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Video Game Flops That Bankrupted Studios

If there's one thing that gaming fans have learned over the years, it's that it can sometimes be impossible to determine what will and won't be successful. Sometimes expected flops turn out to be huge hits. Other times, it seems like nothing could have saved a particular game or console from crashing hard. But for every overlooked gem or overrated hit, there's a game out there that just didn't sell enough to meet expectations. And unfortunately, in those instances, someone pays the price.

It can be especially difficult for a developer to recover after a game underperforms. The failure of one game can lead to a lack of funding or enthusiasm for the project that is meant to follow. There have even been times when a game has flopped so spectacularly that it's spelled the end of the development house that made it. Here are a few examples of video game flops that bankrupted studios.

Epic Mickey 2 (Junction Point Studios)

The Epic Mickey franchise was an interesting oddity in that it was a darker take on the Disney universe from the mind of Deus Ex creator Warren Spector. That was such a weird pairing alone that a decent number of people bought the first game. However, interest seemingly faded by the time the sequel arrived. Epic Mickey 2 was a dismal failure, with decidedly mixed reviews and lackluster sales that didn't come close to the success of the first installment.

In the wake of Epic Mickey 2's poor retail numbers, Disney reportedly gave employees of developer Junction Point two months off from work. Shortly thereafter, it was confirmed that Disney had decided to close Junction Point Studios entirely. 

In a bummer of a postscript, it appears that the closure of Junction Point and the failure of the Epic Mickey franchise also put an end to plans for two spin-offs. One was titled Epic Disney Racers, which would have seen tons of Disney characters battling it out in a Mario Kart-style racing game. The other was an Epic Mickey-style game starring Donald Duck.

The Last Express (Broderbund Software/Smoking Car Productions)

The Last Express was an interesting game. Created by Prince of Persia mastermind Jordan MechnerThe Last Express featured an interesting rotoscoped style of animation and told the story of a murder mystery on the Orient Express. This production from Broderbund Software and Smoking Car Productions had such a classically intriguing concept that it's hard to believe it failed as badly as it did.

Sadly, this is due to the fact that Broderbund's marketing staff left the company mere weeks before the game was released. This resulted in a non-existent marketing campaign, meaning that nobody knew this game that had taken four long years to make was even out. The game sold so poorly that Broderbund was forced to sell its assets to The Learning Company, which allowed the game to fall out of print. The Last Express ended up being the only game produced by Smoking Car Productions, which folded after this game's failure. 

While the game was briefly rereleased by Interplay a few years later, according to Destructoid, that version also quickly went out of print.

Too Human (Silicon Knights)

Science fiction action game Too Human was a genuinely fascinating failure, but many of the most interesting aspects of its failure have little to do with the game itself. As Forbes reported, the game apparently cost an insane amount of money and took years to complete, but what was met with low sales figures. However, it's what happened next that truly sealed the fate of its developer, Silicon Knights.

Following the failure of Too Human, Silicon Knights took publisher Epic Games to court. Silicon Knights alleged that Epic had withheld necessary funds from the production, which in turn led to the underwhelming final product. This led to a counter-suit from Epic Games. The ensuing investigation into Too Human's production ended up backfiring on Silicon Knights in a spectacular fashion.

The judge ruled that not only was Epic innocent of the charges, but it was also discovered that Silicon Knights had apparently stolen several lines of code from Epic for several of its games. This led to an order for Silicon Knights to recall and destroy copies of Too Human. It also halted production on a few other Silicon Knights titles. Not long after, Silicon Knights went under.

Sunset (Tale of Tales)

Set during a violent revolution in South America, Tale of Tales' Sunset was an interesting take on the adventure game genre. It was also the beneficiary of a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign. Sadly, the general public did not seem to have the same passion or interest in Sunset as the folks who donated to the Kickstarter did. The game ended up receiving mixed reviews and only sold around 4,000 units total — a number that included the copies given to Kickstarter backers.

Having spent more money on the game than it had raised and being unable to recoup those costs through sales, Tale of Tales had to close shop. For what it's worth, the game's creators did their best to maintain positive and hopeful attitude following the closure of their studio. In a blog post detailing the end of Tale of Tales, studio founders Michaël Samyn and Auriea Harvey expressed a willingness to move forward, albeit outside of the gaming industry.

They wrote, "Creativity still burns wildly in our hearts but we don't think we will be making videogames after this. And if we do, definitely not commercial ones."

Haze (Free Radical)

Haze seemed to have had the odds stacked against it. In the months leading up to its release, the game was being hyped up as "the Halo killer." In other words, it had big shoes to fill before it was even completed. Even worse, as former director Steve Ellis told Engadget, the team making Haze was constantly under pressure to add new features to the game by publisher Ubisoft. 

