How The Mighty Have Fallen!
Updated: Feb 7
Hey there everyone, Captain Pain here. I hope that you all have been enjoying all the game console talk from us here at the HBCL. Today I’m going to talk about a company that once was a big name in the video game industry, Atari. Yeah, I know that these days they are mostly known for putting out crappy systems, badly programmed games, and some people even blame them for the video game crash in the US. Well, let’s talk about two of their early consoles, the Atari 2600, and the 5200.
The Atari 2600 made its debut in the US back in 1977, yes most of us probably weren’t even sperm yet. It was priced at $199, and it came with two controllers and a game. This system was redesigned over the years and was finally discontinued in 1992. So how did this system become so popular, and last for so long?
Well, one thing was, the Atari was able to port arcade games onto the 2600, and make most of them look and/or feel like the actual arcade game. Now, don’t get me wrong, arcade and console games didn’t have the best graphics and sound quality, but it was good at that time, and it was a big deal to be able to play Space Invaders at home. Also, the 2600 had a great lineup of games. With games like Frogger, Breakout, Missile Command, Pitfall!, and Asteroids help Atari sell around 30 million 2600 consoles over it’s lifetime. With new technology coming out, it only made sense for Atari to come out with a new system. What could possibly go wrong?
Enter the Atari 5200, the system that was supposed to replace the 2600, but failed horribly. How could this system that had better graphics and better sound quality than the 2600 go so wrong? Well for starters, Atari shot themselves in the foot releasing the 5200 with the price tag of $269 in 1982. So that would be like Sony or Microsoft releasing their next generation systems at $650 or more these days. That price tag, scared off a lot of potential buyers. They next things that turned people off, was that the 5200 did not have backwards compatibility, yes even back in the day that was a big deal. People loved the 2600, and the thought of not being able to play 2600 games on the 5200 turned many people off, and having them stick with the 2600. Those who did end up buying the 5200, ran into the worst thing that a gamer wants to ever deal with, non working controllers. The 2600 controllers were just a joystick and a button. The 5200 had either a joystick or a knob, side buttons, and a number keypad, that games came with a layover the would go over the keypad to show you what buttons would work for each game. While the 2600 controllers were simple, they worked. The 5200’s on the other hand was complex, and didn’t work. The joystick or knob didn’t respond correctly, the side buttons hardly ever worked, and those layovers would get lost, making the keypad useless. Because of this, the Atari sold only one million units of the 5200. By 1984, not even a full two years after the 5200 was released, Atari discontinued the 5200, foucused on the 2600, and started working on the 7800, that was released two years later. They were doing this during the video game crash that took place in 1983.
So what really caused the crash? Most people think that the Pacman and the E.T blunders were the caused of of the crash. Yeah those two things did play a part in it, but there was so much more that went on that caused the crash that no one seems to never talk about. So I’m going to give a quick run-through of what happened.
OK, so with the Pacman thing, that was the hottest arcade game at the time, and Atari wanted to cash in on that as quickly as possible. So they created a extremely tight deadline to get the game done and out. The game developers made a demo just to show the higher ups what progress they have made. It looked like crap, and was nowhere near finished. So what did the higher ups do? Well they slapped this garbage on a cartridge, glued a Pacman label on it, and shipped it out for sale. Well that didn’t go over well with customers as you can imagine. This lead to lots of returns to the stores.
The E.T games dealt with a similar situation. With the home release of the movie only weeks away, Atari wanted to have their game come out at the same time. So once again, the developers had a tight deadline to complete this game in time to come out at the same time of the movie. What we got was a game that many people described as unplayable, where you spend most of the game falling into holes, and trying to outrun the feds. Once again, this angered customers, and many copies of the games begin returned to stores.
One of the biggest causes of the game crash, was that the game industry was not set up, and regulated how it is today. During that time period, it was the wild west. Not only were there a bunch of home consoles out, everyone and there mother was making games. And yes, I do mean everyone. Hell, if you brought two 20 pound bags of dog food, and sent the the proof of purchase, they would send you a video game for a system of your choice, that they created. Some home consoles were so bad, that they came out with expansion ports so that you could play Atari 2600 games on them. Could you imagine the lawsuit that would take place today if one of the big three came out with something that would allow you to play one or both of their competitors games on their system?
So with so many third party games out there, and not enough self space in game stores, many games were hitting bargain bins way before they had a chance to make money. Now add all the Pacman and E.T returns, now that even less self space, more games hitting bargain bins early, and less money that was going around. This caused many game companies to either close, or to just pull out of the gaming business altogether, and focus on what was making them money, like selling dog food. All of this lead to the game crash. So, if you ever wondered why in October of 1985 when the Nintendo Entertainment System hit the US market why they had so many strict rules and regulations, it’s because they didn’t want another crash to happen. Alright that’s enough history for today. Until next time everyone!
Captain Pain approves this post!!!