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The Video Game Crash of 1983 is well known for the effect that it had on the video game console market in North America. A prime example is Atari burying thousands of unsold game cartridges in landfill. However the effect on other global markets is not as obvious to me.

What effect, if any, did the 1983 crash have on other game console markets, such as Asia, Europe, and South America?

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – wizzwizz4
    Feb 8, 2019 at 18:10
  • Do you specifically mean "consoles", or any kind of video game hardware (i.e. home computers)? Feb 11, 2019 at 8:55
  • "Consoles" in the first instance, but as the effects could extend to home computers, answers should be able to as well. For a made-up example: the withdrawal of console manufacturers from a market could have encouraged start-ups to make home computers instead.
    – Kaz
    Feb 11, 2019 at 10:12

4 Answers 4

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A prime example is Atari burying thousands of unsold game cartridges in landfill.

Well, that may have had its source with hubris over overestimated sales numbers (and licensing fees), in combination with less than desirable conversions regarding quality (Pac-Man) or story (Raiders of the Lost Ark) or combinations of both (ET).

However the effect on other global markets is not as obvious to me.

As there was next to none.

What effect, if any, did the 1983 crash have on other game console markets, such as Asia, Europe, and South America?

In Europe (*1) video consoles weren't as much hyped as in the US, and the market was far from saturation. In addition, US manufacturers didn't hold a major stake. European manufactured systems like Saba Videoplay, Philips G7000 or Interton VC4000 covered most of the market. Unlike US manufacturers as Atari or Coleco or Mattel, who tried to establish their systems as brands on their own, European systems were sold (in addition) under many brands (*2), usually by TV manufacturers who often adapted them to the feature interfaces of their TV sets (*3) or were even built into a TV set. Still, games could be exchanged, thus supplying all these 'different' systems with a reasonable game base to support purchase.

The transition to home computers, after 1980, happened in Europe well before market saturation, resulting in a smooth 'hand over', making already good home computer sales, when distributors in the US still tried to push ever more video games. It also enabled European companies like Thomson, Amstrad, Sinclair or Philips to establish major market shares.

The US downturn also had a major influence on dependencies of US companies (Atari, Commodore) by giving them a greater say in product development and support, as they became (for some time) the sole source of reliable income.

In Japan the situation developed mostly similarly, as here again the video game market was mostly supplied by local manufacturers and a smooth transition to early home computers happened without creating a bubble first.


*1 - Western Europe, at this time.

*2 - The Interton system gives a great example for this strategy in Europe

*3 - Usually also resulting in better picture and sound quality.

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The very same article you link says in German Wikipedia (rough translation):

At the time of the North American crash the European market was strongly dominated by games for home computers, thus the crash had next to no consequences.

My memory completely agrees with that - There was no such thing as a Video Game (console) hype, so as such nothing that could crash - There was a home computer hype instead.

I was really surprised there actually is such an entry at all on German Wikipedia.

I do remember a very short (and small) wave of simple fixed-program "tennis/squash" video games consoles at the end of the '70s, but consoles like Atari VCS, Coleco, Mattel, Vectrex (if you consider that a Game Console) and even Philips/Magnavox (which was somehow European) never really got a foothold in European market in the '80s. Too expensive, too limited (to gaming), I guess. The home computer market, instead, was a real hype, starting with Sinclair computers in the early 1980s, and followed by Thomson, Acorn, and other European makers, later Commodore and Atari. As there was no console game bubble in Europe, no one heard it go bust.

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    The article also clearly says "European market" - As far as I know, UK is still Europe (even if this might be disputable as well)
    – tofro
    Feb 7, 2019 at 21:56
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    Tofro: Bloody Americanos, just taking over your language :)) But then again, why not adding a paragraph to the English page? After all, the UK was a leading force in the early 80s when it came to independant European developments.
    – Raffzahn
    Feb 7, 2019 at 21:57
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    @tofro home computers are completely relevant because they're what most of Europe played video games on. And the crash in hardware therefore led to a period of relative stagnation in Europe when it came to the technology that games could take advantage of.
    – Muzer
    Feb 8, 2019 at 13:39
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    @tofro my point is that since the video game market as a whole was so tied to home computers during this time period in Europe, anything that was happening with home computers is relevant to the game console market. If people have powerful and cheap home computers with plentiful games for instance they're not going to buy a games console, but if their computer starts to look a bit long in the tooth and consoles are cheaper now (as happened later on) consoles are going to look more attractive.
    – Muzer
    Feb 8, 2019 at 13:45
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    @tofro I was certainly under the impression that the Super Nintendo and Mega Drive in the early 90s were the first consoles to find significant success in Europe. Computer gaming was still important of course but my feeling has always been that this is when consoles really started to eat away at the market share. And certainly I remember lots of people having a PlayStation or later a PS2.
    – Muzer
    Feb 8, 2019 at 13:59
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The Master System was the first really successful console in Europe; this was quite a while after 1983. Prior to that, video gaming was almost exclusively performed on home computers.

