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15.09.2021
The history of computer games
Today the gaming industry is one of the biggest, most visible, and profitable. Games have long been part of our everyday life, although, back in the 1990s, were considered by many to be exotic entertainment (or a waste of time). Not everyone had consoles, computers seemed rare artifacts, and mobile gaming was limited to Tetris or Electronica IM-02.

Where did it all begin? With the first working computer, the first video console? Not really. Let's dig a little deeper and go back to a time when even the radio was not in every home.
The Forerunners
Back in 1889, Fusajiro Yamauchi founded Nintendo Karuta, which produced and sold traditional hanafuda cards. It was to become the largest developer of interactive entertainment but, in the 1970s, the company was actively producing conventional toys and then electronic toys - Ultra Machine, Nintendo Beam Gun Game, and others. In the '80s, it focused on this segment, but more on that later.

The first games that could be called computer games were very different from today's games, and even from what we think of today as deep retro. Back in 1940, physicist Edward Condon invented and assembled the Nimatron entertainment machine. It weighed over a ton, took up an entire room, and mimicked the Chinese Nim game. The interface was four columns of seven lamps, some of which were lit. The player and the computer took turns alternately turning off one or more lamps in a selected row. The winner was whoever turned off the last lamp in the game, and 90% of the time it was the Nimatron. The history of computer versions of Nim did not end there - 11 years later, Ferranti developed Nimrod.

In 1947, former radar developers Goldsmith and Mann created the "Electron-Ray Tube Entertainment Device." The image was displayed on a screen of an oscillographic cathode tube - a beam that depicted the flight of a projectile moved along it. The player had to hit the enemy plane (a transparent overlay on the screen) by adjusting the movement of the beam so that it hit the target and at the same moment defocused (imitation of an explosion). The device was not put into mass production.

In 1950, Alan Turing wrote a program for a chess game on paper, although there was no machine that could process it yet. In 2012, Garry Kasparov played against it, winning in 16 moves.
"Real Games"
Historians and connoisseurs usually attribute the invention of computer games to one of these three: engineer Ralph Bauer (who came up with the idea for interactive television), computer scientist Alexander Douglas (who created the first computer "tic-tac-toe" a year later), or physicist William Higinbotham. In 1958, the last one created Tennis for Two for an analog computer. It was possible to play with the help of a controller-wheel, and the process was displayed on an oscilloscope. It was useless to complain about the graphics in those days.

One of the centers of the gaming industry was destined to become Japan. In the 1960s, Sega Enterprise and Konami joined Nintendo.

In February 1962, one of the first digital games, Spacewar! was ready. It was developed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology employees Steve Russell, Martin Graetz, and Wayne Wiitanen.

In 1972 the first home game system, the Magnavox Odyssey appeared. It had no chips, only transistors, and diodes. For it came out 28 games, distributed on cartridges. The console was produced for three years, selling more than 350,000 copies. Production had to be stopped because of financial difficulties, although demand was quite high. In any case, Odyssey fulfilled its historic mission, launching the first generation of consoles.

That same year in California, Nolan Bushnell founded Atari, which released the first commercially successful slot machine, Pong, which simulated table tennis. The newborn industry included Nintendo, Sega, and Konami. The most popular machines were Death Race, Space Invaders, Asteroids, and the first-ever fighting game Warrior.

In 1977, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak released the first publicly available personal computer, the Apple II (the first Apple was not mass-produced). You could play the text-based Akalabeth: World of Doom, the space strategy game Andromeda Conquest, Beyond Castle of Wolfenstein, as well as The Bard's Tale, Karateka, and many others. Later, several successful console projects were ported to the device.

Relatively famous was the Commodore PET, produced until 1982. It displayed only monochrome text, so it did not become a significant gaming platform (although there were text games on the computer).

That same year, Atari released the 8-bit Atari 2600, the most mass-produced console of the late 1970s and early '80s and the first sign of the second generation. Sales totaled 40 million units, a completely different scale when compared to the Magnavox Odyssey. The console boasted such projects as Ms. Pac-Man (which needs no introduction), Asteroids, Space Invaders, and Frogger.
The Rise
The 1980s can rightly be considered the "golden age" of the industry. This is the time of the second and third generations of consoles, the enormous popularity of arcades and personal computers, the release of iconic projects like Donkey King, Mario Bros., King's Quest, Pitfall! However, there was a fly in the ointment - the market crash of 1983.

