History of video games
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|History of video games|
The history of video games goes as far back as the early 1950s, when academic computer scientists began designing simple games and simulations as part of their research or just for fun. At M.I.T. in the 1960s, professors and students played games such as 3D tic-tac-toe and Moon Landing. These games were played on computer such as the IBM 1560, and moves were made by means of punch cards. Video gaming did not reach mainstream popularity until the 1970s and 1980s, when video arcade games and gaming consoles using joysticks, buttons, and other controllers, along with graphics on computer screens and home computer games were introduced to the general public. Since the 1980s, video gaming has become a popular form of entertainment and a part of modern popular culture in most parts of the world. One of the early games was Spacewar!, which was developed by computer scientists. Early arcade video games developed from 1972 to 1978. During the 1970s, the first generation of home consoles emerged, including the popular game Pong and various "clones". The 1970s was also the era of mainframe computer games. The golden age of arcade video games was from 1978 to 1982. Video arcades with large, graphics-decorated coin-operated machines were common at malls and popular, affordable home consoles such as the Atari 2600 and Intellivision enabled people to play games on their home TVs. During the 1980s, gaming computers, early online gaming and handheld LCD games emerged; this era was affected by the video game crash of 1983. From 1976 to 1992, the second generation of video consoles emerged.
The third generation of consoles, which were 8-bit units, emerged from 1983 to 1995. The fourth generation of consoles, which were 16-bit models, emerged from 1987 to 1999. The 1990s saw the resurgence and decline of arcades, the transition to 3D video games, improved handheld games, and PC gaming. The fifth generation of consoles, which were 32 and 64-bit units, was from 1993 to 2006. During this era, mobile phone gaming emerged. During the 2000s, the sixth generation of consoles emerged (1998–2013). During this period, online gaming and mobile games became major aspects of gaming culture. The seventh generation of consoles was from 2005 to 2012. This era was marked by huge development budgets for some games, with some having cinematic graphics; the launch of the top-selling Wii console, in which the user could control the game actions with real-life movement of the controller; the rise of casual PC games marketed to non-gamers; and the emergence of cloud computing in video games.
In 2013, the eighth generation of consoles emerged, including Nintendo's Wii U and Nintendo 3DS, Microsoft's Xbox One, and Sony's PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita. PC gaming has been holding a large market share in Asia and Europe for decades and continues to grow due to digital distribution. Since the development and widespread consumer use of smartphones, mobile gaming has been a driving factor for games, as they can reach people formerly uninterested in gaming, and those unable to afford or support dedicated hardware, such as video game consoles.
Early history (1948–1972)
Defining the video game
The term video game has evolved over the decades from a purely technical definition to a general concept defining a new class of interactive entertainment. Technically, for a product to be a video game, there must be a video signal transmitted to a cathode ray tube (CRT) that creates a rasterized image on a screen. This definition would preclude early computer games that outputted results to a printer or teletype rather than a display, any game rendered on a vector-scan monitor, any game played on a modern high definition display, and most handheld game systems. From a technical standpoint, these would more properly be called "electronic games" or "computer games."
Today, however, the term "video game" has completely shed its purely technical definition and encompasses a wider range of technology. While still rather ill-defined, the term "video game" now generally encompasses any game played on hardware built with electronic logic circuits that incorporates an element of interactivity and outputs the results of the player's actions to a display. Going by this broader definition, the first video games appeared in the early 1950s and were tied largely to research projects at universities and large corporations.
Origins of electronic computer games
The first electronic digital computers, Colossus and ENIAC, were built during World War II to aid the Allied war effort against the Axis powers. Shortly after the war, the promulgation of the first stored program architectures at the University of Pennsylvania (EDVAC), Cambridge University (EDSAC), the University of Manchester (Manchester Mark 1), and Princeton University (IAS machine) allowed computers to be easily reprogrammed to undertake a variety of tasks, which facilitated commercializing computers in the early 1950s by companies like Remington Rand, Ferranti, and IBM. This in turn promoted the adoption of computers by universities, government organizations, and large corporations as the decade progressed. It was in this environment that the first video games were born.
The computer games of the 1950s can generally be divided into three categories: training and instructional programs, research programs in fields such as artificial intelligence, and demonstration programs intended to impress or entertain the public. Because these games were largely developed on unique hardware in a time when porting between systems was difficult and were often dismantled or discarded after serving their limited purposes, they did not generally influence further developments in the industry. For the same reason, it is impossible to be certain who developed the first computer game or who originally modeled many of the games or play mechanics introduced during the decade, as there are likely several games from this period that were never publicized and are thus unknown today.
