EA chief creative director Richard Hilleman has said the great crash which nearly killed the console industry was just the shake up gaming needed.
Speaking to Gamasutra, Hilleman said the crash would be better called ‘the Atari 2600 crash’ because both computer games and arcades continued to perform well even as retailers dumped home console stock in terror.
“The 2600 crash, from my perspective, was a good example of creative destruction, and anybody who’s spent any time reading about Atari at that time recognizes that they needed some creative destruction; they clearly were not the right custodians of a great new business,” he said.
Hilleman said he believed the crash had two major effects, both of which are still felt today.
“When the business went away, it did a couple things. It scared the crap out of an entire generation of retailers. It changed the behavior of our retailers toward the way they took product, and the way that they took risk, and I think the consolidation at the top of the chart is an example of that expression and its long-term influence,” he explained.
“But the other thing that happened was it went away, and it left a hole and the hole got filled by computer games, and those computer games were really different in form,” he added.
“2600 games were, almost without exception – maybe Star Raiders being the sole exception – they were essentially 90 second arcade experiences. There was no changing of the form; there was no changing of the granularity, no changing of the expectations
“Computer games did all that innovation. And some of it was because they had writable, local media, some of it was because they were pirateable. But I think the decline and demise of the 2600 market was absolutely necessary, or actually we would’ve died as a fad.”
Console gaming would not climb out of the pit Atari had dug (and notoriously filled with copies of the utterly dire E.T.) until Nintendo bravely introduced the NES, paving the way for an almost mainstream acceptance of gaming on all platforms. Thanks for holding the torch in the interim, old school PC gamers.
Hilleman has been with EA from its earliest successes and has plenty of insight into the industry’s past and its future; the full article through the Gamasutra link above is a long but enlightening read.