Video games have come a long way. Today, about two-thirds of American families have members who regularly play video games, and these games have built up a $100 billion industry. Today, video games are more sophisticated than ever, as some have even integrated Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) technologies.
However, video games were not always as glossy and complex as they are today. They have come a long way over the decades, and it is amazing to see how far they have come. Here is a sneak peek into the comprehensive industry of video games.
Starting Out – The First Video Games
The first video games were developed by scientists who didn’t give much thought to how they would impact the future. The first recognizable video game that could be played on more than one computer installations was Spacewar! The game was developed by Steve Russell, a scholar at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), in 1962.
Before the launch of Spacewar!, Professor A.S. Douglas, from the University of Cambridge, created the popular game of tic-tac-toe in 1952. He is considered an inspiration for gaming developers who heralded the new dawn of video games.
The Era of Arcade Gaming
Arcade gaming is one of the casualties of the technological advances made in the gaming industry. In the 60s, 70s, and 80s, arcades were all the rage.
Sega was one of the first companies, alongside Taito, to set up arcade gaming facilities. They released electro-mechanical gaming machines in 1966 and 1967 respectively. Soon after, Atari joined the trend and took both companies on by investing heavily in arcade facilities. It also introduced a competitive angle to arcade gaming when it enabled players to create their profiles and record their high scores on the board. Considering that the biggest prize back then was a spot on the board, it is amazing to think that players compete for million-dollar prizes today.
Arcade machines became more sophisticated and popular with time. Soon, people of all ages were not opposed to playing a game or two. And, when Atari introduced its famous game Pong, arcade games became wildly popular. All sorts of businesses, including shopping malls and bars, were setting up arcade machines for interested customers.
You will not find many arcade centers today. The industry was killed by the onset of consoles that supported playing video games at home. These consoles were also more sophisticated than any arcade machine.
Bringing Video Games Home – The First Home Console
The very first video games, though simple, could only be accommodated by then-advanced (Programmed Data Processor) computers that were mostly found at universities and other major learning institutions. However, history changed in 1967 when Sanders Associates, Inc. developed small, portable gaming consoles that could be paired with TV sets and used at home.
The first home game console, dubbed ‘The Brown Box’, was created by Ralph Baer. Baer was the head of Sanders Associates, Inc – this is why Ralph Baer is considered the ‘Father of Video Games’. The console was designed in the fashion of a vacuum tube-circuit. It accommodated a variety of games, including Checkers, Ping Pong, and four sports games. With time, and as the technology advanced, players were able to add accessories such as a light-gun and a special golf club.
Baer licensed the console to Magnavox in 1972. Magnavox then sold the console to end-consumers and branded it Odyssey, the first gaming console designed for home use. The new console could accommodate up to 28 games.
Fun Fact: The assumption that Atari was the first home gaming console is wrong. The fact is that Odyssey was released just a few months before Atari, hence the confusion. It should also be noted that one of the 28 games offered by Odyssey was the inspiration for the famous Pong video game issued by Atari.
The Second Home Console – Atari
Unfortunately, the Odyssey was not as popular as expected – it sold a paltry 300,000 units after its release. Odyssey’s failure is blamed on a variety of factors, including poor marketing strategies and complications with its operation.
However, it did not spell the end of home gaming consoles. Atari enhanced the move towards gaming at home when it released the Atari 2600, which was more sophisticated than Odyssey. The most important feature on this new console was its ability to support interchangeable game cartridges, which allowed users to play multiple games on one system. The console also supported multi-colored games that were preferred by users for their vibrancy.
The video game industry didn’t realize much development through the 70s and 80s, but the few milestones that were achieved were instrumental in charting the industry’s future. Some of the most notable developments during those two decades include the development of Pac-Man and Donkey Kong. Tech giant Microsoft also developed the first flight simulator game during this period.
Japanese Manufacturers Introduce Nintendo
Considering just how wildly popular video games are today, it is difficult to believe that the industry was on the verge of collapse back in the 80s. Were it not for Japanese console and video game developers, the American video game industry would not be as large or as sophisticated as it is today.
As video games rose in popularity, greedy developers made half-baked video game software that frustrated users. The industry was also disorganized, and technology was moving faster than key players could keep up with.
Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), a Japanese console and video game development corporation, entered the North American market in 1985. Their consoles were better, as they featured improved 8-bit graphics. They also put out better colors and sounds, which made gaming more fun and engaging. NES also came with strict rules for third-party video game software developers. It imposed regulations that ensured that new game software was of good quality, as opposed to the half-baked software.
Four years after NES made in-roads into the American video game market, the corporation released its flagship hand-held gaming console dubbed Game Boy. Now, players could enjoy their favorite video games while on the go, and this greatly contributed to the industry’s growth and popularity.
