The video games industry has grown and grown more each and every year, but how long have they been around? When did they start becoming popular? I shall discuss the history and important developments and influences in platforms and arcade machines over the last few decades.
Many would be lead to believe the beginning of video games begun in the late 1970s, although this is true commercially, however the idea began with the rise of re-programmable computer systems in the 1950s, typically being used in universities, the earliest known computer game was programmed on ‘Bertie the Brain’, developed by Josef Kates, sometimes recognised as the father of the games industry, the system played tic-tac-toe and a game named ‘Nim’, this was later done again in 1952, this time making use of a computer monitor, and then in 1954, an American university programmed a game that simulates a pool game made use of real time updating graphics.
All the above was shown off as demonstrations, the first video game created for entertainment was a game called ‘Tennis for Two’, which you might now recognise today as ‘Pong’.
It wasn’t until 1972 when we saw the first commercial home-use video game system, known as the ‘Magnavox Odyssey’, but before that, the first console was a working prototype known as ‘The Brown Box’, invented by Ralph H. Baer, it featured basic video games, such as volleyball, ping pong, tennis and handball and a game of chase and a light gun game.
The Magnavox however was only capable of displaying three dots on a black screen and did not produce any sound effects, the set came with plastic overlays to place on your TV screen in place of the visuals, and had two rectangular controllers to play the system with. Selling around 100,000 units, this system was moderately successful, but it wasn’t until the Atari’s Pong released when the public began noticing video games as a form of entertainment. This of course caused Magnavox to release new versions of their consoles that instead was scaled down and only featured Pong and Hockey titled the ‘Odyssey 100’ and then the ‘Odyssey 200’ which was mostly the same but featuring a on screen scoring system, 4 player support and a new game called ‘Smash’, this perfectly demonstrates the influence competitors have on each other in the industry.
This marks the second generation of gaming platforms, where they have begun to be more popularised for home-use, and this is a lot of thanks to both Atari and Magnavox, for putting out lots of home consoles, such as ‘Video Pinball’, ‘Stunt Cycle’ and the Odyssey 3000 and 4000, all releasing from 1976 to 1977.
It’s here we also see a fresh face, The Coleco, introducing the ‘Telstar’ range, similar to the consoles above.
We also saw the beginning of handheld consoles, like the Microvision which had interchangeable cartridges (a feature that popular handhelds to this day still make use of, such as the Nintendo 3DS or PlayStation Vita), however it had very few games and a fragile LCD screen, it did not survive very long.
Nintendo also made their appearance with their ‘Colour TV Game’ and own handhelds, the ‘Game and Watch’.
We owe a big thanks to arcade gaming for the huge boom in popularity, Atari released a loved arcade gem on their Atari 2600 unit (that released in 1977) and you might know it too, the hit ‘Space Invaders’ in 1980, this marked the moment the home console industry really took off, everyone was buying the 2600 to play the game in the comfort of their own homes, and it was the beginning of something great- or so we initially thought.
Briefly in 1983, with the home console market booming, more and more games were being pushed out to satisfy the consumers, causing the quality to deteriorate, giving people less faith in the consoles in North America, but don’t worry, this isn’t for far too long.
It was with the release of the Nintendo Entertainment System, or the ‘NES’ (Known in Japan as the Famicon), an 8 bit gaming console in 1985 for North America that revitalised the gaming market as it was the highest selling console ever in America at the time. To prevent what happened 2 years prior, Nintendo had a strict ‘3 games per year’ policy for third party developers, this helped them gain market dominance for a long while.
Something that helped the NES sell so well was both familiarity and freshness, unlike most other consoles at the time, it featured a contrasting colour palette helping it stand out from anything others had seen before, and its cartridge slot was at the front, making it appear similar to VCR devices at the time, so it would fit right at home.
With the Nintendo NES’ popularity, SEGA rose up to rival them with their console the SEGA ‘Master System’, a much improved version of the SEGA GT-1000, which was not very successful, in fact, neither was the Master System in North America or Japan, despite being the superior console in terms of hardware, it was instead more popular in Europe.
During this time, Atari was still kicking, with the release of the 5200, and then the 7800 which was intended to rival the NES and even had backwards compatibility, however this was not enough to win back the consumers.
This era often being referred as the ‘Golden-Age’, we saw lots of big name game from Nintendo that are still around today, ‘Super Mario’, ‘The Legend of Zelda’, ‘Metroid’, and even series like ‘Final Fantasy’, these are what helped solidify Nintendo’s place in the industry.
