The Turning Points That Weren’t: The Most Overrated Moments in Gaming History

Toys R Us is shutting down, and gamers everywhere are now asking themselves “what places will I not be shopping at for my games, now?” It’s weird to me how our community is making such a big deal out of this when I have to believe most of you haven’t set foot in a TRU since the Bush administration. Look, I’m sorry for all the jobs lost that comes with a major, iconic company shutting down, but this was a long time in the making. Nostalgia is the only reason any gamer in 2018 is shedding tears over that damn giraffe being shot down by big boxes on safari. I don’t get nostalgic, even though Toys R Us is directly tied to my status as a gamer. In July of 1998, my parents took soon-to-be nine-year-old me to browse at the store and figure out what I wanted for my birthday. After I spent roughly thirty minutes playing Banjo-Kazooie on a kiosk, my decision was crystal clear.

But, as important as that is to my gaming heritage, Toys R Us is completely inconsequential to the history of gaming. No different from the closings of KB Toys or Blockbuster Video or any other once-powerhouse source for games.

Actually, I think the death of Toys R Us is a great chance to teach young children about life and death. And in that spirit, I propose that TRU use whatever funds they can round-up to purchase giraffes for the purpose of euthanizing them in front of children on the final day before closure of each location. This will also act as an effective form of revenge against the competitors that put you out of business since any child who witnesses this won’t ask parents to buy toys from those stores.. or for that matter, any toy from any retailer at all.. ever again. I fully release this idea to you, Toys R Us. Go out with a bang. Or a very large syringe full of barbiturates.

And it got me to thinking: what are the most overrated moments in gaming history? Stuff that people make a big deal about, but ultimately don’t even matter all that much. I came up with six, which I’ll now present in no particular order.

Various Hardware Busts

Let’s get the most obvious one out of the way first. No, it doesn’t really matter all that much when consoles don’t capture the public’s imagination. Take the Dreamcast, for example. It flopped so badly that it knocked Sega clean out of the console business, right?

Wrong. Sega’s days in the manufacturing business were numbered before the Dreamcast even launched in North America. Isao Okawa had been advocating to become a third-party for years and only relented on going forward with the Dreamcast on the grounds that it experimented with internet options. When he became the CEO of Sega in 2000, that was the end of Sega as a console maker. Before an official announcement was made, the heads of Sega’s first-party studios were openly talking about hoping to see their games on other platforms. They never would have said that type of stuff in public if the winds of change weren’t already blowing. It would have been career-suicide to undermine the Dreamcast like that. While I do still firmly believe Sega would have stuck it out for another generation if Dreamcast had included a DVD drive and sold better, Sega insiders I’ve spoken with insist that engineers who talked about the next generation were shut down immediately. I’ve heard it enough that I figure it has to be true. Hell, I’ve even heard rumor that part of Sega’s deal with Microsoft for the DC’s Windows operating system included a handshake commitment to abandoning manufacturing at the start of the next generation.

It’s worth pointing out that Okawa was dying by time he made his ruling on Sega’s status. And that Sega’s biggest problem wasn’t the money lost on Dreamcast, but the money lost on SegaNet. Remember that? Well, if the lost money of the Dreamcast was equal to a firing barrel, the lost money on SegaNet was the sun. It was so bad that the only way Sega could survive the transition to being a third-party was if Okawa forgave all the loans he had given the company out of his personal wealth AND returned all $700,000,000 worth of shares in the company he had. Which he did. Nice guy.

Other failures get cited often enough that I suppose I should list them. Virtual Boy is Nintendo’s most famous belly-flop in their Scrooge McDuck-style money silo. But actually, Nintendo fully anticipated laying a less than golden egg at least six months before it even shipped. I know, right? They only moved forward with manufacturing because they were so far along in the process that it made less sense to not launch. Unlike the fiasco with the SNES CD-ROM drive, the Virtual Boy was made of relatively cheap materials and the technology they were paying a license on wasn’t really that expensive. Nintendo certainly didn’t overspend on R & D, nor did they suffer insane amounts of inventory crush. Dollar for dollar, Nintendo’s biggest R & D loser ever is in fact the SNES CD-ROM project. It’s not even close. If vaporware isn’t fair, the dishonor goes to the Nintendo 64 DD Drive, developed entirely in-house and a major project within the company that barely made it to market (and doing so in Japan only) and sold under 20,000 units once it was on shelves. So it’s kind of funny that Virtual Boy is the flop everyone talks about when it’s not even in the top two. To put Virtual Boy’s impact on Nintendo in perspective, Sony lost more money on their Ghostbusters reboot than Nintendo did on Virtual Boy.

The Virtual Boy of movie directors. I kid. I thought Spy was perfectly fine.

What about Saturn you say? You mean the console that dominated the original PlayStation for the first two years of their existence in Japan? Botched North American launch and legacy notwithstanding, it was Sega’s only console that actually had traction over competitors in Japan. Hell, in Japan the Genesis (or Mega Drive over there) was third to the TurboGrafx 16 (PC Engine, Christ, how did gaming need so much time to figure out to have one universal name for your consoles?) at the start of its life cycle and stayed that way until NEC essentially bowed-out.

What about the 3DO?  Believe it or not, it was profitable. And then, once they transitioned to a third-party company, they were even more profitable. They died a miserable death when the children who loved Army Men games became old enough to become actual Army Men, but at one point, they were one of the most profitable third-party game companies in the world.

