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The Biggest Flops In E3 History

Everybody wants to make a good impression at E3. It is, after all, the biggest video game trade show in North America, and the single best opportunity for publishers to push their upcoming games on the media, retailers, and hardcore fans.

But it doesn't always work out that way. In over two decades of E3, there have been plenty of cringe-worthy hosts, ill-advised attempts at humor, and flat-out mistakes. And then there are the games themselves. While a strong E3 showing can catapult a hype for a mediocre game into the stratosphere (hey there, No Man's Sky), in hindsight, these products should've probably skipped the show and just stayed home.

The Wii Vitality Sensor


After the GameCube failed to meet Nintendo's expectations, the company needed a hit—and the Wii delivered. Thanks to its novel, easy-to-understand motion controls (and Wii Sports, an endlessly replayable tech demo that came with the system), the Wii was an overnight sensation. Millions of consumers who never would've picked up a traditional game console flocked to the Wii, and Nintendo capitalized on its newly expanded audience with a number of products that were only tangentially related to gaming. One of those titles, Wii Fit, transformed the console into an digital workout machine and sold very, very well: ultimately, Nintendo moved 22.6 million copies of Wii Fit and its included peripheral, the Wii Balance Board.

At E3 2009, Nintendo announced it would continue its push into game-assisted wellness with a device called the Wii Vitality Sensor. Allegedly, users could attach the sensor to the Wii Remote and stick their finger inside, and the Wii would be able to track the user's pulse and other bodily statistics.

But Nintendo didn't explain what that data would be used for. Nintendo president Satoru Iwata implied the Wii Vitality Sensor could be used to "achieve greater relaxation," but didn't explain how. Instead of giving any answers, Nintendo promised more information about the Wii Vitality Sensor to come at E3 2010, leaving fans scratching their heads.

E3 2010 came and went, and the Vitality Sensor was nowhere in sight. Same at E3 2011. In 2013, Nintendo announced that the peripheral had been axed. "We could not get it to work as we expected and it was of narrower application than we had originally thought," Iwata admitted, and then dropped the matter entirely. Eight years later, we still don't know what Nintendo was thinking—and we probably never will.

The PlayStation 3

During Sony's press conference at the first E3, Sony Computer Entertainment America president Steve Race took the stage and stole the show with three words: "Two-ninety-nine." That was, of course, the price for Sony's upcoming PlayStation console, which was largely expected to retail for more than Sega's next-generation system, the Saturn, and which ended up costing $100 less than the competition. The media dubbed Race's announcement "the price heard around the world," and before long, Sony was well on its way towards dominating the video game market. 

History did not repeat itself at E3 2006. Sony's annual press conference—which had transformed from a low-key press event into a multi-million dollar extravaganza in the 11 years since Race's bombshell announcement—got off to a rocky start when nobody could identify a game running on the the PlayStation Portable, leading the Sony CEO to yell "Riiiiidge Racer!" at an exasperated audience. Later, while showing off some of the games in the PlayStation 3's lineup, producer Bill Ritch bragged that the game Genji 2 would let players participate in "famous battles that actually took place in ancient Japan," right before a crab three times the size of the game's hero appeared onscreen. 

But none of that prepared the audience for the climax of Sony's presentation, which announced that the PlayStation 3 would come in two configurations: one with a 20-gigabyte hard drive that would cost $499, and one with a 60-gig drive that would cost $599. In 2006, that was entirely too much. For $599, fans could buy an Xbox 360 and a Nintendo Wii, both of which had stronger launch libraries than Sony's high-powered console—and while Sony eventually lowered the PlayStation 3's price and moved over 80 million machines, the company didn't reclaim its place at the top of the industry until the PlayStation 4 came out in 2013.

The Sega Saturn

Sony might've won the first E3 with its PlayStation price announcement, but Sega had a few tricks up its sleeve too. During its first E3 press conference, Sega announced that its latest console, the Sega Saturn, wouldn't come out on its original release date, September 2, 1995. Instead, the Saturn would hit stores on May 11—which happened to be the exact same day the press conference was taking place. 

That's a bombshell announcement if there's ever been one, but it ultimately ended up backfiring. Quite simply, the Saturn wasn't ready for prime time. Sega executives forced their American counterparts to launch the Saturn ahead of schedule in order to get the edge on Sony and its upcoming PlayStation (which was already outselling the Saturn in Japan). As a result, the surprise release didn't just catch consumers off guard—third-party developers didn't get much of a heads up either, and the Saturn launched with only six games to its name, with most big hits still scheduled for a September release.

Even worse, Sega didn't provide every retailer with an allotment of Saturn machines, leaving stores like KB Toys out in the cold. KB Toys didn't appreciate the dis and refused to carry the system, ultimately paving the way for the PlayStation and Nintendo 64's dominance. Sega never recovered, and while its next console, the Dreamcast, is widely considered ahead of its time, the damage to Sega's brand was too severe. Sega dropped out of the hardware game entirely, and now subsists as a software-only company, publishing games on systems that belong to its former competitors.

