Final Essay

                     Now and Then: Death of The Console

 

                       By Sabrina Bellemare

 

The North American video game crash of 1983, the impact it had on modern gaming, and the possibility of a recurrence in the fall of the console.

Between 1978 and 1983, the videogame industry experienced a period of prosperity and mass appeal. Arcade gaming reached a high point thanks to Space Invaders, and home consoles became a big hit. the video game industry began to outstrip other entertainment industries in profits. While the foothold it had gained with the public made the lucrative industry seem infallible to some, it wasn’t to last. The video game crash of 1983 was a massive recession in the video game industry which lasted about two years, during which time several companies in the production of consoles and home computers went bankrupt.  Between 1983 and 1985, the Video Game industry plummeted from $3.3 billion to just $100 million. The crash was a significant event in video game history which left fledgling industry crippled, and resulted in the end of the second generation of console gaming in North America.. Despite doubts about the lifespan of the video games industry, it recovered a few years later with the widespread success of the NES. There were several causes behind the great crash, and when measured against the circumstances of today’s modern game industry, one must ask ourselves if the current business model is sustainable, and whether or not we are heading in the direction of another crash.

 

There were many causes for the crash, but the main cause was saturation of the market. At the time there were more than a dozen or so consoles on the market, and each one had its own individual game collection, produced by the manufacture, and some had a massive array of games produced by third-party developers. There were far too many games, and most of them were reiterations of a previous release, hardly distinguishable from each other. Companies were releasing game after game with no real new content, and consumers were losing patience with developers. Loss of publishing control resulted in a slew of bad amatur games, as anyone  who could program and had a means of distribution could  create and sell a game. As a result the market was flooded. With a complete lack of quality checks to ensure the games were any good, more often than not, gamers would find themselves unsatisfied with their expensive game purchases, and as a result, sales dropped. With a sudden influx of consoles and games, and little to no quality control, consumers were left with too many bad choices.

Then came the high-profile disaster games, such as Atari’s notorious Pac-Man and E.T. games, damaged the reputation of the entire industry and lost the faith of the consumer. Atari is often fingered as the culprit behind the crash because of their two famously costly 1982 releases, Pac-Man and E.T, both rushed to be completed. In an attempt to take advantage of the arcade game Pac-Man’s success, Atari produced a console version  the Atari 2600. The games was rushed through production and marketed heavily in order to hit christmas sales. Despite decent sales, Atari had grossly overestimate the success of the game, and sold a little over half of the cartridges they produced. Atari took massive losses over their poor projections. Following this was the rushed release of the 1982 adventure game, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, today widely considered to hold the title of ‘worst game ever’. The game was meant to capitalize off of popularity of the newly released E.T. movie, by being released in time for the holidays while hype was high. This meant that the game needed to be completed in five and a half weeks by its creator, Howard Warshaw. The results were a drop in quality that stung consumers, who were already quickly souring with Atari. The reaction to the game’s massive failure, a second ill-received Atari release, was detrimental to the industry on a whole. The combination of overproduction and the sheer volume of returns, resulted in serious financial losses. Millions of unsold Atari cartridges famously rumored to be buried in a landfill in Alamogordo, New Mexico .This remained a popular urban legend until 2014 when when an excavation showed the rumor to be accurate. Former Atari manager James Heller then revealed  that 728,000 cartridges of various titles were buried. The widespread news of Atari’s failure was attributed as the cause of atari’s fall and one of the catalysts for the crash, but by no means was it the only culprit, or the most major. Atari made several questionable decisions the culminated to its demise.

Poor public perception and a flooded market wasnt all the video game industry had to worry about. The superior competing technology of computers was also a major issue for the industry at the time. Computers were more widely distributed, had better graphics and sound, were multi-use (word processing and accounting) and were competitively priced. This led a great deal of consumers to believe that computers were simply a better investment of their hard earned money.

The North American crash had lasting effects on the industry as a whole. the first of which being that the home console market shifted to Japan with the booming success of the NES.

Secondly, The crash resulted in the implementation of important policies and measures to control third-party development of software.

