Gather round, young whippersnappers. Uncle Jan is going to tell you about the time they say gaming almost died.
The year was 1982, and Steven Spielberg’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial took the box office by storm.
This was in June, and by December, Atari released a tie-in video game that would set the precedent for games based on movies for years to come.
Regarded as the worst game ever made, E.T. was credited with damaging the reputation of the North American video game industry to the point that the whole thing came crashing down in 1983.
That’s the conventional wisdom, anyway. And it is completely wrong.
While Howard Scott Warshaw did only have 5 weeks to design and build E.T., his former Atari designer colleagues came to his defence in the 2014 documentary “Atari: Game Over”.
E.T., they said, was far from the worst game ever. That title should really belong to games like Fire Fly and Trespasser.
It was a series of unfortunate events that led to the fall of Atari and the great North American video game crash.
A flooded console market, bad games that had poor sales, and competition from home computers all contributed to the crash.
Regardless of the reasons, Nintendo was waiting in the wings to step into the void Atari left, giving birth to some of best-known franchises in gaming.
Best-selling video games of the 1980s
|Rank||Title||Release Date||Developer||Units sold (in millions)|
|1||Super Mario Bros.||13 September 1985||Nintendo||40.24|
|2||Tetris||No agreement on official release date (1984-1989)||Bullet Proof Software||30.26|
|3||Duck Hunt||21 April 1984||Nintendo||28.31|
|4||Super Mario Land||21 April 1989||Nintendo||18.14|
|5||Super Mario Bros. 3||23 October 1988||Nintendo||17.28|
|6||Super Mario Bros. 2||01 September 1988||Nintendo||7.46|
|7||Pac-Man||01 March 1982||Atari||7|
|8||The Legend of Zelda||21 February 1986||Nintendo||6.51|
|9||Zelda II: The Adventure of Link||14 January 1987||Nintendo||4.38|
|10||Excitebike||30 November 1984||Nintendo||4.16|
The Wikipedia article on the decade’s video games history contains the table above, summarising the best-selling games of the period.
However, it notes that outside of NES/Famicom titles, video game sales numbers were not that accurately reported.
For example, the Atari 2600 game “Pitfall!” may actually be in tenth place, as it was reported to have sold “over 4 million” copies.
In addition to Super Mario Bros., Tetris, Pac-Man, and the Legend of Zelda, the 1980s also gave rise to a number of other franchises. These are given an honourable mention below.
Final Fantasy (1987)
King’s Quest (1983)
Leisure Suit Larry (1987)
Mega Man / Rockman (1987)
Microsoft Flight Simulator (1982)
Prince of Persia (1989)
Space Quest (1986)
Main image by Justin Buonvino (NES–still-the-best on DeviantArt)