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What was the crash of 1983 like?

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If you were a kid in 1983 (I was 13), there was no crash-only an abundance of cheap cartridges begining to appear in most major retailers, only businesses felt the pain, here in the UK there was already a natural progression towards home computers which were not much more expensive than the games consoles but had more flexibility and far cheaper software.

 

^^^

 

This. What happened in boardrooms was irrelevant to gamers. For a while there, carts were everywhere and dirt cheap, which was a nice turn of events, but gave one a queasy feeling that it was too good to last. It wasn't until 1984 that companies started to actually go bankrupt and things started to disappear from the store shelves.

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This thread has made me wonder about something. When the 5200 or 7800 were released, did Atari ever make any announcements that they were phasing out or eliminating the 2600? I honestly don't remember.

 

The reason I ask is this: Once the games started appearing in bargain bins at your local drugstore for $5, that in itself contributed to the death spiral of the systems they ran on. My thoughts back then were never "wow, I can score a bunch of great games for $5/ea"... they were more along the lines of, "well, they must be pretty worthless for them to be selling that cheap". The computer games weren't in the bargain bin; so it must mean that my console is worthless or outdated. That may not have been the intent of Atari at the time, but the end result was the same.

 

I wonder if the industry learned, after the crash, that each launch of a "new generation" console should also come with the announcement that the old console was being retired/no longer supported. Certainly there have been many instances of "bargain bin" games after the first crash, but the lowered prices match the message being sent out by the manufacturers: now is the time to upgrade to the latest console (the same now goes for computers, cell phones, tablets, etc).

 

Did Atari at the time think that their newer consoles would simply add to their product range, creating a "good/better/best" type of situation? Obviously that is a powerful marketing tool if used right -- as in, a "good, better, best" bundle of the same platform -- but can fail if one of those categories includes a technologically inferior/lower quality product (possibly what happened to products like the IBM PCjr and iPhone 5C).

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Always the case, Sega still supported the SMS after the Genesis was released. Coleco supported both, the Coleco vision and the Adam, Nintendo released games for NES after the SNES was released. I think the NES was produced until the early 2000 or longer!

In the 90s you found NES, SMS titles in the bargain bin, especially cheap reduced games per mail order too. Were they regarded as shitty games?

Two selling products, twice the profit, that's all the chair holders care about.

Edited by high voltage

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The "crappy games" urban legend certainly has a lot of traction, but as others in this thread mentioned, it just was not proven out.

 

People point to Pac-Man as being so crappy and yet it was the highest selling cartridge in the history of the system. If more than doubled all of HSW's games combined.

 

No one expected Defender, Missile Command, Pac Man, Asteroids, or Space Invaders be clones of the arcade machines. However it did replicate the experience close enough for a lot of us. We dealt with basic graphics and flickering objects on the screen because that what we had come to expect. When the supercharger cartridge came out, I was astonished at the screenshots, but never saw ANY of the games in the wild prior to owning a Harmony Cart. No one paid for it. I didn't know anyone of my friends that had one.

 

For me, the "death" of Atari, and more specifically the 2600, wasn't about bad games. It was a result of two things.

 

1. Market Saturation. By 1982 and 1983 there were SO many games out there. Each one costing about $20 to $30 bucks a pop (which is 60 to 90 of todays dollars). There just wasn't enough people with the means to move all that product. Pitfall II was clearly a superior game to the original, but it's sales numbers pale in comparison. The same thing could be said about Stargate. So "quality" wasn't the problem.

 

2. The computer as gaming platform. By 1984, the Commodore 64 was available, which offered a base cpu at 200 bucks. The same entry price point as an Atari before the price cut. The 64 undercut the competition by hundreds if not thousands of dollars. Atari responded by redesigning their 400/800 series into the more competitively priced XL series and tried to go head to head with commodore's Amiga with the ST. For a generation raised on the Video Game Console, the computer offered so much more. Plus you could con your parents into believing that you needed one to do your school papers in college. (Never mind that the printer cost more than the computer....). Atari tried with little success to create games for other platforms using the Atarisoft label.

 

The death of the 2600 as a game platform was inevitable. The reason it was a crash and not a "correction" was due to the market saturation. There was just too much product in the pipeline, and when distributors and stores had to clear out the channel at a loss, they were hesitant to buy more.

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The reason I ask is this: Once the games started appearing in bargain bins at your local drugstore for $5, that in itself contributed to the death spiral of the systems they ran on. My thoughts back then were never "wow, I can score a bunch of great games for $5/ea"... they were more along the lines of, "well, they must be pretty worthless for them to be selling that cheap". The computer games weren't in the bargain bin; so it must mean that my console is worthless or outdated. That may not have been the intent of Atari at the time, but the end result was the same.