I would argue the most consequential failure of gaming hardware in my gaming lifetime (1996 to the present) was actually the Vita. Sony gave up on development for it quickly and there’s been no talk of them returning to that space. The 3DS line has shown that there’s still a market for handheld games, so you can’t blame the rise of mobile on Sony’s portable exit. And hardcore gamers loved both the PSP and Vita. At one point, the Vita was my primary gaming device. It’s the one flop I’ve witnessed that knocked a major console manufacturer out of the business because of the flop alone and not all the residual bullshit that comes with it, like the toll on share prices or devaluing the brand name.

Dreamcast? Nah. It’s not that big a deal. It sucks how quickly it died, but gaming is probably better off with Sega as a third-party.

Gaming Magazines Closing

I’ve already “reviewed” gaming magazines here. By the way, fun fact: of all the articles I’ve done, that’s the one that got me the most hatred. Not my Sonic CD review. Not my Cuphead review. Saying “meh, who cares about Game Magazines?” is the one that had me fitted for a bullet-proof vest. Okay, that’s an exaggeration, though I do have Brian taste my food for me when we eat out. For all I know there’s still an angry chef out there who has to occasionally bury his face in his hands and cry over the death of Nintendo Power that might still have it in for me.

I had this cover analyzed by a team of scientists and they determined it is not physically possible to put in less effort on a magazine cover.

Personally, I was a big fan of EGM, but by time it dropped dead in 2009, it was already a shell of itself. Plus, you know, the Internet was a thing by that point. A lot of gamers point at the loss of gaming magazines as an almost loss of innocence. My question is, did the magazines really die? Aren’t gaming websites, blogs, YouTube channels, Twitch, etc, the logical evolutionary legacy of those magazines? Like how the dinosaurs gave way to birds, magazines like EGM or Game Pro gave rise to, for better or worse, sites like IGN, stars like PewDiePie, and independent bloggers like yours truly? That’s why I get a terrific giggle out of how much hate mail I got from my magazine article. Because, when you think about it, Indie Gamer Chick is one of many heirs to the legacy of your childhood gaming rags. Flame me all you want, but it doesn’t make it any less true.

By the way, I’m perfectly aware of the irony that I rag on gaming mags but still did the dance of eternal happiness to have been featured in an editorial in Game Informer last year. Hey, I never said I wasn’t an amazingly two-faced hypocrite.

Hot Coffee

Ah, Hot Coffee. It’s gaming’s version of Janet Jackson’s nipple at the Super Bowl. A moment in time where the reaction was so much worse than the reality. For those that don’t know what Hot Coffee is, I assure you, I’m not talking about Starbucks.

Sometimes content in a game hits the cutting room floor, but it’s cheaper (or downright needed based on how a game is programmed) to just cut off access to parts of the game than it is to actually delete parts of the code itself. Thus, the content is no longer part of the game, but if you have a means to manipulate the code, you might regain access to it. When I was a kid, Animal Crossing on the GameCube had NES games (among them, the original Legend of Zelda) you could only access with devices like Action Replay. And can you tell I only brought that up because I find the idea of talking about something so cutesy as Animal Crossing in the same breath as bringing up hardcore simulated sex in Grand Theft Auto to be hilarious?

Because I totally do.

And am.

I suspect such content is probably in Animal Crossing anyway. I mean, his name is Tom NOOK. That’s one letter shy of a really good time.

So yea, someone figured out that there was a deleted mini-game in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas that allowed you to have full on sex. No censorship either. Just straight up baby-making in all its disgusting glory. Here, have a look. Just, remember, this is not safe for work.

And holy crap, did the industry completely lose their shit over this. Even though you needed some form of third-party intervention to access the mini-game, the ESRB upgraded (or downgraded, depending on your level of prudishness) San Andreas to the dreaded adults-only rating and retailers pulled it from shelves. And then politicians got involved, with no less than Hillary Clinton calling for ESRB ratings to be federally mandated. Which is strange since the ESRB is part of the Entertainment Software Association. Which is, you know, a lobbyist. It seems like a weird position for anyone campaigning to limit the power of lobbyists to take. But then again, if you’re a politician that isn’t at least a little hypocritical, that’s usually taken as a sign of some kind of moral flabbiness that should be avoided at all costs.

So yea, it was a shit show of epic proportions. But, what ultimately was done about it? Well, Rockstar deleted the offending code and re-released the game, and for a while developers stopped merely cutting off unused game content and outright mandated deleting it, but that lasted about, well, a cup of coffee.

Personally, I’m surprised CJ could get laid at all. I mean, look at him. That neck makes him look like he’s Groot’s long-lost half-brother.

It’s a shame, really. This could have been an amazing chance for the game industry to grow. To have a much-needed conversation about whether or not we were ready for games that truly are only for adults. This was all back in 2005. Now, here it is 2018. There still hasn’t been a truly adult-only game on consoles. Hell, since Hot Coffee happened, I have played a game where I performed an abortion. On a guy. After fighting undead Nazi fetuses that used Hitler’s actual voice.

That game had an M rating. And I didn’t have to hack anything to access it. It’s literally part of a boss fight. So was Hot Coffee a product of its time? Would it be an outrage if it happened today? Am I actually suggesting some major AAA should hide a sex mini-game in their code and then leak it just so we can find out? Why yes. Yes I am. Look at it this way: your project will get unprecedented mainstream coverage and desirability after the inevitable over-reaction. And if it goes bad, hey, the industry will be no worse off.

Or it will be completely destroyed. Either/or.

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