During a recent review of the contents of a couple old USB drives that I had forgotten that I stashed away, I found a handful of articles that I had written for a gaming site that went defunct. Since I hate for words to sit unread (even those in incoherent, rambly sentences), I decided I might as well share them here. Here’s one from around January 2013 in which I did a little looking back on the history of video games and the video games industry. Interestingly, though this post was written over four years ago, the questions here remain relevant, as it seems we are still in the process of understanding and debating what this industry, which has itself undergone some significant changes in just the past decade, means to us today, as well as where its future lies.
Though we’re just a few weeks into 2013, it’s already shaping up to be an interesting year for gaming. While next gen Playstation and Xbox consoles burn up the rumor mill, an elder statesman of the industry, Atari, declared bankruptcy. A plethora of new sequels and new IPs promise nothing less than sheer gaming ecstasy. And new technologies continue to push the boundaries between gaming and reality and force the question “what is a video game?”
But 2013 also marks something else a little less spectacular (or just a spectacular, depending on your point of view) — the 30th anniversary of the video game crash of 1983. It was kind of a big deal. And now that we’re in a time of gaming overabundance, I can’t help but see a few parallels.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, video games were THE thing. In less than a decade, video games had rapidly evolved — from Pong to Ms. Pac-Man — in a time when personal computing was just beginning to take off. Electronic games, arcade games, consoles that allowed video games in the home were incredibly popular and technology was in vogue. This “golden era” of gaming was akin to the “space race” of the 1960s, except now kids could go to the moon…virtually, anyway. With high demand came abundance. Arcades popped over seemingly overnight (like Starbucks still do today). Consumers seeking to buy a console had no less than a dozen (or more!) from which to choose. Games, great games, crappy games were made public without a second thought. There was money to be made in video games, as much as there was once gold in them thar hills!
Through a series of unfortunate events, retailers found themselves with more video game related stock than they could handle, video game companies such as Atari were hit with some big time failures (ahem, E.T., ahem), and internal strife developed within the gaming industry. Video games and gaming fell almost as quickly as it had risen. Between 1983 and 1985, the billion dollar industry lost millions in revenue. This led to bankruptcy for some companies that could no longer compete. A bunch of games were supposedly buried in a desert, and people moved on with their hair metal and acid-washed jeans.
So here we are 30 years later. The video game industry is comfortably back to being a billion-dollar industry. Great games and crappy games are still being produced for…how many systems? PC, Mac, Playstation 3, Playstation Vita, Wii, Wii U, Xbox 360, Android, iPad/iPod/iPhone, Nintendo DS and 3DS…and maybe someday soon the next versions of the Playstation and Xbox. That’s about a dozen or so systems. There are too many publishers, developers, and game companies to mention — mergers seem to happen every day and new ones quickly pop up. We have no shortage of games to play. We have abundance.
The video game industry is in a much more stable environment than it was years ago. The spirit of the early video game industry probably wasn’t ready to be a shooting star. Video games then were like meteorites, they shone bright and powerful but were destined for a quick, hot demise. They were a fad like pet rocks and friendship bracelets. But they weren’t destined to become little more than an historical footnote. Video games survived, the industry survived, and it today is reigns alongside the film and television industry and vies hard for our everlasting attention.
The industry was founded on invention and innovation and its spirit remains, well…where is that spirit? Is it with the big companies or the independent developers? It is with those that have money or those just scraping by? Is it with the players or the publishers? What do you think of the industry today?