Last year, video games officially turned 60 years old – it was in 1957 when a scientist programmed a working tennis simulator on an analogue computer, using an oscilloscope as a display (a modern-day replica of the original game can be found here). Since then, computers and video games have spread like wildfire, invading our schools, workplaces, living rooms, and pockets, sparking heated debates about the harmful effects and benefits of video games, and spawning a multi-billion dollar industry. Today, the most popular video gaming platform is the smartphone – it has the largest number of users and covers the widest ever demographic – followed by PC and consoles. But things were not always this clear – each of the six decades video games have existed for had a dominant platform for gaming.
An Early Start
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, video games were nothing but a novelty. Most video games created at the time were built in the context of programming research but some of them were built with entertainment in mind. Students at the MIT, for example, built games with graphical interfaces on the TX-0 experimental computer – a game called “Mouse in the Maze” where a virtual mouse had to find pieces of cheese in a maze set up by the player using a light pen. It might also come as a surprise that there were dozens of business simulation video games used in the early 1960s. Other games, such as baseball simulators, tic-tac-toe, and the famous “Spacewar” (an early two-player space dogfight simulator) led to the humble beginnings of the video game industry, with some computer manufacturers ending up distributing games with their products.
Coin-operated computer games emerged in the early 1970s, giving the video game industry a whole new meaning. At first, these coin-ops did struggle to find their place in bars and pubs, dominated by pinball machines and other arcade games, and the breakthrough eventually came with the release of Pong in 1972. In the same year, the Magnavox Odyssey – the first gaming console – was created, selling close to half a million units in just four years, becoming the dominant gaming platform of the 1970s.
Growing In Dominance
The late 1970s and the early 1980s are considered the “golden age” of video games. Coin-ops spread like wildfire across the world, and consoles also made their way into an ever-increasing number of households. At the beginning of the 1980s, gaming consoles released in the late 1970s like the Atari VCS/2600, the Magnavox Odyssey², and similar models, were pretty widespread, thanks in part to the release of a few key games (Pacman, Space Invaders, Donkey Kong, and such). Around this time, the first third-party game developer – Activision – was founded by four Atari programmers, releasing classic games like River Raid and Pitfall!. At the same time, home computers (and their games) started to spread, with Apple and Commodore dominating North America, NEC and Sharp taking over Asia, and other platforms like Sinclair, Amstrad, and other brands sharing the rest of the world. Later, the IBM PC/AT gaming platform emerged, albeit overshadowed by the existing home computers’ superior capabilities. It was an exciting time of rapid-fire computer innovations, shaping the world as we know it today. Slowly but steadily, computers, in general, took over the gaming world, seeing the emergence of the first online games, the creation of the first shareware programs, and shaping the gaming industry for years to come.
The Modern Era
If the 1980s was dominated by a variety of home computers when it came to gaming, the 1990s – and the decades to come – were pretty similar to what we see today. On one hand, home consoles became more common, leading to a massive decline of arcade gaming. At the same time, the console market became more consolidated, with today’s big names – Sony and Nintendo – taking the lead, and starting their war against PC. These were the years when handheld consoles like the Nintendo GameBoy and the GameBoy Advance appeared, and the time when some of the gaming genres we love today – FPS, RTS, RPG, and MUDs, the predecessors of modern-day MMOs – appeared. From here on, it was all about the evolution of hardware – the games became more visually appealing and exciting, powered by an ever-stronger selection of graphics processors. Everything was pretty much unchanged until the emergence of the smartphone in the mid-2000s that has slowly become the dominant gaming platform of the current decade.