The earliest known chess computer program was developed by Alan Turing and David Champernowne called Turochamp, which was completed in 1950 but not actually implemented by them on a computer. The earliest known idea for a fully electronic game is a "Cathode-Ray Tube Amusement Device" in US patent #2,455,992.
The earliest known electronic computer games actually implemented were two custom built machines called Bertie the Brain and Nimrod, which played tic-tac-toe and the game of Nim, respectively. Bertie the Brain, designed and built by Josef Kates at Rogers Majestic, was displayed at the Canadian National Exhibition in 1950, while Nimrod, conceived by John Bennett at Ferranti and built by Raymond Stuart-Williams, was displayed at the Festival of Britain and the Berlin Industrial Show in 1951. Neither game incorporated a cathode ray tube (CRT) display. Before these, automated games like the simple chess simulator El Ajedrecista (1914) and Nimrod's predecessor Nimatron (1940) had been created as electro-mechanical devices.
The first games known to incorporate a monitor were two research projects completed in 1952, a checkers program by Christopher Strachey on the Ferranti Mark 1 and a tic-tac-toe program called OXO by Alexander Douglas on the EDSAC. Both of these programs used a relatively static display to track the current state of the game board. The first known game incorporating graphics that updated in real time was a billiards game programmed by William Brown and Ted Lewis specifically for a demonstration of the MIDSAC computer at the University of Michigan in 1954.
Perhaps the first game created solely for entertainment rather than to demonstrate the power of some technology, train personnel, or aid in research was Tennis for Two, designed by William Higinbotham and built by Robert Dvorak at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in 1958. Designed to entertain the general public at Brookhaven's annual series of open houses, the game was deployed on an analog computer with graphics displayed on an oscilloscope and was dismantled in 1959. Higinbotham never considered adapting the successful game into a commercial product, which would have been impractical with the technology of the time. Ultimately, the widespread adoption of computers to play games would have to wait for the machines to spread from serious academics to their students on U.S. college campuses.
The mainframe computers of the 1950s were generally batch processing machines of limited speed and memory. This made them generally unsuited for games. Furthermore, they were costly and relatively scarce commodities, so computer time was a precious resource that could not be wasted on frivolous pursuits like entertainment. At the Lincoln Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), however, a team led by Jay Forrester developed a computer called Whirlwind in the early 1950s that processed commands in real time and incorporated a faster and more reliable form of random access memory (RAM) based around magnetic cores. Based on this work, two employees at the lab named Ken Olsen and Wes Clark developed a prototype real time computer called the TX-0 that incorporated the recently invented transistor, which ultimately allowed the size and cost of computers to be significantly reduced. Olsen subsequently established the Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) with Harlan Anderson in 1957 and developed a commercial update of the TX-0 called the PDP-1.
Lincoln Laboratory donated the TX-0 to MIT in 1958. As the computer operated in real time and thus allowed for interactive programming, MIT allowed students to program the computer to conduct their own research, perhaps the first time that university students were allowed to directly access a computer for their own work. Further, the university decided to allow students to set the computer to tasks outside the bounds of classwork or faculty research during periods of time no one was signed up to do official work. This resulted in a community of undergraduate students led by Bob Saunders, Peter Samson, and Alan Kotok, many of them affiliated with the Tech Model Railroad Club, conducting their own experiments on the computer. In 1961, MIT received one of the first PDP-1 computers, which incorporated a relatively sophisticated point-plotting monitor. MIT provided a similar level of access to the computer for students as it did for the TX-0, resulting in the creation of the first (relatively) widespread, and thus influential, computer game, Spacewar!
Conceived by Steve Russell, Martin Graetz, and Wayne Wiitanen in 1961 and programmed primarily by Russell, Saunders, Graetz, Samson, and Dan Edwards in the first half of 1962, Spacewar! was inspired by the science fiction stories of E. E. Smith and depicted a duel between two spaceships, each controlled by a player using a custom built control box. Immensely popular among students at MIT, Spacewar! spread to the West Coast later in the year when Russell took a job at the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (SAIL), where it enjoyed similar success. The program subsequently migrated to other locations around the country through the efforts of both former MIT students and DEC itself, more so after cathode ray tube (CRT) terminals started becoming more common at the end of the 1960s.
