Five Times Game Companies Made Themselves Look Stupid

“Congratulations, you played yourself,” is a quote that does the rounds on a daily basis in this modern world we live in. A day, if not an hour, cannot go by without someone competing for the world record in fastest self-ownage but it wasn’t always the case.

Is this an advert for Sega, or just the face you pull when you see the latest utter stupidity?

Sometimes it took something particularly special for someone to utterly screw themselves over; as these five occasions that gaming companies made themselves look utterly foolish can demonstrate.

5. Amstrad Claims Its New Computer Isn’t Real

Younger games may not remember Amstrad, the company formed by Lord Sugar as a trading company for importing cheap goods into the UK from overseas. You probably know him as “that bearded guy who fires people on the British version of The Apprentice“. That wasn’t always the case, however. Back in the 1980’s, Amstrad held over 50% of the home computer market in the UK.

In 1984, Amstrad launched their first computer, the Amstrad CPC 464. It was a lovely piece of kit and it gained a decent enough market share to make Amstrad a lot of money – so much so that they decided to follow it up in 1985 with their second computer, the Amstrad CPC 664. They were so keen to make sure the CPC 664 was a success that they started making games available for it a few months before it launched. This made a lot of sence since CPC 464 users would be able to play those games as well (the two machines were almost 100% compatible with one-another).

What didn’t make a lot of sense was what Amstrad did next. Amstrad were very secretive when it came to their projects, so they didn’t want people to know their new machine existed until they were ready to sell it. That lead to a strange situation where the official Amstrad CPC magazine was running photographs of new CPC 664 games alongside articles claiming the CPC 664 did not exist.

“It’s just a name the CPC 464 goes by overseas!” the magazine claimed. “It’s really hard to find a brand name that can be used everywhere in the world!” they whined. That’s actually true, by the way. You may be aware of the “hilarious” incident of Mortal Kombat: Deception being renamed as Mortal Kombat: Mystification in France because “deception” in French translates to “Disappointment” and the company was worried that telling its customers what to expect when they played the game would give away some spoilers.

But here’s the real clincher on why this was an utterly stupid move on the part of Amstrad: they had already shown off the CPC 664 to the trade press at a trade convention the month before the official magazine ran these photos. Everyone knew that not only was the CPC 664 on the way but there was another CPC computer in the works as well. The cat was already out of the bag and all Amstrad were doing at this point was making themselves look like liars to their own customers.

4. Sony Claims The PlayStation 4 Slim Doesn’t Exist

You may be aware of the PlayStation 4, it’s something of a big deal in console gaming. It’s a nice, chunky machine that looks decent enough and plays good games that people enjoy. It’s a bit bulky however and Sony has a track record of making big things smaller (your wallet, for one – everyone remember the obnoxiously large price tag on the PlayStation 3?). So it should come as no surprise that Sony might want to make their bulky PlayStation 4 console a little smaller. They did it with all three of its predecessors, so it only makes sense.

What doesn’t make sense is the fact that some people were able to buy the slim PlayStation 4 before Sony had even announced it. Those people made videos of themselves unboxing and testing out the new Slim PS4. Those videos made it onto YouTube and people watched them.

Sony still claimed the Slim PS4 did not exist and they kept claiming it wasn’t real right up until the day they put on a big show and made an event out of revealing it. They strung a farce out for weeks because they didn’t want to move the date of their announcement, even though they had already sold slim PS4s and the public knew they existed, they worked, and they were decent machines.

Sometimes we wonder if Sony really knows how business works.

3. Atari Releases A Console Developers Can’t Code For

We could have filled this list with example after example of how Atari has sabotaged itself over the years but that just wouldn’t be very sporting, so we’ve limited ourselves to just highlighting this one occasion. This one is the mega fail, however. This is when Atari decided to go all-out on destroying their credibility. We can see the staff meeting for what went down:

“Okay guys, what if… we drop the console we’ve been working on and release its sequel console instead?”
“But the sequel console isn’t ready. That’s why we’ve been developing that other console, to give us time to get the bugs out of this follow-up one.”
“That’s great but hear me out here: what if we just don’t fix all those bugs and sell the sequel console now?”
“But the development tools aren’t ready. The documentation to help developers write games isn’t ready. We haven’t even made it read all the input registers yet!”
“I’m not hearing a lot of team spirit and pulling together here, guys. Look, we’re doing it, okay? Get on board. We’re shipping the Jaguar!”

