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It’s nice to have reasons to celebrate given the current climate! So, it’s our pleasure to wish you a happy anniversary of the gaming industry. Now 50 years in progress, and even more in the making, we look back on the achievements that have made gaming a powerhouse of commercial entertainment moving into the 3rd decade of the 21st century.

50 Years of A Gaming Industry 🥳 🥳

No, it’s not Pong! The first commercial video game available for the public to buy was actually a game called Computer Space. Debuting on the 15th of October 1971 in a trade show in Chicago, this simplistic game involved firing on two alien saucers from a player controlled rocket.

However, it was not the triumphant start to a video game’s industry that you’d expect. It didn’t sell very well at all, and it wasn’t until Pong itself was released for home consoles that the commercial power of gaming was properly illustrated. Too complicated and overestimating the public, Computer Space failed because of game design that was in-step with the market they were trying to create.

This shows very poetically how the relationship between game design and player base represents an ongoing, 50-year old conversation that’s still evolving and defining success within the industry.

A 50-year(+) journey 📅

It wasn’t long after the first commercial video game launched the market that the industry kicked off and even saw oversaturation by as early as 1983. It’s hard to pick milestones with so many technological and design advancements over the years, but here’s our attempt at a (somewhat) condensed timeline:

  • 1936, first ever light gun – you might be as surprised by this as we were, but 5 decades before Duck Hunt on the SNES, and even before the first computer game, light guns had been invented and were in use.
  • 1940, first ever computer game – way before the industry started we had the first computer game ever created, ‘Nim’.
  • 1958, first video game – the first game including a video screen was a kind of electronic tennis game similar to Pong.
  • 1970, first arcade game – Pong.

Industry start:

  • 1971, first commercial game – Computer Space.
  • 1972, 1st generation consoles, first esports competition – this year saw the first home video system, Magnavox Odyssey. It also saw the first ever video game competition take place at Stanford University.
  • 1977, 2nd generation – Atari really redefined console gaming, taking the torch from the Odyssey.
  • 1979, first handheld gaming console – a commercial failure, the Microvision was still a technological success that paved the way for the more successful gameboy over a decade later.
  • 1980, first 3D game – first ever game with 3D (2.5 technically) graphics.
  • 1985, 3rd generation – the NES, another huge leap in console gaming technology.
  • 1986, first network game – SGI Dogfirst was the first game ever released with internet protocol functionality, although it was limited to a single network (no world wide web yet).
  • 1989, 4th generation, start of PC internet gaming – the Sega Mega Drive emerged alongside the SNES in 1991 and we see the first instance of close competition for the top-selling console top-spot. The beginning of the console wars in earnest. In the same year, the first successful handheld console gaming device was produced in the form of the Game Boy. Also in this year is seen the launch of IP Multicast and the first instance of online gaming.
  • 1990, first online console gaming – Sega releases Meganet online gaming services and the first multiplayer online gaming.
  • 1991, first ever MMORPG, first VR arcade machines – the SNES, Nintendo’s second major console launched to answer the Mega Drive. The first ever MMORPG was also launched this year, paving the way for World of Warcraft and other successors. This year also saw The Virtual Reality Group release a number of VR arcade machines.
  • 1993, first VR console capability – a huge commercial flop, Sega released VR glasses in this year.
  • 1994, 5th generation, start of mobile gaming – this year sees Sony enter and dominate the market with their Playstation. This marks Atari’s last entry with the Jaguar, and Sega lagging far behind with their Saturn. This year also saw the first mobile phone game, a Tetris-like game on the Hagenuk MT-2000.
  • 1996 – the launch of the Nintendo 64 falls short of the Playstation, securing only a third of its sales.
  • 1997, consoles overtake arcades – this is the first year that the console industry overtook the arcade industry marking a swift decline for arcades.
  • 1998, 6th generation, first MOBA – the Sega Dreamcast is Sega’s last console launch and falls very short of the other big titles in the 6th generation. This year also saw Aeon of Strife, a fan-made mod for StarCraft that many agree is the first example of a MOBA as we see them today.
  • 2000, first AR game – a continuing industry leader, the Playstation 2 outstrips all other 6th generation consoles in units sold. Also this year, the first AR game, AR Quake, was launched.
  • 2001 – the GameCube is launched, and the Game Boy Advance is launched, which outsells both the GameCube and Xbox by a wide margin.
  • 2002 – the Xbox is launched, Microsoft’s first foray into the console industry.
  • 2003, first PC gaming client platform – Steam is launched, laying the groundwork for modern client-based PC gaming and virtual game stores.
  • 2004 – both Nintendo’s DS and the PSP launched this year, contending in sales with the non-handhelds in the generation. In fact, the DS was the highest-selling of this generation despite being a handheld.
  • 2005, 7th generation – the launch of the Xbox 360. This generation shows a neck-and-neck industry race between Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo.
  • 2006 – the Playstation 3 and Wii both launch as the other contenders in generation 7 of the console wars. The Wii also launched motion control gaming forward from primitive light guns to more intricate infrared controllers.
  • 2011 – the Nintendo 3DS launches. While discontinued in 2020, this is still the most recent front-runner for purely handheld consoles.
  • 2012, 8th generation – the Wii U was the first 8th generation console, merging handheld and classic console gaming in a novel way not done before. This year also saw the Oculus Rift, a kickstarter campaign that led to the first modern VR headset.
  • 2014 – the Playstation 4 and Xbox One are both released this year, with Playstation regaining it’s console sales topspot.
  • 2015, mobile overtakes consoles – from this point forward, mobile gaming became more lucrative than console gaming as an industry.
  • 2016 – not the first AR game, or even the first on mobile, still Pokemon Go is a landmark in gaming for being the first successful AR game to go viral.
  • 2017 – the Nintendo Switch launches, expanding on Wii U innovation this is a hybrid console with handheld and controller gaming functionality.
  • 2020, 9th generation – in 2020 we got the most recent generation of console launches with the Playstation 5 and Xbox Series X and S.

Phew. Even limiting ourselves to only the most significant advancements and industry milestones leaves us with a very long list that is in no way exhaustive. Not surprising, given a highly competitive and lucrative industry founded on a technological arms race. Looking back on all that has been accomplished, it’s hard to imagine what awaits us over the next 50 years.

Sources

https://www.popsci.com/technology/first-commercial-video-game-computer-space/
https://learn.stash.com/defining-moments-in-video-game-history-a-timeline
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_video_game_consoles
https://www.blippar.com/blog/2018/06/08/history-augmented-reality
https://www.vrs.org.uk/virtual-reality/history.html