Nintendo's 7 Biggest Failures and What They Taught Us

GameCube (2001)
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From the Virtual Boy to the disastrous deal with Sony that led to the PlayStation – Nintendo has had a few big misses

From the Virtual Boy to the disastrous deal with Sony that led to the PlayStation – Nintendo has had a few big misses

GameCube (2001)

With its idiosyncratic box-like looks, strange controller design and miniaturised optical discs, the GameCube was always an offbeat proposition. Originally known by the codename Dolphin, it was intended as a highly playful, almost toy-like machine, that also offered modern features like internet operability. Designer Ashida Kenichiro had observed how gamers became personally attached to their consoles and wanted something cute and easy to carry around. The architecture, designed by N64 chipset guru Dr Wei Yen, offered a custom IBM PowerPC chip and ATI "Flipper" graphics processor that could push 12 million polygons a second – an impressive feat for the time, although for context: the PlayStation 4 can push 1.6 billion polygons a second – it was intended to be developer friendly and powerful. At E3 in 1999, Howard Lincoln proclaimed, "We are absolutely confident that Dolphin's graphics will equal or exceed anything our friends at Sony can come up with for Playstation 2."

However, delays to the machine's launch meant Sony was able to come out with its PlayStation 2 a year before GameCube, offering a much more powerful processor – and Xbox would follow shortly after, providing a whole new proposition. Nintendo delayed getting development kits out to third-party studios, its licensing fees were higher, and it was tough to build GC support into the new era of multi-platform release schedules so studio support quickly waned. Just over 20 million units were sold, ten million less than the N64, making this Nintendo's lowest selling machine – until the Wii U some eleven years later.

What we learned: GameCube was too similar to the N64 in its design philosophy, which meant, once again, developers were cautious about supporting it – and they weren't getting the support they needed from Nintendo. There needed to be a major re-think. In fact, Miyamoto said that the tribulations he went through working on the GameCube controller (which was iterated several times during the console's development) made him re-think his entire approach to gaming interfaces, leading directly to the epoch-shattering Wii Remote controller.

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