The nature of the games software industry continues to change. A few years ago, games were written, produced and sold by enthusiastic amateurs who gradually dropped out of the race to write better and bigger games or went on to form companies and make a comfortable living, catering for a new market.
Gradually, ‘the Big Boys’ saw the commercial potential of becoming involved in this new entertainment medium, and with mutterings about an ‘unprofessional’ industry, they began to exert a force for change. The Suits moved in.
A lot of the young companies burnt out, either because programming talent was lacking or business acumen was pitifully short. Bankruptcies and liquidation followed, and in one or two cases, it seemed as if cynical asset stripping verging on the dishonest caused the financial collapse.
“The industry is going through a weeding out process,” declaimed Industry Pundits eight or nine months ago, “it is settling down to become a mature industry largely devoid of hype; a mature industry in which release deadlines are taken seriously and hype shunned.” The feeling in some quarters was that the industry should have ‘grown up’ by the middle of this year, with the amateurs excluded and sensible, financially sound companies dominating the market and everything running smoothly. Why then, are we still waiting to see games promised over twelve months ago?
Bankruptcies and liquidations continue amongst both software houses and distributors. Very few small firms publish software — they’ve either ‘ceased trading’ or sold out to the megabuck corporations which have gathered up the independents to the corporate fold.
And in the hands of the large companies, much of the innovative, leading edge talent appears to have become diluted. Yes, some excellent games are still being released, but the race for the latest licensing deal seems to take first priority with product development taking a back seat. Could it be that some of the large companies can’t tell the difference between an excellent game and an awful one because they’re too busy talking about margins, dealer discounts, sale-or-return, cassette box size, packaging, adspend, licences, and marketing strategies and have lost sight of the product?
The industry has matured. It has become top heavy — rather like the record industry just before the punk explosion and the rise of the independent labels. Is it time for the Software Backlash yet Mum?
It seems that only Alan Sugar and Amstrad are buoyant in the home computer hardware market. Commodore have been forced to lay off staff, announcing heavy losses for the third quarter of this year yet launching the Amiga in this country at roughly the same time. Sir has apparently abandoned the flat screen technology he planned to use with his Pandora portable, and the project remains shrouded in mists of uncertainty and speculation, like the LOKI (ho ho). Acorn have gone rather quiet, too.
News about Amstrad’s plans for the Spectrum ‘Plus Two’ has just begun to leak out. The Timex plant in Dundee, one of Sir Clive’s manufacturing centres, has been given the contract to make the revamped 128K machine — which is to have the datacorder ‘glued on’ as promised by Alan Sugar at the time of the Amstrad takeover of Sinclair.
With luck, visitors to the Personal Computer World show in September should be able to catch a glimpse of the ‘new’ Spectrum, which may well sell for around £150, without any bundled goodies. Will Amstrad add a joystick port? What is going to happen to the official Amstrad software scheme under which producers of software will have to apply to Amstrad for authentication of their games’ compatibility with the Spectrum? Is the Office of Fair Trading going to make a fuss about the dominant position that Amstrad has secured for itself in the UK home computer market by taking over Sinclair? Could we see a disk drive for the new Spectrum, and if so will it use 3 inch discs?
All these questions, and more, may be answered before or at the Personal Computer World Show this Autumn. Alternatively, Amstrad may wish to continue playing its cards close to the chest and keep us all in suspense a mite longer. Either way, there’s no danger of the supply of Spectrum software drying up, and the launch of the revitalised 128K machine may actually prompt software houses to start serious work on games designed to take advantage of the extra capabilities of the new machine. The sooner the better.