The successor of the legendary Atari 2600 was the Atari 5200 (1982). Only a million copies were sold - the console could not compete with Mattel Intellivision, ColecoVision, the Commodore PET, and the aforementioned Apple II. However, the Mattel and Coleco platforms could not repeat the success of the Atari 2600 with sales of 3 and 2 million copies respectively.

In 1983, there was a crisis in the gaming industry (dubbed the "Atari Shock" in Japan). Companies' revenues grew tremendously, as did the supply on the console market - consumers could choose from dozens of devices for every taste and purse. There was an explosive growth in the number of games, although the quality was not always up to par. What went wrong?

Customer confidence was undermined by the poor quality port of Pac-Man from the machines on the Atari 2600 and the game adaptation of Spielberg's E.T. The Extraterrestrial movie. The developers of the latter put it together in only 6 weeks to make it in time for Christmas - the game turned out to be primitive and boring. Both projects caused serious losses for Atari, and after that sales collapsed in the market as a whole. Revenues for console manufacturers fell from $3 billion to $100 million, a 97% drop.

This was not the end of consoles, since the crisis mainly affected North America. That same year, Nintendo released the legendary Famicom, which consumers greeted very warmly. Thus began the third generation, still 8-bit, but already able to please players with sprite graphics instead of blocky graphics and better sound.

In 1985, the Famicom was renamed the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) (known as Dendy to 90s kids) for the European and North American markets. By the end of the decade, console sales had reached 35 million, approaching those of the Atari 2600 and putting it in the clear lead. Unlike its predecessors, Nintendo tightly controlled the release of games on its console, so consumers rarely received a low-quality product. The titles speak for themselves: Darkwing Duck, Super Mario Bros. 1-3, Final Fantasy, The Legend of Zelda. The main competitors were the Sega Master System and the Atari 7800. They could not achieve the same recognition as Nintendo's creation. Especially the PV-1000 or Commodore 64 Games System was unable to do so.

Famicom / NES games are still played through emulators, and in 2016 Nintendo released a miniature version of the console.

The fourth-generation became 16-bit and began with the NEC PC Engine (1987). The most popular consoles of this wave came in the early '90s.

Personal computers weren't far behind either. The British Sinclair Research produced the ZX line - ZX80 (1980), ZX 81 (1981), ZX Spectrum (1982). Games for the latter were plentiful: The Hobbit, Frogger, Pac-Man, Robocop 1-2, Midnight Resistance, and others. The picture was displayed on the TV and the sound on the tape recorder.

The main competitors of the Spectrum were the American Commodore 64 and Atari 800. Commodore had an aggressive pricing policy, including providing a rebate (a refund of part of the money after purchase) of $100 for any console or computer. Having conquered the U.S. market, they did lose to Britain's Sinclair. Thanks to the good graphics and sound at the time, the "sixty-fourth" also competed with the leaders of the console market. Street Fighter 1-2, The Amazing Spider-Man, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Wizardry, and many other projects were released on it.

In the '80s, it finally became possible to play outside the house or at the arcade - Nintendo was releasing Game & Watch. The most famous was the Nintendo EG-26 Egg and Game & Watch Donkey Kong II.
End of the Century
In the '90s, the industry has not slowed down. In the fourth generation, there was a real opposition of Japanese giants, and the fifth-generation mastered three-dimensional graphics and almost entirely switched from cartridges to disks. Growing opportunities for home computers, for which came dozens of projects that have become a cult.

A real "console war" broke out between the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and the Sega Mega Drive (Genesis in the US and Canada). The SNES trump cards were Super Mario World, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, and Secret of Mana. Mega Drive responded with Sonic the Hedgehog and Phantasy Star. Nintendo won in the U.S. and Japanese markets, while Sega won in Europe. Next up were the "old-timer" NEC PC-Engine and Neo-Geo AES. NEC and Sega released disc-reader peripherals for their consoles, but they proved unsuccessful from a commercial point of view. 3D was timidly entering the screens - the pioneer was StarFox, in which you could sit at the helm of a spaceship.

The best-selling handheld consoles were the Game Boy, still with a monochrome screen but cheap and with exclusives. The Sega Game Gear and Atari Lynx offered color images, but they used up their charge relatively quickly and were less popular.

