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What went wrong and why did the GameCube fail against the Xbox?

Jul 24, 2016
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Most people, at least on gaming boards, look back at the what ifs of the Gamecube from usually a PS2 vs. Gamecube perspective with Xbox being on the side if mentioned, but I would argue the Xbox is the reason the Gamecube bombed as badly as it did, and why it failed to appeal to a large segment of the gaming population. and lost interest of developers..

The Xbox was the newcomer and people may not remember this but gaming boards from Atari Age to outlet boards were mixed to confused about Microsofts random Box entering the console race for the first time. While Microsoft would eventually have more games, many also on the PS2, and have more games exclusive in more genres well received than the Gamecube, initially the Gamecube has the upper hand and investing in the Xbox was an investment in PC game design or franchises brought to a home console for the first time, as the power gap between PC and consoles had relatively shrunken, while in the past computers were traditionally always (outside of early PC) miles ahead of consoles.

When you look at it without the PS2 involved:

1. The Gamecube had recognizable 1st and third party franchises out the gate and within the first 2 full years
2. Had access exclusively (fully or timed) to some of the top selling IPS in the industry
3. Had put out pre-release screenshots and videos earlier than Xbox did, so the power gap wasn't known yet and people figured it would be in the Gamecubes favor originally.
4.Nintendo was an established name.
5. Microsoft had a mixed game rep and a terrible corporate reputation for how they interacted in the computer industry and businesses within it.
6. Most consoles gamers were not sure about investing in a large selection of games that were not common in the console industry prior outside some compromised releases of some popular computer or PC hits.
7. The Gamecube could be gotten cheaper with pre-orders, and dropped in price in very short time after release compared to the Xbox.

Of course, overtime a lot of this changed, XBL happened, Xbox ended up with tons of games from both sides of the industry, Gamecube started missing out on many releases, but the situation became absurd later:

1.Gamecube stalled production in 2003 due to a heavy drop in sales,
2. Tons of large third parties, including ones that didn't need 3x the disc space, skipped the Gamecube
3. Several exclusives suddenly became non-exclusive
4. Gamecube forced to cut the price rapidly to $99 before anyone else (xbox and PS2)

and at this point Xbox was a good 4-5+ million units ahead.

But then the final nail had to be when Microsoft rapidly cut 1st party support and replaced the original Xbox with the 360 as it's main hardware product in 2005, with some shrinking third party support pushed out for another 1.5 years. The Gamecube, which was desperately trying to pick up releases, was an insanely good value, and had pushed several features (limited online gaming, mic, GB player, wavebird, etc.), and basically had the runner-up market to itself. The ps2 was coasting, Xbox was gone, they even kept the Gamecube running a bit after the Wii came out, and it could not close the gap, still leaving over 2 million units between it and the Xbox.

My question is what went wrong despite it's earlier advantages and it's later isolation on the track?

Was the Gamecube just never that appealing? Was Nintendo's hardware decline since NES each console a telling sign? Did Microsoft just have better games?

What could Nintendo have actually done to "beat" the Xbox with the GC?

Some will go to some PS2 comparisons, like the Gamecube not having a DVD player, but outside of game storage the Xbox didn't have DVD movie playback out the box, you had to buy an optional remote. It wasn't as easy to access as the PS2. They both also came out around the same time, so there isn't a timing advantage in Xbox's favor either.

What went wrong? What happened that an established player with an existing distribution and software partner network would flunk so badly to a new comer that even when the new comer left they still couldn't catch them?
 

StateofMajora

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Yes that a sales win for Xbox, but only a marginal one and MS was the one that took a financial loss with their efforts. Thanks partially to their more expensive components and also Nvidia (and intel?) never letting them move to smaller fabrication processes.

As to why the cube didn't sell more, I think it was the kiddy image that just couldn't be shook, as well as Playstation's dominating momentum. One could argue that, if Sega had remained in play rather than MS, the cube may have matched or exceeded N64 hardware sales.

