Dorklyst: The 9 Worst Videogame Launches of All-Time

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The launch of the latest SimCity was, to put it mildly, not handled well. To put it spicily, it was a huge unimaginable mess – with people unable to download the game, play the game due to lack of available servers, features being turned off, and with a number of updates released post-launch trying to fix some of the major issues users were experiencing. This didn’t go on for just the first few hours of its release though – some of this is still going on, a week after release. For a smaller game and company, this might not be such a surprise – but this is from one of the largest publishers in videogames and one of the biggest franchises in videogames. However, SimCity is not the first game to put users through this kind of launch mess. Here are 9 other games that had terrible launches.

9. World of Warcraft

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The game that truly launched MMOs into widespread popularity, and possibly the most profitable game of all-time (also the most life-sucking – it’s been played a grand total of 5.93 million years, cumulatively), World of Warcraft started off in a state of total disarray. As the first huge MMO of its kind, Blizzard had no idea what it was walking into, and the servers were instantly overloaded on launch day, with queues reaching the thousands. And even if you did manage to get into the game, everything was slow and glitchy. If this had happened today, it would be a nightmare – SimCity at least has most of their ducks in order a week later – but WoW’s woes lasted for over a month, mostly due to outdated servers that were in dire need of upgrading. Thankfully, Blizzard learned their lesson and never had a rocky launch ever agai- OH WAIT…

8. Diablo 3

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Diablo 3 is a lot like SimCity – both are beloved franchises that hadn’t had a new release in about a decade, both were being closely watched for their always-online DRM policy, and both are the Spanish word for “devil” (I’ll check that later). But people weren’t quite as nervous for Diablo 3 as they were for SimCity – for one, Blizzard gave you the option of pre-downloading the game, so when midnight struck, you would be able to jump right into the game and get back that carpal tunnel syndrome that had laid dormant in your clicking-finger for 10 years. Plus, it was Blizzard launching the game! If anyone knew how online games under heavy server load worked, it would be the people behind World of Warcraft and StarCraft, right? Well, then the infamous Error 37 occurred.

Error 37 read as follows: “The servers are busy at this time. Please try again later (error 37)”. The game’s always-on DRM requirement meant that – if you could not connect to Blizzard’s servers – you could not play the game in any capacity. No single player, no multiplayer, nothing. Error 37 instantly entered meme legend, flooding social media with angry gamers who just wanted to murder Satan. On top of this, numerous other bugs plagued the initial release, with people losing characters and loot, including their hardcore permadeath characters. You don’t have to shove a crystal in your forehead to recognize the launch was a huge disaster – but now that user levels have dropped as quickly as the population of Tristram, at least the server load has eased up.

7. Hellgate: London

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Hellgate: London opened its, uh, hellgates on Halloween 2007 – and all hell(gate) broke loose. US players experienced bugs and the expected glitches that goes along with any game that happens to be the developer’s first 3D game, their first FPS, their first subscription-based game, etc. But players in Southeast Asia ran into something far more horrible – a patch released two weeks after the game’s initial release was forced on all players, which fixed a few issues but also deleted all progress made to that point. And users worldwide ran into issues with the subscription fees – with many people being mistakenly billed multiple times and others paying for the service being denied access to certain game features. In less than two years, the servers were shut down and the game was inaccessible. On the other hand, users had plenty of time to eat leftover Halloween candy.

6. Half-Life 2

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Ahhh, Valve…the shining beacon of videogame goodness and generosity, a flawless diamond in the rough of the gaming landscape – how could they do any wrong? Half-Life 2 is one of the greatest games ever, and Steam is the perfect platform for PC gaming! It’s not like anyone was singing a different tune about ten years ago, right?

Half-Life 2 was released via Steam on November 16, 2004 – the first game to require Steam to be playable. And it was a deeply-flawed mess. Valve had allowed gamers to pre-load the game as far back as August that year, just needing to download a simple code to jump into the game immediately once released. But Valve’s servers were (expectedly) overloaded, leaving many unable to get their games (whether downloaded or purchased as a box copy) validated. The game the internet had been waiting for years for was unavailable, users were writing off Steam as a huge misstep, and cats and dogs were living together – mass hysteria.

5. Star Wars Galaxies

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SWG sounded like every nerd’s dream come true – you could create a character in the Star Wars universe, do anything you wanted, travel to familiar planets and locales, and maybe even unlock your Force potential and train to become a Jedi! Sure, the game ultimately was a little too complex and unwieldy to ever really live up to this crazy promise, but it was exciting nonetheless.

