Video gaming has come a long way in thirty years. The late 1970s introduced the general public to the home computer and the early days of console gaming. By 1981 the mas rket was becoming reasonably sophisticated and it was at this point that Commodore chose to replace its Vic-20 home computer with the Commodore 64, which became the most successful 8-bit computer ever. So let’s have a quick look at its history.
For the time it was a next generation colour console and the CEO Jack Tramiel (also of Tramel Technology) had requested a machine with 64kb of RAM. RAM chips were expensive but falling in value quickly and Tramiel knew that by the date of manufacture, the price would be competitive. Originally named the Vic-40, the computer was showcased at the 1982 Consumer Electronics Show. Commodore’s vertically integrated business structure enabled them to produce an impressive machine which could be sold at a price acceptable to punters – $595. The Apple II sold for $1200 while the Atari 800 cost $900.
Commodore also had the foresight to persuade retail shops to stock the new product, offering it to everyday shoppers rather than just those visiting computer hardware shops. It was a successful seller right from the beginning, it’s price and aggressive sales strategy pushing it ahead of its rivals in the United States. In Europe it eventually even matched the sales of the cheaper Sinclair Spectrum.
In a period which spanned an incredible 14 years of production, it is estimated that the C64 sold between 12.5 and 17 million units – the biggest selling home computer ever. Around 10,000 different pieces of software were released for it; not just games but office applications, development tools and the like. It was eventually only discontinued when the price of the manufacture of the integrated disk drive became unsustainable (in fact more expensive than everything else required in the manufacture).
It’s still popular now amongst hobbyists and perhaps Commodore wouldn’t have fallen into financial dire straits had it developed an equally good successor.