Prior to 1983 the big names in Europe were luminaries such as Sinclair, Commodore, Acorn and Thomson. All of those companies survived into 1984, and the market even grew from there — that's when Amstrad/Schneider launched the last of the really successful 8-bit computers.

If anything, 1982 and 1983 were boom years; Amstrad may have been a chronological outlier in achieving success but they were far from being an outlier in terms of launch date. Of the notable not-quites, the same period contains the Oric, which went on to a successful second-life in France as a decent budget micro with RGB SCART support; and the Enterprise which was a noble but late attempt at the same segment as Amstrad won of a perfected 8-bit. Less notable ones include the Memotech, the Tatung Einstein and the Camputers Lynx.

Further evidence can be found in the software houses: Rare and Argonaut were founded in 1982; Reflections and Rockstar North were founded in 1984.

So: existing companies survived, and capital continued to be available for new ventures.

One of the ironies of the whole period is that by the late '80s, the surviving American manufacturers — primarily Commodore and Atari — were primarily successful only in Europe. Commodore Europe outlived its parent, and it's no coincidence that the first post-Commodore owner of the Amiga IP was Escom, the German PC manufacturer. Initial shipments of the Atari Lynx and Jaguar both sold out in Europe, based on the reputation of the ST a few years earlier..Of the big five platforms for games as the '90s approached — the Spectrum, C64, CPC, ST and Amiga — three were American machines.

So: Europe saw no ill effects from the crash, even though it would be inaccurate to call it a freestanding ecosystem.

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    Crikey! I thought I knew of the majority of 80's 8-bit home computers but I have never heard of a Camputers Lynx, or a Mnemotech for that matter.
    – user19862
    Jun 14, 2022 at 10:13
  • @user19862 well, it's actually a Memotech, clearly I was having a bad typing day. But the Lynx is cool — they used a 6845 CRTC but connected the cursor output as an interrupt signal, so you can set a raster interrupt to occur at any location on the visible screen. Sadly the machine got no real software support whatsoever though.
    – Tommy
    Jun 14, 2022 at 14:39
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    This answer touches on something that paralleled the US console crash but was, I think, unique to Western Europe in 1983~85: a home computer crash. There were multiple vendors pitching systems through 1983 and 1984, but many of these either failed to reach market, or failed to gain sufficient sales after launching, as the market had matured and buyers looked for machines with large software catalogues rather than good technical features. The UK in particular had a string of startups making 8-bit micros, including Camputers and Enterprise (or Elan fame).
    – KrisW
    Jun 15, 2022 at 10:21
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The German market for video games and pinball machines had another crash at roughly the same time. From 1983 on, youth protection laws restricted those machines to locations where youth under age 18 had no admission.

That pretty much killed all the video games in public places and pushed the sales of home video game consoles and especially the Commodore C64 and Amiga computers.

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  • These are arcade machines - not video consoles. Be careful when mixing German terms in Denglish isn't (US) English :))
    – Raffzahn
    Feb 8, 2019 at 3:36
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    @Raffzahn what, is video game Denglish for arcade game? That's a new one. Feb 8, 2019 at 9:49
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    I'm afraid this answers a different question than the OP's
    – tofro
    Feb 8, 2019 at 9:50
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    It's not the exact question, but it is related. At the least it clarifies that the growth in home computer (but not console?) sales in Germany was related to the restrictions on arcade machines, rather than the events in the US/Canada.
    – Kaz
    Feb 8, 2019 at 11:22
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    There was no such law in the UK - I grew up near Blackpool and spent a lot of time in the arcades. But whilst there was some market for arcade conversions, porting those games to home computers (with varying degrees of success!), the arcades and home computers didn't really take market share from each other. Arcade conversions were only ever a pale copy of the real thing. And games which worked well on home computers with long play times (e.g. Manic Miner) were unsuited to coin-op play where you want to limit the amount of time per credit.
    – Graham
    Feb 8, 2019 at 11:42

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