Pitfall!'s Crane: 'Never Any Doubt' Games Would Rebound After Crash

Even during the video game crash of the early 1980s, Pitfall! developer David Crane "never" doubted that games would rival movies' popularity, he said in an
When the video game industry crashed in the early 1980s after the market was flooded with sub-par products, many wondered if the games business could ever rebound. But David Crane, creator of Activision's 1982 classic Pitfall!, knew all along that games would come back; that they were more than a fad. "Hey, games are my life. The crash was unfortunate, and it was hard to weather," said Crane in an excerpted interview from Tristan Donovan's video game history book Replay, presented on Gamasutra. "But there was never any doubt that the game business would approach the movie business in size. After all, a game is a movie with the addition of interaction," said Crane. Crane's long career in the games industry began in 1977 at Atari. After royalty disputes with management at the company, he and three other programmers left to found Activision in 1979, where he created and released Pitfall! in 1982. He said Activision's success was indirectly responsible for the crash. "The crash was largely caused by a glut of poor product," he explained. "In fact, Activision was the main cause -- although indirectly. Activision was a huge hit in the early '80s. We showed that you don't have to spend $100 million to produce a game console to make money in video games." "In one six-month period, 30 new companies sprang up trying to duplicate our success," Crane said. "What they didn't realize is that our success was due to the best game designers in the world -- not just our business model. These companies had to make do with amateur game talent, and the products were mostly awful." "We even predicted the crash," added Crane. "I remember saying that 'none of these companies will be in business in a year.' How prophetic. What we didn't realize is that each company already had a million game cartridges in their warehouse when they went under." "It was the sale of these games by liquidators that flooded the market. They bought them out of bankruptcy for $3, sold them to retailers for $4, and the retailers put them in barrels at the front of the store for $5," he said. "When dad went in to buy junior the latest Activision game for $40, he saw that he could be a hero and get eight games for the same money. Sales of new games went to near zero." For the full, fascinating Crane interview from Replay, read the full Gamasutra feature.

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