Failure to Launch: The Worst Video Game Launches

Hype is a finicky thing. It can certainly work to the advantage of game developers. Constant media buzz — coupled with an astronomical ad budget — can cause a surge in pre-orders, line-ups at E3 demo booths, and over-crowded comment sections. But pre-release video game hype is a double edge sword. I mean, all product manufacturers crave attention, but if that attention turns negative, the impact can be catastrophic.

As we’ve seen with the negative reception to the launches of Anthem and Fallout 76, the video game industry is far from love fest. Sure, gamers are quick to support their favorite franchises, but they are also quick to voice their dissent. And who can blame them? Games are expensive and only getting pricier.

Although Anthem and Fallout 76 aren’t the first bad video game launches in history, they most certainly won’t be the last. Today, we’ll explore some of the more memorable video game launch fiascos and provide a bit of an update as to where the game stands today. So, let’s get to it!

Assassin’s Creed Unity

The Assassin’s Creed franchise has blessed fans of the franchise with new games, new characters, and new, exotic locales on a yearly basis. And for the most part, fans have welcomed them with open arms. However, Assassin’s Creed Unity, the franchise’s first full entry on the PS4 and Xbox One, left a lot to be desired.

The lead up to the release of Unity didn’t go well as it was delayed by a full two weeks. Then when it finally did hit the shelves, the game was effectively broken. Players hoping to play their part in the French Revolution, instead found themselves falling endlessly through the ground, getting stuck in hay bales, and gasping in horror — or uncontrollably laughing — at the sight of characters with missing faces.

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Add to those controversies surrounding delayed media reviews and the suspension of post-release content despite selling season passes before launch, you have one of the worst PR nightmares in video game history.

No Man’s Sky

You have to feel for independent game makers Hello Games. I mean, nobody enters into the career of their dreams to mislead the very fans who supported their game. But things don’t always work the way that you want them too, just ask the company’s founder Sean Murray.

No Man’s Sky was billed as a portal to an infinite, computer-generated universe that’s full of wonder and surprises. Unfortunately, after a particularly awful launch, users were left surprised at the lack of content and left wondering why they spent so much of their hard-earned cash on a shoddy game. Despite selling well, users felt tricked into purchasing something that didn’t deliver.

The game is still receiving content add-ons and upgrades, Although the catastrophic launch of No Man’s Sky sure left an awful taste in the mouths of many jilted explorers, Hello Games took the criticism to heart. They have gone onto turn the game’s fortune around with some well-received updates, especially Atlas Rises and NEXT.

SimCity

When it comes to gaming launch disasters, 2013’s SimCity is the gold standard.

This 2013 reboot of the fan-favorite city-building franchise with the same name went about as bad as anyone could have possibly imagined. For starters, the developer, Maxis, weathered some serious flak for their decision to make the game online only. After all, SimCity is at its heart a single-player city builder. Although they weathered that storm, it would be the first of many.

On launch, the servers were down — and they remained down for nearly a week. Which meant that all those day one SimCity supporters had to show for their purchase was a charge to their credit card and a plastic disk that didn’t work.

While the launch was a mess, SimCity was barely playable even once the server problems were fixed. Guess you just have to add it to the long list of disasters under EA’s oh-so-troublesome banner.

Star Wars Galaxies

Star Wars Galaxies should have been a geek’s dream come true. I mean, a fully functioning MMORPG set in the Star Wars Universe, how could you possibly screw that one up? Well, settle in my friends because Star Wars Galaxies certainly screwed up.

After more than a few delays, Galaxies was put into the hands of gamers on June 26, 2003. The game received mixed reviews due to bugs, glitches, and a good number of broken features. Eventually, those were fixed. But, as with many LucasArts properties, the company couldn’t leave well enough alone.

Two subsequent gameplay updates — April 2005’s Combat Upgrade and November 2005’s New Game Enhancements upgrade — completely overhauled all aspects of the game, much to the dismay of those who actually played the game. The updates were the final nail in the coffin and the game shut down with little fanfare in 2011.

Diablo 3

May 15, 2012 was supposed to be a big day for Blizzard Entertainment. After all, it was the launch of one of the most anticipated computer RPGs in the history of gaming. In hindsight, Blizzard would probably much rather forget that part of their history.

Much like the aforementioned SimCity, Diablo 3 was built as an online-only gaming experience. As such, the servers became overloaded upon release. On the gamer side, prospective dungeon crawlers experienced exceptionally slow connections — and those were the lucky ones. Thousands more were locked out of the game entirely.

Blizzard would go on to apologize, but the damage had already been done.

Grand Theft Auto Online

It’s tough to be too mad at Rockstar Games for the way that they handled Grand Theft Auto Online. After all, GTA Online was a free add-on to the crowd-pleasing, award-winning GTA V. The latter certainly gave many their moneys’ worth. However, the launch of the first-ever, fully online Grand Theft Auto game was highly anticipated and highly problematic.

The game’s launch period was riddled with everything from server issues to connection problems to broken gameplay to glitches. Eventually, Rockstar would apologize for the inconvenience the online mode caused.

But hey, if it means anything, GTA Online works now — and it has mainly responsible for GTA V becoming the most profitable entertainment product of all time.

Driveclub

Driveclub was supposed to sell consoles. This PS4 exclusive was billed as a revolutionary, socially connected driving sim with better graphics, more cars, and an unmatched, high-octane online gaming experience like no other. But, as I’m sure you’ve already discovered, talk is cheap.

On launch day, October 7, 2014, the game simply didn’t work. The servers couldn’t handle the demand. It took weeks before the game’s highly touted online component even worked.

And it’s a shame, really. Because after the poor launch, Sony’s Driveclub actually turned out to be a pretty great game. Sadly, the sour launch behind this one proved to be too much.

Halo: The Master Chief Collection

Count me as one of the thousands of people that purchased Halo: The Master Chief Collection on day one. This hotly anticipated game was the first time that fans could experience the first four numbered iterations of Halo on one disc!

It should have been a great day for gaming. But, spoiler alert, it most definitely was not.

Glitches, bugs, server issues, matchmaking freezes, broken lobby systems, this list of reported errors grew by the day. Even worse, the launch-day errors would endure for months, rendering the game completely unplayable.

The problems were so bad that they only just finished fixing them in 2018. The game was released in late 2014! That’s about as bad as it gets.

The War Z

I can guarantee that had developer Hammerpoint Interactive known what was in store, they would have dragged the completed The War Z game file and placed it in the trash.

The game, released on Steam for $15 on December 17, 2012, was doomed from the outset. The controversy began with claims of misleading advertising, continued with plagiarism — many believed that War Z looked too much like Day Z — and concluded with censorships and petitions.

There was just so much wrong with the game from the user outcry to the developer’s response to all of the controversy. Definitely way too much to mention here. If you’re curious, I encourage you to grab some popcorn and read over Kotaku’s comprehensive breakdown.

Half-Life 2

Half-Life and parent company Valve are revered today for their innovative contributions to the gaming industry. More specifically, their contribution to PC gaming. But that wasn’t always the case.

Half-Life 2’s storied history started out rocky. For starters, the legendary game was the first game to require the Steam platform in order to play. This would have been fine if the Steam PC gaming platform was prepared. Overloaded servers left many consumers out in the cold.

But even the roughest starts can’t hold back legendary games — or legendary game platforms. Half-Life 2 enjoys a staggering 96 percent score on Metacritic proving to the entire world that even a historically awful launch day can be forgotten about if the game is good enough.

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