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Will Wii U Join The Gaming Graveyard?

Nintendo's newest games console looks at risk of suffering the same sad fate as a long list of failed gaming machines.

  • <p>Nintendo's first HD games console, with in-control displays. Weak sales figures followed by down-scaled prospects. Strange design, possibly slipping behind the cutting edge.</p>
  • <p>Intended as an open-platform standard, licensed to third parties, Apple even imagined the Pippin would evolve to include "home telecommunication devices." Stifled by hardware limits, a high price and very weak marketing efforts, it never took off.</p>
  • <p>The Neo Geo CD was a successor to the 1990 cartridge-powered Neo Geo "Advanced Entertainment System."  Its CD ROM drive was slow, and its capabilities were quickly outclassed by 3-D capable peer devices.</p>
  • <p>Designed as a rival to the NES, the Master System lived on for years in different editions worldwide but only sold around 10 million units in total. It never had a huge games library, and the time between releases was too long to maintain enthusiasm.</p>
  • <p>The Saturn was lavished with peripherals and a clever marketing campaign but was beaten by the PlayStation and the N64. It only sold 2 million units in the U.S. (of a maximum of 9 million).</p>
  • <p>Selling far fewer than 250,000 units the Jaguar was to compete with the Sega Saturn and the PlayStation, but it was criticized for bad controller design, buggy hardware and poor games library.</p>
  • <p>A million Telstars were sold, beginning with a <em>Pong</em> clone and ending with the weird, triangular home arcade machine-like Arcade edition. Limited games options meant they had limited long-term appeal.</p>
  • <p>Sold in 1978 and serving up a grand total of seven games (four of which were pinball variants) the Video Pinball could never compete against the real arcade machine or more capable games consoles in the long term. Plus it was ugly!</p>
  • <p>Said to be the world's first commercial home video game console, it had "cartridges" that physically programmed the circuits inside the box. Suffered from poor marketing and confusion over which TV sets it could work with. Battery powered and quickly outclassed by Atari machines.</p>
  • <p>The Gamecube sold nearly 22 million units over six years...was this a failure? Slightly: It never achieved the market share of its predecessor the N64, and never really challenged the PlayStation 2 or the Xbox. It also had a limited-space minidisc optical cartridge, and only limited take up by games writers.</p>
  • <p>Widely hailed as being technically ahead of the game, the Dreamcast was briefly very popular, and remained so in some markets for years, but only sold 10 million units ever. The PlayStation 2 stole its limelight and its market, and Sega was too short of cash to properly promote it.</p>
  • <p>Weird and wonderful, with its own 9-inch built-in cathode ray tube, the Vectrex could play Asteroids just like you were in a very small video arcade. But it was bulky, limited in potential games design and suffered from a collapse of the video game market in 1983. It was never a commercial success.</p>
  • <p>Selling only 2.5 million units in the U.S. (and only 10 million ever) the Turbo Grafx was tiny, and ultimately lost out to the NES and the Sega Genesis. It only had one controller port, and its peers had more.</p>
  • <p>If you include the Atari 800, the early 8-bit Atari games line sold 4 million units. It was a moderate success, but was difficult and expensive to build, limited in performance and quickly outclassed by machines from Commodore and Apple, and even by other classic home computers like the TRS-80 or ZX Spectrum.</p>
  • 01 /14 | Wii U (Late 2012--)

    Nintendo's first HD games console, with in-control displays. Weak sales figures followed by down-scaled prospects. Strange design, possibly slipping behind the cutting edge.

  • 02 /14 | Apple Pippin (1995--1997)

    Intended as an open-platform standard, licensed to third parties, Apple even imagined the Pippin would evolve to include "home telecommunication devices." Stifled by hardware limits, a high price and very weak marketing efforts, it never took off.

  • 03 /14 | Sega Neo Geo CD (1994--1997)

    The Neo Geo CD was a successor to the 1990 cartridge-powered Neo Geo "Advanced Entertainment System." Its CD ROM drive was slow, and its capabilities were quickly outclassed by 3-D capable peer devices.

