In today's console market, it's rare to see a console become a commercial failure. In the past fifteen years, the competitors have more or less remained the same: Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo. Very rarely does someone step in and try to dethrone any of the big boys. There have been a few times that one of the Big Three have made a misstep (usually Nintendo), but the three major players have always managed to make copious amounts of money. Some have just been making a little less than others.
Go back a bit further and you will see a console market that was entirely over-saturated. Several companies wanted a slice of the home gaming pie. Some of this was because it was a relatively new market and no one had really been solidified as the best of the best. There was room to possibly dethrone one of the major performers. Heck, it even happened. Atari and Sega, once major players in the home console market, eventually opted out of hardware development and went into strictly developing the software for other consoles. As sad as it can be to say goodbye to a classic, it was probably for the best. It made room for Sony and Microsoft to offer some rather powerful home consoles and neither company shows any sign of slowing down.
In addition to Sony and Atari dropping out of the console market, there were also a number of console manufacturers that you've probably never even heard of. Did you know Phillips was in the console game at one time? Did you know that Commodore, the manufacturers of a popular computer that was already known for its ability to play quality games, even tried to get into the cartridge console market? To find out more about these colossal console failures and a number of others, keep your eyeballs on the screen and read on.
We won't spend too much time picking on the OUYA. It was a crowd funded project so it isn't like there weren't people out there that thought this console was a good idea. On the surface it sounds okay. It's Android powered and easy to develop for. It would obviously have a lot of free-to-play/pay-to-win and other types of freemium games. The OUYA also solved a major problem with Android mobile gaming - you could now play your games with the more familiar controller input device and a full screen from your couch.
Unfortunately, the only people who seemed to want the OUYA were those that supported the Kickstarter. Even though the reviews for the console were decent, OUYA had a hard time attracting developers and selling the development kits - so the console had very little in the way of games. Razer eventually bought out OUYA's development team and their software assets.
14 Commodore 64 Games System
It's not much of a surprise this item didn't sell all that well. This was an attempt for the Commodore 64 computer to get a piece of the cartridge home console market. The thing is, the Commodore 64 computer already had some excellent games like Hot Wheels, Donald Duck's Playground, and The Great Giana Sisters (which was essentially a Mario clone that even had its own Mario hack).
The Commodore 64 Games System was released in 1990, which was just a bit too late as Nintendo and Sega had already surpassed Atari and were completely dominating the console market. Anyone interested in a Commodore 64 for gaming probably already had the computer by this point. There was also the issue of finding parties willing to develop for it as Nintendo and Sega were the go-to systems by then.
13 Sega Saturn
It's a shame that this beefy black box didn't sell too well since it would mark the beginning of the end of Sega's decline on the hardware side of the console market. It offered a lot of excellent games that you couldn't find on the Saturn's major rivals - the Nintendo 64 and the Sony PlayStation - but most of these were arcade ports and not Sega Saturn exclusives. When it came to exclusives, the Saturn was quite lacking. There was a Scud: The Disposable Assassin (mad props if you're familiar) game, but even the then acclaimed comic book didn't offer much in the way of a great gaming experience. They also had Shining Force III, an installment of an excellent Sega exclusive RPG series. What was noticeably lacking from the Saturn's library?
A proper Sonic game. That's right. The Saturn didn't even offer a Sonic game. What was Sega thinking?
12 Sega Dreamcast
Here we have the Dreamcast. The final nail in Sega's console coffin. Though Sega has gone on to develop software for its former competitors and Microsoft's Xbox, this would be the last console developed by one of the original big boys of the console market. It's downfall would lead to something we never thought we'd see in a million years: Sonic games on Nintendo systems. We even saw some games that co-starred Mario and Sonic. In a way, there is a bright side to the poor performance of the Dreamcast.
The Dreamcast did have some amazing games though. They had a port of House of the Dead, one of the greatest arcade games of all time. Space Channel 5 was a great time, and you'd be doing yourself a disservice if you didn't play Dynamite Cop. Jet Set Radio has even seen a revival in the Live markets for PC, PlayStation, and Xbox.
