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Five Surprise Video Game Successes

by Kyle Hilliard on Feb 08, 2014 at 01:30 PM

The popular Flappy Bird has proven to be a surprise success for its creator Dong Nguyen. It was so much of a surprise success, in fact, that Nguyen can no longer take the notoriety and has decided to remove the game from iTunes and the Android marketplace.

These surprise successes had much happier endings (or continuing stories) than Flappy Bird. Upon release, the creators and publishers hoped for the best, but went in with low expectations. The resulting sales and critical reception proved to be much better than they originally hoped.

Demon's Souls
The game that inspired Dark Souls (developer From Software calls it a spiritual successor as opposed to a true sequel), Demon’s Souls was not originally planned for release in North America. It performed well once released in Japan, however, and strong word of mouth forced Atlus USA to take notice and bring the game to North America with a limited release. This brutal game from a publisher known for releasing niche titles went on to win multiple game and RPG of the year awards, and got a greatest hits re-release much later after exceeding sales expectations.

Deadly Premonition
Access Games’ Deadly Premonition is one of the most divisive games in history. It literally holds a record from Guinness as the “Most Critically Polarizing Survival Horror Game." Despite the hard line amongst reviewers, the game sold surprisingly well. According to Gamasutra, it was at the top of Amazon’s sale chart for a period of time. It launched as an Xbox 360 exclusive, but garnered enough excitement that the game was recently re-released for the PlayStation 3 with the director’s cut subtitle.

DayZ has now become its own stand-a-lone release, but it began as a mod for ARMA 2. Within a few months of release, the mod, which required manual installation by ARMA 2 owners, had more than a million users. The mod was so popular that despite releasing three years prior, sales of ARMA 2 (which is required to play the mod) shot up to the top of Steam’s charts.

Katamari Damacy
In 2004, Katamari Damacy was released for the PlayStation 2 as a $20 budget title – a price tag usually reserved for games without much faith behind them. Despite this (or maybe helped by it) the game was a success and inspired the sequel We Love Katamari only a year later. Similar to Flappy Bird, however, the game’s creator Keita Takahashi was mostly unimpressed by the excitement inspired by the game. He left Katamari behind shortly after We Love Katamari, released Noby Noby Boy four years later, and hasn’t expressed interest in returning to game development. In an interview with the BBC, Takahashi said he was interested in creating playground equipment for children.

Final Fantasy
We all know Final Fantasy as it is today: arguably Square Enix’s most important and noteworthy franchise. Back in 1987, however, RPGs were a dangerous investment. Supposedly, the name of the game, Final Fantasy, comes from Square Enix’s last-ditch effort to avoid bankruptcy. It was its “Final Fantasy” in that if it wasn’t successful, the company would have been in big trouble. Obviously the title was a success, and has inspired sequels and spin-offs into the double digits.

Ignoring sales and publisher expectations, what games have been surprise hits for you? What game did you walk into with low expectations, and walk out a fan?