  • 04 /14 | Sega Master System (1985--1996)

    Designed as a rival to the NES, the Master System lived on for years in different editions worldwide but only sold around 10 million units in total. It never had a huge games library, and the time between releases was too long to maintain enthusiasm.

  • 05 /14 | Sega Saturn (1994--1998)

    The Saturn was lavished with peripherals and a clever marketing campaign but was beaten by the PlayStation and the N64. It only sold 2 million units in the U.S. (of a maximum of 9 million).

  • 06 /14 | Atari Jaguar (1993--1996)

    Selling far fewer than 250,000 units the Jaguar was to compete with the Sega Saturn and the PlayStation, but it was criticized for bad controller design, buggy hardware and poor games library.

  • 07 /14 | Coleco Telstar (1976--1978)

    A million Telstars were sold, beginning with a Pong clone and ending with the weird, triangular home arcade machine-like Arcade edition. Limited games options meant they had limited long-term appeal.

  • 08 /14 | Atari Video Pinball

    Sold in 1978 and serving up a grand total of seven games (four of which were pinball variants) the Video Pinball could never compete against the real arcade machine or more capable games consoles in the long term. Plus it was ugly!

  • 09 /14 | Magnavox Odyssey (1972--1975)

    Said to be the world's first commercial home video game console, it had "cartridges" that physically programmed the circuits inside the box. Suffered from poor marketing and confusion over which TV sets it could work with. Battery powered and quickly outclassed by Atari machines.

  • 10 /14 | Nintendo Gamecube (2001--2007)

    The Gamecube sold nearly 22 million units over six years...was this a failure? Slightly: It never achieved the market share of its predecessor the N64, and never really challenged the PlayStation 2 or the Xbox. It also had a limited-space minidisc optical cartridge, and only limited take up by games writers.

  • 11 /14 | Sega Dreamcast (1999--2001, U.S.)

    Widely hailed as being technically ahead of the game, the Dreamcast was briefly very popular, and remained so in some markets for years, but only sold 10 million units ever. The PlayStation 2 stole its limelight and its market, and Sega was too short of cash to properly promote it.

  • 12 /14 | Vectrex (1982--1984)

    Weird and wonderful, with its own 9-inch built-in cathode ray tube, the Vectrex could play Asteroids just like you were in a very small video arcade. But it was bulky, limited in potential games design and suffered from a collapse of the video game market in 1983. It was never a commercial success.

  • 13 /14 | Turbo Grafx 16 (1989--1995, U.S.)

    Selling only 2.5 million units in the U.S. (and only 10 million ever) the Turbo Grafx was tiny, and ultimately lost out to the NES and the Sega Genesis. It only had one controller port, and its peers had more.

  • 14 /14 | Atari 400 (1979--1985ish?)

    If you include the Atari 800, the early 8-bit Atari games line sold 4 million units. It was a moderate success, but was difficult and expensive to build, limited in performance and quickly outclassed by machines from Commodore and Apple, and even by other classic home computers like the TRS-80 or ZX Spectrum.

Nintendo has just cut sales predictions for its brand-new Wii U games console after a disappointing quarter. The machine is bold, brave, unusual...and yet these figures hint it might actually flop in the market.

Why is almost impossible to say. You may think Nintendo may have lost share in the low-end casual gaming market to the boom of smartphones and tablets and their cheap apps. It may have been out-maneuvered at the high end of gaming by much more powerful machines like Sony's PS3. The strange non-tablet but yet still tablet-like Wii U controllers may just be an eccentricity too far for a conservative public.

The Wii U's got some fight in it yet, admittedly.

But if Nintendo's experiment quickly disappears into gaming history, it won't be the first games console to flare and fade as speedily as a meteor crossing the sky. Because there's something geekily romantic about making a dedicated games machine that has always attracted upstarts like the Yves Behar-crafted Ouya, riding the wave of its Kickstarter appeal, or the weird Gizmondo gadget, saddled with controversy. And then, after these machines get a brief moment in the sun, they can simply disappear, leaving a sad tale of fading opulence, broken joysticks, and discarded program cartridges...like the sorry but inevitable bankruptcy of Atari.

Chat about this news with Kit Eaton on Twitter and Fast Company too.

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