As one of the most anticipated MMO launch of all-time, thousands and thousands tried to login and play the game simultaneously – and pretty much no one got on. The servers were overloaded for well over a day, so that gamers could access nothing at all related to Star Wars Galaxies. It was as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced, except without the “silenced” part, since forums exploded with anger and fury by those who had taken a week off of work to delve into their new life as a Rodian entertainer on Dantooine. Even after the servers caught up with the users, the game was plagued by issues that required numerous updates. And sadly, the game servers pulled the plug on the entire endeavor recently, shutting down the galaxy once and for all. Not even the Death Star could’ve done that.

4. Vanguard: Saga of Heroes

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Vanguard: Saga of Heroes was a very special kind of disaster – it was hurled onto an unassuming public well before it had any right to be released, came with the standard numerous bugs, and featured a level of incompleteness rarely seen in a major launch. It advertised features – namely flying mounts – that simply weren’t in the game whatsoever (until many months later). Patches were being sent out that actually led toadditional bugs and glitches. And it was well-known that the game was rushed to market as quickly as possible, since revenue was desperately needed by the investors behind it. Active users sunk from over 200k initially, to a little over 100k after the first month, to settle around 40k within a few months – a drop of about 80%.

And – perhaps most dramatically – the horrible launch led to some bizarre consequences, including an event where half of the developer’s employees were unceremoniously fired in the parking lot outside, after Sony bought all assets relating to the game away from other investors, in an attempt to salvage the mess that was Vanguard. Eventually the game was able to recover, more or less, and turn into something vaguely-resembling the fun and engaging game that was initially promised, but the launch forever crippled it (not to mention gave a bunch of developers a lot of stigma towards parking lots).

3. The WarZ

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While The WarZ’s launch was terrible, it did have one redeeming feature: it was very short-lived. On December 17th, 2012, after a brief alpha testing period, The WarZ was released on Steam. The game was notable for being widely viewed as a rushed knock-off of the popular ARMA 2 mod, DayZ, which debuted well before The WarZ and was generally more well-liked. But the biggest complaint about The WarZ itself came from the nature of the game itself – you had to pay for the game and microtransactions for in-game items and even re-spawning after death (or wait a multi-hour period to get back in the game you’ve already paid for). People had grumbled when it was a free alpha-testing game, but the outcry was deafening once it was released on Steam, with threads popping up across gaming sites, social media, and especially Reddit, all dedicated to pointing out egregious flaws of the game’s design, the controversial issue of the game’s origin, and the bad business practices by the developer (who were noted as refusing or making it very difficult to get a refund).

Within two days, the game was pulled from Steam (although it was recently – and very quietly – re-released on February 26th, 2013). A dead, monstrous game returning to semi-life? Maybe it’s just the most meta zombie game ever.

2. Final Fantasy XIV

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Few view the last several years of the Final Fantasy franchise in a positive light, but the worst moment in all of Final Fantasy’s multiple decade history is arguably the launch of Final Fantasy XIV. Like XI, it was designed as another MMO. Unlike XI, it was a laggy mess with an incomprehensible interface that couldn’t figure out how to get it’s PS3 port in shape enough for its own crappy launch. Beyond the bugs and performance issues, the game stood as just being poorly-designed on every level. You could hire NPCs to sell your goods – but there was no indication of who was selling what, leaving the market an inscrutable mess. There was a system in place that actually punished players for playing for extended periods of time – essentially a middle finger to the people who made up MMOs chief userbase. And the control scheme was, by most accounts, akin to stabbing yourself in the face repeatedly with a spiky axe.

The game was so widely disliked that Square-Enix actually pulled the game from shelves within about a month of release, with the intention of rebuilding the game from the ground up. Even at this point, years later, there is no solid release date for the “new” Final Fantasy XIV (subtitled: A Realm Reborn), although it should be released later this year. Probably as an iOS app with $200 in in-game microtransactions, but whatever it is couldn’t be worse than the launch of XIV.

1. Ultima IX: Ascension

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Many years ago, in the ancient period of 1999, there were two entities known as EA and Origin. Sound familiar? EA is still EA, but Origin was a developer that worked on the Ultima series, that – up to that point – had been pretty well-regarded. Then Ascension was released.

A lot of things happened behind the scenes prior to this – at least 4 wildly different versions of the game were in development at various times, team members had come and gone, and technology advanced – but most of all, EA forced a set release date on the team. The game was then launched, in a buggy, horribly-unfinished state, and with ridiculous hardware requirements to boot. Updates and bug fixes did little to stop the game ending crashes – it was only when a former team member anonymously released an unofficial patch that the game was playable again. But even then, the game was an ugly mess, and would be the last single-player game ever released by Origin. But the end of one Origin would open the gates for another. The cycle continues.

It’s like the old saying goes – “Those who do not learn from history are bound to buy messed-up EA games.”


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