The video game crash of 1983, was an event that shook the entire industry and almost completely halted the growth of a once booming medium. But as we all know, video games eventually recovered to become the entertainment powerhouse they currently are. However, with the industry like it is today, could history repeat itself and spawn another video game crash? Surely not, right?
One of the main factors that led to the 1983 crash, was the saturation of the video game market, with an overabundance of home consoles and video games themselves—almost all of them subpar in quality. The reason for this was the fact that at this point in time, anyone could make a game and put it on the market, with no proper control to keep things in check or up to a standard of any sort. Now does any of this sound familiar? Steam is currently the biggest seller of digital games, yet, I’m sure you’ve heard plenty about the platform’s lack of quality control, in regards to its indie developers and especially the Steam Greenlight portion of the site. Getting a game on Steam is nowadays no bigger a deal than publishing a game to a free flash website. In the eyes of many, Steam is a very respectable and reliable platform, so to see it peddle such crap, is worrying, to say the least. These bits of shoddy ‘entertainment’ are speedily diluting Steam’s slew of recently released games, clouding the spotlight of titles that are deserved of the attention.
Basically, anyone with a computer can make a game and put it on Steam, provided they’re at least somewhat lucky. Just imagine if any dullard’s student film or crummy home video, could get a feature at every AMC theatre in the world; that’s pretty much the situation going on with gaming’s largest digital provider. And this is something that could really crash something, not the entire games industry, perhaps the goodwill of indies or even Steam itself, something that will impact the entire industry.
The reason why flocks of contracted developers left their companies in 1983, was not only because of the lack of credit they received, but it was also due to the terrible working conditions they had t0 endure: long hours, unfair periods for the completion of projects, a lack of support, etc. And this is something that still persists within the modern gaming industry. You don’t have to open many research tabs to find horror stories of developers in terrible situations, overworked and in a perpetual state of crunch time. This is true at just about every large game publisher, EA as coming first to mind. Middling developers are still living through the same crappy issues as programmers from the 80s. If anything happens to suddenly kick things into motion, developers might once again leave these companies and use their talents elsewhere. Even a large-scale strike from creators within the industry, could bring the entire machine to a grinding stop, halting all progress on games that would be in-development at the time.
The current topical movement, ‘Performance Matters,’ is just a symptom of a problem that stretches far worse into the offices of game studios around the world, especially in the United States.
There’s also another issue in the industry at the moment, and it’s simply that things aren’t going as well as triple-A companies would’ve wanted. To the public’s knowledge, recent sequel titles like Dishonored 2, Titanfall 2, Watch_Dogs 2, and Call Of Duty: Infinite Warfare, have all been commercial failures. While these might just be bad patches in gaming, burnout could be a thing currently taking place in these games’ genres. People might just be getting sick of open-world games that don’t offer much new, or shooters that seem to be borrowing from the same sci-fi elements. Furthermore, other than games alone, new hardware has also seen a disappointing amount of sales, with the PlayStation VR’s sales forecast going from 2.6 million units, all the way down to less than 750,000 before year’s end.
The video game industry will not crash, at least, not in the way it did in 1983. I’ve provided a good amount of points for why it might, but the idea of these things actually spurring a crash before a positive systemic change, isn’t exactly a good way to look at the whole picture. Video games will not crash, for the same reason there will probably not be a World War 3: there’s too much at stake. Games are an industry, that if collapses on the scale as before, will have absolutely devastating consequences. And with so many smart folks in the world and in gaming, I doubt that’ll happen anytime soon. If anything, all the aforementioned points I made, will lead to smaller ‘crashes,’ perhaps slumping indie games for a few years or slowing the release of high-budget blockbuster games. But no matter what, gaming will continue to survive.