Format Wars: The Tech that should have Won

8 replies [Last post]
Bill Loguidice
Bill Loguidice's picture
Offline
Joined: 12/31/1969

It's from Britain, so take that as you will, but it still seems applicable to pretty much everywhere on most points: http://digitalliving.cnet.co.uk/specials/0,39030785,49291589-1,00.htm

n/a
Mark Vergeer
Mark Vergeer's picture
Offline
Joined: 01/16/2006
Money - big factor / availability another

Nationalism had little to do with it I think. Bill is correct it's more the money that played a big factor - the US economy was a lot stronger back then and Americans had literally more to spend than Europeans had. Things have changed a little in that respect but still a lot of Europeans pay close to 40-50% of their income in taxes, health care and social insurances that are far lower or non-existent in the US. The amount that people are in debit is far less than in the States though, where spending more than you earn is more the norm than it is over in Europe.

As being more tolerant to obsolete hardware - I think it just boils down to "availability" of it. Quite a few decisions of Sir Sinclair were just daft - even at the time - non standard interfaces and using old hardware (back logged inventory) in new machines holding them back technically. The fact that the ZX spectrum for a long time was so much more affordable than the c64 was what persuaded quite a few users to go for the 16K or 48K machine instead. What didn't help the C64 was that the basic prompt showed 38911 Basic bytes free, which was actually less than what you could toy around with on the 48K ZX Spectrum.

And then there's the availability of hardware. Being produced in Spain/UK the ZX spectrum cost less to 'import' from within the precursor of the EU then the Apple was. This doesn't apply to the non-European machines that were produced locally.

What also played a huge role - at least in the Netherlands - that the free market economy works quite a bit different than the US one especially during those days. You only had/have a couple of franchises selling computer hardware and consoles here in the Netherlands that only provide a specific catalog of systems. Consumers didn't play a large role in the selection process of what was available - the market was more closed and consumers had little choice. This is still the case for a large part of the Netherlands - even different stores can have the same owner and offer a similar selection. The unavailability of the Nintendo Wii system over here is a good example of this. Nintendo only allowed a limited number of consoles to be shipped to specific companies - this resulted in an ultimate low number of units available in the Netherlands as quite a few of the 'different stores' are in fact the same store and have to cater for far more customers than is the case in other countries with less monopolistic shops.
Things have improved but the amount of choice and the amount of similar products available in the US is much more diverse so the consumers have more choice and have a bigger influence on what is being consumed. Here in the Netherlands people buy something because it is available not because it is the best choice as there sometimes is little choice to very little choice. To a lesser and greater extend this goes for quite a few other European countries as well - but since the official European Union things have improved.

The US and Europe are quite different beasts when it comes to consumers! US marketing doesn't necessarily apply over here and quite some non-european companies make grave marketing errors over here.



Editor / Pixelator - Armchair Arcade, Inc.

n/a
Bill Loguidice
Bill Loguidice's picture
Offline
Joined: 12/31/1969
Observing Britain in the 80s from afar
Matt Barton wrote:
Mark Vergeer wrote:

IIt very much reminded me of the C64 vs Spectrum 'wars'. The ZX Spectrum was an inferior machine when you compare memory, graphics and sound capabilities sec. but still loads of users preferred the spectrum over the C64. Price was a big issue, but also the relatively easy to use spectrum basic compared to the peeks and pokes of the c64. If you had a b&w telly - like loads of kids had at the time - the difference between the spectrum and the c64 weren't that big graphics-wise. The C64 was big with sprites, but the ZX Spectrum was way faster when it came to character based bitmap game graphics!

This is fascinating stuff. I wonder--did the ZX's popularity have anything to do with nationalism or patriotism, at least in Britain (but also in any European country a bit ambivalent about the Americans?)

It has been my belief in observing the UK market from afar was that in the 80's they were far more price conscious than we were here in the US and far more tolerant of "obsolete" technology. When you look at the 48K ZX Spectrum, with its chiclet keyboard, lack of proper sound, unusual expansion options and weird color graphics, there really should be no contest between that and the C-64 that ultimately became the best selling computer the world has ever seen. However, when you consider that those in the UK were slow to shift from cassette to disk, particularly in comparison to us in the US, it makes a lot more sense. Hell, I have a copy of The Bard's Tale on CASSETTE from England for the C-64. The Bard's Tale! I can't even imagine playing that from a tape. Anyway, I digress...

There were obviously other factors at play, like timing, market presence and yes, perhaps a bit of nationalism. As we all know too well as well, it's almost NEVER the best technology that wins the day. It's often a combination of timing, luck, coolness factor and having technology that's "just good enough".