A new battle occurred in the next generation, armed with full 3D. The Nintendo 64 (1996) clashed with the Sega Saturn (1994), but victory awaited the PlayStation (1994) from Sony. It was intended as a CD add-on to the SNES, but due to disagreements between the companies, it came out as a full-fledged standalone product. Nintendo made the serious mistake of leaving the cartridge as the storage while competitors switched to discs. That said, its console still took second place in the battle for the market.

The "second league" included the Atari Jaguar, the 3DO (produced by four firms, including Panasonic), and the Amiga CD32 by Commodore. NEC's PC-FX was sold only in Japan, as was FM Towns Marty, Fujitsu's first and last console. The generation made history with a huge number of strong titles: Tomb Raider, Crash Bandicoot, Metal Gear Solid, Mario 64, Virtua Fighter.

Among the handheld systems, the Game Boy continued to stand out, with Pocket (1996), Light (1998), and Color (1998). Sega released the Nomad, and SNK released the Neo-Geo Pocket (1998), whose "color" version won only 2% of the world market. Notable among these were Game.com (1997), capable of connecting to a modem, and Virtual Boy (1995) from Nintendo with glasses (or rather a half-helmet) that created a 3D effect. The result was the Game Boy's continued dominance.

In late fall 1998, Sega released the Dreamcast, launching the sixth generation of consoles. It didn't help shake Sony's hegemony, so Sega left the console market - the next decade Microsoft took its place.

For PC gaming, the '90s were a "golden era." Increased hardware and software capabilities made what seemed like a distant dream in the past decade a reality. It would take a weighty volume to describe at least some iconic projects of that time, but we will mention some of them.

First-person shooters (aka FPS) Wolfenstein 3D (1992), the legendary Doom (1993), Duke Nukem 3D, and Quake (both released in 1996). Today their graphics make you smile, but at the time, the very possibility to run and shoot in three-dimensional space (even if pseudo-three-dimensional) was impressive. In 1998 came out the legendary Half-Life and, in 2000, not less legendary Counter-Strike - one of the main eSports disciplines of the '00s and a form of leisure of school children in the CIS.

Lovers of construction and warfare also found something to do. Sid Meyer's Civilization (1991) launched an entire genre that is still alive today, the 4X-strategies. Westwood Studios' Dune 2 (1992) ignited the flame of real-time strategy games, which was rekindled by their Command & Conquer (1995). The now-famous Blizzard entered the game with Warcraft: Orcs and Humans (1994) and Warcraft 2: Tides of Darkness (1995). In 1998, the company released StarCraft, which for many has become the model of the genre and the national sport in South Korea. In the same decade, the star of "Heroes" - the Heroes of Might & Magic series (the first game was released in 1995) rose. The most popular was The Restoration of Erathia (1999), the content for which fans are releasing even now. Those who liked the creation more than fighting could realize their ambitions in The Settlers (1993) and SimCity 2000 (1993).

On the RPG scene rumbled CRPGs like Fallout 1-2 (1997/1998), Diablo 1-2 (1996/2000), Baldur's Gate 1-2 (1997/2000), and of course Planescape: Torment (1999). First-person RPGs were represented by The Elder Scrolls series. Other genres - quests, simulators, action, too - did not stand still. Otherwise, gamers would have never played Myst (1993), Worms (1995), X-COM (1994), and many other titles. In the 90s, multiplayer and, therefore, MMORPGs - such as Ultima Online (1997) - were also quite present.
Zeros and Tenths
A huge increase in the performance of consoles, games on smartphones, digital distribution, and cloud gaming - these are just some of the trends of the first two decades of the twenty-first century. At the same time, mankind has already managed to miss the nostalgic projects of childhood, pixels, and graphics of the first PS.

In 2001, Nintendo brought the GameCube to market. By that time, there was already a PlayStation 2, and then Microsoft entered the game with its Xbox. Cartridges were finally a thing of the past. The PS and Xbox used DVDs, GameCube used mini-DVDs. All consoles supported online multiplayer. The sixth-generation was marked by many outstanding projects: Halo 1-2, Super Smash Bros. Melee, Fable, God Of War 1-2, Kingdom Hearts, and others.