This generation is often referred to as the 16bit generation, just as the third was the 8bit, it began with NEC’s TurboGrafx16 (often known as the PC Engine), which made use of an advanced graphics chip which was originally going to be given to Nintendo by a company called Hudson Soft, and was the first 16bit home console, soon to be followed by SEGA’s next console, the ‘Megadrive’ (known as the Genesis in North America) in 1988, which was the successor to the Master System, this console made use of the Sega System 16, the hardware that was used in their arcade machines, but scaled down for the home console, meaning it could perfectly emulate games that looked incredible for the time, with more colours and detail which could only be found in arcades in the comfort of your own home, and as you can imagine, this sold very well over in PAL and NTSC regions.
Nintendo was soon to retaliate with its Super Nintendo Entertainment System, or ‘SNES’ (known as the Super Famicom in Japan) in 1990, also a 16bit console, and typically had access to more vibrant colours, it also made use a secret ‘super FX’ chip, which was used in popular games like ‘Yoshi’s Island’ or ‘Starfox’ and only advertised later on in the console cycle, to allow for a higher life expectancy.
Along with these consoles also came the Nintendo Gameboy, releasing in 1989, it was a system that went on to dominate handheld sales, even though it featured a low-contrast, unlit monochrome screen while its competitors had colour. These competitors being the SEGA Game Gear and the Atari Lynx.
The Gameboy was revolutionary, and had many incarnations, it was such a big hit for Nintendo that the handheld market still remains one of their biggest focuses to this day.
Another big development was Nintendo and SEGA trying to increase their console’s lifetime, SEGA released peripherals like the 32X which attached to your Megadrive to allow you to play games that were 32bit, like ‘Knuckles Chaotix’, and then a CD port expansion called the ‘SEGA CD’ in 1993, and like the 32X, allowed you to play more games on your system, this time being on CD-roms, which allowed for more space for your software to be distributed on, meaning they could put more in the games, a good example being ‘Night Trap’ which could show compressed footage and incorporated it into a gameplay mechanic.
Nintendo partnered up with SONY to release a CD port, but ultimately the deal was off, and SONY took the hardware they perfected and unveiled their first console within a couple of years.
Here we saw the reveal of the 3DO and the Atari Jaguar both being released in 1993, with the 3DO being CD-rom based and the Jaguar being cartridge based (though it did release a CD expansion) platforms, and being high performing consoles, yet both were ultimately commercial failures (it did not help that Atari stretched the truth about the system being fully 64bit in the commercials), and were very little threat to SEGA or Nintendo.
Around this time is when we see SEGA and Nintendo trying to make their consoles last like mentioned in the last section.
Spoken about above, we begin to see a trend of companies now using CD-rom to distribute their games, as they were much easier to manufacture and allowed for much more storage space, allowing for more files to be accessed by the game, like voiceovers and high quality soundtracks, and the first console to be a commercial success with this feature was the SONY PlayStation, and was their first outing for the market, and sold incredibly, selling up to 100,000,000 systems in its lifetime.
The SEGA Saturn also made use of CD-roms but it proved difficult for people to develop with as it used quadrilateral based graphics instead of standard triangles to help is stand out from the competition, so it was dropped fairly quick.
Nintendo on the other hand did very well with their new console the Nintendo 64, and was the highest performing console of this generation, but it still made use of cartridges, and this of course was expensive to produce and also resulted in the games having no voice overs, or cutscenes as there was not enough space. As it was more expensive, most third party developers went over to develop games for the PlayStation, and for the first time in a long while, a different company outsold Nintendo and SEGA.
This generation gave us more handhelds, such as the SEGA ‘Nomad’ in 1995 and the ‘Game.Com’ in 1997, and to keep up, Nintendo released a version of their Gameboy that played the games in colour now, though these are not too notable, what is notable however was Nintendo’s Virtual Boy, which was their first venture into VR and stereoscopic 3D technology, however it was a commercial flop, as not many good games were produced for it and it gave people migraines when they play for too long.
We also saw a rise in PC gaming, as it was more affordable and things were much easier to port over.
It’s this generation where we see (as of writing) SEGA’s final home console, the Dreamcast, releasing in 1998, although having some great games like ‘Shenmue’ the system only lasted two years, but it was one of the first home consoles that incorporated internet usage, and you could download DLC for your games through the browser, an example of this being in ‘Sonic Adventure 2’, you could get free bonuses on Christmas. These are two big firsts that are a big part of consoles today.
