Since the invention of the modern video arcade, Video Games have gone on to have a profound impact on billions of people around the world.
Today, with graphical and performance capabilities and online innovations, video games are as lifelike and profound as ever, generating billions of dollars, accumulating millions of daily hours and even creating new entertainment platforms in the form of E-Sports and leagues.
Whilst video games convey one of the most profitable and popular entertainment platforms of all time today, the history of this industry has been full of jubilant highs and damning lows and so today we are going to look back at the History of Video Games
Pong and The Initial Rise
To first get a glimpse into the history of video games, we must transport ourselves back to 1970s California during the dawn of the Silicon Valley where it seems every single technology genius marched toward to work from a garage following the mainstream invention of the computer chips and semi-conductors.
One such person happened to be Allan Alcorn, a computer science graduate from San Francisco who had been working for an innovative video company known as Ampex. Many of the staff at Ampex were to become Silicon Valley staples and one such person who Alcorn had met whilst working there was Ted Dabney, who had recently left to start his own company with Nolan Bushnell called Atari.
At Atari, Bushnell and Dabney developed the concept of a “gaming” Pizza Parlour and with it developed the first modern iteration of the coin slot arcade machine.
After garnering significant funding, they set on a mission to make their gaming machine a reality and went about making their first engineering hire: Our friend, Allan Alcorn.
Under the direction of the two founders, Alcorn was tasked with creating a simple table tennis game inspired by a prototype Dabney had seen during his years in University.
Alcorn, who had no video game experience in the past, set upon the challenge and hoped to create an excitingly difficult game and different to anything anybody had ever seen.
The Result? Pong. The first mainstream video game and one of the most iconic to this day, had been born.
The premise was simple, two rectangles on either side of the screen engage in a table tennis match bouncing a small square between them. The first to get the ball past their opponent 11 times wins.
The premise was simple but at the time the technology was revolutionary and after a small yet successful test at a local bar, the game was released first in the form of an arcade machine to which the success was instant spreading like wildfire.
After a number of years of arcade success, Atari released a Home console version of Pong for the Christmas season of 1975 and with it brought the birth of the modern video game console and an entire switch of focus for Atari’s prospects.
In 1977, after years of development, Atari launched the VCS or 2600 computer system and with it, the release of multi-cartridge console.
By 1982, it was the dominant home console and one of the most successful technology companies in the world but with new systems and competitors on the horizon, the trajectory of this new industry was about to take a serious turn for the worse.
Crash of 83
By the early 1980s as mentioned above, the Atari 2600 was the most popular video game console however there was a huge increase in the variety of consoles with about 6 different mainstream varieties to choose from, and with them hundreds of exclusive games being released daily. This wasn’t particularly a good thing!
The dawn of the Personal Computer had relayed another avenue for video game developers, publishers and consumers to target and helped to further saturate what was already a drenched market.
Coupled with this information, Consumer confidence was beginning to reach an all-time low with huge parent dissatisfaction towards a perceived “brain washing” of children with many working groups being established to protest the continued rise of video games.
As well as that, confidence in the reputation of the companies themselves dwindled with the release of sub-par games such as the Atari home version of Pac Man and perhaps the worst video game of all time, E.T: The Extra Terrestrial.
All the above factors mixed together went on to cause a significant concoction that resulted in the devastating Video Game Crash and Recession of 1983. With cancelled IPOs, massive company exits and perhaps most notably, the downfall of Atari, the Video Game industry was in tatters, particularly in North America and the devastating effects would last many many years.
With the American companies suffering the most, the door had opened with a new territory to dominate.
By the time of the crash in 1983, many Japanese video game companies had moved to the forefront of the industry including Taito of Space Invaders and Bandai Namco of Pac Man success.
With the crash almost permanently wiping out the video arcade, opportunities arose for one particular Japanese company who had been moving quietly in the areas of portable and home consoles: Nintendo.
Founded over 132 years ago in 1889, Nintendo had initially been known in Japan for the production of various types of playing cards but in 1973 they began to enter the electronics space with a series of video game devices ranging from plastic guns to the innovative Game & Watch portable devices which brought them to global attention.
In 1977, the company hired Shigeru Miyamoto, a recently graduated artist to assist in the design of some up and coming arcade games. Little did they know at the time, this hire would change Nintendo, the industry and the world forever.
Following steady levels of global success in the arcade space due to the success of games such as Donkey Kong, Nintendo moved into the mainstream multi-cartridge console space in 1983 with the release of the successful Famicom machine in Japan.
Concerned by the Crash of 1983, the company were at first hesitant to release the console in foreign territories but eventually decided to launch the console, now named the NES or Nintendo Entertainment System in North America in 1985 alongside the launch title, Super Mario Bros, one of Miyamoto’s masterpieces.
The success of the NES and Nintendo’s led to a period of pure global dominance for the both company that lasted for well over a decade, and was challenged mainly by Sega in the early 90s through the success of the Genesis and their famous rival, Sonic the hedgehog.
The dominance for Nintendo culminated in the mid 90s where the emergence of 3D gaming technology inspired competitors such as Sony and Microsoft to enter the market.
The fifth generation of Video Game consoles is often referred to as the 32 or 64 bit and was primarily down to the mainstream introduction of 3D Video Games that began with the 1996 release of Super Mario 64 on the Nintendo 64 device.
Sega’s Saturn console was seen as a major competitor to Nintendo’s 3D console but the new generation also made way for 2 new major competitors to enter the market and change gaming forever: Sony with their Playstation console, first released in 1994 and Microsoft’s Xbox console, which later entered the market in 2001.
These two consoles paved the way for the future of video gaming and helped to establish Microsoft and Sony as the two main players in the console industry.
Since the dawn of the century 21 years ago, many new trends have emerged in the world of video games
Further iterations of the mainstay consoles followed with the current lineup consisting of the Playstation 5, Nintendo Switch and Xbox Series X all of which continue to innovative and push the limits of their respective technologies.
Mobile Gaming + Freemium
The emergence of powerful Smartphones has created a new platform for video game developers to explore and with it the Casual Gaming boom was born with games such as Candy Crush and Angry Birds becoming some of the most iconic video game properties of all time.
The emergence of Mobile Gaming has also allowed for the Freemium pricing model to grow allowing games to be downloaded for free with additional content to be purchased. This particular concept has been massively profitable for some major corporations but has also seen widespread criticism across the gaming world.
A Thriving Independent Industry
The availability of game development platforms and tools due to the dawn of the internet has allowed a thriving and innovative indie game scene to enter the market, with individuals or small teams going on to create some of the most successful properties of all time. Minecraft, an indie game initially created by one person, is now the best selling video game of all time.
Online Gaming + E-Sports
The fifth and sixth generation of consoles provided facilities to enable online multiplayer play that has now became the most popular form of console gaming today.
This technology has had a profound effect on the world of gaming, with multi million dollar video game leagues and teams establishing a whole new world of sport.
The power of video games is now being used in a host of non-traditional areas in a new form of entertainment known as Gamification.
The world of education is in the midst of a complete transformation, thanks in part to gamification, inviting people to be entertained whilst learning at the same time.
Our latest feature, Jams is just one example of how multiplayer gaming can be used for good and many schools and institutions are following a gamification model in curriculums.
As we can see, the modern history of video games includes a whirlwind of ups and downs and we are excited to see what the future holds. What was the first video game you ever played? Let us know and get involved in the discussion on our social media pages.