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Changing Tastes

You can’t go home again — one of those phrases that is essentially meaningless on the surface, but thanks to our ability to read into it what otherwise isn’t there, it has become a nearly universal way of declaring obsolescence.

You can’t go home again is something, we think, that video game manufacturers are beginning to discover, at least in the American consumer marketplace.

We have gone from essentially two-bit games that featured controllable rectangles hitting moving squares, to 8-bit games with animation, 16-bit full-action games, and now 32- and 64-bit video games that run off CD-ROM and provide video-like display.

But while youngsters eagerly embraced all the previous games, including those ultra-simple originals, the new-generation systems are having a remarkably hard time making any inroads of significance.

CD-i, the first of the CD-ROM systems — and one that changed its logo about as often as it changed merchandising approaches — has gone essentially nowhere in the U.S. market and is invisible everywhere else except in a few select pockets of Europe.

After years of sales, CD-i, like its immediate and equally unsuccessful successor 3DO, is still struggling to achieve anything remotely resembling a large enough household player base to justify the ongoing program-development effort.

Tandy, at least, had the good sense to scrub its competing Video Information System before losses got out of hand. Now we have Sega Saturn, Sony PlayStation, and the CD-ROM drive for Atari’s Jaguar on the market.

The Jaguar unit has just arrived, so we can’t comment on its success. But if its market reception is equal to that received by Saturn and PlayStation, it is in for disappointment.

The Christmas season still lies ahead, and demand may indeed soar then. But from what we hear at retail, the demand for PlayStation comes from the older, upper teen and later crowd of dedicated game players. The younger set is still playing, but doing so on the PCs they also use for school and surfing the Internet.

We are not exactly ready to write off the high-end dedicated video game business. But considering that a PlayStation or Saturn system with a dozen discs represents a $1,000 investment, it may well be that value-conscious consumers will come to recognize that a PC purchase makes a lot more sense.