Though we’re just a few months into 2013, it’s already shaping up to be quite a year for gaming. As we now look to the next generation of consoles, established companies have disappeared (THQ, LucasArts) or met with financial strain (Atari). A plethora of new sequels and new IPs have promised (and, in some cases delivered) nothing less than sheer gaming ecstasy. And new technologies continue to push the boundaries between gaming and reality, forcing 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 then. And now that we’re in a time of gaming overabundance, I can’t help but ponder 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 Pitfall! To Ms. Pac-Man — at a time when personal computing was just beginning to take off. Electronic games and consoles that allowed video games in the home were incredibly popular and technology was in vogue. This “golden era” of gaming, with its creativity and imagination, 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 including personal computers) from which to choose. Games, great games, terrible 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!
As often happens in the land of merchandising, the market became so over-saturated that retailers found themselves with more video game-related stock than they could sell. 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. Add to all that that a recession that hit the U. S. from mid 1981 to late 1982, which severely affected consumer spending across the board, and it was a recipe for disaster. The star that was video games fell almost as quickly as it had risen. Between 1983 and 1985, the industry lost millions in revenue. This led to bankruptcy for some companies that could no longer compete. Video gaming was buried (metaphorically and literally), and people moved on with their hair metal and acid-washed jeans.
So here we are 30 years later. The video game industry is quite comfortable as a billion dollar industry. Great games and terrible games are still being produced for…how many systems? Let’s count! PS3, Vita, PSP, Wii, Wii U, Xbox 360, Android, iPod/iPad/iPhone, Nintendo DS and 3DS, and the PS4 and the next Xbox. (And the PC, flash games, social media games.) That’s about a dozen or so systems. There are too many game publishers, developers, and creators to mention — mergers seem to happen every day and new companies pop up daily, or so it seems. We have no shortage of games to play. We have variety. We have choices. We have plenty.
Now, despite the current economic downtown, the video game industry is in a much more stable environment than it was 30 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 met a quick, hot demise. They were a fad like pet rocks and friendship bracelets. But they weren’t destined to become an historical footnote. Video games survived, the industry survived, and it today reigns alongside the film and television industry, and it vies hard for our everlasting attention.
But is history destined to repeat itself? It’s documented that the industry has lost a bit of money lately. Not every console is finding its audience (*cough* Wii U *cough*). The media’s reaction to some terrible current events has cast a negative light on video game players generally. And we’re still in a recession. Mix it all up evenly, cook for another year or two, and then…boom? I don’t know. For now, we’ll all just enjoy our games and the pending greatness(?) of things to come. I mean, it’s not like anyone’s going to go bury a bunch of copies of Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor the desert, right?
For an interesting take on the state of the gaming industry, check out Why We Could Use a (small) Collapse of the Gaming Industry from Power Cords.