Shack Ten: The Untimely Deaths of Hardware and Software

The Wii U appears to be on its way out. This week's Shack Ten asks: what other ideas expired before their time?

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The Wii U appears to be on its way out, and it's arguably dying before its GamePad gimmick could really live up to its full potential. Mario Maker was the system showpiece, but it came so late in the lifespan that we only scratched the surface. This week, the Shack Ten is all about untimely deaths in their many forms.

10. Virtual Boy

The primary cause for the Virtual Boy's failure was that it was developed about twenty years before the technology behind its concept was ready for the consumer market. Championed by Gunpei Yokoi, inventor of the Game & Watch and Game Boy, the Virtual Boy was envisioned as as device that would take players into their own universe, similar to the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and PSVR of today. As it was developed concurrently to the Nintendo 64, as that console soaked up more of Nintendo's resources, features of the Virtual Boy were omitted or cut entirely.

The console's original portable goggle-based design was changed to the horrible metal stand the production version came with, the 3D effect wasn't as pronounced as intended, it had a very small number of titles, and Yokoi didn't even consider the version of the Virtual Boy that shipped as being a final product. All these things coupled together to ensure that the Virtual Boy died a quick and painful death on retail shelves, with only 770,000 units sold.

9. N-Gage

Yes - there were companies out there that attempted to dethrone Nintendo’s handhelds throughout the years. One of them was Nokia who brought the N-Gage to market back in 2003. What made the N-Gage different was the fact that it was a smartphone / handheld game system hybrid, which allowed its owner to not only make important phone calls that could potentially save millions of lives, but also play games like Rayman 3, Call of Duty, and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater at their leisure.

In its four years of being on the market, Nokia only shipped 3 million units of the N-Gage, making it a complete and utter flop. Whether or not it was its awkward taco-shaped design or it attempting to rival the Game Boy Advance is still up for debate. Either way, Nokia left the handheld market as quickly as they entered it as a result of the N-Gage’s poor sales.

8. Tray and Play

No, it wasn't a revolutionary technology that let you place your can of Mountain Dew in your CD drive while you scored headshots in Counter-Strike. Tray and Play was an initiative made by Microsoft for Windows Vista that let you place a disc in your CD-ROM drive and play the game while it installed. The first and last game to utilize Tray and Play was Halo 2, exclusive to Vista on PC. The tech was part of Microsoft's ill-fated Games for Windows Live initiative, and the first component of the framework to wither and die.

As far as I know, only "Halo 2" for the PC had the feature, but it was nice to have background installation while you played the game. Now that optical media is on its way out for the PC, I consider this an untimely death-RomSteady

7. 3DO

Panasonic’s 3DO was certainly a product ahead of its time that could have failed due to the saturated gaming market in the mid-90s. The 3DO went up against the likes of the Super NES, the Sega Genesis, the TurboGrafx-16, and the Atari Jaguar, to name a few. What made the 3DO unique is it was the first CD-ROM system that helped push graphics, sound, and game design in a way that hadn’t been done before.

Unfortunately, it was priced at $699.99 when it first launched, making it way too expensive for most gamers at the time. It also didn’t help there weren’t any worthwhile games for the system to justify the price of admission as the majority of its software lineup were ports of already popular games, like Alone in the Dark, Myst, and Wolfenstein 3D. At the end of its life, only two million units have reportedly been sold, making it just another high-priced console that had good ideas, but failed to make a dent in the market due to a combination of outrageous pricing and lack of worthwhile software.

6. 1 vs 100

A primetime game show accessed via console doesn't sound like the best idea, but it was actually quite entertaining. It gave players a reason to tune in with a live audience to watch people take part in a virtual game show, prizes and all. If you were chosen to participate, you were able to compete with other humans across the world, expressing yourself by way of your Mii character. It was a novel idea, but unfortunately the plug was pulled from the project way too soon. 1 vs 100, you may be gone, but you're not forgotten.

5. Ouya

With a wildly successful $8.5 million Kickstarter and enthusiasm from both the public and commercial ventures, it seemed like the Ouya was destined to be a success. The Android-based microconsole mainly suffered from a case of being a cool idea, but a useless product. At the time of its 2012 release, Android set-top boxes were still very much a niche product, and the Ouya was only a modestly powerful device from the onset.

The main function of the console, to play games developed for the Android OS, was already something that people had in the form of smartphones and tablets, and the lack of any system-selling exclusive titles proved yet again that no matter how well video game hardware seems poised in the market, without quality exclusive software it just won't sell. The Ouya had lackluster sales, and was only on the market for two years before Ouya Inc., unable to renegotiate its debt, had to put the company up for sale. Razer Inc. acquired the Ouya's modest software library, and on July 27, 2015 the Ouya console was discontinued.