The Atari Jaguar is a console that’s way ahead of its time and the reason for that is because it was literally pulled from its future release date in order to try to blow Sony, Sega and Nintendo all out of the water. The problem was, Sony, Sega and Nintendo all had consoles that actually worked; while the only part of the “64-bit” (it wasn’t, it was two 32-bit processors in a trenchcoat) console that was actually tried and tested was the 16-bit CPU that held the machine together.

Developers bypassed the buggy hardware in the Jaguar and just wrote code for the 16-bit Motorola CPU; which meant the majority of Atari Jaguar games looked like they could run on an Amiga 500 or Sega Mega Drive. This is because they could – both of those machines had the same CPU and many games were simply ported over.

Atari’s hardware division folded a few years after the Jaguar launched because even the father of gaming couldn’t survive an epic fail of this magnitude.

2. Sega Bankrupt Their Distributors

The Sega Master System was Sega’s third home console in Japan and first home console everywhere else. It’s a powerhouse of 8-bit gaming and it came out to compete hard against Nintendo’s world dominance via the NES. In most regions, it utterly failed to do that but in Europe, Sega managed to push Nintendo into second place.

It could easily have been a very different story, however. In a move that you could almost believe was intended to ensure their own abject failure, Sega had spent a lot of time and money hyping their new Master System for the Christmas 1987 sales window. This is the best time to market a new console because parents are eager to part with a lot of money to ensure their kids will keep quiet for a while and let them enjoy the only day where it’s socially acceptable to drink alcohol before breakfast.

Sega wanted a slice of that sweet, sweet Christmas money so it plastered television and magazines with adverts for the new Master System console. It worked! Kids wanted this machine. Parents wanted to buy this machine. Shops wanted to sell those parents this machine. All that was needed now was for Sega to actually ship the machine to the stores and they could usher in the New Year while diving into a pit of money like a Japanese Scrooge McDuck.

So, when did Sega get those lovely new Master Systems to the shops? Boxing Day.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, Boxing Day is the 26th of December. You may recall that this is the day after Christmas. Sega ruined Christmas, is what we’re saying here. They also ruined the bank balances of the company who were marketing the Master System on their behalf. The glut of cancelled orders bankrupted Mastertronic, Sega’s UK affiliate; which saw them getting absorbed into Virgin Games just to stay afloat.

1. Nintendo Tanks The NES Launch

At this point, you might be wondering how Sega could come back from this to make the Master System victorious in the 8-bit console war in Europe. Well that’s because Nintendo went one better. In Europe, Nintendo didn’t have any troops on the ground, so they went with already-established companies as distribution partners.

For the UK, that partner was Mattel; who had some experience marketing consoles because they had already failed to make a big impact in the market thanks to their Intellivision console a few years earlier. “They sound perfect!” Nintendo may have said. We can’t say for sure (because we didn’t ask them).

Mattel decided the best way to get the new NES console into homes was to only sell it in select stores, such as Boots the Chemist, rather than where people normally went to buy consoles. The games were lovely and certainly looked better than those on the best-selling ZX Spectrum (where games commonly retailed for £1.99) so they set the prices all their games far higher than that. It wasn’t uncommon to see NES games for sale for twenty times the price of a Spectrum game. Now nobody’s going to argue that Nintendo’s games weren’t good but were they twenty times as good? Be honest.

Nintendo finally got sick of Mattel’s handling of the NES so they started distributing it themselves. You could find the NES in the Argos catalogue, in electronics stores and other places you might actually look for one if you wanted to buy one. Finally, things are looking up! Now little Jimmy can play Nintendo, just like his rich friend who’s already got some games. Maybe he can even borrow a game from time to time?

Yes, he can – but the game won’t tell you that. You see, there are two different boxes for NES games after Nintendo takes over, and they make it seem like you can’t swap games. There’s the Mattel NES games, and then there’s the games that say “NES Version” on them. They are actually compatible with one-another because who would be stupid enough to not make them compatible with one-another when they are the same console? Well, Nintendo’s marketing made it seem like they weren’t and as a result, a rumour has persisted in the UK for decades that “the Mattel games won’t work in a Nintendo NES”. They will.

So Nintendo failed to make a big dent in the games market in Europe. Meanwhile, Sega’s over here thinking “wow, we screwed up but at least people know our games work on our consoles”. Sometimes the house of Sonic actually can catch a break after all!

Zoë Kirk-Robinson is a cartoonist and comedian who writes every day because she thinks it keeps her sane. Her latest book, All Over the House: Book Three, is out now.

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