A brief history of gaming

From Pong to crypto-games, arcade machines to smartphones, the evolution of the gaming market is an action-packed saga full of space invasions, virtual reality, mind-blowing technology and more princess rescues than you could shake a joystick at.

PCR highlights some of most exciting advancements in the games industry so far…

1972 – Let me see that Pong

Although there were a number of “amusement devices”, interactive analog games and entertainment-focussed computer projects throughout the 50s and 60s requiring huge computers to run, the very first arcade game machine was Computer Space in 1791.

Despite the historical importance of this machine, it wasn’t until the world became enthralled with Atari’s Pong (pictured) in 1972 that video games really began to grab the attention of the adults and children who were looking for a new entertainment format.

Although there were early home consoles like the Magnavox Odyssey, it was Pong that really ignited the desire for arcade games. In fact, it was so popular that a massive amount of clones entered the market in a short space of time.

As arcade gaming grew a number of iconic games such as Space Invaders (1978), Pac-Man (1980) and Donkey Kong (1981) and following suit to create what was is known as the Golden Age of Video Games. While the exact time frame of this glorious gaming boom has been disputed over the years, it is generally thought to have taken place throughout the late 70s and into the early 80s.

1981 – PC master race

While mostly younger gamers were becoming obsessed with getting their names on the high score screens of arcade machines, something else game-related was happening amongst office workers during the early 80s: People were starting to play games on their PCs.

Notably, IBM included Microsoft’s Adventure as the only game in the initial software release for its Personal Computer (pictured) in 1981. With computer magazines of the time praising IBM’s PC as an excellent gaming device, By 1984, the likes of technology mag InfoWorld had reported that “in offices all over America (more than anyone realises) executives and managers are playing games on their computers”.

The PC gaming industry has probably been the most exciting from a technological innovation point of view. As home computers became more popular throughout the years, the demand for a better gaming experience has driven innovation in graphics cards, peripherals and internet speeds.

1983 – A Famicom affair

As the video games industry expanded, it was clear that different gamers had different needs. While PC gaming was in its infancy (and an expensive and more technical hobby), consumers were hungry for an arcade experience in the home that could be accessible to the whole family. Although we had previously seen the likes of the Magnavox Odyssey (1972) and the VES (1976), it was the third generation of consoles that really gave the at-home gamer a device that they could pick up and play a vast array of titles on.

It all kicked off with Nintendo’s Famicom in Japan in 1983. Supporting high-resolution sprites and larger colour palettes, Famicom games were longer and offered more detailed graphics. At the time, in the US, video games were seen as a bit of a fad, so Nintendo released its Famicom as the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and advertised it as a toy for children and families.

And it worked. The NES became the highest selling console in the history of North America and propelled Mario into the global icon that he is today.

The SEGA Master System followed a couple of years later, along with the Atari 7800, kickstarting the flurry of iconic console devices throughout the 80s, 90s, 00s, and up to present day, with some of the PCR team’s personal favourites including the SEGA Mega Drive/Genesis (1989/90), Nintendo SNES (1991/92), Sony PS1 (1995) and Nintendo Switch (2017).

1991 – Virtual Reality: Round 1

Although it may not have been a success at the time, the attempt to make virtual reality a “thing” in the video games industry in the early 90s has to be included in this article. SEGA was one of the first companies to attempt to launch a VR headset (pictured) in 1991 as an accessory for the Genesis/Mega Drive.

While it was unfortunate that the headset never got a release – with an unusual excuse that the virtual effect was “too realistic” for people to handle – it did spark the idea that one day, virtual reality would find its way into the video games industry.

In the years that followed, gamers were treated to the Cybermaxx (1994) and Nintendo’s Virtual Boy (1995) to name but a few, but no one could seem to offering up a headset that wasn’t a short-lived gimmick before gamers either felt sick, or got sick of heavy headset.

2000s – The growth of esports

Some would say that, technically, esports has been around since the days of Space Invaders, with Atari holding a video game tournament in 1980 that saw 10,000 people compete across the US. But despite tournaments being a pass-time for arcade fans in the 80s and console and PC gamers in the 90s, it wasn’t until the 2000s that esports as we know it today started to really develop.

We have South Korea to thank for esport’s blossoming beginnings. With the mass building of broadband internet networkings following the 1997 Asian financial crisis, South Korean gamers took full advantage of online gaming. In 2000, the Korean E-Sports Association launched to promote and regulate esports in the country, and since then we have seen esports associations pop up around the globe to help build up the industry into a true sporting sector.

And build up the industry they did. Goldman Sachs valued the esports industry at $500 million in 2016 and expects it to grow over the next three years into a market worth more than $1 billion.

2008 – Gaming on the go

By this point in time, gamers had already become familiar with an array of mobile devices, such as Nintendo’s Game Boy (1990), the SEGA Game Gear (1991), and the Nintendo DS (2004), but as mobile phones started to become a more common gadget, gamers wanted to be able to use this device to quench their thirst for button bashing.

Despite the insanely addictive Snake being preloaded onto Nokia mobile phones in 1998, it wasn’t until Apple launched the App Store in 2008 that world of mobile phone gaming really began to expand. Before 2008, the software industry was dominated by a few large companies, but the App Store opened the door for any developer, whether a bedroom coder or a large studio, to create apps and games and sell them to smartphone owners. The Google Play store followed in 2012, expanding these game-developing – and game-playing – possibilities to Android device users.

Over the past 10 years we saw not only impressive innovation in gaming development, but in smartphone technology, meaning gamers no longer think of their phone as providing simple games to pass the time, but also capable of running full ports of things like Grand Theft Auto and Assassin’s Creed (pictured).

To put in perspective just how popular mobile gaming is, it’s thought that more than 500 games are submitted to the App Store alone each day.

2012 – Return to VR

Although virtual reality sales in the 90s fizzled out fairly quickly, there was always the hope that someone could come along and put this technological innovation to good use.

In 2012, Oculus VR announced a Kickstarter campaign for its Oculus Rift headset. The project proved successful, raising $2.5 million, and just two years later, Facebook purchased the company for a cool $2 billion.

What followed was an array of VR headsets entering the marking, including HTC’s Vive, PlayStation VR and the Samsung Gear VR.

In 2017, Oculus announced the Oculus Go (pictured) – a stand-alone VR headset that requires no PC to run. Instead it works with a companion app for iOS or Android.

According to a report from SuperData, in Q2 2018, the Oculus Go headset made an estimated 289,000 shipments.

2018 – The future of gaming

As we’ve seen up until this point, the gaming industry is constantly at the forefront of technological innovation. We’ve seen VR headsets come and go… and come back again, and we’ve seen chip manufacturers constantly push the boundaries of what machines can handle. So what’s next in the world of video games?

As reported by MCV, Sony London’s lead game designer Michael Hampden discussed the evolution of VR at the recent Develop: Brighton event, predicting that improvements in haptic feedback will boost new genres.

“Feeling an object, the texture, will change the game, it will make things much more immersive and it will allow new genres of VR games to emerge,” he said.

Another new genre that we’re already seeing start to emerge is “crypto-games”, which in essence, means gamers can trade in-game items and currency for cryptocurrency.

One other area of technology that is predicted to change the gaming industry is the introduction of 5G. Gartner Research vice president Mark Hung told CNBC recently that 5G could “enable the tactile internet” with latency so short that feedback feels instantaneous, suggesting that cloud-based gaming across console and PC could become commonplace in the near future. If so, “tactile internet” could significantly change the way gaming devices look, work and evolve. 

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