11 Virtual Boy
I don't think there is a surprise as to why the Virtual Boy never took off. First off, it was marketed as portable. It wasn't really portable as the VR "headset" didn't actually strap to your head. Instead, it was mounted on a tri-pod. You had to have a flat surface like a floor or a table. Second, it was entirely uncomfortable to use. Putting it on the floor and keeping your head at an unnatural right angle with your body for the amount of time it took to play a game was painful. You also had to deal with your head constantly pushing it forward and straying away from your eyes. Some gamers tried rectifying this with duct tape, but you shouldn't have to bring in duct tape to play a brand new gaming system. Third, it presented the games in only two colors: black and red. That's not a very good representation of reality, even if it is supposed to be virtual.
10 3DO Interactive Multiplayer
The 3DO wasn't really a console per se. It was actually a list of specifications that hardware companies could use to make their own consoles. The most popular of these hardware manufacturers was Panasonic, as many gaming magazines at the time often referred to it as the Panasonic 3DO due to the fact that Panasonic manufactured the first wave of consoles. Later, manufacturers like Sanyo and LG (then GoldStar) would manufacture their own 3DO consoles.
The system was highly promoted in gaming magazines and Time Magazine even heralded the system as the Product of the Year in 1993. Unfortunately, the console market was completely over-saturated at this point with Super Nintendo and Genesis being huge hits. There was also the Atari Jaguar, the TurboGrafx 16, and the Neo Geo to contend with. It didn't help that the 3DO released some alarmingly terrible games, like the infamous Plumbers Don't Wear Ties.
The Action Max seemed really cool. It was also pretty cheap when you consider the costs of consoles at the time. It was also the first console to have completely live-action games as the console was really just a peripheral for your television and VCR. The games themselves were on VHS tapes!
Games like Pops Ghostly, a game about making your way through a haunted house, looked really appealing. Unfortunately, playing Pops Ghostly was like playing any other game on the Action Max. Every single game was a shooter. The console had no controller, only a zapper. The zapper didn't even actually shoot anything on the screen, it simply interacted with a light receiver that you stuck to your television screen. You didn't actually win or lose any game on the Action Max. You just shot at the light receiver while a VHS tape played in your VCR. It was the equivalent of giving a very young child an unplugged controller to trick them into thinking they were playing a video game with you.
8 Philips CD-i
The Phillips CD-i had its heart in the right place. The intention wasn't actually to make a beefy game console, but to make an all-in-one device that had more functionality than a CD player that didn't cost as much as computers with CD-ROM drives at the time. If this sounds a bit familiar to you, you might recall that the Xbox One gets the "one" in its name from the fact it was intended to be an affordable all-in-one device. Unfortunately for Phillips, they wouldn't see the same kind of success as Microsoft. Perhaps they were just ahead of their time.
One odd feature of the CD-i is it had its own exclusive Mario and Zelda games through a partnership with Nintendo. These games are widely considered to be the worst games ever offered by either franchise.
7 Atari Lynx
On the surface, there doesn't seem to be a good reason for the commercial failure of the Atari Lynx handheld. The device came out just a short-time after the Nintendo Game Boy and it was the first handheld gaming device to feature a full-color LCD screen. You'd think this would be a major selling point. Unfortunately, the Lynx couldn't compete with the game library of the Game Boy. The Lynx remained second in sales until the Sega Game Gear came out. Even though the Game Gear was bulkier and had shorter battery life than the Lynx, the Game Gear had a more impressive game library and knocked the Lynx down to third.
Despite being highly regarded and being credited with pioneering handheld gaming (note that distinction doesn't go to the Game Boy), its lack of games and lazy marketing campaign kept it out of the minds of most gamers.
6 Commodore CDTV
Much like the Phillips CD-i, the Commodore CDTV was also supposed to be an all-in-one machine that could single-handedly replace your CD player, game console, and computer. It also had the added bonus of connecting to your TV as opposed to sitting on a desk with a monitor. It could be enjoyed by the whole family at the same time.
