Netflix and the 1980s Video Game Market

Rachel Ashcroft, Current Affairs:

But by December 1982, things had turned sour. The market was overrun with poor-quality games. Consumers regularly complained about low-budget titles with poor-quality graphics or stories that were too easy to complete. There was also an overabundance of video game consoles (the Intellivision, the ColecoVision, and so on) plus the rising threat of home computer systems such as the Apple II, which could play video games and help with homework. Atari revealed that its annual year-over-year sales increase had only been 10 percent, far less than the 50 percent it originally estimated. Wall Street investors panicked, and in 1983 Atari saw nearly half a billion dollars wiped from its value. Demand for video games plummeted. Toy manufacturer Mattel, once the third-largest video game maker, left the market entirely. Many smaller companies went bust and industry-wide losses totaled approximately $1.5 billion. The boom years of the early 1980s were officially over.

What does this retro tale of industry-wide economic bust have to do with modern-day entertainment? We can identify growing similarities with another medium which is still in its infancy: streaming video on demand (SVOD). […]

As you may have guessed, this is another entry in a popular genre — when is all this streaming video too much? is quickly becoming when are all these articles about all this streaming video too much? — but I appreciate Ashcroft’s specific take. There are more bad shows being made today than ever before, but there are more truly excellent shows, too; there is just more of everything. But similar pieces have been written for years and, while the pace of output on individual platforms may be less than it once was, the output remains relentless. I have occasionally mentioned this. Barring Ashcroft’s question of an industry-wide shift, all of us may wonder whether the world can simply bear the weight of so many more shows than anyone expected.