Last week, Microsoft pulled a full reversal on some controversial Xbox One policies. It was a drastic move, and one that required the company to choke down a Duke controller-sized helping of pride. But humble pie is a frequent special on the game industry's menu, so the USG crew put our heads together to come up with the biggest pride-swallowing moments in gaming history.
Throw in Microsoft's Xbox One-80 and you've got a pretty nice top 10 going here. We had some other entertaining fiascos in the running (Dennis Dyack's NeoGAF wager for Too Human, Time Warner dropping its expensive acquisition Atari like a chunk of nuclear waste in the early '80s gaming crash), and we're sure there are a few gems we're forgetting. Refresh our memories in the comments and we might add your write-up to the list, and then you'll be able to take great pride as part of our own little hall of shame!
Nintendo says customers don't want online
Sega ushered in the era of online consoles in 1999 with the Dreamcast, which had a modem in every system. Within a few years, Sony and Microsoft had added online gaming to the PS2 and Xbox, because they knew the industry was going online and there would be no coming back. Nintendo, on the other hand, was unconvinced. It shipped broadband and dial-up modem attachments for the Gamecube, but the only games that used them for online play here were poor Sega's Phantasy Star Online titles.
In 2004, when asked about the company's clear indifference to online gaming, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata explained that "customers do not want online games."In a series of impressively short-sighted statements, Iwata said customers wouldn't be willing to pay for Internet service, getting online was too difficult, online games didn't crack the charts, and enthusiasm for online gaming was fading. While there wasn't one definitive moment of pride-swallowing where Iwata recanted his heretical statements and pledged fealty to the online gods, every 3DS or Wii U that connects to the Internet, every Monster Hunter release to pad the bottom line, every social feature on the Wii U, and every system update is an admission of how stunningly wrong the company was.
The infamous marketing campaign promised that John Romero was going to make you his bitch, and featured the tagline, "Suck it Down." As we now know, the only thing sucked down was Romero's pride when the game launched and wasn't even close to the genre-defining classic it was hyped to be. Romero has had success since then, most notably with his free-to-play studio Loot Drop, but his name will forever be linked to Daikatana, a cautionary tale about the danger of excessive hype.
The Entertainment Software Association drops support for SOPA
In 2011 and 2012, Congress considered the Stop Online Piracy Act, a measure that would have let copyright holders shut down websites hosting infringing material. The idea was that it would be used to squash pirate sites and protect intellectual property rights. But great power demands great responsibility, and at the risk of understatement, "responsibility" is not a word we often associate with giant corporations.
I'm a little torn on whether this one should be on here. You see, the ESA pushed hard for SOPA. Even after some of its member companies and the online public as a whole began decrying SOPA as a mistake, the ESA stuck to its guns, emphasizing how badly the industry needed it to pass. Ordinarily, that would make the ESA's eventual abandonment of SOPA a five-star pride-swallowing moment. But here's the thing: The ESA announced it was dropping SOPA support hours after the bill's original sponsor threw in the towel. The predominant emotion on this list is supposed to be shame, but switching positions to be on the right side of history once that history's already been made is practically the definition of shameless.
Mass Effect 3's ending
What I love about this one is that there were two bigger picture trends coming into conflict. For years, studios had been selling their games as epic sagas. New IPs were often the first in a planned trilogy, supposedly because "trilogy" is synonymous with "credibility" and "quality." (See: Beastmaster, Maniac Cop, Look Who's Talking). But for that idea to work, people needed to believe there was a fantastic story already worked out, just waiting to be told. With as much narrative credibility as any studio in the industry, BioWare embraced the trilogy notion and pushed Mass Effect as a sci-fi opus with a suitably sprawling scope.
The second trend in play was fan interaction. BioWare had a sizable and loyal community of fans, and the studio had played to that base effectively in the past. Beyond just promising that the Mass Effect games would change according to their decisions and provide players with an ending tailored to their unique character, BioWare made a point to tell the fans how much influence their feedback had in shaping the series. Essentially, they told the fans they were a welcome and valued part of the development team.
So on the one hand, BioWare set itself up as a master storyteller, and on the other, they were telling fans that it was actually their game and had been their story all along. So when the studio delivered a half-assed ending it said was designed to spark discussion, the fans were furious. They filed complaints with the Federal Trade Commission and the Better Business Bureau. They threatened lawsuits and boycotts. They organized charity drives to convince BioWare to remake the ending. They sent cupcakes. After a few weeks, BioWare relented, promising new content to give fans more closure. However, the studio attempted (unsuccessfully) to salvage some pride by pretending that caving to the pressure somehow wasn't compromising their artistic vision for the sake of whatever's most convenient.
Xbox 360's Red Ring of Death
You know how people say, "Someday we'll look back on this and laugh"? It might take a few more generations before the white-hot rage of people stuck with Microsoft's notoriously error-prone Xbox 360s fades into humorous reminiscing. And we mean people generations, not console generations. Because the only thing more infuriating for gamers than having their console break for the third time and having to pay for the honor of jumping through Microsoft's repair service hoops was the company's insistence that the failure rate on Xbox 360s was less than 5 percent. Having Peter Moore dismiss the issue by explaining, "Things break" probably didn't help, either.
