It has been many years since video games captured the world’s attention. Yesterday’s Pac-man, Donkey Kong, and Space Invaders led to Mortal Kombat and Diablo, and now today’s hit computer games rival blockbuster movies in revenue.
In most cases, it’s pretty easy to spot the games that are going to hit the jackpot. Sequels are obvious examples. The successes of the latest Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty installments owe their success to the fan bases already established by their predecessors.
Many of the other new games bear striking resemblance to older games. Some games like FIFA are popular because their real-world counterparts are played all over the world. Others become popular because their makers spent lot of money on marketing or on game development.
So it’s fairly easy to predict which games are going to make it. But every now and then, a game comes out of left field and becomes popular. In hindsight it’s easy to see why these games became hits. But at the time of their release, no one could have predicted their massive success.
Here are some games which no one predicted would become blockbusters:
No one could have predicted the success of this Lego-like game. It’s not based on any popular genre like RPG and shoot-‘em-ups. The graphics are simplistic and there’s no actual objective. But it sure is addictive.
Despite the availability of the Minecraft free version, Microsoft actually ponied up $2.5 billion to acquire the company behind the game. So if you’re afraid that Microsoft is going to muck it up somehow, get your Minecraft for free now before Microsoft requires everyone to register online so they can pay up.
This game established one of the most reliable ways of marketing a video. Just get politicians riled up so that they condemn the game, and fans would flock to the game in response. That’s what happened to the Grand Theft Auto franchise, when it became hugely popular because people were bemoaning its sex and violence.
The makers of this game certainly didn’t know that it would be a hit, simply because it wasn’t really designed to be a real game at all. It was made simply as an in-office joke. Its popularity, however, was established once gameplay videos of a goat running around ramming people and getting into trouble in farm machinery became a hit on YouTube. The video gained a million views in just two days, and the makers began receiving requests for its release. It then sold 1.5 million copies in a year.
Not only could no one predict the success of this simplistic game, but even after its popularity exploded so-called experts still couldn’t understand its success. People complained of its gameplay difficulties. Experts derided its simplistic nature. Others accused its maker of using unethical bots to boost its profile online and of stealing its features from other games. In the end, the developer bemoaned its success and withdrew it from online stores, and he got death threats as a result.
Perhaps Flappy Bird became popular because it had “Bird” in the title, and this is the game that established the “Bird” brand. As of 2014, it has been downloaded 2 billion times. Its success was a mystery, because it was a single player game so there was no community-driven viral marketing at work. And the plot was insane—suicidal birds attack green pigs who stole their eggs!