The game saw a series of delays, as well as a bizarre marketing campaign that essentially spoiled major aspects of the plot. The game was released to poor sales and savage reviews. The game was seen as a disappointment, particularly after all of the promises being made about how it could change the gaming landscape. After losing a ton of money in the development of Haze, Free Radical was barely hanging on. Following the dissolution of Free Radical's contract with LucasArts (for whom the company was originally going to develop Star Wars: Battlefront 3), the company was forced to close.

Blur (Bizarre Creations)

Developed by Bizarre Creations and published by Activision, Blur was a racing game with realistic graphics and arcade-style gameplay. It played like the bonkers love child of Forza and Mario Kart, so it seemed like a sure-fire hit.

Blur received pretty decent reviews, but saw sales that fell well below what Activision had hoped. Following Blur's disappointing retail numbers, Activision put Bizarre Creations' staff on temporary leave while the publisher reportedly tried to find a buyer for the developer. Unfortunately, the studio was ultimately closed. The closure of Bizarre Creations also led to the cancellation of a pretty great-looking Blur sequel, which would have incorporated new weather mechanics and power-ups.

A few months after the closure of Bizarre Creations, some of the former studio heads were very candid about their disputes with Activision. In a piece published in Edge (via GamesRadar), it was revealed the publisher interfered with just about every aspect of production. Former Bizarre Creations Managing Director Martyn Crudely said that the partnership with Activision negatively affected the team's morale, which in turn led to a compromised final product.

Def Jam Rapstar (4mm Games)

Def Jam Rapstar was an interesting title, combining aspects of karaoke and rhythm games into one weird little package. It also managed to garner positive reviews from critics and the game's sales weren't that bad, either. So what went wrong?

Well, unfortunately for a company that made a game featuring dozens of popular songs, developer 4mm Games had not properly secured the rights to said songs. This led to EMI filing a lawsuit that totaled around $8.1 million. As noted by VG247, this issue was further complicated by the fact that several of the songs featured samples and guest tracks from other artists, which added up to even more of a legal headache.

In the midst of the lawsuit, the decision was made to let go of 4mm's employees so that they could find other projects. 4mm founder Jamie King summed up the premature ending of his studio by telling GamesIndustry.biz, "We have not got any new funding and obviously we need to resolve everything with Rapstar. And we've also got to eat."

APB (Realtime Worlds)

It cannot be overstated just how much of a flop APB: All Points Bulletin was. APB was an ambitious GTA-style MMO (that predated Grand Theft Auto Online) The game was in production for about five years and reportedly cost over $100 million to produce. In other words, it had to be huge or developer Realtime Worlds was in big trouble. 

Following a series of delays, the game was released to mediocre reviews. However, APB was also subject to a controversy over the review embargo enforced by Realtime Worlds. In a move that was heavily criticized at a time, Realtime asked that critics wait until a week after the game's release to publish their reviews.

It also just didn't sell well enough to recoup the money put into it. Less than six weeks after APB's release, the company filed for bankruptcy and let go of most of its employees. Less than three months after the release of All Points Bulletin, Realtime Worlds announced that the game's servers would be shut down and that it would be discontinuing support for the game. Luckily for fans, the game was eventually rescued and relaunched by GamersFirst as APB: Reloaded.

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning (38 Studios)

Fantasy RPG Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning was the only game produced by the ill-fated 38 Studios. During the development of the title, production was funded through an investment from the state of Rhode Island (no, really). While the game sold relatively well, it was not nearly enough to cover the cost of the game. As Rhode Island governor Lincoln Chafee told Joystiq (via ShackNews), the game ultimately lost "tens of millions of dollars."

38 Studios announced that it had gone bankrupt and had laid off its staff shortly after the release of the game. As if this weren't messy enough, a federal investigation was launched in 2016 due to accusations of fraud. It has been suggested that the agency and the bank that loaned 38 Studios the money for its next project willfully shorted the developer, resulting in its dissolution.

On the bright side, it does appear that the Amalur franchise still has some life in it. THQ Nordic purchased the rights to the property and will be releasing a remaster of the original game under the delightful title of Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning.

Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines (Troika Games)

Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines deserved better, as did the developer that made it, Troika Games. Bloodlines was an ambitious game, but it was unfortunately released in an incomplete form. Even worse, due to cutbacks at Troika, the remaining staff were unable to patch all of the game's problems. Also, to add insult to injury, Bloodlines came out on the exact same day as Half-Life 2 and with little in the way of marketing.

As Bloodlines lead writer Brian Mitsoda described to Eurogamer, "It was dumped on the market at the worst possible time — most people didn't even know we were out. Both fans and the Troika devs are always going to wonder what the game could have been like with another six months [of work]."

Following the colossal failure of Bloodlines, Troika Games couldn't secure funding for any further projects. The developer closed its doors for good very soon after Bloodlines' release. However, the game became regarded as a cult classic. The fledgling vampire franchise is due to rise from the dead in the form of an upcoming sequel from developer Hardsuit Labs.