After months of sticking its fingers in its ears and loudly proclaiming that there was no problem, Microsoft finally relented, admitting that there were "an unacceptable number of repairs to Xbox 360 consoles." (It's an interesting choice of words, suggesting that the problem wasn't how many of these consoles were breaking, but how many were being fixed.) Compounding the blow to the company's pride was the blow to its pocketbook. Microsoft extended the warranty for the Xbox 360 to three years, and reimbursed customers who had previously paid for red ring of death repairs, all at a cost of more than $1 billion.
Sony calls rumble a "last-generation feature," adds it to next-gen system
When the PlayStation 3 launched, it came with a controller that looked nearly identical to previous Dual Shock models, but lacked their vibration features. Instead, the new Sixaxis pad included tilt-sensing capabilities. Sony tried to explain the absence a few different ways, suggesting rumble would have interfered with the tilt sensors. Phil Harrison even called it a "last-generation feature," predicting that the Sixaxis' tilt would be the new hotness of the future.
That was all a fairly disingenuous smokescreen, as Sony was involved in a legal spat at the time with Immersion over its force-feedback technology patents. The suit was settled in March of 2007, and by year's end, Sony rolled out the Dual Shock 3, which included all the tilt-sensing functionality nobody used or cared about along with the last-generation rumble that everybody had been asking for.
Nintendo's Mortal Kombat inkonsistency
You might have noticed hypocrisy is a recurring theme here. But there are few better examples of hypocrisy than taking a principled stand and then dropping it in a heartbeat once you realize there's money at stake. When the notoriously violent arcade game Mortal Kombat made its home debut in 1993, Sega allowed the Genesis version of the game to faithfully reproduce the game's gore if players entered a code. Nintendo, on the other hand, forced Acclaim to change the blood to gray sweat, and made them amend the game's fatalities to be bloodless approximations of the real thing. (For example, Kano still plunges his hand deep into his opponent's chest, but when he pulls it back, there's no still-beating heart in his grasp.)
Nintendo was a family friendly brand, after all, and it had a history of vetoing potentially objectionable content on its console, from violence to religious imagery. However, when the inferior-looking but gore-retaining Genesis version ran circles around its sanitized counterpart, Nintendo had a change of heart. Mortal Kombat II was released on both consoles with gore available in copious quantities from the outset, and Nintendo has had a more permissive stance to violence ever since.
Pre-launch price cuts
If there's one thing corporations hate (besides not making money), it's looking like they don't know what they're doing. And few things convey that sentiment more clearly than drastically changing your already announced plans before your product is even out the door. It reeks of panic, incompetence, and a lack of confidence. And it's essentially an admission that they did the math, and the potential harm they faced from sticking to their original stupid plan was so great that they'd prefer the actual harm they incur by admitting they haven't the foggiest idea what they're doing.
The Xbox One DRM debacle is one example of this, but my personal favorites are pre-launch hardware price cuts. It's like the company was playing poker against its customers and went all-in with a terrible hand, only to have their bluff called. It's the Arrested Development "I've made a huge mistake" of the gaming industry, but it is sadly not as frequent. In 2006, Sony dropped the Japanese price of the bare bones PS3 from roughly $500 to about $430 two months before launch. More recently, Nvidia dropped the price of its Shield handheld gaming system from $350 to $300 just a week before it was set to launch. (Doubling down on the doesn't-have-its-act-together vibe, the company pushed back the Shield launch all of one day before it was set to go on sale.)
Sega goes third-party
For gamers who grew up in the 8-bit and 16-bit console wars, this was unthinkable. Sega had for so long existed as the anti-Nintendo. "Genesis does what Nintendon't." Where Mario was a non-threatening and infinitely agreeable nice guy, Sonic the Hedgehog was a flashy ball of calculated faux edgy '90s attitude. Where Nintendo tightly controlled the content on its systems, Sega let any old piece of crap through, no matter how bloody it might have been. Where Nintendo was slow to adopt new technologies, Sega embraced them generations before they were actually ready, from the Sega CD to the Activator motion controller to the Dreamcast's built-in 56k modem.
So in 2001 when Sega pulled the plug on the Dreamcast a mere 17 months after launch and said it would be publishing games for its competitors' systems, it was an admission that it had lost a battle it fought for nearly two decades. In order to survive, it now had to jump to the other side of the equation, asking its former foes for permission to publish games on their systems, abdicating its place among "The Big Three" to the newcomer Microsoft.
There are bigger mistakes in this list, more fevered backpedalling elsewhere, but none of those were as significant a pride-swallowing moment. Because this wasn't Sega taking back one mistake, or expecting a zig when the market zagged. This was a pillar of the gaming industry deciding it was better to be subordinate to its long-standing rivals than to go down swinging.
That may have been the practical move given Sega's situation. The company is still around, after all, and it likely wouldn't be had it stayed the course. But going third-party was not compatible with holding onto any amount of pride. If there was a tiny voice in the back of Sega's collective head whispering objections, it could not have been ignored. It had to be smothered with a pillow and tossed from the back of a Daytona USA Hornet as "Let's Go Away" blared. We can only imagine the company's board of directors repeatedly watching a clip of Marsellus Wallace's pride speech from Pulp Fiction (NSFW, obviously) to gird themselves for the announcement.