The Video Game Crash of 1983

By Deane Barker on March 2, 2005

Video game crash of 1983: Here’s a good Wikipedia article about an event I was only vaguely aware of.

The video game crash of 1983 refers to the sudden bankruptcy of a number of companies producing home computers and video game consoles in North America in late 1983. The term “shakeout” would be a more accurate description of what happened, but because of its sudden and unexpected nature the term “crash” has held.

Apparently, the crash started with the Atari 2600 versions of Pacman and E.T., which I remember were very, very bad. The latter even has its own Wikipedia page:

Video game fans and historians note this game as the biggest flop in home computer game history.

[…] The problem was not the skill of the programmer; the problem was the unreasonably short deadline — a mere eight weeks, when most games needed more than twice that — in order to make the Christmas sales season. Regardless, [the programmer] had confidence in his creation, ironically introducing it to Spielberg as “the game that would make the movie famous”.

Twice that? So, sixteen weeks, then, from start to finish? That would have been an acceptable timeframe?

Funny story about this game —

I was playing it one day on the living floor of my house in Pinole, California. I was the tender age of 12. E.T. had fallen into a pit, and then he walked over to bring the flower back to life. Amazingly, the instant E.T. touched it, the flower turned into a Yar from Yar’s Revenge and flew away!

I sat there in stunned silence for about five minutes, trying to figure out if that had really happened. I ran and told my brother and my friends, but no one believed me. They all crowded around me while I tried to replicate the event. Alas, I could not. I was mercilessly ridiculed and slightly scarred for life.

A few weeks ago, I stumbled across Once Upon Atari, a Web site in support of a video series about the early days of Atari. The video series was authored by Howard Scott Warshaw, who wrote Raiders of the Lost Ark (loved that game), E.T., and…Yar’s Revenge. I knew I was about to be vindicated.

I wrote Warshaw, and he responded:

You definitely DID find a Yar. There are several signatures in E.T., here’s how you can find them if you want.

Notice first that each of the phone pieces is actually and ‘H’, and ‘S’ or a ‘W’ :)

When you first start the game, go around and collect exactly 7 Reeces Pieces and give them to Elliott. Now go find the ‘H’ phone piece. If Elliott has exactly 7 Reeces Pieces and you are holding the ‘H’ phone piece when you heal the flower, then it will turn into a Yar and fly out of the pit.

Yes, folks, I had found my first Easter Egg.

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  1. Ah, Raiders. I picked that cart up about a year ago from a coworker for $1.

    My parents and I sat for hours in front of the tube trying to solve this one back in the day. I remember something about having to hook your parachute on a little tree limb at high noon after jumping off a cliff, and you end up in the Ark room. That and some glitch in the game that let you “dig” your way out of the jail cell after ramming Indie’s head into the wall for about an hour. And tse-tse flies. They sucked.

    Yar’s revenge kicked butt. Mine came with a comic about houseflies mutating into Yars. I still have that one, too.

    Good times…

  2. The video game crash of 1983 was caused by bad 3rd party games as well as 1st party games (Atari). Nintendo brought back the video games with the Nintendo Entertainment system.

    My comment is this: i just played pac-man for the Atari 2600, then i played the 5200 version, if you had to choose, which one would you rather play.

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