The Commodore 64 sold in excess of 17 million units in its lifetime, still the largest selling single model of computer in history. Introduced in 1982 this computer more than any other made computers available to the average joe on the street, who proceeded to cut their teeth on this new beast.
The attraction for us nerds was purely based around its graphics and sound capabilities, it was technically the best machine at the time. This alone doesn’t explain it’s success though.
After it’s release in 1982 Commodore began selling the machine through main street retail stores instead of through specialist electronics stores. Computers sold through electronics parts stores had the stigma of build you own computer kits, this locked most people out. Even in the nerd world at the time the kids that had the funds, tools and ability to build their own computer were a tiny subset of this community.
The move to selling the C64 in main street retail stores – even the traditional white goods stores were selling C64′s – made the C64 available to everyone and introduced computers as a department within all of these stores. From 1983 to 1986 the C64 held 40% of computer sales, shifting 2million units a year. Imagine if Apple made it to 40% of the market. For many Nerds over 35 the C64 was the first real introduction into powerful home computers. Ready to go out of the box, simply plug it into the TV and get going.
An extraordinary life span, the C64 was still selling well into the early 1990′s, nearly 10 years of sales is almost unheard of for a single model, no changes, no updates, Commodore is still probably equally famous for bad management as well as incredible computers. Not only did Commodore have one best selling computer they also had the Amiga a very successfully 16bit computer. Yet still where are they now, they held the top spot for nearly a decade but were able to mismanage the situation into non-existence.
A whole generation of programmers cut their teeth on Commodore basic, it was simple and easily accessible being built into the command line of the C64. Once Basic had been mastered assembly language – directly programming the chips – was the next challenge to be mastered.
The C64 also saw the formation of the gaming communities , built around the BBS – bulletin board system – and demo scene. The scene on the C64 was part of the attraction for many young nerds of the time. The early days of computing were all about the scene, nerd posturing was rampart. Young kids were drawn into like minded groups and put to work coding, designing graphics and writing music. Skills were passed on and careers established during this period. The explosion of the C64 community was really more about having enough people using a single machine to support a community that size, the C64 was the first computer to hit that critical mass point.
Names like David Whittaker, Rob Hubbard, Peter Molyneux all cut their teeth during the C-64 early days. Forming companies like Psygnosis – who later became part of Sony– , Rare – creators of Golden Eye – DID and many others were involved in producing such classic games as Elite, Skate or Die, California Games, Commando, Lemmings, Stunt Car Racer, Turrican 2 and R-Type just to name a few. The C64 had the largest collection of games available of any one machine at the time with well in excess of 30,000 games available by the late 80′s.
Some of the most incredible programming done on the C64 was towards the end of it’s life when coders – hard-core programmers – were getting the hardware to do things way past its original design / spec. Things like 256 colours from 16 color chip, playback of samples through the SID chip which isn’t capable of playing them.
There are even some parts of the C-64 alive and well to this day, emulators are available for most smart phones, the SID sound chip is still used by some musicians. The SIDStation, Hypersynth and Prophet64 all use the SID chip technology.
The C64 is one of the great game changing pieces of technology out there, with its story tightly intertwined with the history of computers. We can all argue over how significant or influential it was but you can’t talk computer history with-out mentioning the C64. Still one of the great computer memories, even though it is a distant memory now it still lives on in the hearts of many nerds it even gets hot babe coverage on YouTube here.
Picture courtesy of Lemon64