Rock Revolution

If you're going to show off a game at E3, you'd better make sure it looks fun. At E3 2008, Rock Revolution did not. It's wasn't just that Rock Revolution hewed too close to the model established by Rock Band without offering anything new to the experience, or that its drum peripheral was unwieldy and poorly designed, or that its user interface didn't make much sense, or that its soundtrack was comprised primarily of covers and not original recordings. No, the biggest problem with Rock Revolution's E3 debut was that the people demoing the game completely and utterly sucked at playing pretend instruments, and performed so badly that they got booed off the digital stage.

As in Rock Band and Guitar Hero, Rock Revolution players need to hit buttons on plastic guitars and bang on specially-made drums in order to match the notes scrolling down the screen. Time your button presses correctly, and you'll get a high score. Whiff too many times and the level ends, forcing you to restart. At Konami's E3 conference, the latter happened. As Konami employees rocked out to a cover of the Ramones' "Blitzkrieg Bop," the guitar player missed note after note, until the digital crowd overtook the melody and the game ended the song early (thankfully, the live audience was a little kinder). The players restarted the level and made it through successfully on the second pass, but by that point, the damage was done.

Still, it could've been worse: without that disastrous E3 performance, Rock Revolution would've most likely faded into obscurity. Now it'll live on in internet infamy, remembered for all time as one of the biggest duds in E3 history.

Kinect Star Wars


When Nintendo unveiled the Wii in 2006, Star Wars fans around the world had one question: would motion controls make the dreams of every would-be Jedi come true and finally let players wield a lightsaber in real time? A five years later, they got their answer: sort of. At E3 2011, Microsoft unveiled Kinect Star Wars, a game that uses the Xbox's motion-sensing camera to let players jump, dash, and dice their way through hordes of prequel-era Battle Droids. Swinging your arms moves the onscreen lightsaber, while leaning to the side invokes a quick dodge, and leaning forward executes a fast-powered dodge. 

At least that was the idea. During Microsoft's big E3 showcase, the Kinect Star Wars demo failed to excite the assembled members of the press, not to mention the millions of fans watching at home. Instead of fluid sci-fi swordplay, Kinect Star Wars was a laggy mess—except when the onscreen Jedi executed moves before the player moved, raising questions about the demo's authenticity. Players had to bark commands like "Lightsaber on!" into the Kinect's microphone in order to ignite their weapons, which feels more like Star Trek than Star Wars. One section of the demo, in which the on-stage player had to use the Force to hurl a tank off of a bridge, didn't really work, requiring numerous attempts before the vehicle found its way over the platform's short barriers.

All things considered, Kinect Star Wars' debut wasn't a catastrophe, but given the game's potential—not to mention fans' sky-high expectations—the entire presentation ended up falling flat. Unfortunately, things didn't get much better between E3 and Kinect Star Wars' release: these days, the game is best known for its ridiculous, canon-shattering, and oddly endearing Galactic Dance-Off mode, not its lightsaber battles. Oh, what could've been.


If Pokémon Go proved one thing, it's that combining a beloved multimedia franchise with an augmented reality application is essentially a license to print money. By that logic, Sony's Wonderbook should've been huge. Not only did the add-on peripheral, which resembles a physical book, interact with the PlayStation 3 Eye camera to bring magical worlds to life onscreen, but its inaugural title, Book of Spells, was based on Harry freakin' Potter. Wizard-master J.K. Rowling herself even helped design the game.

It should've been a hit. In Book of Spells, players join one of Hogwarts' four houses, then use the PlayStation's motion-sensitive Move controller as a wand to cast spells straight from the book. That sounds awesome, but despite positive reviews, a BAFTA award nomination, and a sequel (Book of Potions), the franchise never caught on.

Blame E3. Wonderbook and Book of Spells might've been a great and innovative project, but E3 tends to attract a hardcore gaming audience, and Sony's 2012 press event was full of gory, profanity-laden adult-oriented software. Lumping the kid-friendly Book of Spells in with games like The Last of Us, Beyond: Two Souls, and God of War: Ascension confused the audience and diluted Sony's overall message, while the amount of time Sony devoted to the platform—the Wonderbook presentation lasted for a solid 10 minutes—killed all of Sony's momentum. There's a time and a place for everything, but as far as the Wonderbook reveal is concerned, E3 wasn't either, and the peripheral never really got the attention it deserved.

Mortal Kombat 3


Say you're about to debut the latest entry in one of the most popular fighting game franchises of all time. You'd probably want to tell everyone how the new game is the biggest and best installment yet, right? You'd definitely want to outline some of the ways that the series is changing for the better—for example, the new "Run" button, which gives players some extra defensive options, or chain combos, which make it easier to inflict pain on your foes. You might want to show off some of the game's new characters, too, and you'd definitely want to highlight the interactive stages and "Animality" finishing moves, which transform your fighter into an animal in order to violently dismember enemy combatants.

