The real reasons these games were removed from stores

Nothing lasts forever.

Most video games disappear over time, as players move on to newer titles and bigger, better consoles (after all, if those games were still around, how would publishers sell us all of those high-definition remasters?). But, usually, there's a pattern: a big marketing campaign, leading up to a specific release date. Reviews on major outlets. A good year or two on store shelves, and maybe an affordable "Player's Choice" or feature-packed "Game of the Year" edition, followed by massive discounts on Steam before the title slowly fades into memory.

Not these games. For a variety of bizarre reasons—including inter-company feuds, inappropriate content, and developers' insecurities—the following titles bucked the trend and disappeared from stores well before their time. Some returned. Many didn't. Either way, the fate of these games proves that even in an industry that thrives on routine, there's no such thing as a sure bet.

Paranautical Activity

With so many talented game developers out there, it's hard for a small independent studio to get noticed. That wasn't a problem for Code Avarice, the two-man studio behind Paranautical Activity—although it didn't help the company sell copies of its game. In October, 2014, Code Avarice released the full version of Paranautical Activity on the digital video game marketplace Steam. Unfortunately, on the release date, Paranautical's product page wasn't updated appropriately, and still listed the game as being in Steam's Early Access program—a system that lets developers release their game before it's finished, accumulating sales while they continue to work towards a final product.

Mike Maulbeck, Code Avarice's co-founder and lead programmer, went ballistic. On Twitter, Maulbeck called Steam "incompetent" and claimed that the service was a monopoly (in addition to a few other, more colorful descriptions), and then followed up by saying, "i am going to kill gabe newell [sic]. He is going to die." Given that Gabe Newell is the head honcho at Valve, which owns and operates Steam, the company didn't take too kindly to the death threat and pulled Paranautical Activity from the store immediately.

In a statement to Polygon, Maulbeck explained he was worried that the Early Access label would "greatly cripple sales and confuse customers," and that he didn't mean any actual harm. But the damage was done. Maulbeck stepped down from his position at Code Avarice (although he'd rejoin just a few days later). In 2015, Code Avarice sold Paranautical Activity to Digierati Distribution, which released the game as a special "Deluxe Atonement Edition," letting Code Avarice move on to other projects—which, hopefully, the studio will be able to market with a murder-free marketing campaign. We'll see.

Flappy Bird

Flappy Bird isn't just a game. At this point, it's a cultural phenomenon. For a brief period in 2014, it seemed like everyone was playing the deceptively simple, ludicrously difficult arcade-style game, in which players must tap the screen in order to propel a tumbling cartoon bird over Super Mario Bros.-like pipes. By February 2014, Flappy Bird had been downloaded over 50 million times, and was making its developer, a Vietnamese game designer named Dong Nguyen, around $50,000 a day.

And yet, despite its popularity, Flappy Bird is no longer available on iPhones—in fact, it's not available anywhere other than Amazon Fire TV systems. That's by design. As Flappy Bird fever gripped the world, Nguyen started to feel guilty about how much time players were spending with the game. "Flappy Bird was designed to play in a few minutes when you are relaxed," Nguyen told Forbes. "But it happened to become an addictive product. I think it has become a problem." Nguyen claimed that the guilt, as well as the stress resulting from his newfound Internet celebrity, was causing him to lose sleep, and in order to preserve his own sanity, he pulled the game from the iOS store for good.

At times, Nguyen has hinted that Flappy Bird may return, but other than the Amazon Fire TV-exclusive Flappy Birds Family (which includes some new obstacles and a multiplayer mode), the game has yet to reappear. Maybe that's for the best. So many people smashed their phones in Flappy Bird-induced rages that, at one point, players started a support group on Facebook called "I Broke My Phone Playing Flappy Bird," while Nguyen's still-available follow-up title, Swing Copters, is more or less the exact same game—except even harder.

Boyfriend Maker

On paper, Boyfriend Maker sounds like a good idea. An app that mixes the style of Japanese dating simulators with an artificial intelligence-driven chatbot, Boyfriend Maker learns how to text like a "real person" by studying the way that you, and millions of other players like you, interact with your virtual beau. That's an innovative and cool idea, aside from one crucial flaw: the internet, and everyone who uses it, is terrible.

In Japan, Boyfriend Maker rocketed to the top of the iOS charts, and it did fairly well when it first arrived stateside, too. Unfortunately, the more users the game earned, the dirtier its virtual mind became. Most of the time, Boyfriend Maker was just bizarre, as documented on a Tumblr page dedicated to preserving the app's weirdest and most surreal virtual studs. The rest of the time, Boyfriend Maker's digital hunks were downright depraved. They gave sexually explicit answers to innocuous questions. They promoted rape, pedophilia, and incest. They were racist.

