We're just back from the Winter Consumer Electronics Show (WCES) in Las Vegas, a huge display of all the latest televisions, audio and video systems, VCRs, computers, software, electronic musical instruments, printers, and other technological gadgets that will be headed your way in catalogs and on store shelves over the next 12 months.
The computer and software section was dominated by the massive exhibit from Nintendo, the Japanese company that now controls 70 percent of the billion-dollar-plus videogame market. Only slightly smaller was the Sega booth, another videogame giant. The startling resurgence of that segment of the industry during the past year and a half is remarkable when you consider that the business was pronounced dead just four years ago. With dozens of game cartridges—many of them conversions of computer software products—Nintendo and Sega attracted a lot of attention at the show.
Despite the flashy presence of the videogame companies, there were scores of new computer software products being demonstrated at the show and in hotel suites throughout Las Vegas by dozens of companies. And there were significant displays of several IBM-compatible computer systems from companies who are offering good prices and loads of options.
The presence of Apple, Atari, and Commodore at WCES, on the other hand, was largely oblique. While virtually every major software publisher was showing new and exciting products for the 64 and the 128, Commodore sponsored no floor display. The same could be said for Atari, which had a suite away from the show floor and sponsored ads in the daily show magazines for its Atari game systems. Despite Atari's emphasis on its lucrative game machines, there was still a variety of new software packages for the ST computers and a smaller number for the Atari XL/XE systems.
Unlike Atari and Commodore, Apple Computer and IBM have never considered the CES shows necessary for distribution of their computers. It appears now that, at least for the Winter CES, Atari and Commodore are adopting the same attitude. They have apparently decided that their resources are better spent by promoting Commodore Amigas and Atari STs at the semiannual Computer Dealers Exposition (COMDEX) in Las Vegas and Atlanta, leaving their machines to be promoted at WCES through the software developed and peddled by third-party companies.
And that, in a way, is unfortunate. While Nintendo and Sega are delightful systems, they may be seizing the lion's share of the game market by default. There's no question that Apple, Atari, Commodore, and now IBM-compatible systems are all terrific game machines. What's more, these machines carry an added consumer benefit that the dedicated game systems simply can't offer: As computers, they're far more than just game-playing devices; they are anything machines. Not only can consumers play games on their computers, they also can take a break from gaming and use the machines for word processing, spreadsheets, paint programs, telecommunications, and all the other software applications that have made the computer such an influential piece of technology.
We would love to see Atari and Commodore return to both CES shows in the future, if only to continue to remind the industry assembled there just how good their computers are. But whatever eventually happens on that score, the more important point is that software, peripheral, and new hardware companies are fueling a consumer computer market that's still growing. In next month's issue, we'll take an in-depth look at some of the most significant stories from WCES.
Keith Ferrell and Selby Bateman