Just a few days ago, the GDC retrospective “The History of GDC”, was posted on YouTube.
Steve Meretzky, one of our “Doctors,” leads off that video with the story of his hand-modified badge proclaiming “make me an offer” as he hit the very first GDC in search of a new gig. In the spirt of this, I was inspired to look back to my first professional year in this industry to which I have dedicated two-thirds of my life. Note that Steve also did a Game On video last year talking about what it was like making video games in the ’80s, for those of you who might be interested in such things.
In any case, lets set the way-back machine to 1988…
NES was the dominant console in the US, and some of the top IPs were Zelda, Mega Man, Ninja Gaiden, and RC Pro-Am. Coin op was still a thing. A big thing. In fact, ’88 was known as a rebound year for video games because stand-up arcade games racked in about $6 billion after dropping to less than $4 billion in 1985-87. CES was THE conference (twice a year, once in summer and once in winter). Home video games sales were over $1 billion this year, but “experts” predicted that the industry was going to peak at $3b by the end of ’89 because, you know, games were for kids and there aren’t that many kids.
In an article from the LA times in June of 1988, Michael Katz (President of Atari) was quoted as believing that the industry would shrink to only $400 million in just a few years. On the other hand, newcomer to the industry, Epyx Chairman David Morse was quite bullish on the future of this niche industry and was quoted as saying “Video games are just as big a part of teen-age entertainment as records, or tapes or going to McDonald’s.” I know that was the case for me.
LAN parties were the bomb, right?
90%+ of the market was male, but the industry was already looking to bridge the genre gap, though it would take another decade to make any serious headway on that challenge. As the NES brought arcade-quality gameplay to your living room TV and arcade revenue shrinking to under $2 billion by 1991, the “arcade” days were coming to an end. Video games were becoming more and more a part of our life at home. Arcade rats turned into hard-core gamers, fed by partly the rise of consoles but also the enormous gaming potential of home PC’s. In that growing PC games arena, SSI was already making killer RPG’s, Sim City was right around the corner, Wing Commander to follow soon after, and then Dune II, Myst, and Doom all in just 5 years.
I didn’t make it to GDC in 1988. I was just starting out, and honestly, I didn’t even know GDC was a thing. Of course, I would attend the conference as an attendee, exhibitor, speaker, and even organizer more than 20 times in the years since.
I guess that brings us back to the present.
Today, arcades are all but extinct, but…
The global video games business exceeded $152 billion dollars in 2019. 70% of gamers are over 18 years old, and 63% of them are female. About 60% of us regularly get our video games fix on an astoundingly futuristic device that is much more powerful than my first gaming PC, is nearly always connected to a a high-speed, wireless data connection, and is carried about in our pockets and even makes phone calls, too! I’m in awe of how we have used technology to connect, engage, and entertain players around the world. Imagine our industry recap in 2030, 2040, or 2050!
Unfortunately, for all those amazing accomplishments nothing could prevent our long-standing gathering at Moscone Center in San Francisco from becoming a casualty as COVID-19 swept the globe. For the first time in decades, I wasn’t able to attend in person. As with most of our work during this pandemic, GDC Summer 2020 took place as a fully “virtual” conference. As enjoyable, informative, and productive as it was, for me, it couldn’t fully replace the sense of community and camaraderie of an in-person gathering. Maybe you feel that way too, or maybe I’m just old…
I sure missed everyone in 2020, and I hope see you, in the real world, in 2021.