Better Days

Volume #1 Issue 4 October 1987

I have noticed something developing within our community over the last few months. There seems to be a growing sense of security on the part of developers and publishers. It seems that the history of our little industry can be divided into phases characterized by moods. There was the pioneering phase from 1979-81. The dominant mentality then was that of the prophet. People in the industry in those days didn’t care much that computer games didn’t sell very well and weren’t very good. There was intense excitement over the potential of games even if the reality was less grandiose. Computer games were going to conquer the world. They were going to be fabulous, glorious, magnificent. Hollywood had better watch out, we told ourselves. Here we come.

Then came the boom of 1982-83. People were buying games faster than we could make them, and they didn’t seem to care whether the games were any good. If it was new, they plunked down their $40. We went into a gold-rush craze. Publishers were scrabbling for any jerk who could rub two bytes together. Coding speed was the primary qualification of a good designer back then. If you could get the game out in eight weeks, you were hot. Money was being made by the fistful, and everybody wanted in on the action. Opportunists flooded into the field.

Next came the inevitable bust of 1984-85. Basically, almost everybody died. The better-run companies stayed in business. Most of the opportunists departed to pursue other scams. Only the truly determined designers stayed on. The mood in those days was one of desperation and disbelief. "It can’t keep getting worse!" we told ourselves, but it did. Survival was the foremost consideration in everybody’s mind.

Now we appear to have moved into a new phase. 1986 was a decent year, not great, but nobody starved. 1987 appears to have been a great year, and attitudes seem to be changing. After the desperate years of the bust, most people are finally developing a sense of optimism again.

I sense in our community a greatly compressed version of the experience of my parents’s generation. The Depression shattered confidence in the future and instilled a deep fiscal conservatism in everybody. That conservatism remained with people through the Forties and Fifties. It took the go-go Sixties to shake the black cloud of fiscal pessimism from the community. Our experiences in the last five years distantly parallel the five decades of our parents’ time. First a boom, then a devastating collapse engendering deep pessimism. Now, after several years of recovery, we are just beginning to look to the future with some confidence and, perhaps, even optimism. I doubt that we will ever be able to look forward with the same naive opportunism that once dominated our world-view. But I think that there is once again room in our industry for some idealism, and for that I heave a great sigh of relief. A creative field without optimism is a dying field.

So let’s take a moment to pat ourselves on the back. We deserve it we done good this year. Especially after the tough times of the last few years, it feels good to be alive and well again.

But most important, I hope that we can rekindle the outlandishness, the risk-taking that once animated our efforts. Granted, we’re not the same rumpled crew that started this revolution ten years ago. We’re a big industry now, with millions of dollars of other people’s money riding on our decisions. Yet we must never forget that we are in the entertainment business, and creativity is the lifeblood of our industry. For the last few years we have been coasting on old creativity, too scared and too poor to take chances on new ideas. Now the market is secure enough to support some bold leaps. Who among us is up to the task?