Of course in hindsight, the gamecube was an incredible console, so it was really just the new kid on the block being more interesting at the time, and yeah Playstation stealing everyone's lunch.
 
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BlackTron

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The GCN did poorly because of Nintendo's hubris, thinking they were much hotter shit than they really were, against stiff competition that was a million times better at their brand image and marketing.

The cube came in as this strange purple colored box (again, bigwigs in Japan thinking they know what the whole world wants because they know Japanese people) and its big games seemed like weird versions of N64 predecessors. People (including myself) wanted Mario 64 2, Sunshine didn't really deliver that. An okay game that fell flat as THE NEXT MARIO. This was doubly true for Zelda: for a TON of gamers, Ocarina of Time was their first Zelda, and then they teased us with that Spaceworld demo. When it was revealed that Link now looks like a Powerpuff Girl, it deflated everyone's excitement totally. Then MS came in with Halo and Sony came in with a DVD player and stacked lineup. In my opinion, failing to read the market to deliver the correct Mario and Zelda game, along with a console design/color that would be more appreciated in North America, are the primary reasons for the failure of GCN and significantly hurt the Zelda brand for a VERY long time, until BOTW came out.

Of course, I was still having fun playing Rogue Squadron II and Smash on its awesome controller.
 
Oct 26, 2018
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i think 3 consoles is a bit too much for the market , that is the reason why nintendo does its own thing now.
Agreed.

In a traditional race where MS, Nintendo and Sony all try to do the same thing - a strive for power with a traditional boxy console - Nintendo loses. Easy to steamroll broke Sega. Not easy to beat Sony and MS. N64 and GC showed that. Even at $199 they did lousy.

Nintendo is consistently at its best when doing handhelds (Switch included). I don't think they ever had a mobile system do bad.

When Nintendo does wacky things like Virtual Boy, Wii, Wii U, and hybrid Switch they are hit and miss.
 

Alright

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Should have learned from Phillips, don't go proprietary tech in gaming. Hello HD DVD (it's better than blu Ray)

The dream cast crowd went to Xbox, ps2 was a cheap DVD player, Nintendo had lost their magic moving away from carts
 
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Virt McPolygon

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Nintendo was too stubborn to embrace online multiplayer games. Yeah, there was PSO Ep 2 but I honestly can't think of any other online game off the top of my head.
 

Ceadeus

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I think Microsoft interested a brand new crowd that were not into Nintendo's offering.

Maybe the Xbox attracted people who were looking for a more mature looking hardware, with multimedia capabilities, also realistic sports games, Xbox live and games like Halo that would never be found/possible on any other hardware.

An American offering in an overly saturated Japanese industry.
 
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cartman414

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Should have learned from Phillips, don't go proprietary tech in gaming. Hello HD DVD (it's better than blu Ray)

The dream cast crowd went to Xbox, ps2 was a cheap DVD player, Nintendo had lost their magic moving away from carts

It's not proprietary, only lower capacity. Optical discs all cost pennies to manufacture.
 
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Elysion

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This was doubly true for Zelda: for a TON of gamers, Ocarina of Time was their first Zelda, and then they teased us with that Spaceworld demo. When it was revealed that Link now looks like a Powerpuff Girl, it deflated everyone's excitement totally.

Agreed. I still remember the ‚Celda’ comments, lol. I genuinely believe that Wind Waker‘s artstyle was a huge factor for the Gamecube‘s lackluster sales; it cemented Nintendo‘s ‚kiddy’ image at the worst time possible. If there had been a Zelda game that looked like Twilight Princess (or the Spaceworld 2000 demo) early in the Gamecube‘s lifecycle, people would‘ve went absolutely gaga over it. I’m pretty sure the GC would‘ve outsold the XBox due to stronger early momentum, which could‘ve carried the system for the whole generation (like Halo did for XBox). As it was, Twilight Princess came out way too late, and most people (myself included) got it on Wii.
 

