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I was at Atari from 1982 to 1987. During the heart of the crash, I remember attending a meeting with a bunch of 2600 programmers and marketing types, and the new Atari CEO (a guy from the tobacco firm Philip Morris -- I forget his name -- who spent the whole meeting chain smoking).

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.




> Most 2600 games were crap, and consumers knew it and stopped buying terrible games.

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.


> Right. The biggest reasons for the crash were the lack of try-before-you-buy and the lack of good-quality reviews.

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.


> 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.


Since the crash mostly affected the US (see all the Europeans wondering what the crash was), that Nintendo reviewed games only for the US/Europe is appropriate.

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.


You’ve never watched the Angry Videogame Nerd[0], have you?

[0] https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLbQ-gSLYQEc6IWgKJNOMU...


>Since the crash mostly affected the US (see all the Europeans wondering what the crash was), that Nintendo reviewed games only for the US/Europe is appropriate.

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.


Nintendo may have put out crap games, but there were a LOT of crap games that Atari themselves put out that were way worse. We're talking about a company that actually thought making first-party video game version of a Rubik's cube was a good idea.


Games for the Nintendo Gameboy through to the last of DS line were a minefield of shovelware. There were a large number of really great games but they were still a drop in an ocean of crap. The jury is still out on the Switch.


> … and Nintendo of America still published their own sweet of terrible games.

Did you mean to write “suite”? (Or did Nintendo get into the candy business?)


In retrospect, that idea was like introducing taxi medallions to make prices for taxis go up when almost everyone can drive a car: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taxicabs_of_New_York_City#1930...

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.


Which also reminds me of the home computers section of the article. The recently launched Intel NUC with discrete GPU, while probably underpowered, is a step in the right direction: https://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2018/08/intels-10nm-cannon-l...


> and the new Atari CEO (a guy from the tobacco firm Philip Morris -- I forget his name -- who spent the whole meeting chain smoking).

Is this the guy? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_J._Morgan


Yup. I've called him a "one person smoke-filled room", it was pretty obnoxious, even in the days when companies allowed smoking indoors.


Maybe it was toxic programmers, there is nothing as dangerous as "experienced folks" who say it can't be done and are very pessimistic.




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