At the moment, the videogame industry is the most successful entertainment industry in the world. The global videogame market is worth $94 billion compared to the film industry’s $41.7 Billion at the box office. Development of AAA titles has completely changed since the days of the Atari 2600, Nintendo Entertainment System, and even the PS2. You used to be able to make a game with one or two people. Now, game development uses hundreds of people and cost Billions of dollars to complete.
It’s strange to think that back in the mid-eighties the videogame industry was going through problems caused by oversaturation of software. Tons of unlicensed, poor quality titles were on the market and that’s what drove the collapse. Famously, E.T on the Atari 2600 was a bad game, and maybe a good example of why the industry crashed. So is there a chance videogames might disappear again, or will we always have new games to look forward to?
Too Many Systems?
Back in the early 1980’s videogames were widely available, both at home and in arcades. They were simple, with titles such as Space Invaders and Pac-Man being popular. A difference between then and now is that there were many different consoles available, unlike what we have now, with only three companies dominating the industry. The Colecovision, Vectrex, Intellivision, and Atari (2600 and 5200) were all popular. But, due to assumed demand, there were too many titles being released, and with the vast array of consoles available, the market became diluted. The titles weren’t well made and were probably developed just to make money and jump on the bandwagon of videogames. This, along with the rise of personal computers which could also do many more things than just play games, resulted in the crash.
Now that the industry has matured and people who grew up playing games are now making games, maybe there’s more care and passion put into development. Now, there are quality standards at companies like Nintendo and Sony that mean that bad games won’t make it to being published. Speaking of Nintendo, after the crash of 1983, they ultimately saved the industry. The Nintendo Entertainment System (or Famicom in Japan) released in 1985 and sold like crazy.
Do We Need Quality Control?
What really saved the situation of the videogame market in North America and Europe was the way Nintendo dealt with third parties and games publishing. Companies had to have their games licensed by Nintendo and this meant that shovelware couldn’t make it out to retail. While this might have annoyed third party companies (and maybe still does to some extent) in the long run it was great for the industry. Nintendo wouldn’t let poor quality titles be released for the NES. This meant consumers (especially parents) could trust that the considerable money spent to buy a game wasn’t going to be a waste. In the end, the market recovered and brought two major companies out of the crash’s ashes; Nintendo and Sega.
Once the Sega Genesis/Megadrive had been established videogame systems were more complex and perhaps more part of Western and Japanese culture than ever before. Third parties were flourishing too. With quality standards, a range of companies was releasing software on the NES, Genesis, and SNES. Even Atari had recovered to some extent and released the Atari Jaguar in the mid 90’s. Unfortunately, the Jaguar failed and Atari dropped out of the hardware business, but the industry was still healthy.
Playstation Vs Wii
In 1994, Sony stepped in with the Playstation to take Atari’s place and, with its built-in CD player, brought gaming to a wider audience. The Playstation used discs instead of cartridges and was much easier to develop for than its competitors. This led to many third-party developers moving their games to the Playstation, and quality control meant the market didn’t oversaturate. I think it would be good to highlight Nintendo here as they had few games on the N64 compared to the Playstation, but then, Nintendo has always put an emphasis on quality over quantity. This attitude may be why the videogame industry has been as successful as it has been in the last few decades. They are always innovating and bringing new ideas to the table. Pushing their competitors to match them in terms of creativity.
In 2006 the Wii released and with its motion controls garnered a massive ‘casual’ audience. Wii’s were in the living room for the whole family to enjoy rather than in a dark, dusty gaming basement. Ironically, this resulted in the release of hundreds of shallow, motion-control based poor games. Atari 2600 experienced this two decades earlier. Eventually, the Wii craze ended. Obviously, the Wii was hugely successful and sold over 100 million units, but my point is that, without Nintendo, games wouldn’t be up to the standard they are today.
Parallels Between Mobile and The Crash?
With the release of the first smartphones, and with them the IOS and Android operating systems a huge market opened up for developers to tap into. But, there was no quality control resulting in hundreds of poor quality games that really aren’t worth paying for. Or even downloading (most of the time). Sure, there are some great RPG ports, and Nintendo is now even releasing mobile games. But, there are a lot of parallels between the videogame crash of 1983 and the current mobile market. With games like Fire Emblem Heroes and Pokemon Go, hopefully, that section of the industry can turn itself around Generally if you’re after high-quality titles, don’t play games on mobile platforms.
In the future, graphics and framerate will improve less and less as time goes by. Creativity and innovation will be even more necessary to keep consumers interested. I think that quality control is the biggest point developers and publishers will have to hit in order to prevent something like the 1983 videogame crash.
What do you think about the current state of the industry? Do you disagree with me on mobile games? Please let us know in the comments.
Hi, I’ve played games since the 16-bit era and really enjoy indie games. That part of the industry has really blossomed in recent years and we’re getting different takes on established genres. I also really love Nintendo games. I’m currently studying for an MSc.