Why Did Conker Fail?

A look at what went wrong with Rare's Conker series.

Conker has been one of those series that people always speak about so very fondly. I’ve heard numerous people ask why we haven’t seen a new Conker game this generation. Most people retort with some kind of slam on Microsoft, or try to pass the blame around via one theory or another. I truly believe that one of this generations shortcomings is that nobody actually cares about doing research; They hear one thing or another and simply repackage that as an original idea. In truth, Conker failed for numerous reasons and we’re going to take a look at Conker’s history to see just what went wrong.

Conker actually made his debut in 1997 in Diddy Kong Racing. His solo game debut wasn’t actually for a console, but was actually for the Game Boy Color. Conker’s Pocket Tales was released in 1999 and was a huge flop. This could have contributed to the lack of support from Nintendo for the series. Originally Conker was supposed to be another family friendly action/platform game, but Nintendo already had a stable full of those. Conker’s Pocket Tales was actually a kid friendly game, but it was lost in a sea of Pokemon and other well-known properties on the Game Boy and Game Boy Color. Conker’s first outing wasn’t what Rare had hoped for, so they decided to take the character in a drastically different direction.

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Rare co-founder Chris Stamper talked a bit about Conker’s change from family friendly to adult oriented, “When people grow up on games, they don’t stop playing. There aren’t games for people who grew up on the early systems“. So two years after the bomb that was Conker’s Pocket Tales he made his debut for the Nintendo 64, the problem was that the debut came in 2001 at the end of the consoles life cycle. Not only was it the end of the Nintendo 64′s life, but the PS2 was coming and so was the Nintendo Gamecube. Research has backed up the fact that many new games launched at the end of a consoles life have generally done poorly. Proof to that pudding would be Super Metroid for the SNES, it was released at the tail end of that consoles life, the PS1 and Saturn were out and people ignored one of the greatest games in video game history.

One of the interesting things about Conker’s Bad Fur Day for the Nintendo 64 was the sheer lack of support it garnered from Nintendo. Rare had to self publish in most territories and THQ picked up the European publishing costs. Nintendo was known as family friendly and still are today. However, back then they were pretty well-known to avoid controversy and the Nintendo 64 wasn’t ever really known as an “adult” system. The fact that the game had no advertisements, no support from Nintendo, came at the end of the Nintendo 64′s life cycle, and was an M-rated title for a console whose user-base was generally younger than 17 made it pretty clear that Conker would have a tough time gaining any type of following. The game sold less than 50 thousand copies in its first month and teetered off into oblivion, the game itself actually was praised for its graphics and art style. Most people tend to agree that Conker’s Bad Fur Day had the best graphics of all of the N64′s titles, but the crude humor and M rating doomed it to failure from the very start.

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Fast forward to 2002 and Microsoft purchased 100% stack in Rare and also buys all of Rare’s original IP’s. Microsoft was aiming to enter the gaming console market and figured they couldn’t go wrong with Rare. The company paid almost 400 million for Rare, which is really astounding when you think about it. Rare didn’t really work much on the first Xbox console, they were apparently working on Xbox 360 titles pretty early on, some titles like Perfect Dark Zero and Kameo Elements Of Power were both games that spanned multiple console development cycles and eventually landed as launch titles for the Xbox 360. One of the games that came out for the original Xbox in 2005 was Conker Live And Reloaded, which was basically the first game with enhanced graphics and an added online multiplayer mode that took advantage of the rather new Xbox Live. Once again though, Conker had the misfortune of releasing at the end of a life cycle. Microsoft announced the game for the original Xbox, then promptly announced the Xbox 360. Microsoft actually took a chance by releasing a new Conker game. They loved the game and thought it got a raw deal from Nintendo, hoping it would do better with the more mature Xbox fanbase. Throwing in online play seemed like something that would really seal the deal for Conker being Microsoft’s next big franchise, but the timing was all wrong. With the impending Xbox 360 and videos showing off upcoming titles like Gears Of War, Conker was easily lost in the shuffle yet again. Though it probably isn’t hard to believe, Conker Live And Reloaded sold even worse the second time around, but did gather quite the cult following.

People always associate Rare with quality games like GoldenEye, Banjo Kazooie, Viva Pinata, Donkey Kong Country and Killer Instinct, but the truth is that Rare has more than had their fair share of flops and controversy, including the majority of Rare’s development team quitting on three separate occasions. Rare has actually been restaffed numerous times due to harsh working conditions, the team that developed GoldenEye for the N64 was a little side team that had never developed a game together. Rare also made a ton of licensed games in the 1980′s for Nintendo, putting out over 50 games for the NES in the 80′s, including stinkers like Nightmare On Elm Street and Sesame Street: ABC/123. Conker is a great character and a fantastic game, but I don’t believe that he has mass appeal and if Microsoft and Rare were to take a chance with another Conker game I don’t see it ending well. My thoughts would be that Microsoft should release an HD remake of Conker Live And Reloaded on the Xbox Live Arcade and see what the reception is, if its higher than expected they could always put out a new game, if Microsoft consoles are lacking in one area it would be platformers. So I would say that Conker has been hurt more by bad timing than anything else, maybe we’ll see him next generation? until then, you can always break out the classic Conker Live And Reloaded….if you can afford a copy.