Here's Why The Nintendo GameCube Failed

By: Colin Anderson
Two boys playing video games.
Not every game makes it to the big leagues. Ed Bock / Getty Images

The Nintendo GameCube, Nintendo’s fourth home console, entered its respective generation as an underdog for the first time since Nintendo entered the gaming industry. While the N64 was viewed as a step backwards for the company in terms of commercial success, the GameCube actually sold fewer units than the N64, even with the industry as a whole growing and becoming more popular in the early 2000s. While the GameCube’s direct competitor — the Sony PlayStation 2 — was already expected to perform very well, Nintendo failing to surpass the newcomer (Microsoft’s Xbox) in the console race while losing even further ground to Sony was a significant surprise. Despite making a small profit for Nintendo, the GameCube lost Nintendo sizable market share, finishing in third place in terms of hardware sales, which has led to it being characterized as a commercial failure. Here are 10 things that contributed to the GameCube’s failure.


10. Overreliance On First Party

While making huge strides from the days of the Nintendo 64, the GameCube still had an overreliance on its first party publications. While Nintendo managed to lure Capcom back into the fold, the majority of other developers either skipped the GameCube entirely or released shoddy ports that did not take advantage of console’s superior technological competency. When Capcom’s Resident Evil 4 arrived in early 2005, it sold extremely well and provided a breath of fresh air for a company viewed as stale, having only put out yearly releases of their rehashed games up to that point. Unfortunately, this type of scenario did not occur often enough. Nintendo’s first party games were among the best of the generation, but gamers were simply looking for new ideas. Microsoft and Sony were able to acquire far more third party support and that hurt the GameCube’s library dearly.


9. No Online

The sixth console generation ushered in a move toward online gaming, with the Sega Dreamcast being the first to dive in and the Xbox going online a few years later with far more success. The PlayStation 2 followed suit with its own online model, requiring the purchase of an adapter while offering the actual online service for free. The GameCube had no true online support and this significantly hurt its appeal. Despite the PlayStation 2’s somewhat rudimentary online service, they were at least able to compete with Microsoft’s  more sophisticated Xbox Live service in this area. The GameCube’s lack of an online service was viewed by many as a missing feature. Aside from hurting them during the GameCube generation, Nintendo’s aversion to seriously pursuing online gaming is something that would haunt them for generations, as they still lag behind the competition with the Wii U’s unexciting online service to this day.


 8. Poor Launch Titles

Nintendo consoles were known for launching with Mario titles. These launch titles were always among the best of the entire system’s lifespan and were as influential as they were fun. While the N64 was the first Nintendo console not to include a game bundled in with the system, Super Mario 64 was available to be purchased separately at launch and helped sell the system regardless. With the GameCube, Nintendo did not have a Mario title ready. Instead, they launched with Luigi’s Mansion, a glorified tech demo of the GameCube’s graphical capabilities. While it has accrued a cult following in the years since, Luigi’s Mansion was a very brief game that didn’t appeal to adult gamers. People were looking for Mario, meaning that Luigi’s Mansion was viewed as a disappointment. Nintendo got cocky and felt their system would sell no matter what. The system also launched with Wave Race, Super Monkey Ball and Star Wars Rogue Squadron 2 — all excellent games; however, none were able to reach the popularity that Mario would have had and were unable to sell the system.


7. Loss of Rareware

Rareware, the company responsible for a large number of N64 gems such as Banjo-Kazooie, Perfect Dark and Conker’s Bad Fur Day, were pried away from Nintendo just as the GameCube was launching. Microsoft purchased them and Nintendo had a chance to match the offer, but refused. While Rare would not go on to produce many great titles for Microsoft’s console, their loss stung Nintendo greatly. Aside from no longer producing the excellent titles with outrageous British humor they were known for, their departure signaled a symbolic end to Nintendo’s glory days. Gamers felt betrayed losing the company they valued so dearly and Rare’s departure allowed these same gamers to feel comfortable switching to Microsoft or Sony’s side. No company was able to harness the graphical capabilities of a Nintendo console as Rare did and their loss significantly hurt Nintendo’s reputation.


6. Microdisks

The GameCube was the first Nintendo console to use optical disks as its media format. While the PlayStation 1 used a CD-ROM drive to overshadow the Nintendo 64’s cartridges, the PlayStation 2 stepped things up even further by providing DVD as the console’s physical media. Nintendo would move to the DVD format as well, but stopped short of using traditional DVDs. In an effort to reduce piracy and lower production costs, Nintendo opted instead for miniDVD, also known as a microdisk. This format used an 8 centimeter disk, as compared with the traditional 12 cm for DVDs). Unfortunately, this plan ultimately backfired. The smaller disk naturally had a smaller storage capacity (1.5 GB compared to proper 4 GB DVD’s). This meant that FMV scenes and audio were more compressed to fit on a single disc, reducing their quality and giving the PS2 and Xbox the edge in terms of what they could include on a disc.


