Home computers were a large part of my life in the Eighties, and of course with that went playing lots and lots of computer games! Back then games generally cost anywhere from five to ten pounds on cassette, with the Â£9.99 price point soon becoming the norm. If you wanted the disk version (if you were lucky enough to have a disk drive back then, and if you were able to find a shop that even stocked floppy disk versions of games) you’d be looking at Â£14.99.
These prices were of course well out of reach for most kids pocket money, so you either had to save up, invoke pester power mode, or wait for birthdays or Christmas to roll round before you got your next new slice of video gaming action.
That was until Mastertronic came along and launch their range of budget games for the rather more modest sum of Â£1.99! I remember seeing these for the first time in a newsagents, not the sort of place that typically stocked computer games back then. The cassette boxes were held in a big black plastic tray hung on a wall, with the distinctive wireframe M logo emblazoned across the top. I dug around in my pocket, found two quid and chose a game, which happened to be BMX Racers for the Commodore 64.
I rushed home and immediately loaded it up, and was presented with something that was indeed worth the price tag. It certainly wasn’t the best game I ever owned, but given the price I didn’t really feel that cheated. In fact, the game was so difficult and repetitive in nature that I probably played it far more than I normally would have, just to see if it ever got any better. It didn’t. To give you some idea of the quality, here’s a little video clip of it…
This game didn’t put me off though, and over the next few years I bought several Mastertronic “199 games“. Some of them were better than others, but some were actually very good indeed, with many featuring excellent music from the likes of classic C64 composer Rob Hubbard (still a hero of mine to this day!).
It wasn’t long before the market for budget games expanded either. Other companies came along, most notably Firebird, which was part of British Telecom, and helped up the quality bar and also led to introduction of a luxury range of budget games, priced at Â£2.99! Some of the better titles I remember enjoying were Action Biker (which was a tie in with KP Skips crisps), Thrust (still brilliant today), One Man and His Droid (could never work out the game, but the music was brilliant) and even the drum machine simulator Micro Rhythm (which was written by a guy who I eventually went to go and work for when I got my first job in the games industry – happy days!).
Another company to start up as a budget game purveyor was Codemasters, a company still going strong today. It was actually set up by the authors of the afore-mentioned BMX Racers, Richard and David Darling, who set up their company to initially sell their own games after having success with Mastertronic whilst they were still at school. Codemasters early titles were actually pretty good, and indeed one of their first games was another BMX related title, BMX Simulator, which was actually very good. This started a trend where most of their games titles were known to end in the word Simulator, even when it sometimes didn’t really make sense.