Oh, and by the way, Boyfriend Maker was rated 4+, meaning that someone at Apple thought that the game was appropriate for children. That didn't last very long. In 2012, the game was pulled from the iOS Store (although the PC version remained), and returned the next year as Boyfriend Plus, with a more appropriate 12+ rating, a system for flagging obscene or objectionable content, and a refined chat system that keeps things relatively clean. It's hard to say exactly what's happening inside Boyfriend Maker's hivemind, but if the boyfriends haven't reformed, at least they've learned to keep their naughty thoughts to themselves.

Alan Wake

Playing through Alan Wake is like firing up Netflix and binging on a season of Stranger Things or Twin Peaks—quite literally. Not only does Alan Wake's story, which centers on a bestselling novelist who's trapped in an adventure ripped straight from his in-progress novel, borrow heavily from Stephen King and David Lynch, but the game is structured like a television show. Each one of Alan Wake's six sections is presented like an episode, complete with a "Previously On" recap that kicks everything off, an end-of-episode cliffhanger, and music that plays over each episode's end credits.

And that's the problem. When Remedy Entertainment launched Alan Wake in 2010, the studio didn't lock down the rights for the game's soundtrack, which includes songs by Roy Orbison, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, and David Bowie, for eternity. That happens occasionally with old television shows and movies—because of its hit-filled soundtrack, The Wonder Years took a long, long time to arrive on DVD, and even when it did finally arrive it wasn't quite perfect—but it's not nearly as common with video games, leading to a relatively unique situation.

In spring 2017, Remedy held a weekend-long farewell sale, before Alan Wake disappeared from Steam and the Xbox marketplace on May 15, 2017, presumably forever. That's a shame, because it's a legitimately interesting and unique game and should be played by as many people as possible—although we'll forgive Remedy for the oversight if they finally get around to delivering the long-rumored but increasingly unlikely sequel.

Endgame: Syria

Video games can tackle subjects much deeper than crushing candy or making clans clash, but you wouldn't know it from looking at Apple's iOS store. While the app store charts are full of microtransaction-laden titles like Game of War, Hay Day, and Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, games with a more serious bent rarely appear—but it's not for a lack of trying.

In 2013, a British developer called Auroch Digital submitted Endgame: Syria to Apple, hoping to use the language of games to explore the increasingly complex relationships driving the Syrian civil war. Apple rejected it. Officially, Endgame: Syria fell afoul of the iOS store's official guidelines, which state that games cannot "solely target a specific race, culture, a real government or corporation, or any other real entity." Auroch Digital's creative director, Tomas Rawlings, has another interpretation. "With the very word game the association is fun and frivolous, and war is serious. People are really dying," Rawlings told Wired. "A game about an ongoing existing war, I think that makes some people uncomfortable."

That's not the only time this has happened, either. Apple claimed that Liyla and The Shadows of War, a somber platformer game about life in the Gaza Strip, wasn't appropriate for the iOS store's games section (the bright and colorful Israeli Heroes was just fine, of course), and refused to list Liyla until public outcry forced the company to change its mind. Apple pulled Sweatshop, a game that explored the uncomfortable realities behind labor exploitation, because it was "uncomfortable selling a game based on the theme of running a sweatshop," even though the final product was an educational game created in conjunction with the Labour Behind the Label charity.

Endgame: Syria eventually found its way to the iOS store with the title Endgame: Eurasia, but stripping away all of the references to the real-life conflict in Syria neutered Auroch Digital's original message. Rawlings agrees. "I'm very disappointed," he told GamesBeat. "[Apple's process] is a major hindrance to our art as game creators."

Too Human

Too Human is one of the only games in existence that was in development longer than it was on store shelves. Between the time that the game was announced in 1999 and when it was released in 2008, Too Human survived three console generations (the game was developed for the original PlayStation, the Nintendo GameCube, and finally the Xbox 360) and a number of costly delays—only to be pulled from the market in 2012, just four years after it finally, finally came out.

Too Human's demise had little to do with the game itself (while the critical reception was lukewarm, it sold reasonably well) and everything to do with behind-the-scenes politics. In 2007, Too Human's developer, Silicon Knights, sued Epic Games for breach of contract. According to Silicon Knights, Epic failed to deliver a working Xbox 360 edition of its popular Unreal Engine, which powered Too Human in addition games like Batman: Arkham Asylum and Bioshock Infinite, in a timely manner. In addition, Silicon Knights claimed that Epic was taking funds from Unreal Engine licensees in order to fund its own games, while simultaneously sabotaging licensees' efforts.