The CDTV was essentially a Commodore Amiga 500 computer with a CD drive and a remote control. All your computer peripherals could be connected to it. Even though the device was an Amiga, it dropped the name for the CDTV. It's very likely the Amiga name wouldn't have hurt the sale of the Commodore CDTV more than the $1,000 price point. That's a hefty sum for a console today. The CDTV was released in 1991.
5 Atari Jaguar
The Atari Jaguar was the console that broke Atari. It was this system that pressed Atari to drop out of the console market and focus on software. The Atari Jaguar marketed itself as a 64-bit gaming console. At this time, it was competing against 16-bit systems. The 3DO was on the map at this time with 32-bits, bit obviously the 3DO wasn't providing much competition for anybody.
Atari would try to add a CD peripheral to the Jaguar to extend its life. This made it a [then] next-gen console that cost $100 less than the PlayStation and Sega Saturn CD systems. Unfortunately, the Jaguar just didn't have much in the way of games, as the Jaguar was a difficult system to develop for.
4 Nintendo 64DD
The Nintendo 64DD was intended as a device to bring the 64 itself into the next generation by updating it through ports already on the original Nintendo 64. The DD had a lot of great features which included writable memory that allowed a user to create movies, their own characters, and animations that could be used in games. It also provided the Nintendo 64 with the ability to access the internet with the intention of selling games through the web and allowing for online gaming. This is pretty innovative when you consider there would be two more console generations before we saw meaningful online gaming.
Of the original 100,000 units made, Nintendo was only able to move 15,000, making it one of Nintendo's biggest console failures.
3 Neo Geo
The Neo Geo was just too darned expensive.
The Neo Geo was marketed as a console that would bring the power of an arcade machine into your home. In its day, coin-operated arcade machines had the upper hand on consoles in terms of graphical capabilities. The Neo Geo marketed itself as a 24-bit console, but it was, to put it simply, more like a sliding scale of 16 to 32 bits. At the time, it was the single most powerful console on the market. Unfortunately, that kind of power comes with two problems.
The first issue is size. The Neo Geo, its games, and its controller, were enormous compared to competing consoles.
The second issue is price point. In 1990, it carried a $650 price tag. In today's dollars, that would equate to about $1,000. There weren't many homes that were willing to put a $1,000 game console in their living rooms at the time. Hell, there aren't many homes that would be willing to do that today.
2 TurboGrafx 16
If you haven't heard of the TurboGrafx 16, there is a really good reason for that. It wasn't marketed very well in North America. It is for this reason that many believe the TurboGrafx 16 to have failed. The console was considered a 16-bit player even though it contained an 8-bit CPU. It even had a pretty strong exclusive character in Bonk of Bonk's Adventure. It was largely the character of Bonk that was used in the ad campaigns.
It's possible that Bonk's penchant for breaking rocks with his head seemed too similar to Super Mario Bros. and the character might have come off as "more of the same." The flagship character could have very well been their undoing.
Despite under-performing in sales, it did have some great games (Bonk included). If you ever get your hands on one of these, be sure to get yourself a copy of Dragon's Curse. It's an extremely fun RPG/Platformer.
1 Wii U
It really is a shame that Nintendo hasn't been making the most popular home console in a while. They used to be the leader in console gaming. Unfortunately, Nintendo has made a lot of decisions concerning their consoles that just don't seem to jive as well with consumers as Nintendo would like to think.
The Wii U was the first Nintendo console to offer high-definition gaming when they should have been on that wave with the Wii. It offered a lot of backwards compatibility, even with the Wiimotes, but Nintendo should have already known that the players weren't into the Wiimotes and 'chucks. It offered the innovation of the touch screen game pad, but it lacked in power when compared to its competitors. It also took them nearly the entire lifespan of the console to release a new Zelda game. A flagship game like Zelda should have been ready to go at launch.
The Switch seems to be turning things around. We can only hope it performs better than the Wii U.