Unlike the competitors in this generation, this system made use of a GD-rom, which was a special type of disk that prevented consumers from easily pirating the software, however people quickly found a way to crack this.
To follow the Dreamcast, came SONY’s PlayStation 2, the follow up to their last console, it made use of DVD-roms which helped the games be more visually appealing with plenty of space to spare, along with online features, which included actual multiplayer (another big first, a huge part of the games industry nowadays), the system could also read and play DVD films, making it a multimedia home console, which really helped with its marketing.
The PlayStation 2 was one of the best selling game consoles of all time, selling around 140,000,000 units worldwide, and lasting in the market for 12 years before discontinuation.
After that, Nintendo released the GameCube in 2001, and was the first Nintendo console to use optical disks to distribute their software, but these were much smaller than DVDs, making them about 8cm. An interesting detail about this system is that it was being tested to incorporate stereoscopic 3D again, but no games made use of the technology inside, which is understandable as they were merely testing.
A big selling point of this console was when they released the ‘Gameboy Player’, which would allow you to play any Gameboy/Colour/Advance game on the system as well, as opposed to just on their handheld devices.
And here we see Microsoft making a big entrance into the home console market it with the first ‘Xbox’ in 2001, it was the first home console to come boxed with a hard drive, so you could save your games on the system itself, as opposed to cartridges or memory cards, another trend we will be seeing in future systems, but it also came with a port for an ethernet cable, making online play a lot easier, and this consoles most notable example of online multiplayer would be ‘Halo 2’, which would influence many games after it.
In this generation we see an increase of consoles using hard drives to save their games, as influenced by Microsoft, and new disc formats, such as PlayStation’s Blu-Ray and Xbox’s HD DVD, however this format was later discontinued.
In this generation we see a huge increase in online play as well!
Microsoft was first to reveal the first console in this generation, it was the Xbox 360, and was released in 2005, and had very high specifications, compared to almost all of the previous generations combined, it was rivaled by the PlayStation 3 released in 2006, having similar specs and having full 1080 HD support it would also make use of Blu-Ray disks, meaning developers could fit more on them, as opposed to the Xbox 360, which needed to make use of 2 disks to handle the install if it was a particularly big game, similar to that of the PS1 (example being the first Metal Gear Solid).
Throughout these system’s lifecycles, they were both neck and neck with each other for a long time, kicking up a console war, similar to SEGA and Nintendo in the third and fourth generations.
Speaking of, Nintendo has just released the Wii, the first game console that encourages use of motion controls, and although initially this was seen as a gimmick, it boomed and sold extremely well despite being the weakest system on the market.
To cash in on this, SONY and Microsoft also added in their own motion control devices, but they weren’t met with as much adoration as the Wii’s.
We also saw the Nintendo DS, the successor to the Gameboy Advance, and featured duel screens and a stylus, it was also backwards compatible.
SONY also released the PSP, and it was aimed at core gamers over the age of 25, and was intended for long journeys and transit, it had a disc-based format called UMD.
Most companies in this generation just focused on making what they had before even better, with hardware upgrades all round, the PlayStation 4 took over the PlayStation 3 in November 2013, and has been the current console ever since, and the same happened with the Xbox One, it replaced the 360. There was a lot of debate on which console is better, but after a shakey announcement, SONY definitely won this console war, but both systems are still loved.
Although the previous generation were still in production until a little while ago, these consoles really are concerned with replacing them, with all the remasters, reboots, backwards compatibility and streaming services, trying to draw in the last crowd as much as possible.
But before these, Nintendo released their newest console the year prior and was intended to be a successor to the Wii, with its biggest selling point being the use of the gamepad being a second screen, much like SONY PS3 and PSP screensharing, but due to a messy marketing department, the Wii U had a poor launch, and suffered for it in the rest of its lifecycle, only selling 13.6 million units.
Nintendo also released the 3DS a year prior, which was the DS but with improved hardware systems, and finally made use of stereoscopic 3D, which worked very well without the use of extra peripherals, however this console was met with controversy as it could give people headaches, but Nintendo had planned for this and give the option to turn the 3D off. None of this stopped it from being as popular as it is now today.