The NES had a strict licensing policy that involved adding lockout chips to the console and placed their seal of approval on licensed games released for the NES. Nintendo claimed that this was in order to protect the consumer against lesser quality games, however   as well as preventing the use of unlicensed games, it helped prevent  piracy.

Many of these methods were implemented by subsequent console manufacturers and remain in use on every major video game console today, albeit with more sophisticated technology. Consoles protect themselves today by controlling quality, plagiarism and the number of releases a studio can release per year.

In the decades since the crash, the industry has once again achieved enormous growth and success. No longer a niche consumer product, video games have expanded to include online and mobile gaming. There are more gamers than ever before, and more ways to game still coming, making the industry far less centralized around consoles, and therefore giving it more lasting power. However, with a rapid shift in gaming habits, and an ever-growing number of ways to game, dedicated consoles and AAA games are now rather precariously perched on their thrones as rulers of the industry.

We’ve recently entered a new generation of consoles, the three major competitors being the Xbox One, the Playstation 4, and the Wii U. This means that the reigning titans of the industry’s console market remain Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo, with a few lesser competitors showing up now and again. Console games are costly, around $70 on release, and consoles themselves are around $400-$450. This can be prohibitively expensive for some, especially when the alternative of PC gaming exists. PCs are multi-purposed, and therefore are a more savvy investment, echoing the consoles’ issues in 1983.

A new report by Superdata, a NY-based research consultancy that specializes in interactive entertainment, warned that the market for consoles is already crowded, stating “Industry veterans will remember the crash of 1983, when the games market was saturated with hardware devices. Today, the industry runs a similar risk, as [with] a higher-than-ever console installed base, consumers may be resistant to adding more hardware to their living rooms.”

The report suggests gamers are gravitating to more multi-purpose platforms like PCs and mobile devices, much like in 1983, then the consoles were competing with the more versatile home-computer. This means that while there are more gamers today than ever before,  the increase in demand for consoles, while there, is not proportionate.

In 2008 42 percent of gamers played primarily on a console platform, 37 percent favored PCs and a mere 5 percent gamed on mobiles. These number shifted to 51 percent of gamers now playing primarily on PCs, and only 30 percent on consoles.

Now, with the arrival of new consoles, such as the Ouya and Valve’s Steam Box, as well as rumors of a possible  Apple console in the future, the market could very well become saturated as in once did before the crash. This could spell disaster for all dedicated consoles.

Games being released also echo the conditions before the crash. Third-party titles have been a stream of indistinguishable shooters with high sales. AAA development seems to be adopting a formulaic production trend, making solely profit driven decisions and ignoring the demand for unique content. This is similar to the trend in 1983, when every game was an iteration of a previous release, only slightly different. While the development costs for these games have become staggering, low budget games like Angry Birds have made millions.

According to new research conducted by Digi-Capital, “Online and mobile are spearheading the game industry’s growth to a potential total valuation of $83 billion by 2016,  the global games investment review states that online and mobile could have a revenue share of $48 billion in 2016, 55 per cent of the entire game industry.” The rising use of mobile phones for gaming might make consumers less inclined to buy dedicated handheld gaming devices, such as the Nintendo 3DS or the Playstation Vita. This could mean yet another hit for consoles.

It is also important, in this shifting landscape, to take into account the growing indie game industry, which delivers new and exciting content at a far lower price. The digital market makes the distribution of these games possible and the advent of sites like kickstarter have allowed independent studios to gain funding without investors. The spirit of creativity and innovation found in the independent game industry, as well as reasonable cost and ease of accessibility on PC, could be what finally topples the dedicated console and AAA games from their respective thrones.

