The 1970’s marks the start of the recognisable game industry- ‘the first generation’ of consoles- when arcade games began to emerge and the first home gaming console, the Magnavox Odyssey was released. In November 1971 the first (technically second after the Galaxy Game arcade game on Stanford University campus) attempt at a coin-operated arcade game system based on Spacewar! was released, called Computer Space. 1,500 were released by Nutting Associates who bought the game, however the game was largely unsuccessful because of difficulties playing it. Atari, once the most prominent video games corporation in existence, went on to be founded by the same duo that created Computer Space and Pong (1972) was born, based closely around several existing tennis games created in the past such as for the Odyssey.
By ’74 over 8,000 units had sold, with numbers eventually growing to over 34,000. The hardware was not patented, and so many identical versions of the same game emerged from different companies too, so numbers were indeed even higher than those recorded. It is Pong that is largely recognised as the kickstarter for the arcade game industry, bringing games to the attention of the masses and making games cheaply available out of home. Meanwhile the Magnavox Odyssey was struggling under the popularity of Pong and eventually in 1975 the Odyssey was withdrawn to be replaced by scaled down versions.
The Odyssey 100 and 200 were released simultaneously alongside the Pong home console released via Sears, causing the consumer-based game market to emerge in light of very popular arcade based games. Many different inferior consoles were also released with clones of games on other systems. In 1976 a cartridge based console, the Fairchild Video Entertainment System, was released (the start of generation 2 consoles). Throughout the 70’s, many university students also covertly programmed games which were never released, acknowledged, or even recorded. Many modern games MMOs and other games are inspired from some of these early productions.
As I mentioned above, there was a great increase in copy-cat game systems and games released in the 70’s, and in 1977 many of these companies sold off game consoles to clear stocks, often at a loss. The games industry crashed massively, leaving only Magnavox and Atari afloat in the home console market. It took almost 3 years for the game industry to recover with Atari’s release of Space Invaders, which was inspired by 1975’s Gun Fight’s use of a microprocessor. Space Invaders was the first game to save and display a high score. Wow! The game was licensed on the Atari 2600, quadrupling their sales and reviving the home game industry. Atari continued to dominate the games market in the early 80’s. Colour titles such as Pac-Man (originally Puck-Man) also emerged for arcade.
However, the market became more and more saturated with low quality consumer games and consoles, despite the existence of Space Invaders and Donkey Kong and many other popular games. Consumers became confused and uninterested in games, and they stopped buying. The games industry crashed once again in 1983 and the integrity of the future of the industry was questioned. The Golden Age was over.
In 1982 the Commodore 64 PC had been released, rivalling the Atari 2600 in its capabilities and sound/graphics system. The Atari joysticks could also be used with it. By 1984 a ridiculous amount of home computers were in existence and the computer gaming market actually took over from the console market as a result of the ’83 crash. From 1984 onwards many computers emerged, with varying capabilities in terms of graphics resolution, sound, and colour. For example, the first Apple Macintosh released was in black and white, substituting colour for higher res, whereas other companies opted for colour over resolution. Finally dedicated sound cards began to emerge, addressing the sound issues so many models had.
The third generation of game consoles started with Nintendo in 1985, when the Nintendo Entertainment System, or Famicom (something just feels wrong about that name, right?) in Japan was released. Multiple bundle packs were released with various game combinations for different costs, and Nintendo began to rise to dominance. Between 1986 and 1989, The Legend of Zelda, Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy, Metal Gear and Sweet Home (the first survival horror genre kickstarter) were created. Many of these games are still phenomenal worldwide franchises today.