How do you singlehandedly make videogames widely popular and at the same time kill the entire market? Keep reading to find out.
If you ask any adult gamer today what their first gaming console was chances are you’ll be responded with “The Atari 2600”. It really was a popular machine at the time that set a lot of standards and create things like the third party market (albeit unwillingly, more on that later). But most of these adult gamers will probably have more bad memories regarding the console than good ones, specially in the US where the console was more prominent.
You have probably also heard of the videogame crash of the 80’s, and some of you might know what happened, but most younger gamers (including myself) would have no clue without taking some history lesson from wikipedia. Allow me to highlight all important events, specially the ones leading to the crash.
Fairchild Channel F, Atari 2600, Atari 5200, Magnavox Odyssey 2, Intellivision, Colecovision, Vectrex, Arcadia, Astrocade, and others. Those are a lot of names aren’t they? nowadays we have three mayor console competitors, with games being the important business that companies focus on, rather than hardware itself. The game Frogger even advertised itself as “8 ways you can play Frogger”. People didn’t really know which console was better, specs weren’t as common as they are today, most consoles just seemed to be exactly like the one before, you could have a game you’d want to bring over to your friends house but find out he had a different system. That was until the Atari 2600 stood out from its competitors and became the norm.
The Atari 2600 and other consoles however didn’t allow for third party games, only the company that made the console had access to creating games for it. Back then, if you were a developer for Atari you didn’t get any credit or recognition for your work, which wasn’t even your work, it was Atari’s property. A bunch of annoyed Atari employees left and founded their own company, but instead of making their own console, they continued to create and release games for the 2600. This company was, and still is, named Activision. They have been messing things up since the 80’s. Atari tried to sue them but they failed, essentially legitimizing the third party market, was this a good thing? it is a good thing today but it was bad back then.
You see, there was zero control over the quality of games released, most third party games weren’t from gaming companies, but from other companies that just created a quick game to advertise their products, only Activision became popular, which is the main reason it exists nowadays. The internet was still young and most people didn’t have it, so it was hard to find good and honest reviews of the game and the cover for the games were usually misleading and games that were supposed to be good like pacman or ET ended up being complete garbage. You spent more time trying to find a decent game than actually playing, and most of the time you found yourself with wasted cash and a pile of broken, unplayable games. Wololo, who is from that era, explained it best here: http://wololo.net/2014/03/16/piracy-just-doesnt-make-sense-anymore/
Ultimately gamers grew tired of this and decided to spend their time and money on other hobbies. Videogames were seen as nothing more than a fad that had just passed. This was in the US mostly as in Europe general computers that were also capable of gaming with better graphics and gameplay were still popular and in Japan consoles barely had any recognition as gamers preferred the more hardcore and advanced arcade machines than the watered down home ports.
At the end of the day it took a Japanese company to take us out of this crash that would have ended gaming for good. But we’ll talk about it on the next article, let’s first review some popular consoles.
Atari 2600 Atari was ***, period. Not the console itself, but the company, and this will become more apparent in later generations. The Atari 2600 was heavily marketed, and for the most part is was a great console that set standards to be used even today: games are separate from the main unit, controllers are plugable, accessories who (try to) improve the experience, third party developers (although not willingly), and much more. Atari’s way to handle shovelware titles is what killed the system. As I already mentioned, companies that weren’t exactly game developers started opening small divisions to make games primarily to advertise their main products, these games sucked *** of course. Then you have some big time games like E.T. and pac-man, which were supposed to be the best games for the system…. they killed the system though.
Pacman didn’t have the same gameplay or charisma that the original arcade title had. Graphics were a sore to the eyes, there was only one ghost, gameplay was dull and boring without the good stress and rush the original made the gamer feel. This was the reason Atari wasn’t popular in Japan, as japanese gamers preferred much better arcade machines than watered down home ports. Is this supposed to look like pacman? it looks like someone vomited all over the screen
The other big AAA title that killed the Atari was E.T. The game was confusingly bad, the graphics once again sucked, sound was horrible (even for atari), E.T. shows his *** (I’m not even kidding), and there was barely anything from the movie in that game. Was that extra pixel between E.T.’s legs necessary? and why does that guy look like he has goat legs? and most importantly, what’s the damn goal of this game?
Despite this, both games sold extremely well, at least that’s what Atari thinks. Back then (and some companies today) atari didn’t count how many games hit households, but how many hit store shelves. Once the game hits the store shelves, it’s considered sold, after that is the problem of the store to sell the game to consumers. Now, here’s the problem, Atari manufactured 4 million copies of this game, and out that 4 million, 3.5 were returned to Atari either as not being able to sell it, or returned by customers who were not happy with it, that speaks a lot about a game.
Overall the 2600 seems to gather more hatred from the gaming community than good nostalgia, but it’s great watching gamers on youtube rape atari games up and down.
Many other consoles were available, out of which perhaps only ColecoVision kind of stands out. The controllers were odd as they featured a numeric pad. It probably wasn’t a big deal back then as I haven’t seen any newer consoles featuring a numeric pad, well, uhmmm, the Atari Jaguar but I don’t want to get into that until day 5.
Overall this generation had its good and bad things, but this is one of the cases where the bad outweights the good, and it was so much bad that it could have ended console gaming for good, but thank god a japanese company going by the name Nintendo saved our ***, and thus we can still enjoy the PS4, Xbox One and Wii U on our big TVs today. But that’s something for the next day.