As computing resources continued to expand over the remainder of the decade through the adoption of time sharing and the development of simpler high-level programming languages like BASIC, an increasing number of college students began programming and sharing simple sports, puzzle, card, logic, and board games as the decade progressed. These creations remained trapped in computer labs for the remainder of the decade, however, because even though some adherents of Spacewar! had begun to sense the commercial possibilities of computer games, they could only run on hardware costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. As computers and their components continued to fall in price, however, the dream of a commercial video game finally became attainable at the start of the 1970s.
The commercialization of video games
By 1970, the introduction of medium scale integration (MSI) transistor–transistor logic (TTL) circuits combining multiple transistors on a single microchip had resulted in another significant reduction in the cost of computing and ushered in a new wave of minicomputers costing under $10,000. While still far too costly for the home, these advances lowered the cost of computing enough that it could be seriously considered for the coin-operated games industry, which at the time was experiencing its own technological renaissance as large electro-mechanical target shooting and driving games like Sega Enterprises's Periscope (1967) and Chicago Coin's Speedway (1969) pioneered the adoption of elaborate visual displays and electronic sound effects in the amusement arcade. Consequently, when a recent engineering graduate from Utah with experience running coin-operated equipment named Nolan Bushnell first saw Spacewar! at SAIL in late 1969 or early 1970, he resolved to build a coin-operated version for public consumption. Enlisting the aid of an older and more experienced engineer named Ted Dabney, Bushnell built a variant of the game called Computer Space in which a single player-controlled spaceship dueled two hardware-controlled flying saucers. Released in late November or early December 1971 through Nutting Associates, the game failed to have much impact in the coin-operated marketplace.
Meanwhile, Ralph Baer, an engineer with a degree in television engineering working for defense contractor Sanders Associates, had been working on a video game system that could be plugged into a standard television set since 1966. Working primarily with technician Bill Harrison, who built most of the actual hardware, Baer developed a series of prototype systems between 1966 and 1969 based around diode–transistor logic (DTL) circuits that would send a video signal to a television set to generate spots on the screen that could be controlled by the players. Originally able to generate only two spots, the system was modified in November 1967 at the suggestion of engineer Bill Rusch to generate a third spot for use in a table tennis game in which each player controlled a single spot that served as a paddle and volleyed the third spot, which acted as a ball. In 1971, Sanders concluded a licensing agreement with television company Magnavox to release the system, which reached the market in September 1972 as the Magnavox Odyssey. The system launched with a dozen games included in the box, four more sold with a separate light gun, and six games sold separately, most of which were chase, racing, target shooting, or sports games. These games were activated using plug-in circuit cards that defined how the spots generated by the hardware would behave. Due to the limited abilities of the system, which could only render three spots and a line, most of the graphic and gameplay elements were actually defined by plastic overlays attached to the TV set along with accessories like boards, cards, and dice. Like Computer Space the Odyssey only performed modestly and failed to jump start a new industry. However, the system did directly influence the birth of a vibrant video arcade game industry after Ralph Baer's design ingenuity intersected Nolan Bushnell's entrepreneurial ambition.
A new industry
Early arcade video games (1972–1978)
In 1972, Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney decided to strike out on their own and incorporated their preexisting partnership as Atari. After seeing a demonstration of the Magnavox Odyssey ahead of its release, Bushnell charged new hire Allan Alcorn to create a version of that system's table tennis game as a practice project to familiarize himself with video game design. Alcorn's version ended up being so fun that Atari decided to release it as Pong. Available in limited quantities in late 1972, Pong began reaching the market in quantity in March 1973, after which it ignited a new craze for ball-and-paddle video games in the coin-operated amusement industry. The success of Pong did not result in the displacement of traditional arcade amusements like pinball, but did lay the foundation for a successful video arcade game industry. Roughly 70,000 video games, mostly ball-and-paddle variants, were sold in 1973 by a combination of recent startups like Atari, Ramtek, and Allied Leisure and established Chicago firms like Williams, Chicago Coin, and the Midway subsidiary of Bally Manufacturing.
