Every major publisher wants to be working with a franchise. They want to have franchises on franchises, so they can show them off when other executives ask, "what do you do?" A successful franchise takes some of the risk out of throwing millions of dollars and hundreds of people at a single game idea. It's the easy money and every studio out there wants a few solid franchises under their belt.
Unfortunately, when you're making the next entry in a franchise, you're still making a game, so there's a nominal chance you can fail. And when the latest entry in a franchise fails hard, it can kill the franchise altogether. Fans flee the burning ship, spitting on that watery grave of the developers that went down with it. Particularly bad flops can even tank the publisher.
This article and the additional video cover a few of the games that have killed a franchise through poor sales, presentation, and gameplay. Some of them were horribly bad, while others were just the straw that broke the camel's back. We've kept the list in alphabetical order to preserve the feelings of those who still love one of these games.
1. Command & Conquer 4: Tiberian Twilight
EA | PC | 2010
The first Command & Conquer was one of the games that defined the real-time strategy genre when it was released back in 1995. In addition to awesome gameplay, the title had a great single-player campaign that kicked off the ongoing war between the Global Defense Initiative (GDI) and the Brotherhood of Nod. Spreading across three mainstream titles, the Red Alert spin-offs, the first-person Renegade, and the alternate-Earth RTS Generals, fans enjoyed most of the series.
Enter Command & Conquer 4: Tiberian Twilight, which decided to ditch that single-player campaign focus to force you to play with your friends online. Most of us don't even like our friends, EA! The permanent base feature that had defined earlier entries? Gone. C&C4 also included always-online DRM, so if you got disconnected all of your progress up until that point was gone, winking out of existence like the last spent match in a snowy wasteland. EA Los Angeles tried to do something new with the franchise, but it lost the core that fans loved up until then.
EA's never been able to get the magic back. For a while, the publisher had internal startup Victory Games (or Bioware Victory for a single year) working on a free-to-play reboot of Command & Conquer. After the poor reception of the title in alpha, EA cancelled the game and shut down the studio. EA is still batting around the idea of a new Command & Conquer game, but it looks like Tiberian Twilight was the series' twilight.
2. Dino Crisis 3
Capcom | Xbox | 2003
The first two Dino Crisis games took the successful Resident Evil formula and replaced zombies with dinosaurs. Fans enjoyed both titles and were looking forward to the third entry, since Dino Crisis 2 seemed to suggest an ongoing story. Instead, the game dropped that premise like a dubstep beat and kicked player far into the future, fighting dinosaur-like mutants on a derelict spaceship.
Capcom Production Studio 4 tried to do something different with Dino Crisis 3, but their execution fell far below their hopes and dreams. Dino Crisis 3's gameplay hinged anti-gravity action using your high-speed jetpack. The problem is the controls weren't vastly redesigned to account for anti-gravity and the camera itself was still fixed depending on the scene. You'd be zipping around, cross an invisible barrier between scenes, and switch to a different camera view. Since the left analog stick would push your character in the direction you wanted to go based on the fixed camera, everything started to break down in areas where you'd switch between multiple cameras.
Most reviewers didn't like it and Dino Crisis fans didn't like the fact that the third entry didn't continue the story of the first two games. Capcom quietly shelved the series and never looked back. Like they do with a lot of titles.
3. Empire Earth III
Sierra Entertainment | PC | 2007
Empire Earth III was such a commercial and critical failure that developer Mad Doc Studios took the game off its website before it was bought out by Rockstar Games. Yeah, they were so embarrassed that they wouldn't admit to making it publicly.
Fans of Empire Earth and Empire Earth II were in for a rude awakening with the third game. Empire Earth III was buggy, with poor animation, framerate, AI, and combat. The complexity and depth that made the first two games great was stripped out of this game in an attempt to reach a larger audience. Diplomatic relations were taken down to two binary states, resource collecting lost any type of strategy, pathfinding was terrible, and the enemy AI frequently sat around wondering what to do against your crafty plan of "zerg everything".
Empire Earth III was Mad Doc Studios last game before it became Rockstar New England. Now it helps the larger Rockstar studios with ports and additional design. Sad state of affairs.