I think that's a big part of the crash. But it wasn't just Atari's games, there were lots of 2600 producers. If it had just been Atari and a couple of other companies the crash could have been averted by those companies buying back games from retailers. Price and rarity are very important in the coolness factor of a product. Trouble is there were lots of companies without the resources to pull back games so there was no reason for the bigger companies to do too much. Atari did of course destroy a lot of games trying to clear the retail channel but they couldn't control the entire channel.

 

When I sold Innerspace to Imagic I think I was told they needed it to fulfill contracts they had with distributors and retailers. So that would have kept pushing games into the channel even though both the manufacturer and retailers didn't want any more games. Being sued for not fulfilling a contract was worst.

 

Atari never announced termination of the 2600, or even hinted at it. It was their cash cow up until late 82 when sales virtually stopped. The 5200 and 7800 were to complete against systems from other companies. Like High Voltage points out it's normal for a company to slowly phase out an old product. That's why this was a crash. Saw it with tulips, stocks, real estate, etc... The term bubble is used more today of course.

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I think one lesson learned from the crash was that manufacturers put many more controls on who could develop games for their system. It's to try and control inventory and the number of new games buyers see at one time to keep values up.

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Don't forget a third factor -- the number of gaming consoles on the market. if you think 3 is a lot, try 8!

 

By the end of 1982, there was available on the market in the US:

 

1) Channel F (yes, that was still being made and supported)

2) O2

3) Astrocade

4) Arcadia 2001

5) Atari 2600

6) Atari 5200

7) Colecovision

8) Intelivision

 

And you could perhaps include the Vectrex, as I'm not sure to count that as a console or not.

 

It wasn't just a matter of a glut of games, there was a glut of consoles also. Combine that with a lot of crap games, the rise of the home computer market (which was also flooded and would have it's own shakeout), and the rising feeling that video games were a 'fad', and it all combined to crash the market.

 

Of course gamers didn't realize that at the time as there were still tons of console games available well into 1986 at bargin prices, even if hardly anyone was making games anymore. (Activision did release a small amount of 2600 games during 1984-1986). And of course many people had moved on to computers, where tons of games were still being made. There was defentily a crash, but I'm not surprised most people didn't realize it at the time. The media did -- you can find the use of words like 'crash' and 'shakeout' in magazines and newspapers from 1983-1984 -- but I'm sure most consumers did not.

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It wasn't just a matter of a glut of games, there was a glut of consoles also. Combine that with a lot of crap games, the rise of the home computer market (which was also flooded and would have it's own shakeout), and the rising feeling that video games were a 'fad', and it all combined to crash the market.

 

It's important to remember that there were a glut of computers and computer software as well, with a LOT of changes (companies dropping out) in North America between 1982 - 1985; the shakeout affected all facets of the industry. Other territories tolerated a glut of competing computers far better, as they did the shakeup/Crash in general.

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I purchased my Intellivision in 1978 with my Dad for $200. A lot of money at the time! Baseball, Football, Basketball......great sports games.

 

In 1985 I bought an Intellivision 2 for $69. on clearance at Toys-R-Us which I gave to my Sister for Christmas with the great game Treasure of Tarmin. Great deal for me and her, and that game is awesome!!! :)

 

And yes, really market correction and redirection to Commodore 64 happened until Nintendo came out. I never stopped playing or collecting games during the whole financial game market crash.There have always been games to play!

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I remember the crash of 1983 like it was yesterday. Almost immediately, all games went into the dollar bin. They were so cheap I started to use them as drink coasters.

 

It was sad to see all those programmers put out on the street. You could see the poor homeless buggers scratching code into the dirt, trying to hold onto their past life. But alas, it was over for them.

 

They turned to crack cocaine and other narcotics to sooth their sorrows.

 

With the introduction of free computing and internet at many state libraries, we have been privileged to learn about how many of these old consoles were programmed.

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Smurf: Rescue In Gargamel's Castle for the Atari 2600, which was still priced around $30 USD in 1983, was my birthday present. Not everything went down in price, but I did get to pick up some M Network games like Space Attack and Astroblast for around $5 apiece. Good games they were, with Space Attack and Astroblast being the closest I got to play their Intellivision counterparts Space Battle and Astrosmash.

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1985 was pretty much the last year I saw games for the ColecoVision being sold anywhere, and the last game I got for it around that time was B.C. II: Grog's Revenge, which was a Christmas present. 1986 was pretty much a dead year for games until Nintendo and Sega started making noises about their systems, but I wasn't really interested in either of those systems. Not until my brother Christopher bought his own NES.

