History of Video Games | Smithsonian Institution (2023)

Since the dawn of computers, people have found ways to play games on them. These early computer programmers weren't just wasting time or looking for new ways to relax. They had practical reasons for developing games.

In the 1940s and 1950s, computers filled entire rooms and were so expensive that only universities and large corporations could afford them. Most people had a limited understanding of what these electronic behemoths were capable of and a lack of familiarity with the types of mathematical equations that these machines were routinely programmed to calculate. Games like tic-tac-toe or William Higinbotham's 1958 Tennis for Two were excellent ways to garner public interest and support. As an added bonus, computer programmers also learned from making games because it allowed them to break out of the usual subroutines and challenge the computer's capabilities.

It was this mindset that led a group of MIT students to create one of the first and most innovative computer games in the 1960s. Students Steve Russell and friends were given access to the school's new PDP-1 computer so long as they used it to create a demo program that (1) used as many of the computer's resources as possible and "abused those resources to the limit." ." "(2) it remained interesting even after repeated viewings, which meant each iteration had to be slightly different, and (3) it was interactive.

Inspired by the sci-fi novels that Russell and his friends loved, these computer "hackers" decided to create a duel game between two spaceships. The result, called "Spacewar," caused quite a stir on campus, and variations of the game soon spread to other universities that had computer engineering programs.

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Although Spacewar was fun to play, it was never intended to be released to the general public as computers for personal use were still too expensive. Playing Spacewar required access to a research center's computer, limiting the game's impact to the small realm of computer technology.

In fact, video games didn't really start with computer programmers, but with an engineer specializing in another great invention of the 20th century: television. By the 1960s, millions of Americans had invested in televisions for their homes, but these televisions were used only for viewing entertainment. Engineer Ralph Baer was sure that this technology could be used for games.

In 1966, while working for Sanders Associates, Inc., Baer began researching this idea. In 1967, with the help of Sanders coach Bob Tremblay, Baer created the first of several video game test drives. Dubbed the TVG #1 or TV Game Unit #1, the device, when used with an orientation generator, created a dot on the television screen that the user could control manually. After Baer figured out how to interact with the television, he and his team were able to design and build increasingly sophisticated prototypes.

Impressed with Baer's progress, Sanders' top management tasked him with turning this technology into a commercially viable product. After several years and extensive testing and advances, Baer and his colleagues developed a prototype for the first multi-player, multi-program video game system, dubbed the "Brown Box". Sanders licensed the Brown Box to Magnavox, which released the device in 1972 as the Magnavox Odyssey.

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With fewer than 200,000 units sold, the Magnavox Odyssey was not considered a commercial success. Among the contributing factors, poor marketing played a significant role. Many potential consumers were under the impression, sometimes encouraged by Magnavox vendors, that the Odyssey would only work on Magnavox televisions. Ultimately, the problem was that Magnavox viewed the Odyssey as a gimmick to sell more TVs. Magnavox executives lacked the vision to see that TV games had the potential to become an industry in their own right and failed to give the product the support it needed.

Meanwhile, a young creative entrepreneur named Nolan Bushnell recalled playing Spacewar while he was a student at the University of Utah. He started thinking about how to sell the game. Bushnell had experience of amusement park arcades and had seen the popularity of pinball machines firsthand. I thought Spacewar would be a successful slot machine.

In 1971, Nutting Associates, a manufacturer of coin machines, presented Bushnell's idea as "computer room.” Although Spacewar was an entertaining game,computer room proved too complex for the casual gamer to pick up quickly. The necessary changes have been made to convert Spacewar from a two player to a single player game.computer roomfrustratingly difficult for those who have learned to play.

Althoughcomputer roomwas a failure, Bushnell still believed that coin-operated video games could be successful. In May 1972, after seeing a demo of the table tennis game Magnavox Odyssey, Bushnell attempted to create an arcade version of the same game. He and business partner Ted Dabney founded Atari, Inc. in June 1972 and released Pong, an arcade ping-pong game, that same year. The firstApestarThe machine was installed at Andy Capp's Tavern, a bar in Sunnyvale, California. A few days later, the tavern owner called Atari to send someone to fix the machine. The problem turned out to be that the box was filled with too many coins. The coins overflowed and blocked the machine. Atari clearly had a feeling in his hands.

