Thursday, 13 December 2012

80s Gaming - Defender of the Crown and Manic Miner

 5 Trailblazing Software Companies of the '80s That Faded or Fizzled

Software Companies That Are No Longer Popular

Frankly I miss the 80s. Certainly not the mullets and fluorescent socks, but in my opinion the 80s games were hard to beat. Sure they had lo-res graphics and dirt cheap sound effects, however they often attempted to counterbalance this by offering fantastic playability. Vintage games such as Manic Miner on the Sinclair Spectrum, Defender of the Crown on the Atari ST and Space Invaders also from good old Atari, sold truck loads of copies worldwide.


Manic Miner on the Sinclair Spectrum
Manic Miner on the Spectrum 48k Computer

These days it seems that software is playing second fiddle to data, and companies that thrived on providing games, programming and content for computers and other electronic devices in the '80s and beyond are being ousted by those that are able to manage their online empires through innovations in the arena of data and associated support platforms. While software often requires the use of a physical delivery system (cartridges, discs, and the like) more and more consumers want their data handed to them without delay, and further, they don't want to have to store it anymore.

 So companies that offer the flexibility of streaming data as well as cloud storage options are picking up the business that once belonged to software companies. And the result has been a put up or shut up situation that has elevated some software companies to data pushers while other simply get pushed out. Here are just a few big names from the '80s that are no longer the household names they once were.

1. Atari.

Pong is often cited as the first real video game, and indeed it was one of the earliest arcade (and home) games to become popular with consumers. Space Invaders, Pitfall and Pac Man where all massive sellers for the Atari brand in the '80s. Atari also created their own hardware, including the popular 2600 and 5200 home gaming consoles (ostensibly the first dedicated home gaming systems). Indeed I was the proud owner of an Atari-2600 console with black waggly joystick back in 1983 and also enjoyed playing more advanced games such as "Defender of the crown" on the Atari ST in the 90s.

Screenshot from Defender of the Crown on the Atari ST
Defender of the Crown on the Atari ST

However since their 80s heyday the company has been split apart and bought and sold until little semblance of the original remains. In 2008, Infogrames successfully completed its acquisition of Atari Inc.


2. Commodore International.

Makers of the popular Commodore-64, an 8-bit home computer system, this company was literally a household name throughout the '80s. In fact, despite only four years on the market and a price tag of $600 (which was actually rather low at the time), the Commodore-64 outsold the Apple II, with more than 20 million units sold in its lifetime.

They achieved this feat through integrated production practices that allowed them to lower production costs, passing the savings along to consumers ("computers for the masses, not the classes"), as well as a sound marketing and sales strategy that included selling through retail rather than electronics stores, significantly increasing their exposure to a mass audience of consumers. Like most early hardware developers, they also created their own software. Sadly, they would soon be surpassed by competitors like IBM and declared bankruptcy in 1994.

3. Lotus Development Corporation.

Although this entity technically lives on thanks to its acquisition by IBM, it was probably best known in its heyday for creating the best selling spreadsheet program, Lotus 1-2-3, made specifically for use with IBM's lineup of personal computers.

Their overnight success with this product turned them into a key player in the software industry (second only to Microsoft), netting them over $53 million in their first year of sales (an astonishing number considering they had forecast sales in the $1 million range). In 1995 they would be bought by IBM for $3.5 billion, but throughout the '80s they reigned supreme amongst independent software developers.

4. Ashton-Tate.

This company rounded out the "big three" of software manufacturers (after Microsoft and Lotus) thanks to massive sales of their dBase software for Apple and PC computers. Although they didn't develop the software, they were smart enough to buy it from C. Wayne Ratliff, who reportedly created it in his basement.

They made several iterations of the popular software throughout the '80s, staving off attempts by copycats to poach their patrons. Unfortunately, they would seal their own fate with the release of dBase IV, which was allegedly so buggy that former devotees flocked to the competition in droves.

5. Borland Software Corporation.

Like many software companies, this one had its ups and downs. Throughout the '80s the company produced several of their own popular products (Turbo Pascal, Borland Sidekick, etc.), but their main success came from acquiring other software firms and marketing their products.

Sadly, the beginning of the end came with the purchase of Ashton-Tate in 1991, after which the company became something of a falling star, losing their standing in the software industry (as well as their longtime CEO). They managed to limp along into the 2000s, changing their name a couple of times, but eventually they succumbed to the tactics that had once bolstered their own numbers; they were acquired by Micro Focus in 2009 for $75 million dollars and is now a subsidiary of Micro Focus.

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