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Yeah I think it wasn't really a crash, just like others said, people just went onto other systems, eg A8, C64, same happened with NES when it went out of favour for other systems, eg Genesis, SNES, PC.

SNES, Genesis, 3DO 'crashed' when PSX shook up the industry.

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I think one lesson learned from the crash was that manufacturers put many more controls on who could develop games for their system. It's to try and control inventory and the number of new games buyers see at one time to keep values up.

 

I don't think they needed a crash to learn that mistake - they realized their error as soon as the first 3rd party developer became a thing and they realized there was nothing they could legally do to stop them. So since then they've created ways to legally stop them - from encrypting cartridges to adding patented lockout chips and what have you. And it wouldn't necessarily be because they were afraid of a industry crash that they started doing that so much as someone else profiting on their system without them getting a cut of the sales. Atari learned this mistake before the crash happened - they just couldn't do anything about it by the time they realized it.

 

It's not like they use those techniques now to stop their systems from being flooded with shovelware after all. All it really does is serve as a very low baseline - to make sure the game runs on the system. (And with modern games I can't even say that with all the patching going on. ;))

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But anybody can still write games for PC and sell them. Best selling games console in the world.

Provided you have the right hardware and OS to run the games. Otherwise, you're SOL.

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My friends and I didn't notice anything really different. That was the year I got a ColecoVision and Atari 2600 was beginning to look long in the tooth,that was it. Only thing I clearly remember was in the back of a comic book where they advertised new upcoming games the listing for which console it was coming to grew exponentially. I use to think that was getting really ridiculous and abit confusing to which version you needed to buy. In 1984 though I remember the shift big time. Mom and Pop shops stopped ordering new games for rentals, and specialty shops that relied allot on game sales dried up and closed down. I sorta moved onto other hobbies by then,plus around my area the arcade scene sort of replaced that home console buzz that used to be so strong. So yeah i guess I noticed abit of change,but to me it was 1984 that really signaled that home consoles were a really forgotten hobby,arcades were stronger than ever though,which is where I did the bulk of my gaming by that point.

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Back then, there were hardly any game rental places like there were for the NES and later systems in the late 1980s and early 1990s, so to me buying a $5 game was hardly much of a gamble than buying a $30 game. If the game sucked, I was just out $5 that could have gone elsewhere. If the game was good, then I got a good deal for the price. It's a good thing that game rentals came when they did, since taking a game home for only a few bucks a night or so meant I wasn't stuck with a piece of useless plastic and silicone that a better game could have gone inside.

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Back then, there were hardly any game rental places like there were for the NES and later systems in the late 1980s and early 1990s, so to me buying a $5 game was hardly much of a gamble than buying a $30 game. If the game sucked, I was just out $5 that could have gone elsewhere. If the game was good, then I got a good deal for the price. It's a good thing that game rentals came when they did, since taking a game home for only a few bucks a night or so meant I wasn't stuck with a piece of useless plastic and silicone that a better game could have gone inside.

 

Nobody likes useless silicone!

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Oh man what a spot on analysis of what actually happened! I just found the next thing or went back to the Arcade! There was plenty still available and going on. I spent way too much money on my Commodore 64 stuff, and most of the games were pretty bad. A couple of games were gems as well too!

 

Back then, our family didn't even bother with consoles. We were gaming and using VIC-20.

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For me, the crash was a one-two punch. The home consoles died off, and the arcades died off about the same time. Of course, consoles bounced back eventually starting with the NES (which, incidentally, I resented at the time since I felt they had supplanted Atari's rightful role as the leader in video games, not knowing that Atari had effectively killed themselves), but arcades never did. In hindsight, I don't think arcades ever could have maintained their popularity. Besides the home consoles (and computers) catching up to and surpassing the quality of arcade games, I think that - at their peak - arcades were a social fad. They were an event of their time - like disco. They had an artificial popularity with people beyond those who were really just interested in playing video games, and that level of popularity was unsustainable (I wrote a blog entry about this nearly 10 years ago). Once the fad ebbed, coupled with the advances in home video games, arcades were just doomed. I don't think any changes in business practices could have saved them.

 

Arcades made a comeback in the early '90s due to fighting games, e.g., Street Fighter II, Mortal Kombat, both of which are among the top 10 highest grossing arcade games of all time (see here). SFII started a craze the likes of which hadn't been seen since Space Invaders and Pac-Man. Many of the larger arcades had multiple SFII machines just to keep up with demand.

Edited by MaximRecoil

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