Rampant Commercialism Isn’t A Completely New Invention
Okay. First of all, as promised, a quick word about last night. I’m delighted that Switzerland have been eliminated. As I’ve said on here a few times before, one of the great things about this World Cup has been that one of that the defensive teams have, in the end, been found out and eliminated appropriately. In that respect, Switzerland, who showed no attacking flair at all, and appeared to be playing from penalties from about fifty minutes in, got what they deserved. The Ukraine weren’t much better, but they at least showed some degree of attacking intent. Switzerland made a pretty good job of shutting down their supply line to Shevchenko, and as such any threat to the Swiss goal was neutralised. The penalty shoot-out was about as bad as the match, though by this time my schandenfreude had over-taken any aesthetic considerations that I may have had. Let’s not forget, though, that Ukraine weren’t much better than the Swiss, so any praise for them prior to their quarter-final against Italy should be guarded. Let’s hope that we don’t see any more of this overwhelming fear of losing.
Whilst searching for something to put on here this morning, I chanced upon the above picture, which reminded me that rampant and avaricious commercialism isn’t a completely new story. For those of you too young or pig-ignorant to know about it, I thought it warranted a second mention here. Home computing had exploded in the 1980s, and games were a lucrative interest. The IOC missed a trick by not selling an official licence to the 1984 Olympics, but FIFA weren’t as naive – they sold the rights to the software company US Gold (who, in spite of their exotic name, were actually founded and based in Birmingham).
US Gold spent thousands of pounds of advertising what they promised would be a revolution in football computer games. However, they arsed it up. The game engine that they had devised was too buggy to be workable and, in any case, when they did it get it to work, it was utter, utter rubbish. They ran out of time to fix it before the tournament actually started and, in a panic, they bought the rights to a game called “World Cup”, which had been released two years earlier by a company called Arctic Software. They fiddled a little bit with the graphics (not much, mind) and released it just in time for the start of the 1986 World Cup. As if to atone for this, it came in a video cassette-sized bos, with some stickers, a wallchart and some other bits & pieces thrown in. To cover the cost of advertising it in the first place, it retailed at £9.95. By 1986 standards, an extortionate price.
As a teenager, I used to have roughly enough money to get a new game every two weeks or so, but when it came out and I saw the cover, I was immediately suspicious. Why were there no screen-shots on the cover? Why were there crappy freebies? Why was it so expensive? I was more than happy with my copy of Ocean’s “Match Day”, and steered clear. I made a wise choice. My money went on Ultimate’s “Pentagram”, if I recall correctly. A friend of mine wasn’t so lucky. As you can see from this screen-shot, it was shoddy. Six-a-side, with terrible graphics, irritating sound effects and virtually no playability at all. What seemed to compound it all was the fact the original game, “World Cup”, was still available in many shops for £1.99.
The gaming world went, predictably, beserk. Reporting on the Amstrad 464 port of the game, one magazine scored it 0% – the only time this ever happened. Sales were dismal, and then US Gold compounded their original follies by trying to claim that they had re-vamped the game, when, actually they hadn’t. Eventually, they sent an open letter to the press, apologising (well, blaming everybody but themselves) for the debacle. Once reviews of the game started appearing in the process (and review copies didn’t go out until after it had been released), the game plummeted down the gaming charts, having entered the charts at number one.
It was one of the first home computing PR disasters, but US Gold’s reputation wasn’t seriously affected, and the company went on producing games until well into the 1990s. Curiously, World Cup franchised football games have never been much cop. The moral of the story, i guess, is this: if a company has spent thousands of pounds buying the rights to a name, then there’s a good chance that this money would otherwise have been spent on development.
I’ve lost myself so much in nostalgia that I’ve almost forgotten about last night’s debacle. Should you be mad enough to want to actually play “World Cup Carnival”, you can do so here. You can play thousands of ZX Spectrum games here. It’s great. I recommend “Match Day” or, if you’re not interested in that, “Saboteur”,