In 2012, SONY released the PS Vita, which was very good console in terms of hardware, and it featured touch screens and a rear touch pad, allowing for interesting gameplay mechanics, however not many big name developers had titles in the works for it, so in America and Europe, it begun to fade away into obscurity despite selling incredibly well in Japan.
As of right now, the consoles of the last generation have been trying to upgrade themselves to last longer, with examples being the ‘3DS XL’, ‘PS4 Pro’, and ‘Project Scorpio’, all with the promise of better performances when playing games.
The most recent console addition was the Nintendo Switch, a fully portable home console, allowing you to switch (see?) from playing at home to somewhere else, while still retaining all the progress you made. Its clear Nintendo learned from their mistakes with the Wii U and have been listening to feedback to deliver a solid, fun console.
The console itself is a tablet with two controllers that attach to the sides of it, giving you the option to hold it up like a handheld, or prop it up as a screen and use the controllers in your hands, allowing you to switch (see?!) playstyles whenever you please.
These started out as a concept in 1909, with Skee-Ball, this would later result in more places buying lanes for people to play Skee-Ball, as it grew popular, more and more ideas came to people, and the next big development would have been ‘Battle Ball’, as it was the first coin-operated machine (very big development), and was developed in Chicago. Though many states banned these machines as they were considered a form of gambling.
It wasn’t until 1971 until saw our first digital arcade machine, called ‘Computer Space’, making it the first coin-operated video game to be mass produced.
Soon after, Atari released Pong arcade machines, and these were the first arcade machines to be considered commercially successful.
From 1978 started what was considered the golden age of arcades, with releases such as Space Invaders which influenced the entire home console market, and Pac-Man which became one of the most commercially successful games of all time, producing over 350,000 cabinets and making over 2 billion dollars in revenue. Most of which were all making use of a mix between Vector and Raster displays.
As the years went on, the technology for these devices kept on evolving to keep up with the times, usually needing to look better than the current home consoles to draw appeal in the first place, but these weren’t the only types of arcade machines, in 1999 we were introduced to Dance Dance Revolution, or DDR, a new craze that took the world by storm, and became a big part of the arcade experience, and attracted more and more types of consumers
Nowadays, arcades are less popular, and less and less games are being produced or updated, as companies now no longer see much need for them as they aren’t making as much money as it would be to mass produce the machines, which is a shame, but its nice to see that companies such as SEGA, Capcom and Konami still have their games dotted around arcade spots around the world.
Most phones would typically come with pre-installed games, but the first ever mobile game was Tetris in 1994, and from then on more and more phones started having games implemented onto them, the most popular example possibly being Snake on the Nokia 6610 models, and was installed on 400 million devices around the world. With each new phone becoming a bit more powerful, the more games that could be played, allowing level saves, colours, etc, though these games were rarely too complex.
It wasn’t until 2007 until we were introduced to the iPhone 2G, the most powerful phone around at the time, and gave us a glimpse of what we could expect for the future.
The following year, Google Play and the App Store were released to the public, these saw the release of simple and easily programmed games, sold cheap / free to large audiences.
In 2009, Rovio Mobile released a game called ‘Angry Birds’ and it was a huge success, spawning sequels, ports and even movie and TV deals, proving to developers that this was a market worth looking into, and so, they did, and this lead to the more games being developed for the system at a higher quality.
The app store and others now have millions and millions of apps available, and a large percentage of those are games, and nowadays our smartphones are becoming so powerful, they can play PS2 games fine, and even high demanding games that display beautiful visuals, it is incredible to imagine what they could be capable of in the coming years.
Rising in popularity during the Fifth console generation, personal computers have evolved along with consoles throughout the years, and are still an alternative to them today, as they tend to be more affordable, depending on what you’re looking for, and easier to gain access to a larger library of games.
The first PC game debuted in 1962 and was a game called ‘SPACEWAR’ and was created by Steve Russel and was designed to run on the DEC PDP-1 computer system, the premise of the game being left fairly simple, where you need to shoot your target while avoiding obstacles. Instead of the keyboard we’re used to today, the controller inputs were a control box instead.
Personal computers can be found in every home, so it makes sense that the gaming market for it would jump from niche to mass audiences, what helped this was Valve starting up their own gaming service called ‘Steam’ which acted as the storefront for games for your computer, which helped move the systems into the digital age.
But with more and more high end games being made, home computers have become separated from ‘gaming computers’, which are made from the parts to give the consumer the best performance possible, and an overall better experience.