The video game industry is bouncing along with a level of vigor it hasn’t seen since the day the business was born. It is, however, human nature to look at a healthy animal and wonder about the possibilities of plague and death. So we talk a great deal about the Video Game Industry Crash of ’83 (Or Thereabouts), and wonder if it can happen again.
In fact, some of us insist it will happen again, and when you take a quick glance at the industry as it exists today, it’s not hard to understand why the sentiment persists. By 1983, the games industry was a jumble of consoles and shovelware, and currently, the industry boasts a pretty shameful pile of shovelware itself. More importantly, the pastime of gaming is becoming more and more fragmented, thanks to consoles, PCs, social gaming, iOS gaming, Android gaming, handheld systems, etc. Navigating the industry can be so cumbersome, so overwhelming, that it seems like a crash is inevitable. And then, we theorize, we can rebuild from the ashes.
Realistically, the industry isn’t headed for a crash, certainly not one of ’83’s proportions.
For starters, contrary to legend, the Crash of ’83 did not incinerate every corner of the pastime’s real estate. The event centered mainly on the United States, where a flood of terrible games and under-supported consoles did in fact cause consumers to lose confidence in Atari. But computer games actually rose in popularity (in fact, the advent of the affordable family computer did a lot of damage to the console market), and arcade cabinets survived. In parts of the world where console penetration was never extreme to begin with–the UK, for instance–the Crash was almost a non-event.
Pessimists might point at the shelves of the average EB Games and say, “Look at all this garbage! So much shovelware! The industry simply must suffocate under the weight of it all!”
It’s true; there’s a lot of garbage out there. The Wii’s long-term success was arguably hindered by its reputation for sub-par releases. Even so, there’s still a long, long drop before we reach the darkest months of the Atari 2600, when Kool-Aid and Purina used the blueprints from previously-published games to produce interactive advertisements for dog food and sugary drinks. In fact, the 2011 holiday season stands to be the healthiest months the retail side of the industry has experienced in ages: with Skyrim, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, Battlefield 3, Modern Warfare 3, Super Mario 3D Land and many other games currently on the shelves (woe to our pocketbooks), it’s evident that the games industry is still producing quality fare for kids and adults alike. Sales of Skyrim surpassed 3.4 million units in two days.
“But what about all the App Store?” the loudest speakers online and off often ask. “It’s a cesspool.”
Indeed, the App Store’s flood of cheap games for the iOS is a bit trickier to navigate: iOS game development is cheaper and more independent than console game development, which is the platform’s blessing and curse. There are a bunch of terrible games on the App Store, but there are also a lot of young developers with neat new ideas that wouldn’t be possible to carry out on a console.
As it stands, the industry’s fragmentation is part of what makes a complete crash highly unlikely. If people get fed up with bad iOS games, bad console games, or bad social games, then that particular branch might collapse and subsequently be reborn.
That very event may happen to social games, a genre that’s getting a bit crowded thanks to “Me Too” publishers aping Zynga’s most successful ideas. But with the cull will come a rebirth of the genre. As the history of the entire games industry proves, a good idea rarely dies for good.
Enjoy your games. They’re not going anywhere.