ManaByte

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The PS2 started out using CDs with a very rare DVD game. The Xbox was using DVDs from the start.

Towards the start of the GCN generation, the 1.4GB discs were fine for multi-platform games that were targeting the blue CDs on the PS2.

But as the generation went on and more and more third parties started to switch over to DVDs, the GCN was kind of left behind as multi-platform games had to make sacrifices to fit on the 1.4GB discs. I remember EA was one of the bigger publishers where the GameCube versions had to use lower quality audio and video to fit compared to the PS2 and Xbox versions.
 
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Arkam

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Idk what world that Gen was GC vs Xbox. It was PS2 vs all.... and dominated. I actually much preferred the GC, but I’m a Nintendo fanboy. Loved the controller (esp wavebird), super fact load times (compare to Xbox/PS2) and had fantastic exclusives.

So why did it “fail”? A combination of poor design choices. First there was the GPU arhictecture that while impressive lacked modern effects. But honestly that was a minor issue compared to the issues with data size. First the obvious, the mini discs couldn’t hold near what a dvd did. So you would have to cut things, use lower res texture or use fruity compression. Then to make matters worse their was the TINY memory cards. Was too small to store things like sports “seasons” which turned off companies like EA. So those two errors meant multi plat games were often inferior (features/modes). So already sounds bad right? Well let’s add in that it was peak “Nintendo is for kids” propaganda time.
 

TransTrender

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The XBox was a box, so there could be anything inside, maybe even a videogame console!
The GameCube was a purse last seen with Paris Hilton, probably contracted AIDS, and died.
 
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Larlight

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I mean fail is a strong word. The Xbox sold like 4 million more? That's nothing. Nintendo failed in general after selling less than the N64 which sold dramatically less than the newcomer PS1.
 
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Reserrrved

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didn't the fact gamecube used those mini discs hurt it? Also, Xbox Live, party chat, friends list etc was new and exciting.
 

Krappadizzle

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Cube was an awesome system, but Xbox had Halo and then eventually Xbox Live(both being console game changers) AND it typically had the best versions of all multiplats as well. Took a while before the Cube had it's amazing library and by then people had already given up. I've actually been replaying A LOT of GC games lately(about to finish Luigi's Mansion) and then jump into X-Men Legends and then Mario Strikers/Sega Soccer Slam this weekend with some buddies. Love the Cube, but Xbox had a bigger impact on gaming in general at that time.
 
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VAVA Mk2

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Nintendo was less than helpful with third party devs while MS was as helpful as possible and OG XBox basically used off the shelf PC parts so super easy to develop for.
 
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01011001

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the Xbox was a system using a Pentium 3 CPU and a modified Geforce 3, and it used Direct X as the API
that alone gave developers an easier time porting stuff to it, therefore it got better and more ports than the GameCube.
add to that that the Xbox was also simply more powerful, further simplifying ports, and yeah... it was the better machine to work with.

the Controller as well was way easier to use for devs. on GameCube most multiplat ports had weird button combinations you had to do because the controller simply had 4 fewer buttons compared to PS2 and Xbox

the Mini DVD format meant that ports sometimes looked worse than on PS2 because the textures had to be compressed. Ubisoft games had this issue a lot. Splinter Cell and Prince of Persia ports had compression artifacts in the textures.

It also looked like a toy, which of course was bad for marketing it to kids who wanted to be "COOL", the Xbox was the shooter machine so coolness factor way higher.
then there was Halo... and Halo was MASSIVE! The image was simply in Xbox's favor.
 
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FeldMonster

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  • Inferior controller (vs. Xbox's arguably "worst" controller in its history)
  • Purple
  • No DVD playback, both directly, e.g. movies, and indirectly, e.g. less storage per disk resulting in inferior ports
  • Terrible follow-ups to much loved N64 games (Wind Waker, Double Dash, Sunshine vs. OOT/MM, Mario Kart 64, and Mario 64); Only Super Smash Brothers improved
  • Failed to grow with its NES/SNES/64 audience; Too many Pikmin/Super Monkey Ball/etc. type games, Not enough Metroid Prime type games.
 

kretos

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Against Xbox?? Xbox didn't sell either. What are you talking about?