Coming of Age: Nintendo, Sega, and Sony
Sega was instrumental in the development of hand-held and TV consoles. In 1989, Sega developed a 16-bit console dubbed the Sega Genesis. The console was better than Nintendo’s in every way. Ultimately, Sega rose fast in the American market and became an equal competitor with NES. Soon enough, in 1991, NES also released its 16-bit console.
Both consoles were powerful enough to handle more sophisticated video games. This saw the emergence of popular combat games, such as Mortal Combat. These games were so wildly popular that they were re-enacted as movies, which turned out to be just as popular.
It was not until Sony made its interest in the video game industry known that the competition really hit off. The threat spurred both Sega and Nintendo to go a notch further. Nintendo launched a 64-bit console. Sega, on the other hand, released a 32-bit console in 1995, which supported CDs instead of cartridges. Several months later, Sony released its first console, the Playstation. Sony kicked off a price war as it sold its console for $100 less than Sega’s CD-based console.
Sony enjoyed a high reputation and heavy backing. Most video games signed up with its console, so it ultimately dominated the market. It also made better consoles, as the Playstation 2 could play the company’s original games and support DVDs, which made it suitable for playing complex, sophisticated games. Soon after, Microsoft threw its hat in the ring and released the Xbox, which was just as sophisticated as the Playstation.
Fun Fact: Video games have been blamed for allegedly inspiring violence in young people. Even back in 1993, the Congress held several hearings to discuss the violence depicted in video games and movies such as Mortal Combat. This prompted Sega to set up the Videogame Rating Council. The council is no longer existent, but it gave rise to the Software Rating Board, which vets all public video games. Psychologists have shown that video games are not the cause of violence.
The State of the Video Game Industry Today
Playing video games has advanced so much that it is a full-time occupation for some gamers. The $100 billion dollar industry is opening up new opportunities. Pro gamers are competing against each other in highly sophisticated games that are much more complex than Baer could have ever imagined. Video game developers and interested third-parties now launch high-level tournaments that attract millions of fans from all over the world.
The most advanced gaming consoles so far are the Playstation 4 Pro and the Xbox One X. the Playstation 4 Pro was released in 2016. It was the first console to support 4K video output, thus delivering crystal-clear video of the game. The Xbox One X launched later in 2017 as a response to Sony’s new console. It, too, supports 4K video output. Nintendo also came back with a twist with its Nintendo Switch, which is the only console that supports TV-based and handheld use, which makes it incredibly convenient.
The dawn of the smart phone age also saw an influx of mobile games. There are millions of gaming apps on both Android’s and iOS’s stores, and some are sophisticated enough to rival games that you would ordinarily play on a console.
Additionally, the advances made in computer technology have made gaming on PC popular. In fact, some of the most popular games today, such as Call of Duty, are best played on a PC as it affords greater control. PC gaming rigs are much more sophisticated than consoles, and a top-range league will set you back thousands of dollars. For a complete PC gaming setup, you’ll need a gaming PC or laptop, keyboard, mouse, headset, monitor, and more.
The Future of Gaming
There are concerns that mobile games are killing off consoles. These concerns are unfounded, as consoles are much more sophisticated and suited for gaming than the most powerful smart phones. If anything, gaming is expected to become more sophisticated in the near future.
Video game consoles are here to stay, and they will only get better. Sony and Microsoft are currently locked in a race, and each company is always working on introducing new and better features. This means that consoles will be capable of supporting more complex and sophisticated games, and they may even integrate with advanced technology such as virtual reality.
Gaming PCs are also becoming more and more advanced, and there are new PC games coming out every other day. PCs have also made it possible for individuals and groups of developers to create their own games, so there is a lot of creativity in the industry. It’s also common for PC gamers to build their own gaming computer to rig it to their preferred specifications.
However, it is the virtual and augmented reality technologies that promise to push video games to the stratosphere. These technologies are already in use, and players can really immerse themselves into the game and do impressive things that are not possible with consoles and other gaming gadgets. These capabilities are already being exploited by video game developers. For instance, Facebook acquired the VR company Oculus in 2014, and it is looking to make inroads in the video game industry.
There is also some optimism that Artificial Intelligence may further advance and revolutionize video games as we know them today. AI has the potential to make gaming much more realistic and beneficial than it already is. However, it will be some time before we see AI technology integrate with video games as it is still under development, and there is a lot of concern about how safe the concept is.
Video games have come a long way, and they are set to become bigger and better with advancements in the tech industry. The ultimate gaming experience today comes from advanced PC gaming rigs and consoles. However, you can always play a fun and relaxing video game anywhere and at any time through your smart phone. And, in the future, you may be able to literally get into your gaming world and interact with the characters.