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encouraged byApestarAtari partnered with Sears, Roebuck & Company in 1975 to produce a home version of the game. Magnavox sued for patent infringement. The case was strongly in favor of Magnavox. Ralph Baer carefully documented his work. Magnavox was able to show that it demonstrated the Odyssey to the public in 1972 and that Bushnell attended the demonstration. (It was even later confirmed that Bushnell had played the Odyssey tennis match.) Rather than face a lengthy and arguably unsuccessful trial, Atari settled with Magnavox.

homemade version ofApestarwas just as successful as the arcade version. Atari sold 150,000 units in 1975 alone (compared to the 200,000 Odysseys that took Magnavox three years to sell). Other companies soon began producing their own home versions of Pong. Magnavox even began marketing a line of modified Odyssey units that only played tennis and hockey. Of these first-generation video game consoles, the Coleco Telstar was the most successful, thanks in part to a bit of luck and the help of Ralph Baer.

Coleco, a toy company that would later become known for the popular Cabbage Patch doll in the early 1980s, was just beginning to get involved in video games. On the recommendation of Ralph Baer, ​​Coleco was the first company to place a bulk order for General Instruments' AY-3-8500 chip, on which mostApestarConsole clones were based on. When General Instruments, which had underestimated interest in the chip, struggled to meet production demands, Coleco was high on the priority list. While Coleco's competitors waited months for General Instruments to fill their orders, Coleco controlled the market.

At a crucial time, Coleco Telstar failed the interference tests required for Federal Communications Commission approval. Coleco had a week to fix the problem or the device had to be completely redesigned before it could resubmit for FCC approval. The process can take months and leave the company far behind its competitors. Without FCC approval, Coleco would have inventory full of units it couldn't sell.

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The company approached Sanders and Ralph Baer in hopes that Baer's expertise could help them. Baer found his solution within a week and Coleco received FCC approval. Telstar sold over a million units in 1976 before being eclipsed by the next generation of video game consoles.

Manufactured between 1976 and 1983, these second-generation consoles, such as the Atari VCS (also known as the Atari 2600), Mattel's Intellivision, and ColecoVision, contained interchangeable game cartridges that were sold separately, rather than preloaded games. . This advancement allowed users to create a library of games. The range of games soon became huge, but ironically, this excess turned out to be one of the main reasons why the industry went through a severe downturn in the early 1980s.

In a classic case of supply exceeding demand, many games came out and many were inferior. To complicate matters further, there were many video game consoles to choose from. In addition to the flooded market, video game consoles now faced increasing competition from computers.

Huge, bulky and expensive room-sized computers were a thing of the past. The home computer has loaded. For many, buying a versatile computer like the Apple II, Radio Shack's TRS-80, or the Commodore 64 that could play games alongside a host of other programs seemed like a more logical investment than buying a dedicated system purely for gambling

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Video game console and cassette sales plummeted in 1983 and 1984. Many companies like Mattel and Magnavox shut down their video game series entirely, while Atari, the leader in the space, struggled to stay afloat. Video games were still popular arcade features, but it looked like the era of home video game systems was over.

But in 1985, a small Japanese company proved otherwise. That year, Nintendo released its Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), whose popularity and commercial success surpassed any previous game console. Video games were no longer a novelty, but found a permanent place in mainstream American life, just as Ralph Baer had predicted.


What is the history of the gaming industry? ›

The Birth of the Video Game Industry (1971-1978)

The history of gaming really started when Ralph Baer came up with an idea for an entertainment device that could be hooked up to a television monitor. Ralph Baer's “Brown Box” was a video game console that could play table tennis.

What was the first gaming community? ›

In 1972, Atari (founded by Nolan Bushnell, the godfather of gaming) became the first gaming company to really set the benchmark for a large-scale gaming community.

Who is the father of gaming industry? ›

For video games, that person was Ralph Baer. Long considered the Father of the Video Game, Baer's curiosity and persistence in the 1960s made possible the development and commercialization of the interactive video games and modern consoles we know and love today.

What is the history of video games? ›

The history of video games began in the 1950s and 1960s as computer scientists began designing simple games and simulations on minicomputers and mainframes. Spacewar! was developed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) student hobbyists in 1962 as one of the first such games on a video display.

