The biggest game in the world at that time was Pac-Man. First hitting arcades in 1980, it became a phenomena.
At the time, the rules were simple -- you wanted a game similar to what everyone was playing, but you didn't have the money to buy the rights. So you simply made your own. Home game systems would come up with Space Invaders clones or Galaxian clones or whatever so that people would buy their systems and play their favorites at home. Arcade companies did the same thing, coming up with their own games to get people to drop quarters in their machines. Usually, they would do it with a twist or two, putting their own spin on things. Maze games were no exception. Ladybug and Lock And Chase gave players the option to alter the maze for protection. Oil's Well tethered your character and made him vulnerable to attacks the further extended he got. I don't remember the title, but it was a giant maze with a window over it that magnified the section you were in. Make Trax simply reversed the Pac-Man formula, putting down objects instead of picking them up. I played them all. It was just awesome.
Pac-Man was made by Namco. Atari negotiated with Namco and, for a hefty fee, secured the exclusive home rights to make Pac-Man games ( a situation Todd Frye, the coder behind the 2600 version of Pac-Man, took full advantage of and started acting like a dick -- he reportedly would photocopy his royalty check stubs and put them outside his office so everyone could see how much he money he was making. But that's for another column). In 1981, Ralph Baer over at Magnavox started making a Pac-Man clone for their home game system, the Odyssey 2. It was called KC Munchkin, and followed the rules. There were only twelve dots, but they moved around the maze and picked up speed as fewer were left, so you couldn't chase them, you had to intercept them. The maze had a rotating monster pen that players sometimes had to enter to gain access to other walled off portions of the maze. You could even design your own. I loved it. I was insanely jealous of my cousins when they got the game.
Atari's Pac-Man saw its thunder being stolen by this game on the competition -- a superior game, I might add. Ask anyone to try 2600 Pac-Man and KC Munchkin and no one will side with Frye's creation. Atari sued Magnavox, saying the game violated the exclusive arrangement they had with Namco. At first, they didn't do it. But on appeal, in 1982, KC Munchkin was ruled to violate Atari and was pulled from the market, spelling doom for the Odyssey 2.
That was when it changed. Games were no longer a friendly (if heated) rivalry and competition between creative types anymore. There were now people with money and legal muscle looking to shove others around. Companies were looking to control the market instead of appealing to the tastes of consumers. Atari became more known for this than creating great games (the 5200 controllers were designed that way just to get more patents). It was their screaming about licensing and exclusive rights that made Nintendo scrap the deal to let Atari make and market the Nintendo Entertainment System in the US and do it themselves, destroying a once-great company. Atari pretty much ignored that they did rip-offs themselves. Arabian is just a twist on Bagman. Kangaroo was a Donkey Kong rip-off. But hey, they were a major player. They were competing, not cashing in. There's a difference.
As I've said, I believe the world is governed by up and down, ruling class versus working class, those who have made it versus those who haven't. It continues to this day. EA saw 2KGames was advancing in creating their NFL football games, and their innovation could eventually overtake them. EA promptly paid the NFL a sack of loot for the exclusive right to make NFL football video games. Now, Madden is the only game in town, anyone else needs to use made up teams, and no one wants that, they want the teams they watch and cheer for.
The biggest bugaboo for game companies is letting people try the games before they buy them. Nintendo tried to sue Blockbuster over renting NES games (they lost, the court ruled that only the instruction manuals couldn't be rented out, so Blockbuster simple rented the games without them). There have been periodic attempts to shut down the used game resellers like GameSpot and such. A new front has opened with software publishers for the first time stopping a person from reselling office software on eBay. This is the reason for the push for Steam and app stores and downloadables -- they get locked to a machine, they can't be resold. And, if the person suddenly decides the software wasn't worth it, they have no recourse. They can't get their money back or resell them.
This is the difference between game designers like myself and The Bigs. Cloudburst and Lightning Strike I specifically want people to put on every machine they own if they so choose instead of paying five times over for the same game or paying again if they change their hard drives or motherboards. The Bigs have no problem with getting every last penny they can. I make games people want to play. They make things people want to buy. There is a very definite difference in the art form as it is now versus how games were back then. This is why casual games are such a hit -- they are games, not tech demos that are ultimately a passive experience.
I get the new Electronic Gaming Monthly, and one of the editorial columns comes out against used game sales. Okay. That's their opinion. I don't care. But when I read his logic, I started getting angry. He compared used game sales to legalized piracy, since people were not buying a brand new game, skewing sales results and making it harder for companies to make up their production budgets.
So, in other words, if you spend a lot of money, you have the right to make that money back. Uh...that's not how the free market works.
First of all, games pull in a lot of money already. The fact that they sell for $60 each is proof. I won't deny there is piracy, but blaming people who think a game is worth $40 instead of $60 is not the right answer. If you tell them they can't buy it cheaper, they will either wait until the game goes in the discount bin or simply do without. Assuming, of course, that economics are the problem and not timing. I raid used game shops to get titles I missed when they were first released.
This is just another attempt to control the market, that consumers exist to prop up the companies, not a mutual agreement of buying and supporting things that are good. It's, "We put this out for you to buy, you will buy it now, not later." It's about controlling what people have access to, what they can choose, and when they can. And if you don't want to fall behind, you better do it now. And don't even think about sharing.
There's a movement out there with books where people will just leave a book somewhere, like a bench or something. Inside is a note that whoever finds the book, it is a gift to them to do what they want with it. They can leave it somewhere else, they can keep it, just help it find someone who will appreciate it. I've been getting rid of some of my dead weight comics by simply slipping them into a kid's backpack or someone's shopping bag when they aren't looking instead of just throwing them out. It's a shared experience. It's culture. It's not intended to be an exclusive club. And video games are trying to be just the opposite.
If everyone is getting this antsy, the industry is in bigger trouble than I thought. A lot of major houses have closed down or collapsed. I hope this isn't circling the wagons. I would hate to see this art form I love die. But the biggest enemy is the artists themselves, and they simply can't be gotten rid of.