Gaming has grown from its humble beginnings as a technological oddity at a scientific fair in the 1950s to become one of the world’s most successful entertainment enterprises.
In recent years, the mobile technology boom has changed the business and ushered in a new generation of gamers. Indeed, gaming has grown so ingrained in modern popular culture that even grandmothers know what Angry Birds is, and more than 42% of Americans are gamers, with four out of every five families in the United States owning a console.
The Formative Years
Dr. Edward Uhler Condon introduced the first known model of a game machine at the New York World’s Fair in 1940. During the six months it was on display, about 50,000 people played the game, which was based on the ancient mathematical game of Nim, with the computer winning more than 90% of the games.
However, it was nearly three decades later, in 1967, that Ralph Baer and his team unveiled their prototype, the “Brown Box,” as the first game system meant for commercial home use.
The “Brown Box” was a vacuum tube circuit that could be linked to a television and allowed two users to control cubes on the screen that followed each other. The “Brown Box” could be configured to play ping pong, checkers, and four sports games, among other things. Added accessories included a lightgun for a target shooting game and a unique attachment for a golf putting game, both of which were made possible by advanced technology at the time.
“The minute we played ping-pong, we knew we had a product,” Baer said, according to the National Museum of American History. We weren’t sure before that.”
Magnavox acquired the “Brown Box” and released the Magnavox Odyssey in 1972. It came out a few months before Atari, which is frequently wrongly regarded as the first video game console.
Around 300,000 Magnavox consoles were sold between August 1972 and 1975, when it was discontinued. Poor sales were attributed to poorly handled in-store marketing initiatives and the fact that at the time, home gaming was a foreign notion to the ordinary American.
This was the beginning of digital gaming as we know it today, however mismanaged it may have been.
After that, it’s on to Atari and arcade games.
When Sega and Taito debuted the electro-mechanical games Periscope and Crown Special Soccer in 1966 and 1967, they were the first businesses to attract the public’s interest in arcade gaming. In 1972, Atari (established by the godfather of gaming, Nolan Bushnell) became the first gaming firm to truly establish the standard for a large-scale gaming community.
The games’ nature fostered competitiveness among players, who were able to keep track of their high scores… and were adamant about claiming the #1 spot on the list.
Atari not only developed its games in-house, but they also created a whole business around the “arcade.” In 1973, Atari released the first actual electronic video game, Pong, for $1,095, and arcade machines began to appear in bars, bowling alleys, and shopping malls all over the world. Between 1972 and 1985, more than 15 businesses began developing video games for the ever-growing market, indicating that techies were onto something huge.
The Beginnings Of Multiplayer Games As We Know Them
To cash in on the hot new trend, a number of chain restaurants across the United States began installing video games in the late 1970s. The games’ nature encouraged rivalry among players, who could record their high scores with their initials and were anxious to claim the top spot on the leaderboard. Multiplayer gaming was confined to participants competing on the same screen at the time.
“Empire,” a strategy turn-based game for up to eight players built for the PLATO network system in 1973, was the first example of players competing on different displays. PLATO (Programmed Logic for Automatic Education Operation) was one of the first universal computer-based teaching systems, developed by the University of Illinois and then taken over by Control Data (CDC), who created the machines that the system ran on.