undoubtedly Nintendo and SEGA. The two companies had fierce competition, especially in the 16-bit era of the SNES and Mega Drive/Genesis. It was a battle that was eventually won by Nintendo, but that didn't mean SEGA didn't produce hits and many classic games. They were still at the top of their field, and many gamers eagerly awaited the next chapter in the console battle.
When the next generation of consoles were ushered in though, SEGA's foothold in the market began to slip. Sony's new Playstation console and the Nintendo 64 were enjoying the majority of the market share, and the SEGA Saturn was struggling. Technically speaking, the Saturn was actually more powerful and capable of higher resolutions than the Playstation, but more complex hardware architecture made it much more difficult to actually develop on. Because of this, the system became more known as a "2D system" even though it was perfectly capable of outputting high quality (at the time) 3D graphics. Ultimately, the Saturn was a commercial failure, only selling 13+ million units compared to the Playstation's 60+ million, not helped by a game library that consisted of many ports of arcade games.
SEGA needed something, and their next console, the Dreamcast, definitely had everything in place. It was a highly regarded system, technically superior to anything else on the market. It was the first console to have an in-built modem for network play, and had a killer library of quality games: Soul Calibur, MDK 2, ReVolt, Power Stone, Sonic Adventure, Grandia 2, Sega Rally 2, Shenmue, Crazy Taxi, Resident Evil: Code Veronica, Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike, and Skies of Arcadia, to name a few. For the 18 months following the Dreamcast's launch, it looked like they just might have been able to pull it off...but then Sony launched the Playstation 2. Hype surrounding the launch of that console, as well as other factors including a lack of advertising budget, lack of support from the biggest third party publishers in Japan and the US at the time (Squaresoft and EA, respectively), and the damage to their reputation caused by previous products like the Saturn and 32X, meant that the Dreamcast simply didn't have the market penetration it needed to be sustainable.
The unimaginable happened...in 2001, SEGA made the decision to pull the plug on their hardware business, and refocus their efforts as a third party software developer, much like Atari had done about 5 years earlier. Strangely enough, third parties and indie developers have continued to release games for the Dreamcast since its discontinuation, even as recently as 2014, and the Dreamcast is still considered by many as one of the greatest video game consoles of all time. But the last game SEGA was involved in for their own hardware was a side-scrolling shooter called Border Down, and this was the game that signalled the end of an era. We never thought we'd see the day that SEGA games would appear on non-SEGA hardware, which is a perfect segue into the next entry on this list...
With SEGA making the move to drop out of the hardware business and become a third party developer, this meant they were now making games for consoles that they used to consider their rivals. Specifically, they developed a much closer relationship with their previous nemesis Nintendo, and collaborated with them on the well received Gamecube title F-Zero GX and its arcade counterpart F-Zero AX. In 2005, it was revealed that Yuji Naka (the creator of Sonic) and Shigeru Miyamoto (the creator of Mario) had been in talks about the possibility of their two mascots appearing in a crossover title. When this news was revealed, gamers everywhere needed to pinch themselves - was this actually going to happen? Would Mario and Sonic actually be in the same game together?
Despite the discussions between the two creators, there was no movement on the idea until SEGA was awarded the license to create official video games for the 2008 Olympics. Both SEGA and Nintendo agreed that the idea of their once rival mascots competing against each other in sportsmanlike competition would be a great way to promote the Olympic Games. SEGA handled the majority of the development, but Nintendo also provided their own input. History was made in January 2008 when Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games was released on the Nintendo Wii and DS. It wasn't the platformer that everyone was hoping for, but it did actually happen - there were Mario and Sonic together in the same game for the first time.
The game launched to mixed reviews, but it was a sales success regardless, so much so that it spawned a series of Summer Olympics and Winter Olympics video games involving the two mascots, and it looks like this is going to be an institution that will remain for the foreseeable future. Even though we are still waiting for that crossover platformer that we have been wanting since the 90's, these games have paved the way for the characters appearing alongside each other in some other titles, perhaps most notably Super Smash Bros. Brawl and its successor on the Wii U and 3DS. Maybe one day, we'll get that platformer...but until then, the fact that we have games with both Mario and Sonic in them in the first place is pretty extraordinary in itself.
Well then...where to start with this one? It's pretty well documented at this point that between 1983 and 1985, the (at the time) thriving video game industry, headed by Atari, suffered a monumental collapse. E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial for the Atari 2600 is often the title that is pointed at as the reason for the crash, and make no mistake, it was definitely an awful game. However it's a little unfair to be lumping all of the blame on this one title.
The main reason for the great video game crash of 1983 was simply over saturation of the market. By 1983, there were simply too many video game systems available and not enough quality titles to go around. The Atari 2600, Atari 5200, Intellivision, Colecovision, Odyssey 2, Microvision and Vectrex are just a few of them (if you want to see the full list, go into your Gamefaqs game collection builder and take a look at the number of 2nd generation consoles in the list). This wasn't helped by some of Atari's own decisions, which included allowing an influx of poor quality third party titles to flood the 2600 and their own abysmal port of Pac-man in 1982, which almost certainly contributed to the lack of sales of E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial. Certainly nobody saw this collapse coming, especially not Atari, who grossly overestimated how many copies of these two games they would sell. 4 million copies of E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial were shipped and 3.5 million of those were returned to Atari. 12 million copies of Pac-man were made, even though the install base of the Atari 2600 at the time was only about 10 million (Atari believed every single 2600 owner would want a copy, and an extra 2 million consoles would be purchased by people just to play it) - in the end it sold about 7 million (for what it's worth, when the Atari 5200 was launched it included a much more accurate version of Pac-Man, but it was too little, too late).
Atari themselves had enough in the bank to survive the recession of the industry, despite the fact that they needed to bury reportedly millions of copies of E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial in a landfill (an excavation in 2014 found more than 700,000 cartridges of various titles), but many other smaller companies didn't. The damage was done however and Atari never returned to its once dominant market position, eventually bailing out of the hardware business altogether to become a third party software developer in 1996 following the commercial failure of the Jaguar.
It should be noted that the great video game crash of 1983 was pretty much restricted to consoles. The computing systems at the time, including the Commodore 64, Apple II and ZX Spectrum saw sales increase if anything, as they were marketed as work systems that could also play games. The arcade scene also managed to survive relatively intact. But the home console market was in tatters. That is, until a little Japanese company quietly launched their Famicom console across the pond as the Nintendo Entertainment System towards the end of 1985.
So there you have it, the top 10 most unexpected events in video game history.
I would like to add one honourable mention to this list:
The passing of Satoru Iwata
People dying isn't unexpected of course, which is why this didn't make the list proper, but it's worth mentioning because I don't think anyone really saw it coming when the news broke in July 2015 that Nintendo's fourth president had passed away. He had been struggling with bile duct growths for some time and his health had been deteriorating for a while, but nobody really expected him to lose his battle at only 55 years old. He gave us much, but left the world too soon. During the credits of Star Fox Zero, a screen will appear that simply says "This game is dedicated to our wingman who fell in battle" - a touching tribute to the man who affected so many of our lives. When I saw that message, I just nodded my head and thought "Well played, Nintendo".
The video game industry is an ever evolving beast and there is always going to be events occurring that you'd never think would happen. Who knows what the future has in store for us? We don't really know, but that's part of what makes video games so great. What unexpected events await us in the next 5, 10, 20 years? It's going to be pretty cool to find out.
Hopefully you found this list educational, and even if you didn't learn anything, you were at least entertained.
Thanks for reading!
List by White_Pointer (04/19/2017)
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