The meeting was supposed to be a brainstorming session for a 2600 game related to some Warner film that was coming up. It did not go well. The tone in the room from the programmers was that everything on the 2600 had been done, and that the platform had been tapped out. The marketing folks just wanted pixels on the screen and didn't give a damn about the content. I think it might have been the Philip Morris guy's first exposure to the toxicity of Atari marketing and the jadedness of the Atari programmers; his eyes just kept getting bigger and the smoke started coming out of him faster as the meeting wore on.
In the end, I think that a programmer and an artist were sent off with some notes and told to "go think about it some more," and that's the last anyone ever heard of that project. Less than six months later Atari was essentially gone, split into the coin-op group, and Jack Tramiel's Atari Corp (which shipped the Atari ST less than a year later).
Most 2600 games were crap, and consumers knew it and stopped buying terrible games. I don't blame them. Atari made some boneheaded decisions with its new consoles (the non-centering joystick on the 5200 is a classic Atari move). In the spring of 1984 the company was losing several million dollars a day (2M? 3M?) and wasn't a sustainable business, given the market and its burn rate.
Right. The biggest reasons for the crash were the lack of try-before-you-buy and the lack of good-quality reviews.
(Eh... ever note how "good review" means a review that paints the product in a good light, as opposed to a review which is, itself, high-quality? Ditto "bad review", mutatis mutandis? Maybe this influences why nobody reviews reviews.)
The industry practice of paying for good reviews (either buying them outright or stopping payment of "free" games and such if unfavorable reviews get published) is classic quarterly report thinking: It works in the short term, at least arguably, but it damages the industry overall and sets it up for... another crash.
This wouldn't have mattered if there weren't so many crap games. Nintendo addressed this by strictly limiting the number of releases, as well as having a thorough pre-release review process. Atari couldn't do that, since there was no way to police it, and anyway they wanted to shovel out crap themselves.
This is only true of Nintendo outside of Japan, and pretends that both Nintendo and Atari had some aversion to shipping crap games. Atari being able to limit third parties wouldn't have stopped ET, and Nintendo of America still published their own sweet of terrible games.
Also I'm not sure you read my whole comment -- anyway they wanted to shovel out crap themselves, refers to Atari shipping lots of crap games.
I don't think Nintendo released that many crap games to the US, and they also didn't realease too many, 17 at launch in 1985, 10 in 1986, 9 in 1987, and then fewer per year after that. Atari released 22 games in 1982, in addition to the flood of third party titles that were released that year.
So your explanation of how Nintendo fixed this problem was only important in half of their market, and Europe wasn't even facing the problem that they fixed.
Did you mean to write “suite”? (Or did Nintendo get into the candy business?)
Of course, it only got worse from there in the case of game consoles. The fun thing is that the current debt-based economy encourages this kinds of behavior.
Is this the guy?
These are mind-boggling numbers I can't imagine happening today in any industry. And this was before pirating. And despite growing up being an absolute fanatic about video games, like everyone else of my friends.
I'd be careful arguing that this period was pre-piracy, copying floppy disks containing commercial software/games was rampant in this period among many enthusiasts. Software piracy arguably came of age with floppy disks, and there was all sorts of weird and wonderful attempts to combat it.
I still really miss the weird 'papercraft' contraptions that started to appear with many games in the mid to late 80s that had to be used to 'verify' you had a legitimate copy. As a kid I particularly enjoyed the "Grail Diary" that came with your 5 1/4 inch floppies for the Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade adventure game, and required the use of red acetate cardboard glasses (also included!) to reveal hidden messages printed on the page.
(On a skim, the article cites computer gaming as a factor in the crash, stating that computers were booming when consoles were crashing.)
The design of the code wheels for those games that had them was often surprisingly elaborate as well.
And also it didn't hurt that railway enthusiasts knew two-thirds of the locomotives by heart anyway.
Some C64 games came on cassettes and were extremely easy to pirate (compared to cartridges). And even before that, arcade games were "pirated", so instead of a license an operator would buy a clone.
Of course the scale would be different than it was with the Internet around.
Admitted it was more computer centered, but pirates still are.
There were even distribution networks for pirated movies via VHS. I remember E.T. being passed around LONG before it was released on tape.
So instead of finding the NES next to your other PCs at the time, it was near the toy aisle?
I don't have a specific source for this, besides some memory of podcasts and articles touching on the topic throughout the years.
Anyone who maybe was able to witness the revival able to comment with their anecdotes?
Nintendo also didn't try to oversell the systems capabilities or the games, which was a big problem with the marketing materials for older games and game systems.
They also limited 3rd party companies ability to make games for the system (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CIC_(Nintendo)#10NES) to ensure a certain degree of quality. That's also the origin of the gold Nintendo Seal.
