The 1980sIn the 1980s, video game consoles and personal computers were still relatively new to households. Although consoles like Atari systems were doing well, people still largely went to arcades and other local hangouts to play their favorite games. However, the growing accessibility to home computers led to the rapid evolution of software development through hobbyist programming. Groups would come together and write code that either copied popular arcade games or created their own original works. Many of these scripts ended up in computer books and magazines, often without crediting the author, for players to manually copy onto their computers.
Akalabeth: World of Doom
The 1990sAs home computers continued to become more commonplace, connectivity between them also grew. In the 90s, shareware became the most popular means for marketing and distributing games. It was a try before you buy system, where developers made their games available for free, but players could only get to a certain level or time before they were asked to purchase the full version. Gamers could get loads of shareware games on disks packed in magazines, which could be copied or passed on. Users with modems could download them from electronic bulletin board systems (BBSs) and FTP sites. The key to this system was the fact that players were encouraged, if by nothing else than the name alone, to copy and redistribute these games. Word of mouth and the need to share became the ultimate tools.
The 2000sThe shareware era quietly passed as developers and publishers relied more on dedicated demos, which could show off a game without giving all away. Although the internet continued to flourish into the 2000s, and digital distribution became a reality, funding a game's development was still a tremendous challenge unless you were backed a publisher or investor. That was the one thing that remained relatively unchanged across thirty years of gaming history. If you wanted to make a game that sold to a mainstream audience, you had to deal with a publisher. Doom probably came the closest to overcoming this adage, but even its success was considered an underground phenomena until the publisher GT Interactive put it on retail shelves. Ironically, the 2000s is the best time to be start-up game developer. John Carmack once commented about how all you needed to do nowadays was pick up a cheap PC, learn coding, and get to work. The technological limitations and expensive hardware requirements from the Doom and Quake era were long gone. However, Carmack didn't consider the limitations that publishers would exert. Although publishers might have been more open to risky ideas a decade before, dealing with them in the new millennium meant making games that appealed to the largest audience. If your vision didn't seem like it would have broad reach, then it probably wasn't going to be made.
Torment: Tides of Numenera