Codemasters disasters #3 American Idol / Pop Idol


You could use this story in a marketing textbook of how not to do it.

In 2003 Pop Idol was the biggest TV show in the UK and American Idol the biggest in the USA. They were watched avidly by tens of millions of people and the buzz about them was incredible. Contestants became instant celebrities and their music went straight to number one in the charts. It was a social phenomenon.

So when Codemasters had the opportunity to publish a game based on the TV programme it looked like a sure fire hit and the directors snapped it up on PS2 and PC. It was going to cost a huge amount of money for the game and for the license but the brand was so massive that we were sure to make a mint. Extra reassurance came from the success of the game of the TV programme Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. The Idol programmes were far bigger so our game would be even more successful.

We went to the 2003 E3 and paid a fortune for the B list celebrities from the TV programme to briefly visit the booth. There was a huge scrum of TV cameras as we had our moment of being the biggest thing in the show. It was widely predicted that we would be a guaranteed Christmas number one on both sides of the Atlantic. 

But the game itself was a total heap of rubbish. When I first saw it I thought “Is that it?”, I thought the demonstration was just a mini game and was waiting to see the main game. It was a dire rhythm matching effort that was not as good as many thousands of web games that you can play for free. It was embarassing to charge people to play it and it was amazing that the platform holders agreed to manufacture it. One of the worst games ever published.

From a marketing point of view we adopted the strategy of not letting the press see the game. We knew that it would get slaughtered. So they could only get their hands on it when it was published which we hoped would minimise the damage. And when they did review it they said what we already knew, Official Playstation Magazine gave it one point out of five which, quite frankly, flattered the game.

Of course nobody could stop the word getting round that Idol was so incredibly awful. The game bombed, which is what it deserved. A million miles away from those Christmas number one predictions. And many millions of pounds were thrown away.


  1. C’mon Bruce, tell us *why* the game was so awful. That’s the key bit of the story you’re missing out.

    Not enough spent on development? Wrong team? Did nobody think the quality of the game mattered with such a strong license, or was there just not enough cash left for development when the license fees had been paid?

  2. IMHO the whole concept was terminally flawed.

    The show is a singing show. The game was a rhythm action game, more suited to a dancemat. That no-one anywhere in Publishing thought that they’re not really the same thing is the most surprising thing.
    That it was a poor execution of the rhythm action genre doesn’t really come into it. 🙂

  3. It must’ve been heartbreaking to watch so much “marketing magic” go to waste.

  4. Ste, the game was externally developed and came as a package with the license. There were those within the company, even at the highest levels, that didn’t want to touch it. But stupidity prevailed.

  5. A massive opportunity missed particularly if you look at the success of High School Musical – Sing It.

    Wonder if anyone is doing a new version – especially given the much more mass market nature of today’s Games market. In theory it should be successful providing the original is forgotten.

    Personally i’m looking forward to Dirty Dancing the Game…………

  6. I should point out that the game was also against it from a time frame point of view by the time it came in to production in order to coincide with the TV show.

    Not trying to justify the awful quality, as it was awful, but when people expect a game in so short a time frame they shouldn’t be shocked that it isn’t AAA quality.

  7. You’re missing out one of the kickers of the Pop Idol Debacle- paying a fortune on a TV ad featuring Simon Cowell, then finding out afterwards that said advert couldn’t actually run in the ad breaks of the Idol TV show as it featured a cast member…

  8. Sounds like the licence SingStar missed out on. With a few drinks inside you, that’s actually a pretty fun game…

  9. I got this game when it first came out and I have to say, I’m one of the few that loved it. I never could understand why it didn’t sell.

  10. this game is a waste of money thank god guitar hero rock band and singstar are out there or i would lose hope for music games

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