The NES also had Super Mario Bros as a launch title in the US and that game holds up incredibly well to this day. It was truly a big leap in video game design, especially considering games like Ms Pacman and Donkey Kong Jr. were winning Best Game awards in magazines the year before the NES launched.
Lastly, the Light Gun and Duck Hunt were also big system sellers. As far as I know, no other console had an experience like that and much like the Wii and the DS, gimmicks like that are very popular among people who don't play a lot of traditional video games.
You should also consider the velocity that Nintendo launched into the console industry with. A year after the NES came out, The Legend of Zelda came out which was another giant leap in game design and the first home console game to allow you to save your progress. Two years after that Super Mario Bros. 3 came out which was an absolutely massive leap over the first Super Mario Bros. A year after that they launch the GameBoy and suddenly you can play Super Mario Land on the go.
Nintendo was responsible for a lot of innovation in a very short amount of time.
They're constantly bringing new stuff to the table, so even though each iteration of Mario might not be that far off from the previous one design-wise, you're approaching it in a completely fresh way.
I find it amusing that their long and innovative history also includes things like selling instant rice, their own "love hotels" for people to use with prostitutes, and a taxi company in the time after their playing card business declined but before their video game business took off.
"Nintendo" could mean something very different today had certain parts of their business performed differently.
Well, even if one wanted to, a marketing exec really couldn't advertise Nintendo NES as a "general computer" since it had no keyboard nor ability to connect a disk drive and printer. The "toy" aspect was an intrinsic property of NES (the "E" in Nintendo _E_ntertainment System) rather than a marketing angle. Therefore, its focus on gaming dictated the type of commercials you could run to advertise it.
From what I remember, the Nintendo NES was the first console where the quality of the games closely matched the real arcade versions. Donkey Kong was a prime example. The NES version looked, sounded, and played like the real thing. (This wasn't true arcade games licensed & ported to Commodore 64, Intellivision, Atari, etc.)
The combination of low price point with higher quality games I think were the key factors for its success.
This was a conscience choice by Nintendo of America though. The Japanese counterpart of the NES has the hardware and software capabilities of a computer, like a disk and cassette recorder, BASIC, and a keyboard. These were never released in the US.
There was a lot of entrepreneurial game development in this period, and a lot of really bad games. The market was saturated, the quality was not nearly as high as during the coin-op prime, not enough revenues were being recovered by the major players, and the market collapsed soon after '83. The market seemed to move past games. Computers like the Mac were released.
Only one company seemed to be quietly persevering with a steady stream of quality titles: Nintendo.
> Anyone who maybe was able to witness the revival able to comment with their anecdotes?
That is NOT my recollection. I bought my Atari games from the same isle I bought my NES games from at Toys R Us (obviously in different years).
I think there is truth that game console marketing shifted into its own more toy like thing, distinct from computers, but I think that shift was already underway by the heyday of the 2600. I remember an entire display of just video games (2600, ColecoVision, and others), which was separate from other software, computers, and the consoles.
With the Toys R Us closure, I wrote an article about my memories of Toys R Us and The Great Video Game crash (and recovery) that tries to fill in for people what living through the crash actually felt like.
Outside of the console market, between the 2600 and the NES, there was growth in gaming on personal computers, but it was driven by floppy pirating. I'm not sure there was a lot of profit there.
Yes, but chances were good that you were shopping for a computer in a small department store anyway, so it was all a short walk to the bedding and appliances sections. I don't know that they were marketed as toys so much as their primary market was kids.
Toys-R-Us had a pretty good selection of gaming consoles, plus the C64 and C128. No Amiga though. The boxes would show Dad fiddling with a mortgage calculator, then another picture of the family watching as the kids played a game.
Yes... that's why the NES originally came with a toy robot and was sold as an "entertainment system" rather than a "video game console."
It also helps to explain the rise of Nintendo. Just few years post-crash you are starting to see SMB2, Zelda, Metroid. With the sheer joy Miyamoto-san had in the creation process, evident in the final result. By the end of the decade a Nintendo device could be found in virtually every US household. And even Tetris for the GameBoy enjoyed a certain veneer of polish and infinite playability that lasts to the present moment.
People love to bash E.T., but it was a good game for its time, just hard to grasp without the included manual.
And this is precisely why Nintendo limited the third party titles (via lockout hardware) released on their systems. It didn't stop some developers from figuring out how to defeat it though.
0 - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tengen_(company)#History
At home, I had a Colecovision console whose most impressive game was a 3D platformer, Zaxxon. The rest of the Colecovision catalogue was lame. I also had a Vic 20 which didn't have any real games of note (although it was interesting if somewhat frustrating to type in some BASIC games from magazines).