When did gaming culture start? ›

Gaming as portrayed by the media

In 1972, Pong became the first video game pop-culture phenomenon. This was followed by Pac-Man in 1980.

How video games have changed society? ›

Video games have also changed the way that many other forms of media, from music to film, are produced and consumed. Education has also been changed by video games through the use of new technologies that help teachers and students communicate in new ways through educational games such as Brain Age.

What is the oldest gaming company? ›

Nintendo Company, Limited (任天堂 or ニンテンドー Nintendō ?; NASDAQ: NTDOY, TYO: 7974 usually referred to as simply Nintendo) is a multinational corporation founded on September 23, 1889 in Kyoto, Japan by Fusajiro Yamauchi to produce handmade hanafuda cards.

What is the oldest gaming platform? ›

The Odyssey was manufactured by Magnavox and released in North America in September of 1972. It's considered the very first home video game console. Ralph Baer, a German-American engineer, created a ping-pong style game.

What was the biggest gaming event ever? ›

Note: Attendee numbers are based on available data from the most recent events.
  1. 1 Gamescom – 370,000 Attendees.
  2. 2 Taipei Game Show - 320,000 Attendees. ...
  3. 3 Brasil Game Show – 300,000 Attendees. ...
  4. 4 Tokyo Game Show – 270,000+ Attendees. ...
  5. 5 ChinaJoy – 270,000+ Attendees. ...
  6. 6 Spiel – 200,000+ Attendees. ...
  7. 7 IgroMir – 150,000 Attendees. ...
Nov 24, 2022

Who was the first gamer in history? ›

Dennis “Thresh” Fong (USA, b. 1977) is regarded as the first professional gamer in history.

Who is the leader in the gaming industry? ›

Top 25 Public Companies by Game Revenues
21 more rows

Who are the big three gaming companies? ›

At any given time, there are usually three massive companies duking it out for players' attention: Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo. In past years, we've seen huge systems from Sega, Atari, Intellivision, and others, but today, the big three absolutely dominate the console market.

What were video games originally made for? ›

Going by this broader definition, the first video games appeared in the early 1950s; they were tied largely to research projects at universities and large corporations, though, and had little influence on each other due to their primary purpose as academic and promotional devices rather than entertainment games.

When did video games become mainstream? ›

Whenever consoles became affordable. So yeah probably around the mid 80s.

Why is video game history important? ›

"Many early games introduced fundamental new technologies, inventions and themes and did crucial pioneering work that laid the foundation [for today's hits]," he explains. "Older titles will be remembered for their craftsmanship and timeless elegance.

When did sexism in video games start? ›

In the 1980s, women stopped being represented playing video games in advertisement and scantily clad women started being used on game covers and ads. Some women saw their non-sexualized female character designs rejected, and others reported sexual harassment in the workplace.

When did gamers become toxic? ›

The extent of the toxicity within the gaming world was brought to light with 'Gamergate' back in 2014, when a number of female gamers came forward about how they were being subjected to a prolonged campaign of harassment, bullying, and even death threats from other online users.

When did video game controversy start? ›

The first video game to attract political controversy for its "addictive properties" was the 1978 arcade game Space Invaders.

How can you describe the gaming industry? ›

Gaming industry means all businesses engaged in legalized gambling activities, including without limitation casinos. Gaming industry means the industry comprised of businesses engaged in operating, or providing services to, online casinos.

How has the gaming industry changed over the years? ›

In the 2000s, games became more accessible, and an alternative appeared in personal computers. Cartridges and then disks gradually went into the past—it has become possible to buy and download games online. Every year gamers spend more and more money on games for new game consoles and computers.

What is the growth of the gaming industry? ›

Video Game Industry Ad Revenue

US mobile gaming ad spend will grow 10.0% to $6.28 billion in 2023 and continue to grow by between 8% and 10% over the next few years, according to our forecast. Esports ad revenues are growing at around the same rate and will pass a quarter of a billion dollars in 2023.

What is the oldest game franchise? ›

The Oregon Trail


1. The History of Video Games at the National Videogame Museum
(Miguel Plopschi)
2. The Evolution of Video Games - Trailer - Science Museum
3. Evolution of Video Game Graphics [1947-2022]
4. The British Museum is full of stolen artifacts
5. POLYBIUS - The Video Game That Doesn't Exist
6. German museum celebrates history of video games
(AP Archive)


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