The video arcade game market remained in a state of flux for the remainder of the decade. The ball-and-paddle market collapsed in 1974 due to market saturation, which led to a significant drop in video game sales. Smaller manufacturers attempted to compensate by creating "cocktail table" cabinets for sale to non-traditional venues like higher class restaurants and lounges, but this market failed to fully develop. Larger companies like Atari and Midway turned to new genres to remain successful, especially racing games, one-on-one dueling games, and target shooting games. Early hits in these genres included Gran Trak 10 (1974) and Tank (1974) from Atari, and Wheels (1975), Gun Fight, (1975) and Sea Wolf (1976) from Midway. Wheels and Gun Fight were licensed versions of Speed Race and Western Gun developed by the Taito Trading Company of Japan, marking the start of Japanese video game penetration into the United States. Gun Fight was also one of the first arcade games to incorporate a microprocessor, starting a shift away from video arcade games engineered using dedicated TTL hardware to video games programmed in software.
The video game was one of several concepts that helped to reform the image of the arcade as a seedy hangout for delinquents. This in turn aided the growth of arcades in suburban shopping malls. The principle pioneer of the shopping mall arcade was Jules Millman, who established an arcade in a shopping mall in Harvey, Illinois, in 1969. By banning eating, drinking, and smoking, and maintaining a full staff at all times to keep an eye on the facilities, Millman created a safe environment where parents could feel safe leaving their older children while browsing other stores in the mall. Millman founded American Amusements to establish more shopping mall arcades, which was purchased by Bally in 1974 and renamed Aladdin's Castle. Other entrepreneur's imitated Millman's format, and arcades became a mainstay of the shopping mall by the end of the decade.
The emergence of solid state pinball in the late 1970s, in which electro-mechanical technologies like relays were replaced by the newly emerging microprocessor, temporarily stole the limelight from video games, which once again entered a period of decline in 1977 and 1978. While individual games like Atari's Breakout (1976) and Cinematronics' Space Wars (1978) sold in large numbers during this period, overall profitability began to lag. The market surged once again, however, after the introduction of the Taito game Space Invaders by Midway in 1979.
First generation of home consoles and the Pong clones (1972–1978)
The Magnavox Odyssey never caught on with the public, due largely to the limited functionality of its primitive technology. By the middle of the 1970s, however, the ball-and-paddle craze in the arcade had ignited public interest in video games and continuing advances in integrated circuits had resulted in large-scale integration (LSI) microchips cheap enough to be incorporated into a consumer product. In 1975, Magnavox reduced the part count of the Odyssey using a three-chip set created by Texas Instruments and released two new systems that only played ball-and-paddle games, the Odyssey 100 and Odyssey 200. Atari, meanwhile, entered the consumer market that same year with the single-chip Home Pong system designed by Harold Lee. The next year, General Instrument released a "Pong-on-a-chip" LSI and made it available at a low price to any interested company. Toy company Coleco Industries used this chip to create the million-selling Telstar console model series (1976–77), while dozens of other companies released models as well. Overall, sales of dedicated ball-and-paddle systems in the U.S. grew from 350,000 in 1975 to a peak of 5–6 million in 1977. A similar boom hit the United Kingdom and other parts of Europe, with much of the market supplied by clone manufacturers in Hong Kong.
After 1977, the dedicated console market in the United States collapsed. A new wave of programmable systems hit the market starting with the Fairchild Channel F in 1976 that offered the possibility of purchasing and playing a wider variety of games stored on cartridges containing mask ROM that could be plugged directly into the CPU of the console. As older model dedicated consoles were heavily discounted and consumers with more purchasing power transitioned to the new programmable systems, newer dedicated systems with more advanced features like Video Pinball from Atari and the Odyssey 4000 were squeezed out by their lower priced predecessors and their more sophisticated programmable replacements. This caused a brief dip in the market and the exit of industry leader Coleco, which failed to transition to programmable hardware. Fairchild remained in the new programmable market alongside Atari and Magnavox, which released the VCS (1977) and Odyssey2 (1978) respectively.
