Assorted video game franchise mascots

The History of Video Games

Did you know that some of the earliest games in gaming history are still played today? Games from the ‘70slike Pong and Snakeare still favorites for gamers worldwide. Not to mention popular ‘80s gameslike Mario, Pac-Man, and Tetristhat are still going strong.

From the very first video game to the early games we still play today and beyond, the video game space has advanced to become one of the largest industries worldwide.

We’ll cover the interesting history of video games, from their invention to their future.

Related: Play Free on Your PC!

When (And How) Video Games Were Invented

Before we get into talking about the first video game, let’s cover the technology that led to its creation. It starts in 1947 with a patent created by Estle Mann and Thomas Goldsmith Jr. for a simple electronic game.

This game is often considered to be the first electronic game, but it’s not the first video game like the ones we know today—it relied on physical overlays to make up for the device’s lack of computing power.

So how did we get to the games we know and love today? Let’s start with the first ever video game—Tennis for Two.

The First Video Game

Tennis for Two was a game that brought together the pre-existing components of other electronic devices, turning them into a functional video game.

Created by Willian Higinbotham—an American physicist—with a Donner Model 30 computer, Tennis for Two was the first sophisticated video game. It incorporated wind resistance into players’ shots, created an impact barrier with the net, and realistically calculated shot trajectories. Due to those features and developments, Tennis for Two is widely considered the very first video game.

The History of Video Games: A Timeline

From the 1950s to today, video games went from an idea to the full-fledged games we play now. Let’s take a look at the history of video games and how the technology progressed over the years.

1950 – 1970

It shouldn’t be a surprise—the history of video games is linked to the evolution of computers and other electronic devices. In the 1950s, you’d find massive, room-sized computers solving simple math problems. Not long after, universities began to develop simple games; however, these creations were meant to demonstrate how the technology worked rather than for entertainment.

In 1952, a professor created OXO, better known as tic-tac-toe, as a part of his doctoral dissertation for the University of Cambridge.

Tennis for Two appeared in 1958 as the first video game developed for pure entertainment. It consisted of a monitor where two people could hit a little ball of light back and forth. Presented at an exhibition, teens lined up to watch and play the game.

In 1962, MIT researcher Steve Russel invented Space War, a computer video game that involved combat. Space War was the first video game that could be played on multiple computers. In 1967, developers from Sanders Associates invented a prototype, multiprogram, multiplayer game system that people could play on television. The development was led by Ralph Baer, often referred to as the “Father of video games.”

The developers named the game system the “Brown Box” and licensed it to the company Magnavox. The company then renamed the system the Odyssey and began selling it to consumers. Unfortunately, the system eventually fizzled and died out, but it paved the way for better video game technology in the future. 

The 1970s

Atari, founded in 1972, revolutionized the video game market and dominated it for the following decade. Pong, similar to its predecessor—Tennis for Two—became the first video game to see global success. It was simple to play, entertaining, and for the first time, accessible to the general public for an affordable price.

In 1975, Atari released a home version of the game Pong, which was as successful as its arcade counterpart. 

Then, in 1977, Atari released its home console, putting video games in the homes of over 30 million people. The home console featured interchangeable game cartridges and joysticks and played multi-colored games. This helped kick off the next generation of video game consoles. Sanders Associates and Magnavox eventually sued Atari for copyright infringement. Atari finally settled the lawsuit and became a licensee of Odyssey game systems. However, the troubles didn’t end there, and over the next 20 years, Magnavox would go on to win over $100 million in copyright lawsuits against other companies related to the Odyssey gaming system.

In 1978, Space Invaders came out and began the golden age of arcade games where teens gambled their pocket money with video game machines. In 1979, the first third-party video game development company was founded. The company was called Activision, and it focused on developing software rather than making arcade cabinets or consoles. The 1970s also saw the release of Nintendo’s Donkey Kong and Microsofts’s first Flight simulator game.

Fun fact: The first concept of the game Snake—called Blockage—was created in 1976.

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The 1980s

Many classic video games from the ‘80s are still going strong today:

  • Pac-Man
  • Mario Bros
  • Ultima
  • SimCity
  • Tetris

During this decade, we saw countless new consoles that were increasingly powerful and more affordable than earlier versions. But when powerful home computers became more common, the console market collapsed in 1983, resulting in Atari going bankrupt. The crash happened for a number of different reasons. For one, there was an oversaturated video game console market. Additionally, there was a large surplus of low-quality, over-hyped games. 

Out of the rubble came two significant advancements in video game history: the Commodore 64 computer and the NES console. Invented in Japan, the Nintendo Entertainment System came to the United States in 1985 and took the country by storm. 

The NES had better color, graphics, and gameplay than previous consoles. Nintendo also released a number of video games in the 1980s that are still popular to this day, including Metroid, Super Mario Bros, and the Legend of Zelda. Nintendo also started to impose regulations on third-party games developed for its system to help combat low-quality, rushed software. This resulted in higher-quality video games, including Mega Man, Castlevania, and Dragon Quest. 

During the 1980s, gameplay, and graphics also became more innovative with complex stories and unique characters.

