The console itself isn't bad. This article will focus on what caused it to flop.
The GCE Vectrex was a console made by Smith Engineering and designed by Jay Smith (the guy who had previously designed the the Microvision for Milton-Bradley) and was unique for being the only console to utilize vector graphics, instead of the pretty much universally used raster graphics of its contemporaries.
To achieve this, the console had its own built-in 9-inch CRT screen, making it also one of the first examples of a semi-portable console. It was also the first console to utilize a horizontal gamepad and offer touch-screen as well as 3D functionality.
Despite having all these things going for it, with magazines such as Byte and Creative Computing praising it at launch as well as initially promising sales, the console ended up being a total failure mainly thanks to releasing just prior to North American video game crash, causing Milton Bradley (who bought the previous distributor GCE in 1983, mainly just because of the Vectrex's initial success) to discontinue the console in 1984, with only 28 games released during its retail lifespan.
Why It Flopped
- Poor timing: As mentioned above, the great video game crash of 1983 pretty much killed any chances the Vectrex had at succeeding. As an example to how much it effected the console, it initially retailed for $199, dropped to $150 once MB took over distribution, $99 right before the crash and $49(!) after it. That's three price drops during a single year!
- The screen: Only in monochrome and used plastic overlays in order to simulate colors. While colors could arguably be seen as less important for vector graphics, it still made the console feel outdated by the standards of 1982.
- Rushed launch: The console initially shipped with several problems such as its built in game (MineStorm) being unable to pass a certain level. The shielding between the CPU and speaker was also poor, leading to a loud buzzing sound while you played. While this was quickly fixed after a hardware revision, it quickly became a subject for snark against the console among the general public.
- The games: Most of them were just clones or ports of at the time popular arcade titles remade in vector graphics. While the console was far from the only one to have this problem, games not designed to use vector graphics usually didn't look good being played on it.
- Very little in the way of third party support.
- The console did have more success in Europe as well as in Japan (where it was distributed by Bandai), but nowhere near enough to save it.
- Despite being a flop, it is still a good console. See Awesome Games Wiki to see why it is.
Jay Smith had several ideas for a successor to the console, most notable being a proper handheld version utilizing a Sinclair Flat CRT display (Most notable seen in their TV80) but since Milton-Bradley then parent company Hasbro had no interest in a gaming system, they refused to fund it. Unable to drum up any interest for the successor, he gave up the idea.
Today, the console is mostly remembered for being one of the more unique pieces of early gaming. While it might have originally failed, it has gained a cult status with a dedicated fan-base of modders and collectors that keeps both the console and interest in it alive.