Mainframe computer games (1971–1979)
In the 1960s, a number of computer games were created for mainframe and minicomputer systems, but these failed to achieve wide distribution due to the continuing scarcity of computer resources, a lack of sufficiently trained programmers interested in crafting entertainment products, and the difficulty in transferring programs between computers in different geographic areas. By the end of the 1970s, however, the situation had changed drastically. The BASIC and C high-level programming languages were widely adopted during the decade, which were more accessible than earlier more technical languages such as FORTRAN and COBOL, opening up computer game creation to a larger base of users. With the advent of time-sharing, which allowed the resources of a single mainframe to be parceled out among multiple users connected to the machine by terminals, computer access was no longer limited to a handful of individuals at an institution, creating more opportunities for students to create their own games. Furthermore, the widespread adoption of the PDP-10, released by Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) in 1966, and the portable UNIX operating system, developed at Bell Labs in 1971 and released generally in 1973, created common programming environments across the country that reduced the difficulty of sharing programs between institutions. Finally, the founding of the first magazines dedicated to computing like Creative Computing (1974), the publication of the earliest program compilation books like 101 BASIC Computer Games (1973), and the spread of wide-area networks such as the ARPANET allowed programs to be shared more easily across great distances. As a result, many of the mainframe games created by college students in the 1970s influenced subsequent developments in the video game industry in ways that, Spacewar! aside, the games of the 1960s did not.
In the arcade and on home consoles, fast-paced action and real-time gameplay were the norm in genres like racing and target shooting. On the mainframe, however, such games were generally not possible due both to the lack of adequate displays (many computer terminals continued to rely on teletypes rather than monitors well into the 1970s and even most CRT terminals could only render character-based graphics) and insufficient processing power and memory to update game elements in real time. While 1970s mainframes were more powerful than arcade and console hardware of the period, the need to parcel out computing resources to dozens of simultaneous users via time-sharing significantly hampered their abilities. Thus, programmers of mainframe games focused on strategy and puzzle-solving mechanics over pure action. Notable games of the period include the tactical combat game Star Trek (1971) by Mike Mayfield, the hide-and-seek game Hunt the Wumpus (1972) by Gregory Yob, and the strategic war game Empire (1977) by Walter Bright. Perhaps the most significant game of the period was Colossal Cave Adventure (or simply Adventure), created in 1976 by Will Crowther by combining his passion for caving with concepts from the newly released tabletop role-playing game (RPG) Dungeons and Dragons (D&D). Expanded by Don Woods in 1977 with an emphasis on the high fantasy of J.R.R. Tolkien, Adventure established a new genre based around exploration and inventory-based puzzle solving that made the transition to personal computers in the late 1970s.
While most games were created on hardware of limited graphic ability, one computer able to host more impressive games was the PLATO system developed at the University of Illinois. Intended as an educational computer, the system connected hundreds of users all over the United States via remote terminals that featured high-quality plasma displays and allowed users to interact with each other in real time. This allowed the system to host an impressive array of graphical and/or multiplayer games, including some of the earliest known computer RPGs, which were primarily derived, like Adventure, from D&D, but unlike that game placed a greater emphasis on combat and character progression than puzzle solving. Starting with top-down dungeon crawls like The Dungeon (1975) and The Game of Dungeons (1975), more commonly referred to today by their filenames, pedit5 and dnd, PLATO RPGs soon transitioned to a first-person perspective with games like Moria (1975), Oubliette (1977), and Avatar (1979), which often allowed multiple players to join forces to battle monsters and complete quests together. Like Adventure, these games would ultimately inspire some of the earliest personal computer games.
Golden age of arcade video games (1978–1982)
By 1978, video games were well established in the U.S. coin-operated amusement industry, but their popularity was secondary to the industry stalwarts of pool and pinball. That changed with the introduction of a new game developed in Japan. While video games had been introduced to Japan soon after hitting the United States, the Japanese arcade industry had remained primarily focused on electro-mechanical driving and shooting games and a type of slot machine called the "medal game" that accepted and paid out in medals instead of currency so as not to be classified as a gambling game. In 1977, the arrival of Breakout, distributed locally by the Nakamura Manufacturing Company, and the advent of table-top game units, pioneered by Taito, created new demand for video games in snack bars and tea houses. Taito designer Tomohiro Nishikado decided to build on the popularity of Breakout by replacing the paddle in the game with a gun battery and the bricks in the game with rows of aliens that would descend line-by-line while firing at the player. Taito released this game in 1978 as Space Invaders.
