Sunday, August 21, 2011

Cover to Cover: SSI Summer 1986 Catalog (pp. 10-11)

We've got a few more pages from SSI's Summer 1986 catalog, as our cover-to-cover pagethrough continues.

Page 10 features Sports and Educational Entertainment titles, with an emphasis on strategy, statistics and simulation:

Most of these games are not well-known today, but some are antecedents of games that are more fondly remembered.  Professional Tour Golf is a fairly comprehensive golf simulation, using the overhead perspective that would soon be overtaken by 3-D ground-level presentation as the genre matured.  Rails West! is based on the same ideas as Sid Meier's popular Railroad Tycoon series.  Computer Quarterback is a strategy-heavy real-time football simulation, featuring detailed elements that would eventually find themselves back into more action-oriented console football games.  And Ringside Seat features dream matches of well-known (and apparently unlicensed) boxing champions, a concept that would turn up again later in more official form, with titles like Champions Forever Boxing and EA's Fight Night series.

Cartels & Cutthroats is a business simulation, with a name clearly inspired by a certain role-playing game system, and President Elect simulates the presidential election at a time when the fixed symbolism of "red states" and "blue states" wasn't yet established.

Page 11 provides an early look at what we call "downloadable content" today -- additional Data Disks containing new missions, team data and tools for existing SSI games, sold separately at premium prices by today's standards, $15.00 to $19.95:

The pricing implies that, even after a game engine was up and running, in 1986 it still took a fair amount of work to create new levels; there weren't necessarily good tools for building and populating maps, which meant that creating more content was not as cost-effective as it is today.  The market was also smaller, of course, and these add-ons could not be conveniently marketed for download; today's online gaming community tends to soak up new maps for popular games at a healthy clip, which means that the comparatively greater development labor investment gets spread out across many more customers.

SSI marketed a tool kit for The Shattered Alliance so that players could build their own maps, an early approach to user-generated content, and sold (probably unlicensed) NFL and MLBA team data disks for the company's sports titles.
Note also that SSI promotes a couple of third-party add-ons at the bottom of the page, which cannot be ordered through SSI but are featured here to help customers get the most out of their purchases.  The industry was still small and trying hard to grow, and this kind of cross-promotion was helpful.

We'll wrap this catalog up next weekend!

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