In any case, it is something to imagine that Britain had systems that were popular like the ZX Spectrum, BBC Micro and C-64, while we had the Apple II, Atari 800 and C-64. So very, very different. In fact, I don't even think they had much of a console market until the mid-80's either...

======================================
Bill Loguidice, Managing Director
Armchair Arcade, Inc.
======================================

n/a
Matt Barton
Matt Barton's picture
Offline
Joined: 01/16/2006
For the Motherland
Mark Vergeer wrote:

IIt very much reminded me of the C64 vs Spectrum 'wars'. The ZX Spectrum was an inferior machine when you compare memory, graphics and sound capabilities sec. but still loads of users preferred the spectrum over the C64. Price was a big issue, but also the relatively easy to use spectrum basic compared to the peeks and pokes of the c64. If you had a b&w telly - like loads of kids had at the time - the difference between the spectrum and the c64 weren't that big graphics-wise. The C64 was big with sprites, but the ZX Spectrum was way faster when it came to character based bitmap game graphics!

This is fascinating stuff. I wonder--did the ZX's popularity have anything to do with nationalism or patriotism, at least in Britain (but also in any European country a bit ambivalent about the Americans?)

n/a
Mark Vergeer
Mark Vergeer's picture
Offline
Joined: 01/16/2006
in Holland wierdly popular aswell

In Holland the ST was pretty popular as well, perhaps the lower cost had to play a big part in it. Things weren't exactly great economically during that time and the Amiga was more expensive. And then there's the almost religious aspects that surrounds both machines. It very much reminded me of the C64 vs Spectrum 'wars'. The ZX Spectrum was an inferior machine when you compare memory, graphics and sound capabilities sec. but still loads of users preferred the spectrum over the C64. Price was a big issue, but also the relatively easy to use spectrum basic compared to the peeks and pokes of the c64. If you had a b&w telly - like loads of kids had at the time - the difference between the spectrum and the c64 weren't that big graphics-wise. The C64 was big with sprites, but the ZX Spectrum was way faster when it came to character based bitmap game graphics! The c64 was way slower when it came to that sort of thing - there's quite a few character bitmap based games that are far better on the Spectrum than on the C64. And yes, also the spectrum owners couldn't get away with the fact that the c64 had better sound and the Spectrum had something comparable to a PC beeper. Similar arguments were often made about the ST-vs Amiga. The ST was easier to program for in a lot of ways.

Comparing hardware is one thing, but the availability of programs (even cracked or copied programs) is what makes or breaks a machine. Back then there weren't a lot of Amiga users in my home-town - but there were loads of ST users. This made the choice more obvious - especially when you had less money to spend. The ST disk media was cheaper than the HD disk media needed by the Amiga. I could go on and on....



Editor / Pixelator - Armchair Arcade, Inc.

n/a
Bill Loguidice
Bill Loguidice's picture
Offline
Joined: 12/31/1969
ST versus Amiga
Mark Vergeer wrote:

But ST was more popular in the UK than the Amiga was....?

I have to go with Yakumo on that one as well. That to me was the most bizarre entry of all the entries. The Amiga was the better system overall from a technical standpoint and as far as I know, in every territory, eventually outsold the Atari ST series. It's funny that the article makes mention of the ST's sound capabilities when it had relatively weak abilities, particularly for a then next generation system. That was obviously tempered by the built-in MIDI capability, but from a gaming and personal computing level, relatively few had the ability to take advantage of it.

======================================
Bill Loguidice, Managing Director
Armchair Arcade, Inc.
======================================

n/a
Mark Vergeer
Mark Vergeer's picture
Offline
Joined: 01/16/2006
But ST was more popular in the UK than the Amiga was....?



Editor / Pixelator - Armchair Arcade, Inc.

n/a
yakumo9275
yakumo9275's picture
Offline
Joined: 12/26/2006
cool

interesting.

I disagree with SACD. SACD didnt sell because CD was good enough, SACD was expensive and players were rare as hens teeth. (I worked for HMV in the uk which is a massive Vinyl/CD/DVD retailer).. SACD was lucky to move > 5 units a month.

Minidisc I loved :) Boo to sony for killing the md drive. better than zip disks and stuff.... :(

Also gotta disagree with the atari st, gimme amiga over st anyday!! :)

I agree to killing off the ipod too

-- Stu --

n/a
Mark Vergeer
Mark Vergeer's picture
Offline
Joined: 01/16/2006
Nice article!

A nice article with a UK/European perspective on things. Especially the European perspective on things might make this article not 100% fitting the US situation. But the article itself does talk about these differences!



Editor / Pixelator - Armchair Arcade, Inc.

n/a

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.