4. Lunar: Dragon Song
Ubisoft | Nintendo DS | 2005
Realize that there have only been three actual Lunar titles. The first was 1992's Lunar: Silver Star Story followed by 1994's Lunar 2: Eternal Blue; both titles came out on the Sega CD and have been remade and re-released numerous times. So when Lunar: Dragon Song came out for Nintendo DS in 2005, hopes were high. Fans of the series hoisted their banners aloft for the first original Lunar game in a long time.
Those high hopes were subsequently dashed against the sharp rocks of disappointment. The in-battle graphics were poor to dire. In an attempt to be innovative, the developers added a system than took HP from the player when they were running around, even in the safety of town. Battles could play out in two different modes: one awarded experience points, while the other dropped items. That means you have to choose which one you want to gain prior to the battle. Your weapons broke, so you needed those items from the second combat mode to keep playing. And once in combat, you can't even choose which monster you want to attack! The previous Lunar games were 100 percent straightforward JRPG in the Final Fantasy style; I guess after the countless remakes developer Japan Art Media thought fans were tired of that simplicity.
In the end, Lunar: Dragon Song 's poor gameplay mechanics lead to poor reviews, which led to poor sales. And with that, the series was dead.
5. Master of Orion 3
Infogrames | PC | 2003
Like the Empire Earth series, Master of Orion and Master Of Orion 2 were absolute classics in the turn-based strategy genre. Master of Orion 3 took a look at all of that goodwill and decided that it didn't need things like "fans" and "consumers".
Master of Orion 3 introduced some new features to the series: a cumbersome user interface, atrocious combat AI, an a ton of software bugs that caused frequent crashes. Promised features like the colonization of moons and asteroids never materialized, and older features like genocide were gutted completely. Trading and diplomatic relations became borderline incomprehensible without significant study and even then, sometimes your allies would just abandon you at the drop of a hat. Was it meant to be a metaphor for what the developers were doing to MoO players?
The Master of Orion community stepped in with mods and patches to fix the game, but that shouldn't have been their job. The franchise is currently owned by World of Tanks operator Wargaming, Inc, but there's no indication they're going to do anything with the property anytime soon.
6. Medal of Honor: Warfighter
EA | PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC | 2012
Medal of Honor: Warfighter was EA's 2012 effort to dethrone Activision's cash-money franchise, Call of Duty. On paper and in screenshots, it looked good. It was powered by DICE's Frostbite 2 engine and featured real special forces military outfits from around the world.
Unfortunately, it was boring, lacking any drama, tension, or excitement. Developer Danger Close Studios put together a technically-competent game with no heart whatsoever. It did some things right, it did some things wrong. In the end players just looked at it and asked, "why should we care?" and no amount of high-priced commercials during sporting events could answer the question. Medal of Honor: Warfighter was a critical and commercial failure, killing the Medal of Honor franchise and Danger Close as well.
EA was so disappointed in the reception of MoH: Warfighter that it pulled the series out of its annual first-person shooter rotation with Battlefield. Danger Close was shut down in June of the following year.
7. Red Faction: Armageddon
THQ | Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC | 2011
This was the big one, bringing THQ's successful shooter franchise to a bigger audience. Red Faction Armageddon was preceded by twin-stick shooter called Red Faction: Battlegrounds and launched simultaneously with Red Faction: Origins, a SyFy TV movie. THQ was ready for Volition's science-fiction series to become a "transmedia" hit.
Instead, Armageddon was panned by fans and critics for taking the open-world destructible fun of Red Faction: Guerilla and throwing it out back in the trash pile. Armageddon was a linear, close-quarters, cover shooter in the style of Gears of War. No really, they thought they could tap into that market. It even included an online multiplayer mode patterned after Gears of War 2's Horde Mode.
Armageddon didn't hit THQ's numbers and the publishers dropped the franchise completely. Of course, then THQ declared bankruptcy in 2012 and dropped itself completely. The IP is owned by Nordic Games now, but so far all the publisher has done is release Red Faction Collection on Steam.
8. Turok: Evolution
Acclaim Entertainment | PlayStation 2, Xbox, GameCube, Game Boy Advance | 2002
For a brief, shining moment Acclaim had a franchise that stood next to the big dogs. Turok: Dinosaur Hunter released for the Nintendo 64 in 1997 and it was well-received by fans. Acclaim continued the success of the first release with three other Turok games for N64: Turok 2: Seeds of Evil, Turok: Rage Wars, and Turok 3: Shadow of Oblivion. The series graduated to the next-generation of consoles with Turok: Evolution for the PlayStation 2, Xbox, and GameCube.