I'd argue that the OUYA totally reached its potential as an underpowered cell phone that doesn't make calls and plugs into a TV. -Arcanum

4. Neo Geo Pocket / Neo Geo Pocket Color

Not only did the Neo Geo Pocket not last long, in some regions it never got started. SNK released the handheld in Japan in late 1998 and discontinued production in late 1999, before the system ever appeared stateside. Cause of death: bad timing. The original Neo Geo Pocket was in black and white, and clearly marketed to compete against Nintendo's Game Boy juggernaut. Unfortunately, the Big N saw SNK's Pocket and raised it a Game Boy Color.

Neo Geo Pocket Color released in 1999 across the US, Japan, and in Europe, but once again Nintendo cut SNK off at the legs: Pokémon mania revitalized interest in Game Boy hardware. On top of that, SNK's mounting financial troubles resulted in the company's collapse in late 1999.

What looked to be interesting GB/GBC competitors had just been released on the market in the USA when SNK killed it. Not too long thereafter SNK declared bankruptcy so this was sort of a harbinger of things to come but yeah, those things never even got to collect dust on shelves before they were yoinked. -Schnapple

3. Disney Infinity

What's better than collecting adorable toys based on familiar Disney characters and then adding them into your game? Watching the figures gather dust as they sit lifeless on your shelf after Disney pulls the plug on the series. Wait, that's not fun at all. Unfortunately, this whimsical and light-as-air series was gone too soon, despite its genius premise, various figures, and adventures that were perfect for both kids and adults alike. At least we got our neW Star Wars figures before the project came crashing down.

2. PlayStation Vita

Sony’s second attempt at a handheld was undoubtedly an improvement over the first: a nicer screen, better button layout, and no proprietary disc system. And while it enjoyed a decent lifespan and continues to get a little love today from JRPG and indie publishers, it was clear fairly early on that Sony was ready to cut bait. Within only a few years of release, it was treated as an afterthought at PlayStation presentations and first-party publishing slowed to a crawl. It’s a powerhouse of a system that’s really nicely designed, so it’s too bad it didn’t take hold alongside the 3DS.

It's a great system with wonderful games, but a combination of really dumb decisions (expensive proprietary SD cards) and Sony's own lack of support meant it had little chance to succeed. It continues to be this cool little indie game playing machine, but with just even a little support (and a drop in SD card price) I feel like it could've been a much better received device. -PointlessS76

1. Sega Dreamcast

"It's thinking," but Sega wasn't. Eighteen months after the first Dreamcast rolled off assembly lines, Sega pulled the plug on its final console—a machine that kicked off the sixth generation of gaming hardware, followed by PS2, GameCube, and Xbox later that year.

Blame for Dreamcast's untimely demise can be placed at the feet of Sega executives who rose to power after a change in leadership occurred. Such events often result in sweeping changes that see heads roll and pet projects of the old regime taken out behind the barn. On the bright side, Sega's awkward exit from hardware manufacturing enabled us to routinely see Mario and Sonic sharing the same screen, something any kid who picked sides on playgrounds during the 16-bit console wars never thought would happen.

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  • reply
    November 4, 2016 5:00 PM

    Shack Staff posted a new article, Shack Ten: The Untimely Deaths of Hardware and Software

    • reply
      November 4, 2016 5:28 PM

      lol you actually put ouya on it

      • reply
        November 4, 2016 6:52 PM

        was the death really untimely?

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          November 4, 2016 6:55 PM

          you have to live to die

          • reply
            November 5, 2016 6:51 AM

            or maybe you need to DIE to LIVE!

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          November 7, 2016 9:03 AM

          I felt it was untimely... it should have died as an unfunded kickstarter!

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      November 4, 2016 6:14 PM

      A couple of other factors on the N-Gage:

      - the games came on cartridges. So you had one more thing to have to keep up with.

      - the cartridge "slot" was under the battery. So to change games you had to shut down the phone and remove the battery.

      In hindsight it makes perfect sense that the first major attempt at a gaming-first phone would try and fail to emulate the game boy.

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        November 5, 2016 7:01 AM

        Weren't the phone speaker and microphone on the edge of the thing as well? So you had to hold the edge up to your face to make calls? It seems like that alone would kill any interest someone might have in using it as a phone.

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      November 5, 2016 5:10 AM

      The Dreamcast was such a great console. I worked for EB at the time it came out, and it had such a good library of games. Its a shame that the PS2 was announced so close to DC launch, because I remember a lot of people just saying "I'll pass on the Dreamcast and wait for the PS2".

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        November 5, 2016 6:00 PM

        I went to a private high school and was the proud owner of a Dreamcast... I constantly had 10+ people in my room playing Soul Caliber; it makes for some of my fondest memories of my youth.

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      November 7, 2016 9:01 AM

      I like the shacker quotes in it :D