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Widowmaker from Overwatch aims her sniper rifle.
Image via Blizzard

No such thing as bad press? Fans discuss games that went viral for unexpected reasons

I think you'll find bad press is definitely a thing.

It’s only natural that every developer wants their game to become popular. You certainly have to be careful what you wish for, though; not all popularity comes via word-of-mouth, and in the gaming world, a title destined for the scrap heap might go viral for the worst reasons.

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Fans gathered to discuss the unlikely champions of gaming history in a May 17 Reddit thread. Sometimes unintended success is a good thing, like in the case of GoldenEye 007 and its famous split-screen multiplayer which was added at the last minute without the consent of Rare or Nintendo according to a 2018 Vice interview with programmer Steve Ellis. It’s almost unbelievable a game mode that forever changed the first-person shooter genre barely made it into the game, much less without the permission of the publisher.

The splash art for GoldenEye 007.
I can hear the theme music now. Image via Nintendo

Sometimes, however, the popularity is a waking nightmare for everyone involved. Personal opinions about the current state of Overwatch 2 aside, there is something uniquely tragic about the creators putting so much work into the character designs only for them to consistently go viral in… let’s just say “creative adult content.” “Overwatch went from being known as a cool multiplayer hero shooter with interesting world-building to being known for its ‘fan animations’,” one fan said.

Anyone with a smartphone back in 2014 should remember Flappy Bird, perhaps the biggest mobile game of that year. While the unexpected success of the app could be considered a net positive by many, its creator Dong Nguyen did not feel the same, shutting down the viral project not long after it took hold. “Flappy Bird is possibly the patron saint of unintended video game fame,” one player said succinctly, and it’s hard not to agree.

People were even capitalizing on its fame after its removal from stores, selling their devices that had the existing game downloaded already for a premium—something we’ve since seen with the likes of Fortnite. Nguyen continues to develop new app games like Ninja Spinki and Swing Copters but has vowed never to return to Flappy Bird.

Another game players mentioned is Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. This isn’t one of the more notable CoD games, sporting only middling sales by franchise standards. There’s one moment of the campaign that everyone knows, though. The “Press F to pay respects” moment from the funeral of a major character in the Advanced Warfare campaign became such a viral meme that it’s hardly even associated with the game that birthed it at this point.

press f to pay respects call of duty advanced warfare
Fs in the chat, boys. Image via AFK Gaming

Crysis was also brought up for being perhaps the only game in history to be popular more for utilitarian purposes than for its quality. “It was a pretty interesting shooter on its own and had a compelling story, but it just became known as a meme benchmark to test your build on for a decade after it released,” one player said. Crysis 3 was so notoriously hard to run on anything but top-notch hardware back in 2013 that “But can it run Crysis?!” became a viral phrase that even non-Crysis players were saying. Crytek needs to hurry up and release Crysis 4 so the new generation can inherit the Crysis on PC trauma.

A game players mentioned that best exemplifies sudden fame for both good and bad reasons is No Man’s Sky. After becoming one of the most anticipated games of 2016, the release of No Man’s Sky quickly turned into a public stoning of Hello Games and particularly its director Sean Murray for being perhaps the worst example of a developer overpromising and underdelivering on its product.

What started as a terrible case of consumer disappointment and backlash slowly transformed into an amazing case of redemption, with Hello Games pumping out free update after free update over the years since. Not only has the team fixed No Man’s Sky, but they’ve expanded upon it to the point where the game hardly even resembles what came out in 2016. The spacefaring game now has a bustling community and a loyal player base in the thousands.

Explorers stand in a pink grassy field in No Man's Sky.
It won’t see its day one peak again, but No Man’s Sky has well and truly been revived. Image via Hello Games

There are plenty more games that players listed—some with good press and some with bad. All of these games have had their popularity cemented regardless of the circumstances, but some of the backlash they’ve had to face may make you think twice about chasing the bad press. At the end of the day, there really is no such thing as bad publicity in the gaming world.

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Nickolas Davis
Freelance writer at Dot Esports. Covering all topics gaming, travel, politics, and music-related since 2021. Also occasionally writes music and fiction under the pen name Saz. Published in Madness Heart Press, The Chamber Magazine, and The NoSleep Podcast.