According to Silicon Knights, Epic's failures were behind some of Too Human's many delays: when the Unreal Engine didn't work out, Silicon Knights had to develop its own engine, which cost extra time and money.

Epic fought back, claiming in a counter-suit that Silicon Knights wasn't paying the royalties it owed for its use of the Unreal Engine, and that the "brand new" game engine that Silicon Knights developed on its own actually used thousands of lines of code stolen from Unreal. A federal judge agreed. Silicon Knights had to pay Epic Games over $9 million in damages, and was forced to destroy every copy of its Unreal Engine games—including Too Human—at its own expense. That didn't just doom Too Human. It was the killing blow for Silicon Knights as a whole, and the company filed for bankruptcy in 2013. It never returned.

The Guy Game

There are many things that the designers at Topheavy Studios, the developer behind the The Guy Game, didn't know. They obviously didn't know how to make a compelling trivia game: in The Guy Game, an offscreen interviewer asks a woman a question, and then the user has to guess how the girl (or "hottie") answered. Guess correctly, and the game's "Flash-O-Meter" fills, unlocking uncensored footage of the women in question. Apparently, they also hadn't heard of the internet, where it's easy to get pictures of naked women without having to wade through a series of banal trivia challenges.

Most damningly, however, Topheavy Studios didn't realize that one of the hotties featured in the game's cutscenes, which were filmed on location on South Padre Island during spring break, was only 17 when she was caught exposing herself on camera. That means that the young woman, known only as "Diane," was a minor, and couldn't legally consent to having her image used in an adult context. Whoops!

Four months after The Guy Game hit shelves, it was recalled in order to comply with a temporary restraining order banning Topheavy from using Diane's voice, likeness, or name. When it reappeared, it wasn't a game at all. In order to cut its losses, Topheavy released The Guy Game: Game Over, which strips away any pretense of interactivity and collects the game's cutscenes on a regular old $19.99 DVD (there's also a $39.99 special edition that includes a branded hat and t-shirt, just in case you feel compelled to share your terrible taste with your friends and family).

Tiger Woods 99 PGA Tour Golf

Years before Tiger Woods became the subject of his very own self-made controversy, his very first licensed video game was doing the hard work for him. When Tiger Woods 99 PGA Tour Golf came out in 1998, it earned decent reviews and revitalized the PGA Tour franchise, which received an annual update almost every year up through 2014.

It also contained a surprise for players who happened to pick up the PlayStation edition of the game. If you put Tiger Woods 99 PGA Tour Golf in a regular CD-ROM drive, you'd find a South Park video hidden on the game's disc. Given that Electronic Arts doesn't have anything to do with South Park, that's an egregious copyright violation, but things get worse. The semi-secret video wasn't just a regular episode of South Park. It was the unaired five-minute "Jesus vs. Santa" short that was originally produced as a video Christmas card, and quickly became one of the very first viral videos. As you'd imagine, "Jesus vs. Santa" is absolutely filthy (even by South Park standards), and clashed with Tiger Woods' (at the time) family-friendly image.

Electronic Arts recalled 100,000 PlayStation copies of Tiger Woods 99 PGA Tour Golf and replaced them with cleaned-up versions shortly thereafter. For their part, South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone got their revenge a few years later with an episode that depicted the PGA Golf Tour series as a fighting game starring Tiger Woods and his spurned lovers.

LittleBigPlanet

It's one thing to make a mistake. It's another thing to make the same mistake over, and over, and over. For example, when The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time—you know, the official greatest game of all time—came out in 1998, some players noticed that the music in the Fire Temple contained a Muslim prayer chant. According to Nintendo, the clip was taken from a open-source sound library, and the game's developers weren't aware of the music's religious significance until after launch. In subsequent releases, the chants were removed from The Ocarina of Time's soundtrack, and that was the end of it.

Until LittleBigPlanet, that is. In 2008, Sony recalled every single copy of its do-it-yourself platformer after discovering that one of the game's backing tracks—which, again, came from a third-party source—contained quotes from the Quran. Naturally, some players didn't appreciate having their sacred text used as the backdrop for a game, and Sony quickly replaced over 100,000 copies. And that was the end of it.

Until Street Fighter V, that is. In April, 2017, Capcom released a new stage for the latest edition of its one-on-one fighting game based on M. Bison's temple in Street Fighter II. Just one problem: the music for the new level featured, you guessed it, Islamic chants. Capcom pulled the add-on content almost immediately and issued an apology, saying that the company has "nothing but the utmost respect for all faiths and religions around the world," and promising that the stage would reappear on digital storefronts very, very soon.

And that was the end of it—fingers crossed.