Few games are outright banned in the US, but many become unavailable for funny, silly, or just plain weird reasons. While many countries’ administrations ban video games that they consider harmful, the US Supreme Court famously ruled in 2011 that video games were protected forms of artistic expression under the First Amendment. However, thousands of games are still pulled from the market every year for commercial, legal, or moral reasons.
Some games have passed into notoriety due to the controversial or bizarre circumstances surrounding their sale or removal from the market. Licensing issues and IP disputes can sometimes rear their ugly head, often in confusing ways, and sometimes the developer simply regrets the game. In other cases, censorship outside the US can make the game commercially unviable, or the game’s supply could dry up for unusual and sometimes inexplicable reasons.
10 Burger King Games
Burger King teamed up with Blitz Games to release a trio of promotional games towards the end of 2006 for the Xbox and Xbox 360. The games were Sneak King, in which players deliver burgers stealthily, Big Bumpin’, a bumper car game, and PocketBike Racer, a game in which players race around a Burger King restaurant on a tiny motorbike. Originally intended for download on the XBox Live Arcade storefront, Burger King decided to release the games as physical media instead, so that gamers would be forced to walk into a BK restaurant to buy the games. The games were only sold for 35 days and are now very hard to find.
P.T., which stands for “playable teaser”, was exactly that: a playable prologue for Silent Hills, a would-be entry in the Silent Hill franchise that was under development by Kojima Productions, at the time a subsidiary of Konami. A collaboration between videogame development virtuoso Hideo Kojima and beloved Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro, it’s safe to say Silent Hills was a much-anticipated release. In a shocking turn of events, Kojima abruptly left Konami, Guillermo del Toro announced that he would no longer be involved in the project, and Konami eventually canceled Silent Hills. Having been downloaded over 1,000,000 times, P.T. was then also pulled from the PlayStation Store.
8 Flappy Bird
Despite bad reviews, the mobile game Flappy Bird took Google Play and Apple’s App Store by storm in 2013 and 2014. The game courted controversy for a variety of reasons, including the suspicion that the developer had used bots to boost sales, as well as concerns that the game’s green pipes were plagiarized from the Super Mario franchise. Developer Dong Nguyen eventually took the game down from both digital storefronts and stated in an interview that he felt guilty about the adverse effects that the gameplay was having on players. Nintendo denied mounting any legal challenge against the game and countless copycat games have since spawned.
It’s important to note that Activision’s Deadpool preceded the blockbuster film of the same name by about three years. Released in 2013 for PS3 and Xbox 360, the game was removed from all digital storefronts barely six months later in January 2014, as Activision’s license to sell Marvel products expired. Wanting to cash in on the film, Activision somehow managed to get the game back on sale in 2015 for PS4 and Xbox One, as well as on Steam in 2016. Its revival, however, wasn’t much longer-lived than its original release, being delisted from all platforms in November 2017.
This first-person psychological horror game set in 1980s Taiwan was released to glowing reviews on February 19, 2019. Two days after the release, players discovered an Easter egg that contained the words “Xi Jinping Winnie the Pooh” in Chinese, referencing a meme about the appearance of China’s head of state. Naturally, Chinese authorities then went over the game with a fine-toothed comb, finding multiple insults against the Chinese administration, resulting in it being pulled from Steam in China on February 23. Developer Red Candle Games then removed Devotion from Steam globally on February 25, just one week after its release.
5 Too Human & X Men: Destiny
These two games were developed by Silicon Knights and released in 2008 and 2011, respectively. Meanwhile, Silicon Knights had sued Epic Games for failing to provide a working version of Unreal Engine 3, and Epic Games had counter-sued Silicon Knights for stealing UE3 code to use in their own game engine. Epic Games prevailed, with overwhelming evidence against Silicon Knights, and the Canadian developer was ordered to destroy all game code derived from UE3, as well as recall and destroy any games built on the engine, effectively deleting Too Human and X Men: Destiny from existence.
4 Tron: Evolution
Tron: Evolution was developed to coincide with the movie Tron: Legacy, and was released for PS3, PSP, Xbox 360 and PC in 2010, published by Disney. While the game reached end-of-life on console due to fairly natural causes, as the consoles in question were no longer supported by their manufacturers, its discontinuation on PC occurred in more unusual circumstances. On October 12, 2019, a thread appeared on Steam in which a user stated they were unable to activate their game due to a deactivated serial. Disney had been using SecuROM DRM, a subscription service, and revoked their subscription, causing the game to become un-installable.
3 Star Control: Origins
Star Control: Origins is actually available to play, but thanks to a particularly weird legal battle, it’s a Star Control game in name only. Origins developer Stardock Entertainment bought the Star Control trademark from Atari, but none of the copyrighted material from Star Control 1 and 2, which belong to their developers, Paul Reiche III and Fred Ford. While Stardock tried to license material from the previous games, Reiche and Ford repeatedly refused, leading to a complicated lawsuit. They eventually settled out of court, as Reiche bonded with Stardock boss Brad Ward over their mutual love for bees. Ward ended up keeping the Star Control name, and Reiche helped him design new alien races.
Prey was a futuristic alien shooter developed by 2K Games and released for PC and Xbox 360 in 2006, unrelated to the 2017 game developed by Bethesda. It would be natural to assume that a game sold on a digital storefront like Steam would have unlimited copies available. However, this doesn’t seem to have been the case for Prey, which became unavailable during Steam’s end-of-year sale in 2009 after selling out. No explanation was ever given for why this happened, but the speculation is that Steam was given a finite number of keys to sell.
Riding the coattails of the super-popular film of the same name, E.T. was a highly anticipated release for the Atari 2600 and initially sold well, released in time for Christmas 1982. However, after release, E.T. became known as the worst video game ever made and customers returned copies en masse. In fact, it’s believed that of the 4 million cartridges produced, 3.5 million were returned. What followed is so bizarre that some considered it a mere urban legend, although it was later proven to be true. A New Mexico newspaper reported that truckloads of Atari cartridges were being taken to a landfill, buried and covered in concrete. The landfill has since been excavated, and there is a recovered E.T. cartridge on display in the Smithsonian Museum.
These 10 unavailable games have left gamers perplexed with their strange stories and unexpected disappearances. From Burger King’s promotional games to the infamous cancelation of Silent Hills, each game has its own peculiar circumstances that led to its unavailability. Licensing issues, IP disputes, Chinese censorship, and even landfill have played a role. While these games may be difficult to find or play today, they serve as reminders of the complicated and sometimes inexplicable world that is the gaming industry.