Not if you're Midway, and you're at E3 to showcase Mortal Kombat 3. In 1995, the arcade giant crashed the first E3 to pimp the latest edition of its one-on-one fighting game. Instead of focusing on Mortal Kombat 3 itself, however, Midway decided to get fans and the press hyped by flying in some of Mortal Kombat 3's actors, sending them out on a smoke-filled stage, and making them engage in a choreographed dance battle in front of a puzzled audience. If that sounds silly, it's because it is silly, as you can see for yourself in the video above.

Even weirder? Mortal Kombat 3 wasn't the only fighting game to make its E3 debut with a dance number. That same year, every hour the Nintendo booth hosted a giant Killer Instinct-themed dance recital set to a cut from the game's "Killer Cuts" soundtrack. We don't know what was happening in the fighting game scene back in 1995 that made this seem like a good idea, but whatever it was, we're glad that it's over—for now.

NBA 2K12 on the PlayStation Move


Trotting out a celebrity to hawk a new product is a pretty common tactic at big E3 press conferences—Microsoft flew in Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr to promote The Beatles: Rock Band in 2009, while Pelé (you know, just the greatest soccer player of all time) showed up at E3 2015 to talk about FIFA—but if a company is using a big name to promote their games, they only have two real options. Either the company can let the celebrity say a few brief words and get out of the way, or it can hand over the controller and let the star show off the game themselves.

In 2012, Sony decided on the latter. It was the wrong choice. Kobe Bryant is very, very good at playing basketball, but he is not very good at playing basketball on the PlayStation. It's not clear what exactly went wrong. Maybe Kobe isn't a big gamer. Maybe nobody explained to him how the PlayStation's motion-sensing Move controllers worked. Maybe he just needed a little more practice.

Whatever the answer, the brief Kobe-flavored demo of NBA 2K12 fell completely flat (when the audience is laughing at your presentation, it's probably time to move on), and the Move-enabled sports game failed to make a big impression on the audience. The appearance pretty much ended Bryant's career as a video game spokesperson—good thing he has those five championship rings to fall back on and millions of dollars worth of endorsement deals to fall back on.

Killer Instinct

Women make up almost half of the gaming audience, but E3 is still very much a boy's club. If you ever get a chance to attend in person, you'll notice that the show floor is filled with dudes. Very few women attend, and publishers tend to adjust their presentations accordingly. 

If you need proof, just look back to Microsoft's 2013 press conference. Overall, E3 2013 wasn't a great outing for the company. At the show, Microsoft announced that the Xbox One would cost $499, $100 more than expected (and, more importantly, $100 more than its nearest competitor, the PlayStation 4), while refusing to comment on the console's always-online requirement, which was designed to limit the sale of used games.

And then came the rape jokes. While demoing Killer Instinct, a reboot of the '90s fighting game, two Microsoft representatives—one man, one woman—took the stage for a demo match. So far, so good. Things grew a little more uncomfortable when the male competitor started to decimate his unskilled female counterpart, perpetuating the "girls can't play" stereotype. Then the trash talk started.

As the man dominated the match, he told his competitor, "Just let it happen. It'll be over soon." When the woman observed that her opponent had a fight stick, he quipped, "Wow, you like those?"

"No, I don't like this," the woman replied. 

If that sounds kind of, well, rapey to you, you're not alone. Online viewers complained on social media, while Microsoft issued an apology the next day, claiming that the sexist comments were "off the cuff." Given that most E3 presentations are heavily scripted (more on that in a moment), that claim is suspect—especially given that Microsoft's Xbox division hosted a party filled with pole dancers at the Game Developer Conference just a few years later.

Ghost Recon: Wildlands

Here's a secret: most E3 demos are fake. With hundreds of thousands people watching and millions of dollars on the line, game publishers want to make sure that they put their best foot forward, and that often means creating highly polished but tightly scripted demos. Sometimes, they aren't live at all, but are instead pre-rendered footage that a plant on stage pretends to play. That level of control extends to the dialogue that players engage in onstage, too. While the back-and-forth between players might sound natural, it's usually entirely scripted.

That's not always a good thing. At E3 2016, Ubisoft pushed its multiplayer paramilitary open-world title Ghost Recon: Wildlands by showing how a single mission might unfold while, unfortunately, featuring some of the worst dialogue ever featured in an E3 presentation. The "real players" who teamed up to take down one of Wildlands' drug lords didn't talk like any human being on the planet. Not only did each player narrate every single action that he took, but almost every sentence was full of clunky military jargon or action-movie-like one-liners. Maybe Ghost Recon was a good game, but it was impossible to tell—everyone was too busy laughing at the B-rate role-playing to pay attention to the action.