GameCube - 22 Million
Xbox - 24 Million
PlayStation 2 - 155 Million

 

01011001

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Against Xbox?? Xbox didn't sell either. What are you talking about?

GameCube - 22 Million
Xbox - 24 Million
PlayStation 2 - 155 Million

the Xbox was the newcomer, and it beat Nintendo first try. that was really unexpected. everyone expected the PS2 to dominate after the PS1 dominated.

just like a generation after that people ask what went wrong with the PS3, even tho it still sold more than the 360, it ultimately came really close, which was super surprising because of the 2 generations before that.
 
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MayauMiao

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Lack of DVD support makes the Gamecube less value for money in a time where DVD player was a big deal.

This also means Gamecube games likely be inferior in content compared to the ones from Xbox/PS2 due to disc size.
 

Shakka43

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I think the gamecube was more of a victim from the the era in which it was released than anything else.
The early 00's was the era of Jackass, American Pie and overall teenage edginess. Games like GTA 3, Halo and even the more action oriented platformers like Ratchet and Jak just reasoned more with the type of players from those times than whatever Nintendo was trying to put out there.
 

DJ Shalad

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Both sold as much and the most interesting thing was it size. Capable to compete with Microsoft in the visuals department with 1/5th of the fat xbox size. Pretty sure that Nintendo did not burn $5 billions like Microsoft did.

 

Kokoloko85

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Nintendo hasnt sold consoles well since the Snes Apart from the Wii. (and the wii was probably the most commercial console ever with a super low price, my grandma played Wii sports ffs )

N64 lost to Saturn in Japan. Gamecube not so good either, Wii U was a failure.

Nintendo does Handhelds well, there consoles not so much

Although I love all there consoles and have had every Nintendo Console since a kid. I just dont like the Wii

Both great consoles. I think what Edged Xbox to have 3million more sales was Halo 1 & 2 plus the online was advanced. I love Star Wars KOTOR.
Gamecube had some great titles too, Mario Sunshine, Smash, Resident evil Remake, 0 and RE 4. Wind Waker and Twilight princess.
 
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KungFucius

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They sold nearly the same. The Xbox was moddable and could run XBMC and emulators that easily could have accounted for the <10% sales advantage. Also the Xbox was more differentiated from PS2 since it had western PC games ported to it.

Zelda was great and only a few whiners cried about it. Sunshine was a bit too hard for a Mario game and came out a bit late. There were very few non Nintendo exclusives. Metroid got 2 good games. Also Nintendo was supporting GBA at the time so some got their fix there. But really it is hard to call it a failure when they recycled the hardware for 2 more gens. But then again 2 of those gens were flops, so maybe it was a failure despite the Wii.
 
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RoadHazard

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It didn't, really. They sold about the same, and the PS2 absolutely buried them both. But it did sell worse than any previous Nintendo console, and I think the main reason was that it just wasn't viewed as "cool", but as a console for kids.
 

Captain Toad

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the Xbox was the newcomer, and it beat Nintendo first try. that was really unexpected. everyone expected the PS2 to dominate after the PS1 dominated.

I don’t know if I would call selling 24 million consoles a surprise. That's not good even for a first console (the first PlayStation, for example, sold over 100 million). The surprise was Nintendo bombing so hard.
 
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01011001

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I don’t know if I would call selling 24 million consoles a surprise. That's not good even for a first console (the first PlayStation, for example, sold over 100 million). The surprise was Nintendo bombing so hard.

again, the surprise is that it sold better than the GameCube and got better third party support than the GameCube. the PS2 and PS1 are a non factor here.
 
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