We’re Slowly Heading Towards Another Video Game Crash
The great North American Video Game Crash is a rather pivotal part of the industry we all know and love today. It forced the creation of some pretty important policies and publishing, most of which still exist today. But I’m getting ahead of myself here. What was the Great Video Game Crash? What led the entire industry to grind to a halt in the short space of two years? And, more importantly, what are the odds of it happening again in the near future?
The year was 1983. The gaming industry was experiencing a boom, one helped by arcades and massive companies such as Atari. In fact, the world was in a perpetual boom at the time. And by the world, I of course mean America. Stock markets, Hollywood, fast food, it was all coming together for the biggest superpower in the world at the time, but unlike the Great Depression there was no cliff in sight. Sadly, the Video Game Industry didn’t get this memo, and in the short space of two years experienced a monumental crash. Between 1983 and 1985, the Video Game industry plummeted from a massive (at the time) $3.3 billion to just $100 million. If you’re lazy and don’t want to do the math, then join the club. Suffice to say, it was a pretty massive loss felt by a lot of guys in suits with some fairly deep, and now empty, pockets.
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There were several reasons for this sudden plummet, most of which could have been avoided had anyone actually stopped swimming in their pools of Benjamins and actually opened their eyes. The market was over-saturated with consoles, to the point where even the most avid gamer would have a tough time keeping up. We currently only have three major consoles, along with a few smaller ones such as the Ouya. Back then, the number of consoles on offer were well into the teens, and along with them came piles of first-party titles to try and sell the damn things. All of the consoles had massive third-party libraries too, which is almost impossible to try and imagine. And therein lies the second, and probably biggest, reason for the entire crash. There were far too many games, and a large percentage of them were just copying the guy on their left, or the guy on their right.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what happened next. Companies started pumping out game after game after game, with each iteration feeling more and more familiar to another. Consumers were done with it, and quickly began losing faith in developers. Studio doors were closed, entire corporations were brought to their knees and the best and brightest began working on solutions. Hell, Activision was born because of this crash, and it’s still setting the benchmark (although questionable) for other publishers to follow. The question I ask now is fairly simple; how familiar does all of this sound? Are we possibly heading in the same direction?
No seriously, think about it for more than a second before completely dismissing my admittedly bold claim. We’re at a stage now where we’ve entered a new generation of consoles. The main players are still around; Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo are still the three kings atop the console market, with smaller competitors sprouting out from underneath the cracks. Now, on top of all that, we have Steam Machines. New, PC based “console” experiences meant for the living room. PCs that are aimed to compete with the console market that dominates the share of gamers around the world. And just last week 14 brand new ones were announced. Again, fourteen.
Just yesterday Valve announced that there are plans to bring exclusive experiences to SteamOS, the operating system behind all these fancy new living room PC/Console hybrids. So already we’re seeing a new first-party market emerging. Not only that, but third-party titles haven’t exactly been in the best of shape recently, with a slew of indistinguishable shooters consistently claiming top sales spots year after year after year. It’s setting a trend that AAA development seems to be adopting at an alarming rate, with publishers following the money rather than more ambitious, unique offerings. Again, sounds a lot like hundreds of studios trying to cash in on what is selling by making something just slightly different. Just like they did ’em in 1983.
Granted, there are different factors at play here. Certain policies that originated from the 1985 Crash still have their say in the industry today, controlling quality, plagiarism and even the number of releases a studio can deliver in a calendar year. On top of that, we have a far bigger and more prominent indie scene that continually delivers on promises that AAA studios fail to, more frequently. These two factors alone could explain why a crash hasn’t yet happened, despite the symptoms having been around for a few years already. And again well done to both Sony and Microsoft for actually realising that this is a market, which will most probably save their asses in a year or two. It’s a not so risky gamble that could see them completely side step the real crash that is bound to happen eventually, making way for the most prominent indie developers to take the places of the AAA giants.
Because that’s where a crash, if any, will probably take place. The signs are all there already, starting with the closure of many development houses just over the space of last year, and ending with top executives even selling their own company’s shares (yes EA, I’m looking at you). The entire thing reeks of a slow and steady meltdown that is reaching super nova before being completely snuffed out.
But then again, what the hell do I know? I’m just someone on the other side of a monitor, hacking away at a keyboard and throwing wild accusations in the air. It’s not like I’m in the thick of it, sitting behind a desk with a cigar in one hand and a whiskey in the other, not caring about the future but rather how much money I can squeeze out of a suffering industry tomorrow. Hell just look at the statistics. Just over $93 billion in 2013, a good $15 billion increase from the year before, there’s no way all of that can disappear in a year or two. When has that ever happened?
And hell, if it starts showing, let’s just blame piracy. And then something else next week.