“When Console Wars Were Still Fun to Watch” Part 1: The Early Years

Everybody has their favorite console. Some take that favoritism to an extreme and will do anything to support said system. There have even been cases of lost friendships over a debate between the PS3 and Wii. Unfortunately, this is a natural part of what is commonly referred to as “console wars.” In these wars, video game companies try to outdo each other by bolstering their products and making their opponent’s products look like little toys.

Competition is good for the industry, as it allows for the constant development of quality products, for the most part. However, it also spawns a lot of hate and debate, action and reaction, and verbal violence from the fans fighting unecessary battles.

The point is: Everybody has their own opinion, so don’t bash on somebody because they don’t like the same things as you.

Nevertheless, the console wars have a very detailed and interesting history, which is what this series of articles will be about. In each part, we will take a look at different parts of the console war from the perspective of the gaming companies themselves. Of course, it makes sense to start chronologically, so we’ll begin…at the beginning.

The Original “Big Three”

Although it wasn’t the first console ever created, the Atari Video Computer System (later renamed Atari 2600) was certainly the first popular console. The graphics were almost nonexistent to an extent, but that was part of the beauty of it. Players could imagine what every dot and square was. It was completely open up to interpretation. There were no wrong answers.

The Atari first released in North America in 1977 for the price of about $200. Nothing could rival the awesomeness of Atari…at least, not yet.

In 1978, a year after the release of the Atari, Mattel, a toy company, decided that they wanted to steal Atari success. This desire to outdo another company and create a better product marked the start of the first console war.

After being in development for two years, Mattel’s Intellivision released in 1980 for a whopping $300. The Intellivision was an immediate success. One of its more memorable slogans was “the closest thing to the real thing.” Although it had not been the first system to challenge the Atari’s dominance, it was certainly the first to pose any real threat to Atari.

And so, the war truly began. Mattel and Atari wanted to do everything they can to outdo each other. In fact, Mattel even had a commercial featuring women wearing bikinis talking smack about the Atari.

To the dismay of Mattel, however, the Atari still outsold the Intellivision due to its lower price point and rights to most of the popular arcade games at the time.

So it seemed like Atari would be once again on top. But as fate would have it, another company, namely, Coleco, wanted a piece of the money pie. Thus, in the late summer of 1982, the ColecoVision was born. The ColecoVision had greater technical power than the Intellivison and almost completely obseleted it.

Also, unlike the Intellivision, the ColecoVision had some very successful third party games, most notably, its launch title. Every ColecoVision came packaged with a nearly perfect arcade port of the popular arcade game, Donkey Kong, developed by a relatively unknown company named Nintendo. Needless to say, the ColecoVision was very successful and sold approximately 500,000 units.

Although the ColecoVision was truly meant to compete with the Intellivision (note the same basic controller and name), it’s real competitor was Atari. At first, it seemed like Atari had been “defeated” by Coleco, but they had something up their sleeve. In November of 1982, the Atari 5200 came to save the day and do what its little brother couldn’t.

Originally, the 5200 was made to compete with the Intellivision, but it was the ColecoVision who had become a main threat. The hardware was arguably more advanced than the ColecoVision, while the controllers featured a joystick and a numeric keypad with buttons for start, pause, and reset. The controller was considered revolutionary for the time.

As for the console itself, the 5200 suffered greatly from its lack of compatibility to the 2600. Unlike the 2600, the 5200 actually suffered from a lack of great games. ColecoVision had showed off its full capabilities in Donkey Kong, whereas most people considered the 5200’s pack in game, Super-Breakout, to generally contain large amounts of fail.

The beginning of 1983 saw improvements from both Atari and Mattel. Atari realized their mistake of not supporting backwards compatibility to the 2600 and released an adapter for the 5200 allowing players to play Atari 2600 games. However, most fans of the 5200 were all about its superior graphical capabilities and weren’t interested in the 2600 anymore.

Mattel, on the other hand, released a redesigned model of the Intellivision, named the Intellivision 2. Alongside it, they released the System Changer, which allowed players to play their favorite Atari 2600 games on the Intellivision 2. Because of the reason’s listed above, the System changer was not all that successful. As for the Intellivision 2 itself, many of the games which had been originally designed for the control scheme established by the original Intellivision were deemed nearly unplayable, obviously resulting in a loss of sales for Mattel.

It seems there is a general consensus that the ColecoVision, although technologically inferior, was superior in sales out of the three major systems. Can we conclude from this that the ColecoVision won this war? It’s hard to say. While each system were somewhat similar, each brought something different to the table. Every time one company “took the lead,” another would develop a product to outclass it.

And so, it seemed that this cycle would continue on for many years to come. Little did anybody know, the video game industry was about to take a major turn for the worse, taking the Atari, ColecoVision, Intellivision, and every other console with it.

To be continued…

10 thoughts on ““When Console Wars Were Still Fun to Watch” Part 1: The Early Years”

  1. First game I ever played: Pacman on the Atari 2600. It’s a wonder I’m a gamer to this day. So based on this timeline, the next article should cover the colapse of the western gaming market, it’s revival by Nintendo and the start of the rivaly with Sega in the Master System.

    1. What’s not to love about Console Wars?
      The Rebel Alliance had stolen the plans for the Microsoft DeathBox 360 and hid them in a R2-DS so he could get them safetly to old Ben. Unfortunanlty the Jawtari’s capture R2-DS and C-3DO and sold them to the family of Luke Pokewalker.
      After Luke’s family was killed, he and Ben hired Han D’Held to fly them to a rebel stronghold, which they found had been destroyed by the Deathbox 360. Luke and Han save the princess from the Red Ring, and escape the Deathbox 360 to deliver the plans to the Rebel Alliance.
      Luke then destroys the Deathbox when he stops relying on the Force and instead let’s his on-board Gameboy calculate the shot. The day is Saved, but due to a faulty on-board memory battery, Darth Gates escapes.

  2. Interesting read. I would likely say Atari won that war though, mainly due to the fact that most people know of Atari and of it’s consoles (at least one of them anyways) but a lot of people probably don’t even know what an Intellivision is and may have not even heard of ColecoVision if it weren’t for it appearing on Family Guy.

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