The winner in the race again was the console from Sony, whose sales were three times higher than the total number of consoles from competitors to more than 150 million. Second place went to the Xbox, the first non-Japanese system in history to show a decent result in the "console wars." The GameCube and the outdated Dreamcast trailed behind.

Nintendo continued to develop the Game Boy with the Advance (2001), Advance SP (2003), and Advance Micro (2005). Sega and SNK were no longer on the market, but a new and unusual neighbor, Finland's Nokia, emerged. Cell phones were more common than they were in the nineties, but for the most part, they didn't have much in the way of gaming capabilities. The same could not be said for the Nokia N-Gage, a hybrid of a phone and a portable console. The device had an impressive library of games but was considered commercially unsuccessful.

The seventh-generation appeared in 2005 and again consisted of the "Big Three" platforms. Sony and Microsoft did not reinvent the wheel, naming their consoles PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, respectively. Nintendo decided not to continue the GameCube line, giving the device name Wii and betting on casual gamers. The generation is remembered for Super Mario Galaxy 2, LittleBigPlanet, Uncharted 2-3, Gears of War 1-3. The world of handheld gameplay changed, with the PlayStation Portable (2004-2005) entering the scene and competing with the Nintendo DS (2004-2005).

In 2011-2013, the eighth generation consoles - WiiU, PlayStation 4, Xbox One - entered the market. Nintendo was ahead of its competitors, releasing a replacement for the Wii before Sony and Microsoft began production of their newcomers. Once again, the battle for the market was won by PlayStation. The Japanese giants' handhelds came out in updated versions, the Nintendo 3DS and PlayStation Vita.

In November 2020, the ninth generation of consoles entered the markets, and, this time, Nintendo did not take part in the "big game." The WiiU was deemed a commercial failure, so it remained the second and last in its lineup. Back in 2017, Nintendo released the Switch, a console that differs from the new Sony and Microsoft devices in both format and power (rather close to the previous generation). Now, there are only two left in the "ring." Both PlayStation 5 and Xbox came in two variants - with and without an optical drive. PCs and cloud services (Stadia, GeForce Now, and others) are seen as competitors.

From 2001 to 2020, PC gamers also had a lot to do, although, with the "explosive" growth in graphics quality, developers were more likely to build on ideas from the '90s than to come up with new ones. StarCraft, Warcraft, Command & Conquer, Fallout, Half-Life, Civilization - all of these series were continued into the new century and are mostly still alive today. Of course, a lot of new and worthy titles have come out, but less innovative and "breakthrough." If you think about what will be remembered these two decades, it is worth to name the series Mass Effect, Call of Duty, Age of Wonders, Grand Theft Auto, The Elder Scrolls, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.

New genres still appeared. One of them was a battle royale, named after the novel by Koushun Takami - millions play Fortnite and PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds. MOBAs - primarily Dota 2 and League of Legends - remain popular (including eSports players). Many enjoy digging, building, and crafting in "sandboxes" - Minecraft and the lesser-known Terraria and Starbound.

Everything has changed by the fast and accessible Internet. For example, digital distribution has practically displaced traditional retail. Thanks to Steam and Origin, it is no longer necessary to go to a store or ask a friend for a CD. Maybe in a couple of years, we'll get tired of this and want to go to another part of town again for physical copies of games.

There are fewer differences between consoles and PC - many projects are multiplatform and support multiplayer. Many former console exclusives are available in the libraries of distribution services.

Another significant gaming platform of the era was the smartphone. If the cellphone of the nineties - early zeros could entertain no more than a "snake," the current Android and iOS devices produce a picture that once would have been the envy of top-end computers. The phones are playing not only hyper-casual projects but also MMORPG.
Our Days
The game development industry continues to evolve rapidly. According to Newzoo, there will be nearly 3 billion gamers on Earth by the end of this year. Could this have been imagined in the 1970s or even the 1990s? Someone may say that those who play on smartphones or spend a couple of hours a week playing games should not be considered gamers, but the fact remains that the developers have someone to try for.

Streaming and eSports have become a familiar part of "gaming reality." Companies from other niches are looking at development - for example, in Russia, it is Sber, and abroad it is Netflix. There is much talk in the academic community about the gamification of education.

Where is the industry going, and what will it be like in 10 or 30 years? It is difficult to predict, but one thing is clear: we will not stop playing games and loving them, and the studios will not stop making them.