In a new Gamasutra feature interview, EA chief creative director Richard Hilleman reflects on the video game crash of 1983, and explains why the industry would have died off altogether if it weren't for this catastrophic shakeup.
Hilleman, who joined EA just before the crash in 1982, says that the game industry couldn't move forward based on the precedent set by the Atari 2600, as the console and the company behind it weren't the right vanguards for a successful long-term industry.
"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," says Hilleman.
He notes that the 2600 "set expectations in people's minds" about what video games needed to be, and the industry did not have enough creative freedom to explore new types of games and products.
Once the business collapsed, it changed the way retailers treated video games, says Hilleman. Games were no longer a product to be stocked en masse, and as a result retailers now adopt a safer, more conservative approach when selling games.
"When the business went awayi¿½ It scared the crap out of an entire generation of retailers, and they were absolutely -- every single one of them knew somebody who got fired because they bought too much of 2600 stock," Hilleman said. "Actually, most of them were guys who got fired and got a new job. They all changed seats."
"So number one is, 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.
Hilleman said that the crash also gave the industry a chance to move away from small-scale arcade imitations into more complex games on the home computer.
"[The crash] left a hole, and the hole got filled by computer games, and those computer games were really different in form. 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."
The full interview with Hilleman, in which he discusses the future of EA and the game industry at large, is live now on Gamasutra.