I had access to Apple II+ and IIe machines at school and a neighbor had an Atari 800. Choplifter was probably the most impressive thing on either one. I remember a lot of people being really disappointed by the Atari 800 as it was made by a gaming company yet didn't have anything that was really that fun.
(This was, incidentally, the same time that text adventures were getting a shot in the arm with Zork and the follow-up games, but that was different than the action games teens like me craved)
At that point I kind of dropped away from gaming and got into music in a big way. The NES didn't gain traction until I was in college in the late 80s, and by that point I was more interested in some of the arcade games that were popping up in the basement of the student union.
I don't ever remeber being bored for want of games. My house is where the neighborhood kids went to play video games.
And what I remember about my Atari 800 is that it got so much play we were comstantly having to repair or replace the terrible joysticks because the bubble switches on the circuitboard would wear out too easily.
Zaxxon is better described as a scrolling shooter.
I picked it up on a whim at a thrift store and found it to be very informative and engaging. You'll also see some familiar names in there as it spends a lot of time talking about Atari.
He noted in his letter that he wouldn't have chosen such an "arrogant" title for his book as "The Ultimate History", and the decision was the publisher's. Seemed like a thoughtful and humble person.
On the other hand, there have obviously been plenty of "hype->saturation->blow up->die forever" cycles as well, so maybe it's not a great thing to bet on.
Basically, now I'm wondering which of the two patterns things like cryptocurrencies fall into (I'd also mention real estate, but it seems like it's clear which one it's falling into).
Interesting to note that it seems like most of the actual companies involved in the "blow up" phase don't become part of the "stable and serious growth" phase, so maybe that doesn't bode well for the existing coins.
Side note: This article finally illuminated the origin of the name "Famicom" to me, and I can't believe it took me so long to realize the origin of that name.
A lot of the companies in video games around the time of the blow up are gone now, but some of them survived -- Nintendo was early and is still around, Sega survived until much after the crash. The crash wasn't good for Atari, but it sort of survived into the 90s, and it had a lot of corporate shenanigans too. It doesn't seem that unusual that so many companies in a field aren't around 30 years later.
Re: cryptocurrencies, who knows, but the real question is if they're really useful compared to traditional banking, for enough people for it to offset the tremendous escalating costs of running the network.
Wait, but the Famicom wasn't even released until 1983 (the year of the crash), and the Genesis wasn't released until '88, so it seems like those companies really rose from the ashes of the crash - even though Nintendo had been dabbling in video games since the 70s, the Famicom was their first attempt to really hit the US market it seems.
> Re: cryptocurrencies, who knows, but the real question is if they're really useful compared to traditional banking, for enough people for it to offset the tremendous escalating costs of running the network.
Don't mistake this by any means as me being a fanatic, because by no means am I anything less than incredibly skeptical of cryptocurrencies: I question whether it's just because nothing has really managed to prove that fruitful yet in comparison to the overwhelming use of them now as speculative investments.
For example, we had to send a payment to someone who lives in a commonwealth country - what a pain in the ass that was. For the first time I actually saw a use for bitcoin, but the volatility and my general desire not to run afoul of any weird money laundering laws got the better of me.
Nintendo and Sega continued to focus on them, during the downturn. Not a lot of people were really doing video games only then, Atari was a division of Warner Entertainment by the end of the 70s.
Re crypto, international transfer does seem like an area that's poorly served and expensive with traditional banking, and family remittances is a huge submarket there, but it's only rarely mentioned in articles about bitcoin. I think the trick is there needs to be enough market activity to make bitcoins available for purchase in the sending country and sellable in the receiving country. But there's some competition here from PayPal and others.
Sega released the SG-1000 on literally the same day as the Famicom's launch. In 1985 they introduced the Sega Master System, an upgraded SG-1000.
I'm one of the mutants that actually likes Chrystal Pepsi. :-\
Sorry (and welcome)
I wish they had a list of products, though. I wonder if there are any other failed products I've loved, or if liking Crystal Pepsi is kind of a one-off.
I found no evidence that the video game industry specifically lobbied for the diameter of the Anthony dollar. Is there any?
The mechanisms on old games-- like other vending machines-- could be configured with gates to accept different size coins, but they probably topped out at a maximum size smaller than the Eisenhower. So a machine with a big enough opening to take, say, a UK 10p would be able to accept a SBA if you snapped the right gate over it.
I rhetorically wondered what lesson we as engineers could learn from this...
I was young enough that I couldn't figure out how to even escape the cell, if that was even the intent of the game. I played it in Russia, sometime in the 80s or maybe even early 90s,
The only other thing I remember is that the computer also had Dangerous Dave in the Haunted Mansion on it.
But it was prophetic, because it was the Commodore 64 I moved to next, and I hardly touched the Inty after that.