Retro-Active: The Video Game Crash
In the last couple years several high profile video game developers have gone bankrupt and closed their doors, as well as one pretty large lawsuit between former employees of Infinity Ward and Activision. Plus there is rampant speculation about the next generation of home consoles and the growing claim that PC gaming has on the consumer market. With all of this chaos in the air how can home video gaming consoles ever survive? All you have to do is look back thirty years.
In 1983 the Atari 2600 had such a stranglehold on the video game market that there was no doubt everyone else was playing for second place. But the cracks where already starting to show. In 1980 Atari sued Activision (which was made up of former Atari employees) to stop them from developing games for their system. After Atari lost the suit a tidal wave of developers flooded the market with sub-par games. It wasn’t bad enough that the market was flooded but a few high profile properties hit the system with less than stellar results.
The game E.T. is generally blamed for bringing down Atari and the whole home console market but there are other factors involved as well. Atari’s port of Pac-Man was a huge failure as well as the Swordquest franchise never reaching completion due to low sells. Add into this the over saturation of product and stiff competition from upstart consoles (Colecovision, Intellivision) and the stage was set for a bubble to burst. I remember going into the local department stores and seeing bins of 2600 games marked down to $5 and loving it. I could now buy a bunch of games for the same price one used to cost me. But most of those games were crap and ever inexpensive crap is still crap.
Probably the final nail in the coffin of this first wave of home consoles was the Commodore 64. During its lifetime the Commodore 64 sold more than twelve million units and its graphics far outpaced anything available from the “big three.” And the Commodore 64 was an easier sell to parents because it was considered a computer and could be used for educational purposes. But in the early days of home computing the gaming aspect was what sold the kids. By 1984 Atari and Intellivision had been sold and Odyssey had closed its doors. It would take Nintendo releasing the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1985 to kick start the market but even they faced a slow start in the beginning.
All of this doom and gloom back in 1983 led many to speculate that the Atari 2600 was just a fad and that video games would fade into history along with the Pet Rock and Mood Rings. But here we are thirty years later and the video game industry is just as bloated and tumultuous as it was back then. I doubt we’ll ever see the home console go away but the industry needs to look back at its own history and learn from its mistakes. But if we see games for $5 again I wouldn’t complain too much.