There were a lot of things wrong with Turok: Evolution, but everything can be summed up in a single character: Captain Tobias Bruckner. Bruckner was the game's villain, a racist cyborg cowboy riding an allosaurus. He was so bad that to this day, EGM's annual "Worst Of" awards are called the Tobias Bruckner Memorial Awards.
Turok: Evolution's poor reception was one of the two nails in Acclaim's coffin (BMX XXX was the other) and the publisher went bankrupt soon after. Disney last had the rights to the series and released an remarkable reboot in 2008 that was still tainted by how bad Turok: Evolution was.
9. Ultima IX: Ascension
EA | PC | 1999
Ultima VIII: Pagan was bad. The world was smaller, your party was gone, water killed the Avatar instantly, Origin included platforming in the title for some reason, and there were major plot holes introduced. But it was okay, because Origin promised that it had learned from its mistakes for Ultima IX, the last game in the franchise.
Damned, dirty lies.
Fans exploded. If you think having a bad ending after three Mass Effect games is a problem, imagine a bad final title after eight Ultima games. Ultima IX was a bag of shiny promises turned out to be filled with spiders.
Whereas Pagan ended with the Avatar returning to Britannia only to find it crushed under the iron fist of the Guardian, Ascension begins with the Avatar waking up in bed. Your recently-acquired godhood is gone and you're trapped in Texas on Earth. A Texas with giant rats and spiders. Huh?
Following the poor reception of Ultima VIII: Pagan, Ultima IX: Ascension killed the franchise dead. Anything "Ultima" that did not also involve the words "Online" was tanked at Electronic Arts. Ultima creator Richard Garriott left Origin after that, and EA killed Origin, only to revive the name for its online distribution service. Ah, how we honor the memories of our dead.
10. Unlimited Saga
Square Enix | PlayStation 2 | 2002
Unlimited Saga was the latest in Square Enix's quirky Saga series, which was known for playing around with RPG convention and finding something unique in the process. It was the kind of series that could survive in the Super Nintendo, PlayStation, and PlayStation 2 days, but started to become scarce in the PlayStation 3/Xbox 360 era.
Unlimited Saga was built to play out like an board game with the series' multi-character focus. It was a game designed in a specific direction that broke with RPG convention. Unlimited Saga did pretty well in Japan, selling nearly a half a million copies in the region, but Japan's star was beginning to fall. Square Enix and other publishers wanted games that could be hits worldwide, not in one single region.
And Unlimited Saga was savaged in Western markets. Reviewers absolutely hated it and many Western fans were inclined to agree with them. And without the West in the equation, Square Enix decided it wasn't interested. The company hasn't revisited the game since, outside of Emperors Saga, a mobile-only playing card game released in 2012. On the bright side, the 25th Anniversary of the franchise is this year, so Square Enix and series creator Akitoshi Kawazu have something on the horizon to announce. The dark cloud to that silver lining is it'll probably be a mobile game.
Honorable Mention: Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle
Sega | Sega Genesis | 1989
This is one of the cases where the game itself is not necessarily at fault. I mean, Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle did flop, but that's not the whole reason Sega never revisited the franchise. Instead, fan-favorite Sonic the Hedgehog put a dagger into Alex Kidd's back.
During the mid-to-late 80's Alex Kidd was Sega's official mascot, so he had survived a few unremarkable platformers. Without a replacement, you probably would've seen Alex Kidd and the Black Knight or Alex Kidd: Lost World over the past few years. Instead, Sega decided it needed something better in the mascot department and Sonic the Hedgehog was released in 1991.
Sonic proved popular for Sega, so the company never revisited Alex Kidd again. You can catch the character making cameos in titles like Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, but even then he kneels to the hedgehog that took his place.
Of course, this list doesn't cover games that killed a franchise for you personally, like Metal Gear Solid 2 did for me (long story). Is there a specific game that made you walk away from a franchise and never return? Or is there another title you know of that killed a thriving franchise dead? Either way, let us know in the comments!
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