Personal computers and mass-produced game consoles were introduced in the early 1970s, and gaming consoles were popular in commercial areas and chain restaurants across the United States. In 1975, technological developments like Intel’s production of the world’s first microprocessor paved the door for games like a firefight, the first multiplayer human-to-human combat shooter.
Even though it was nothing like Call of Duty, the firefight was a big deal when it first came out in arcades. It took a unique approach to gameplay, with one joystick controlling movement and the other regulating shot direction – something that had never been done before.
The Atari VCS (later known as the Atari 2600) was introduced in 1977, but sales were disappointing, with only 250,000 units sold in the first year and 550,000 in 1978, much below forecasts. The low sales were ascribed to the fact that Americans were still adjusting to having color televisions in their homes, that the consoles were expensive, and that many had grown tired of Pong, Atari’s most popular game.
When the Atari VCS was first released, it could only play ten simple challenge games like Pong, Outlaw, and Tank. However, the system contained an external ROM slot for game cartridges, which was promptly discovered by programmers worldwide, who quickly developed games that far excelled the console’s basic design. The incorporation of the microprocessor also resulted in the release of Space Invaders for the Atari VCS in 1980, ushering in a new era of gaming — and sales: the Atari 2600 sold over 2 million copies in 1980.
Creating Games That Reach Out To A Larger Audience
A flurry of new firms and platforms sprang out due to the video game craze initiated by Space Invaders, resulting in market saturation. Too many gaming consoles and not interesting enough engaging new games to play on them led to the collapse of the North American video game industry in 1983, with large losses and truckloads of unpopular, low-quality titles buried in the desert to get rid of them. The video game industry was in desperate need of a facelift.
At the same time as consoles were receiving negative press, home computers like the Commodore Vic-20, Commodore 64, and Apple II began to gain appeal. These new home computer systems were marketed as a “reasonable” option for the entire family, retailing for around $300 in the early 1980s (around $860 today) and sold as the “affordable” option for the average American.
These home computers feature significantly more powerful CPUs than previous console generations, allowing for more complex, less linear games. They also gave the essential technologies for them to code their games in BASIC. Donkey Kong was designed by Bill Gates (a simple game that involved dodging donkeys on a highway while driving a sports car). Surprisingly, the game was brought back to life as an iOS app in 2012.
The Switch to Online Gaming on Consoles
Even before Sega and Nintendo entered the internet gaming world, many inventors attempted to exploit the power of telephone lines to transport information between consoles.
William von Meister showed groundbreaking modem-transfer technology for the Atari 2600 at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas in 1982. With the CVC GameLine, users could download software and games using their fixed telephone connection and a cartridge inserted into their Atari system.
Users could “download” different games from across the world and play them for free up to eight times; they could also “download” free games on their birthdays. Unfortunately, the device did not gain support from the big game manufacturers of the time, and it died in the crash of 1983.
Real advancements in “online” gaming would not emerge until the release of 4th generation 16-bit-era consoles in the early 1990s, after the Internet as we know it became part of the public domain in 1993. In 1995, Nintendo released Satellaview, a satellite modem attachment for the Super Famicom console. The technology allowed gamers to download games, news and cheats directly to their console via satellites. Although the broadcasts lasted until 2000, the technology was never exported outside of Japan.