Space Invaders introduced or popularized several important concepts in arcade video games, including play regulated by lives instead of a timer or set score, gaining extra lives through accumulating points, and the tracking of the high score achieved on the machine. It was also the first game to confront the player with waves of targets that would shoot back at the player and the first to include background music during game play, a simple four-note loop. With its intense game play and competitive scoring features, Space Invaders became a national phenomenon as over 200,000 invader games—counting clones and knockoffs—entered Japanese game centers by the middle of 1979. While not quite as popular in the United States, Space Invaders became the biggest hit the industry had seen since the Great Depression as Midway, serving as the North American manufacturer, moved over 60,000 cabinets. The one-two punch of Space Invaders and the Atari game Asteroids (1979), which moved 70,000 units and popularized the recording of multiple high scores in a table, resulted in video arcade games completely displacing pinball and other amusements to become the central attraction of not just the shopping mall arcade, but also a variety of street locations from convenience stores to bowling alleys to pizza parlors. Many of the best-selling games of 1980 and 1981 such as Galaxian (1979), Defender (1980), Missile Command (1980), Tempest (1981), and Galaga (1981) focused on shooting mechanics and achieving high scores. Starting with Pac Man in 1980, which sold 96,000 units in the United States, a new wave of games appeared that focused on identifiable characters and alternate mechanics such as navigating a maze or traversing a series of platforms. Aside from Pac Man and its sequel, Ms. Pac-Man (1982), the most popular games in this vein were Donkey Kong (1981) and Q*bert (1982).
According to trade publication Vending Times, revenues generated by coin-operated video games on location in the United States jumped from $308 million in 1978 to $968 million in 1979 to $2.8 billion in 1980. As Pac Man ignited an even larger video game craze and attracted more female players to arcades, revenues jumped again to $4.9 billion in 1981. According to trade publication Play Meter, by July 1982, total coin-op collections peaked at $8.9 billion, of which $7.7 billion came from video games. Meanwhile, the number of arcades—defined as any location with ten or more games—more than doubled between July 1981 and July 1983 from over 10,000 to just over 25,000. These figures made arcade games the most popular entertainment medium in the country, far surpassing both pop music (at $4 billion in sales per year) and Hollywood films ($3 billion).
Second generation consoles (1976–1982)
After the collapse of the dedicated console market in 1978, focus in the home shifted to the new programmable systems, in which game data was stored on ROM-based cartridges. Fairchild semiconductor struck first in this market with the Channel F, but after losing millions in the digital watch business, the company took a conservative approach to the programmable console market and kept production runs of the system low. As a result, by the end of 1977, Fairchild had only sold about 250,000 systems. Atari followed Fairchild into the market in 1977 and sold between 340,000 and 400,000 systems that year. Magnavox joined the programmable market in 1978 with the Odyssey2, while toy company Mattel released the Intellivision in 1979, which featured graphics superior to any of its competitors.
After both Atari and Fairchild made a strong showing in 1977, the market hit a difficult patch in 1978 when retailers resisted building inventory, believing that the newly emerging electronic handheld market would displace video games. Atari, for example, manufactured 800,000 systems, but proved unable to sell more than 500,000 to retail. This helped precipitate a crisis at the company that saw co-founder and chairman Nolan Bushnell and president Joe Keenan forced out by Atari's parent company, Warner Communications, which had purchased Atari in 1976 largely on the potential of the VCS. Ultimately, home video games did well in the 1978 holiday season, and retailers proved more amenable to stocking them again in 1979. New Atari CEO Ray Kassar subsequently harnessed his company's leftover stock to help transform video game consoles into a year-round product rather than something just purchased by retailers for sale during the holiday season.
The real breakthrough for the home video game market occurred in 1980 when Atari released a conversion of the popular Space Invaders game for the VCS, which was licensed from Taito. Buoyed by the success of the game, Atari's consumer sales almost doubled from $119 million to nearly $204 million in 1980 and then exploded to over $841 million in 1981, while sales across the entire video game industry in the United States rose from $185.7 million in 1979 to just over $1 billion in 1981. Through a combination of conversions of its own arcade games like Missile Command and Asteroids and licensed conversions like Defender, Atari took a commanding lead in the industry, with an estimated 65% market share of the worldwide industry by dollar volume by 1981. Mattel settled into second place with roughly 15%-20% of the market, while Magnavox ran a distant third, and Fairchild exited the market entirely in 1979.
In the early days of the programmable market, all of the games for a given system were developed by the firm that released the console. That changed in 1979 when four Atari programmers, seeking greater recognition and financial reward for their contributions, struck out on their own to form Activision, the first third-party developer. The company went on to develop a string of hits including Kaboom! (1981), River Raid (1982), and Pitfall! (1982), recognized as one of the foundational games of the scrolling platformer genre. In 1981, another group of Atari employees joined with ex-Mattel staff to form Imagic and experienced success with games like Demon Attack (1982) and Atlantis (1982).
