The early 1970s saw the introduction of personal computers and mass-produced game consoles and gaming consoles being popular in commercial areas and chain restaurants in the United States. Technological advances, such as Intel’s production of the world’s first microprocessor, paved the way for games like a gunfight, the first multiplayer human-to-human combat shooter, in 1975.
The gunfight was a big deal when it originally came out in arcades, even though it was nothing like Call of Duty. It featured a novel gameplay approach, with one joystick controlling movement and the other controlling shot direction – something never seen before.
Atari debuted the Atari VCS (later known as the Atari 2600) in 1977, but sales were poor, with just 250,000 units sold in the first year and 550,000 in 1978, significantly below expectations. The low sales were attributed to the fact that Americans were still getting acclimated to the concept of having color televisions in their homes, that the consoles were pricey, and that people were becoming weary of Pong, Atari’s most popular game.
The Atari VCS was only meant to play ten simple challenge games when it was introduced, such as Pong, Outlaw, and Tank. However, the system included an external ROM slot for game cartridges, which was rapidly found by programmers all over the world, who quickly built games that far outperformed the console’s initial design.
The inclusion of the microprocessor also resulted in the introduction of Space Invaders for the Atari VCS in 1980, signaling the beginning of a new age of gaming — and sales: Atari 2600 sales surpassed 2 million units in 1980.
Designing Games And Reaching Out To A Larger Audience
Because of the video game boom sparked by Space Invaders, a slew of new firms and platforms sprung up, resulting in market saturation. Too many gaming consoles and not fascinating enough, engaging new games to play on them finally resulted in the collapse of the 1983 North American video games, which saw massive losses and truckloads of unpopular, low-quality titles buried in the desert to get rid of them. The game business was in desperate need of a makeover.
Home computers like the Commodore Vic-20, Commodore 64, and Apple II began to gain popularity about the same time when consoles were getting poor criticism. These new home computer systems were touted as the “reasonable” alternative for the whole family, retailing for roughly $300 in the early 1980s (around $860 in today’s money) and were advertised as the “cheap” option for the ordinary American.
These home computers have far more powerful CPUs than previous console generations, allowing for a new level of gameplay with more intricate, less linear games. They also provided the necessary technologies to make their games using BASIC coding. Bill Gates even created Donkey Kong (a simple game that involved dodging donkeys on a highway while driving a sports car). Surprisingly, the game was brought back from the grave in 2012 as an iOS app.
On Consoles, the Transition to Online Gaming
Many inventors sought to use the power of telephone lines to send information between consoles even before gaming titans Sega and Nintendo ventured into the field of online gaming.
At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas in 1982, William von Meister demonstrated pioneering modem-transfer technology for the Atari 2600. Users could download software and games using their fixed telephone connection, and a cartridge put into their Atari system with the CVC GameLine.
The gadget allowed users to “download” different games from across the world and play them for free up to eight times; it also allowed users to download free games on their birthdays. Unfortunately, the gadget did not receive backing from the major game producers of the period, and the crash of 1983 handed it a fatal blow.
After the Internet as we know it became part of the public domain in 1993, real breakthroughs in “online” gaming would not occur until the arrival of 4th generation 16-bit-era consoles in the early 1990s. Satellaview, a satellite modem attachment for Nintendo’s Super Famicom console, was introduced in 1995. The system allowed players to use satellites to download games, news and cheats directly to their console. Broadcasts lasted until 2000, but the technology was never exported outside Japan.