Video games are big business, making over $130 billion in 2018 and with experts projecting that the market will double in size in the next five years. From cultural phenomena like Minecraft and Fortnite to the portable proliferation of gambling through platforms like this online casino, every taste and budget is covered in the modern era.
The history of digital interactive entertainment can also be traced back to its humble beginnings via a number of significant technological milestones dotted over the decades, each of which helps to illustrate how the industry has grown to its current, impressive state.
First video game created
The origins of modern video games began in 1958, when a title dubbed Tennis for Two was cooked up at a US science facility by nuclear physicist William Higinbotham.
Incredibly primitive by modern standards, the clever use of existing lab equipment to emulate a two player tennis match laid the foundations upon which future consumer-focused products would be built.
Home consoles arrive
1972 was a big year for video games, with the launch of the fledgling ‘consoles’ designed for sale to consumers and use in the living room.
The Magnavox Odyssey managed to pip its rivals to the post, although with a lack of audio output and the limited ability to showcase just 3 dots in black and white, it needed a significant amount of imagination on the part of the player. Home Pong from Atari arrived months later, and throughout the rest of the decade other companies jumped on the bandwagon, the majority of which have since fallen into obscurity.
Gaming goes 3D
For the first couple of decades, video games were somewhat stuck with just two dimensions, even if some clever trickery did allow for 3D-style experiences relatively early on.
Overlooking a handful of outliers and a few arcade exceptions, true 3D gaming didn’t become a mainstream reality until the mid-1990s and the dawn of the fifth console generation. Sega may have got there first with the Saturn, but it was the PlayStation from Sony that won the war in the long term and allowed for full polygonal 3D graphics to become the norm.
Even the Nintendo 64, which was more powerful on paper, could not hope to overtake Sony’s first flagship console. It also helped popularise CDs as a storage medium in the market, making the costly cartridges of the N64 look positively archaic by comparison.
Online play arrives
As with other tech milestones in the video game space, the emergence of online multiplayer was a staggered affair, rather than having one defining starting point.
People had been playing on internal networks for almost as long as they had existed, but in the late 1990s the rise of faster connectivity helped bring this feature to the masses.
Once again Sega got there first, with its ill-fated Dreamcast console coming with an integrated dial-up modem as standard. However, Sony and Microsoft gained the commercial traction that Sega never enjoyed in the early 2000s with their broadband-based gaming services for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox respectively.
Indeed it was online play facilitated through Xbox Live, and the Halo franchise in particular, which was perhaps the main reason that Microsoft managed to get a foothold in the console space in the first place.
Streaming changes the game
For the majority of the video game industry’s history, players have needed to buy a physical copy of the game they want, whether stored on floppy disc, cartridge, CD, DVD or Blu-Ray. Even with the dawn of digital distribution in the mid-2000s and the rise to prominence of platforms like Valve’s Steam, physical games have remained an important commodity.
However, the market seems to be on the cusp of a new era, with the launch of Google’s Stadia service ushering in the concept of cloud-based game streaming.
This not only makes physical copies of games redundant, but also means that there is no need to download or install data locally; instead everything is hosted on a remote server and streamed to the player’s device of choice.
Attempts to master game streaming have been made in the past, and even Google’s initial foray into this field has not got off to the best start, but there is no doubting that this is the most significant step forward that the industry has taken for many years.