30 years ago, an event happened that could have destroyed the gaming industry. It’s something that has made gamers nervous for years, especially with the proliferation of games with incredibly high production budgets and consoles that are only as good as the non gaming applications attached to them. There have been a number of conflicting claims as far as where to point the finger of blame for causing The Video Game Crash of 1983, but it boils down to simple greed.
Atari had a lot of problems leading to the crash. One of which was simple arrogance. You see, Atari did silly things on occasion like produce more copies of a particular game than they had consoles in the market. This was case with the Atari 2600 port of Pac Man. In 1982, when the 2600 port of Namco’s iconic title was released, Atari decided to produce 12 million copies of it. This wouldn’t have been a problem if not for one important fact: Atari only had 10 million consoles in homes. In the end, Atari sold only 7 million copies of Pac Man and was faced with legions of angry fans who sought refunds after playing the incredibly subpar port of Pac Man.
Pac Man wasn’t the only miscue Atari faced, and the next one was one of legendary proportions. When the movie E.T. was released in the summer of 1982, Warner Communications, who owned Atari, demanded that a video game based on the film be available in stores by Christmas. Atari was given a mere six weeks to see a video game through from concept to store shelf. The resulting game was what many consider the worst video game ever made. Again, Atari was left with millions of unsold cartridges, which they took to a landfill in New Mexico, destroyed, and covered by cement. The “Atari Landfill” as it became known over the years has become something of an urban legend among younger gamers, but is all too familiar to us old enough to have seen the catalogs with 1 cent sales on 2600 cartridges.
Finally, there may have been way too many crappy games and random consoles on the market. In 1982, Atari had two consoles and two computers on the market. Also, several companies had consoles that played Atari 2600 games, several other game consoles and computers, and games available for all of them. It was incredibly confusing and left many gamers and their parent not even wanting to be bothered. This led to store being flooded with stock hogging shelf and stockroom space. As a result, the average parent could buy their kid an Atari 2600 for $30 and games for $1-$5. The losses were monumental and in 1983, many companies either abandoned their video game divisions, or went out of business.
The Crash of 1983 was something that many younger gamers never heard of, but that doesn’t make it any less real. The fact is, some of the problems that damaged the industry them, most notably flooding the market, is definitely happening now with titles being released on an almost yearly basis. If the gaming industry were to crash again, I’m hard pressed to think it would recover. There are those who have pondered the validity of console gaming with the rise of gaming on devices not typically designed for it, like phones and tablets, but as console gaming goes, so does gaming on PCs and mobile devices. If this upcoming generation of consoles falters, then who can assume that anyone would be willing to stay the course with those other devices.
The evidence that gaming may be slowing down or that gamers are just getting tired of playing the same games over and over may be the fact that in one particular month a single game, Grand Theft Auto V, accounted for nearly half of all video game sales on the market. While Atari would have killed for this to happen with Pac Man or E.T it does point to a problem in gaming. Gaming can ill afford to repeat the events that led to the Crash of 1983, but simple human greed could lead to history repeating itself. Unfortunately, There may not be any room for a new Nintendo to rise from the ashes and save the art form that we have grown to love.