Works Cited

 

Atari: Game Over . Dir. Zak Penn. Lightbox . 2014. Netflix.(Documentary)

 

Chapple, Craig. Game Industry Worth 83BN by 2016, Report Claims. Develop-Online.net. Jan, 2013. Web.

http://www.develop-online.net/news/game-industry-worth-83bn-by-2016-research-claims/0113816 (April 13th 2015)

 

Caruso, Norman. The Video Game Crash of 1983. TheGamingHistorian.com. March 24, 2011. Web. http://thegaminghistorian.com/the-gaming-historian-the-video-game-crash-of-1983/

 

Dyer-Witheford, Nick and Greig De Peuter. “Introduction: Games in the Age of Empire” In Games of Empire:

 

Katz, Annie. ‘1984: the year that shook electronic gaming’ Electronic Games Magazine. January, 1985. Web.

http://www.archive.org/stream/electronic-games-magazine-1985-01/Electronic_Games_Issue_35_Vol_03_11_1985_Jan#page/n29/mode/2up

(April 13th 2015)

 

Miller, Toby. “Gaming for Beginners.” Games and Culture 1.1 (2006): 5-12.

 

Sinclair, Brendan. “Gaming risks a repeat of 1983 crash – Report” GamesIndustry.com. OCT 2013. Web.

accessed: april 15, 2015

 

Trumen, Ted. ‘Excavating the Video-Game Industry’s Past’ TheNewYorker.com. April 29, 2014. Web.

http://www.newyorker.com/business/currency/excavating-the-video-game-industrys-past

(April 14th 2015)

Micro-Essay: Machinima and It’s Limitations

By: Sabrina Bellemare

 

 

Machinima is the use of a games computer graphics engine to create cinematic productions and other creative content. Commonly this is achieved through careful capturing, editing, and voice dubbing. This week our assigned viewing was This Spartan Life: Episode 7, and to my knowledge is a successful and quite popular example of the relatively new artform. Some Machinima, such as Red vs. Blue, which emerged from voice-dubbed Halo gameplay videos, has grown into widespread popularity, and for a time could even be viewed on netflix streaming.

My first encounter with machinima was many years ago, and took the form of short films uploaded to youtube creating using The Sims 2 game engine. They were poorly made, for the most part, but the possibilities for storytelling with a life simulator are endless, and I enjoyed seeing the creative ways people used typical gameplay and sim actions to create a cohesive, effective scene arc.

Henry Lowood says machinima is “high performance play:  as performance of technical exploits, as performance of game skills, and as public performance for an audience”. Claiming that the exercise of these three performances in tandem to create something of value helps drive all aspects of games and player experiences.  It requires a great deal of skill, creativity, and patience to create something unique despite the limitation that machinima presents. While machinima is not my personal passion, I can easily appreciate the artistry that goes into it, and that it is just another way that games relate to different forms of art.

While machinima can be a fairly limiting medium for storytelling, it is also an exceedingly convenient one for those who do not have the artistic talents, or financial backing to spread their stories otherwise. For highly visual people, who may not be so inclined to write, or read, but still enjoy storytelling, machinima is a great way to share stories and stoke the fires of creativity.

Using the graphical aesthetics of specific games will also have a greater impact on fans of those games, resulting in a more compelling experience, and a greater emotional investment in the story. the familiarity of game elements will fuel interest in many viewers, and allow them to explore their favorite games in a new way, in a new medium.

Sadly, the aesthetics of machina can also have the opposite effect. People who are not interested in video games may be immediately turned off a film or a series without really giving the content a chance. Oftentimes, the competition of ‘prettier’ animation, or live television is too great. This gap in quality is something I imagine will shrink as game engines become more sophisticated.

Part of what makes machinima a challenging new form of creation is its limitations. It’s part of the fun, finding ways to express your story with what you’re given. It’s what makes machinima all the more impressive.While I know very little about modding personally, I believe the challenge applies as well. Modding creatively allows player to refresh stale games, and have a new experience in a game that they love. Modding is in-game innovation ( Julian Kücklich). It is innovation and creation for it’s own sake.

Works Cited:

“This Spartan Life: Episode 7”

Lowood, Henry. “Real-Time Performance: Machinima and Game Studies.” iDMAa Journal. 2.1 (2013)

.Kücklich, Julian. “Precarious Playbour: Modders and the Digital Games Industry.” The Fibreculture Journal. 5. (2005).