5. Missing Genres

The GameCube’s library, while much more diverse compared to the N64’s, was still shallow in certain areas when viewed directly with the Xbox and in particular, the PS2. A main source of frustration for gamers was the lack of RPGs. Sony continued to dominate the JRPG genre, with Squaresoft leading the way. Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts alone were able to sell the console. Xbox meanwhile had developed quite their own niche, providing excellent Western RPGs such as Fable, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Jade Empire. These sandbox-style RPGs provided open worlds and would eventually become far more popular in North America than the traditional linear JRPGs, which dominated the previous era. On top of RPGs, Nintendo was unable to provide quality alternatives to racing simulations such as Gran Turismo. Nintendo also failed to address the highly competitive fighting game market (other than Super Smash Bros. Melee, of course). Put this altogether and the lack of diversity in Nintendo’s library was evident.


4. The Controller

The GameCube controller was a long-lasting controller (it can still be used today to play Wii U titles such as Super Smash Bros.); therefore, it can’t be viewed as a complete failure. The truth is that the controller was designed specifically for Smash Bros. and while functional for other titles, was not as polished as the offerings of its competitors. Firstly, the lack of a true second analog stick was jarring, as the c-stick was just not as precise as the PS2 or Xbox’s analog stick. Secondly, the “Z” button was not replicated on both sides, which effectively meant that GameCube control pad was missing the other shoulder button found on its competitors’ controllers. Finally, the colorful layout, from the large green “A” button to the yellow c-stick to the red “B” button made the controller stand out, but didn’t look as sleek as Microsoft or particularly Sony’s professional designs. The build quality may be high but audiences preferred Sony’s offering by a significant margin.


3. Immature Perception

Marketing played a cruel role in causing the GameCube to slip to third place. Sony had built a reputation for releasing quality titles aimed at mature adults and their games offered complex storylines that put the plots of Nintendo’s games to shame. Microsoft then entered the arena and advertised the Xbox as the console of choice for more dedicated gamers; a home for intense competitive gaming which began to take place with their online-focused model. The GameCube, still carrying over the stigma of the N64, was viewed as a console geared for children. Nintendo attempted their best to shake this reputation, offering Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem as an early title that was critically acclaimed and certainly geared for adults, but once a reputation is developed, it is difficult to shake. The GameCube would continue to release M-rated titles such as Resident Evil 4 and Killer 7, yet it was the PlayStation and the Xbox which managed to cater to an older crowd and Nintendo left with the less sizable younger demographic.


2. Appearance

With gaming becoming more mainstream and acceptable at this time, video games were no longer perceived as toys. They were now considered a hobby to be enjoyed by everyone. Unfortunately, the GameCube was the victim of opposing advertising which showed their console having the appearance of a toy rather than being a serious gaming console. Despite actually outclassing the PS2 in terms of raw hardware power, its small size and carrying handle did it no favors in convincing the masses that it could compete with the opposition. The choice to have the indigo purple color as the model of choice for advertising campaigns was a poor one, as the colorful, bright did it no favors when set next to a black PlayStation 2 or Xbox. The overly-colorful controller added to the perception that the GameCube was  a toy and caused the console to not be taken seriously. Aesthetics are an integral component of a console’s success and the GameCube failed on this front.


1. Lack Of DVD Player

It may seem trivial today, but the Gamecube’s lack of a built-in DVD player caused the console to take a huge hit in sales. The PlayStation 2 launched as an attractive game console that could also play DVD movies, a new technology that would replace VCRs. A DVD player in the year 2000 cost was similar in cost to the console itself, so the PS2 having the player built-in was seen as a two-in-one bundle. The majority of households did not yet have a DVD player at the time, so it was very attractive purchase. The Xbox launched along with the GameCube and Microsoft also included DVD technology. The GameCube, opting for their proprietary microdisks, had no such DVD player. For most gamers on the fence during this console war, this was a deal breaker. The lack of DVD support did not appeal to parents especially, who were more inclined to go with a PS2 or Xbox, as these systems provided more value for the entire household. This generation was settled by a DVD player which may appear comical in hindsight, but at the time was a very big deal.

Frequently Answered Questions

What was Nintendo's most unsuccessful console?
The most unsuccessful Nintendo console was the Nintendo 64DD.