In 1989, Nintendo again made waves by releasing an 8-bit Gameboy video game device, which led to a massive spike in handheld games. 

Over the next two decades, Nintendo would release several successful successors to the Game Boy. In the same year, Sega released a 16-bit Genesis console in the United States. However, it failed to compete against the Nintendo Game Boy. 

A CRT TV screen in a dimly lit gamer room playing Final Fight
A CRT TV screen in a dimly lit gamer room playing Final Fight

The 1990s

Like the first gamers, the video game industry is all grown up now. Video games entered a brand new dimension—literally, thanks to 3D graphics. We saw game worlds become more realistic and video games with complex possibilities.

In 1991, we saw the first real “console war,” as Nintendo released the Sonic the Hedgehog game and Genesis made improvements to its 16-bit console. Nintendo also released a 16-bit console that same year.

In 1994, there was a quantum leap in the console market when Sony launched its first PlayStation console. Following the PlayStation, game design companies started putting out extremely innovative titles, like Command & Conquer, Tomb Raider, Age of Empires, and Wolfenstein—the game that started the popular FPS category.

The 1990s also saw the release of several franchises that are still wildly popular to this day, including Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat. For those who aren’t familiar, Mortal Kombat is a rather violent video game. In response to its release, Sega rolled out the Video Game Rating Council, which provided descriptive labels for every game it sold under its name. The council later gave rise to the Entertainment Software Rating Board, which is still used today to rate video games based on age appropriateness and content.

Video games also made their debut on the silver screen in the 1990s, as the live-action movie Super Mario Bros premiered in 1993. Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat also released live-action movies during this time. 

The Genesis also became more popular than the Game Boy for a bit in the 1990s in North America. However, it was never able to find a market in Japan. 

In 1995, Sega released its Saturn System in North America, the first 32-bit gaming console that allowed people to play games on CDs rather than cartridges. Sega released the product five months ahead of schedule in an attempt to beat Sony’s first move into the video game industry with the creation of Playstation. In 1996, Nintendo released the Nintendo 64, a 64-bit cartridge-based system. 

While Nintendo and Sega released a fair number of highly-rated 3D titles in the 90s, none of them could compete with Sony’s Playstation. Sony dominated the video game market in the 1990s, and would continue to do so well into the next century. 

The 2000s

In 2000, Sony released the Playstation 2, which is still, to this day, the best-selling video game console of all time. This was the first console that used DVDs, and although it was a wild success, it still had some stiff competition. In 1999, Sega released the Dreamcast, and in 2001, Nintendo released the Game Cube. Microsoft also released the Xbox in 2001

In the 2000s gaming went online—remember LAN parties? The internet wasn’t widespread or powerful enough for online play yet, but that didn’t stop us. Gamers began hauling their PCs around to LAN parties to connect with other players and play together.

As internet usage increased, gaming followed and went online. In 2004, games like World of Warcraft that were played solely online emerged. During this decade, every year brought enormous gaming upgrades as graphics cards and processors went through rapid transformations. 

Open-world games started to become popular, and the 2000s brought out some of the biggest names in sandbox gaming:

  • The Sims
  • GTA: San Andreas
  • Minecraft
  • Super Mario Galaxy

High-definition gaming also kicked off in 2005 and 2006, with Nintendo releasing the Wii, Sony releasing the Xbox 360, and Sony releasing the Playstation 3. The Playstation 3 was the only system at the time to play Blu-ray DVDs; however, it still faced stiff competition from other companies.

Towards the end of the decade, video games began spreading to mobile devices and social media platforms like Facebook. With this, video game companies were able to reach a more casual gaming audience. Rovio, the company that created Angry Birds, made a whopping $200 million in 2012 alone.

The 2010s 

During the 2010s, video games became a billion-dollar industry—it saw profits higher than both music and film. Independent game studios developed countless games for every platform, from PCs and consoles to tablets and mobile. Gaming became more normalized as society realized video games weren’t just for kids and teens—people of all ages could find different games to suit them.

With modern day consoles and monster PCs, video games became widespread. And with immersive titles coming out, like Red Dead Redemption 2, that feature emotive storylines, sophisticated dialogue, high-quality graphics, and hundreds of hours of gameplay, it’s safe to say that the 2010s were an excellent year in video game history.

Nowadays, you can play high-definition video games with people from around the world. Additionally, people have started to see video games as a competitive activity rather than just a hobby

There are video game tournaments worldwide (commonly referred to as Esports), and some of them get very competitive and come with huge prize money. Some people even play video games for a living – what a dream job! 

Did you know that—launched in 2016—was one of the first games on PC and mobile? In fact, the game was one of the earliest multiplayer games available on smartphones! Play for free on your PC here!

Man wearing VR headset and holding VR controllers engaged in playing a game
Man wearing VR headset and holding VR controllers engaged in playing a game

2020 And Beyond: The Future of Video Games

From the simple dots of Tennis for Two to hyper-realistic 3D environments, video game history is still in the making. And with all of the tech advancements as of late, gaming is taking a dive into the virtual world. While still in its infancy, we expect to see tactile controllers, better graphics resolutions, and lighter devices in the coming decade, making virtual and augmented reality games an actual reality.

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