In 1982, Atari released a more advanced console based on its 8-bit computer line, the Atari 5200, which failed to perform as well as its predecessor. That same year, Coleco returned to the video game market with a new console, the ColecoVision, that featured near-arcade-quality graphics and shipped with a port of the popular arcade game Donkey Kong. Coleco sold out its entire run of 550,000 units in the 1982 holiday season as overall U.S. video game sales reached $2.1 billion, which represented 31% of the dollar volume of the entire toy industry. Ultimately, however, the rapid growth of the home console market could not be sustained, and the industry would soon face a serious downturn that would nearly wipe it out during the video game crash of 1983.
Early home computer games (1976–1982)
While the fruit of retail development in early video games appeared mainly in video arcades and home consoles, home computers began appearing in the late 1970s and were rapidly evolving in the 1980s, allowing their owners to program simple games. Hobbyist groups for the new computers soon formed and PC game software followed. Soon many of these games—at first clones of mainframe classics such as Star Trek, and then later ports or clones of popular arcade games such as Space Invaders, Frogger, Pac-Man (see Pac-Man clones) and Donkey Kong—were being distributed through a variety of channels, such as printing the game’s source code in books (such as David Ahl’s BASIC Computer Games), magazines (Creative Computing), and newsletters, which allowed users to type in the code for themselves. Early game designers like Crowther, Daglow and Yob would find the computer code for their games—which they had never thought to copyright—published in books and magazines, with their names removed from the listings. Early home computers from Apple, Commodore, Tandy and others had many games that people typed in.
Games were also distributed by the physical mailing and selling of floppy disks, cassette tapes, and ROM cartridges. Soon a small cottage industry was formed, with amateur programmers selling disks in plastic bags put on the shelves of local shops or sent through the mail. Richard Garriott distributed several copies of his 1980 role-playing video game Akalabeth: World of Doom in plastic bags before the game was published.
The video games industry experienced its first major growing pains in the early 1980s as publishing houses appeared, with many businesses surviving 20+ years, such as Electronic Arts—alongside fly-by-night operations that cheated the games' developers. While some early 1980s games were simple clones of existing arcade titles, the relatively low publishing costs for personal computer games allowed for bold, unique games.
Following the success of the Apple II and Commodore PET in the late 1970s, a series of cheaper and incompatible rivals emerged in the early 1980s. This second batch included the Commodore VIC-20 and 64; Sinclair ZX80, ZX81 and ZX Spectrum; NEC PC-8000, PC-6001, PC-88 and PC-98; Sharp X1 and X68000; and Atari 8-bit family, BBC Micro, Acorn Electron, Amstrad CPC, and MSX series. These rivals helped to catalyze both the home computer and game markets, by raising awareness of computing and gaming through their competing advertising campaigns.
The Sinclair, Acorn and Amstrad offerings were generally only known in Europe and Africa, the NEC and Sharp offerings were generally only known in Asia, and the MSX had a base in South America, Europe, Middle East and Asia, while the US-based Apple, Commodore and Atari offerings were sold in both the US and Europe.
Games dominated home computers' software libraries. A 1984 compendium of reviews of Atari 8-bit software used 198 pages for games compared to 167 for all others. By that year the computer gaming market took over from the console market following the crash of that year; computers offered equal gaming ability and, since their simple design allowed games to take complete command of the hardware after power-on, they were nearly as simple to start playing with as consoles.
The Commodore 64 was released to the public in August 1982. It found initial success because it was marketed and priced aggressively. It had a BASIC programming environment, and advanced graphic and sound abilities for its time, similar to the ColecoVision console. It also used the same game controller ports popularized by the Atari 2600, allowing gamers to use their old joysticks with the system. It would become the most popular home computer of its day in the USA and many other countries and the best-selling single computer model of all time internationally.
At around the same time, the Sinclair ZX Spectrum was released in the United Kingdom and quickly became the most popular home computer in many areas of Western Europe—and later the Eastern Bloc—due to the ease with which clones could be produced.
In 2008 Sid Meier listed the IBM PC as one of the three most important innovations in the history of video games. The IBM PC compatible platform became a technically competitive gaming platform with IBM’s PC/AT in 1984. The primitive CGA graphics of prior models, with only 4-color 320×200 pixel graphics (or, using special programming, 16-color 160×100 graphics) had limited the PC’s appeal to the business segment, as its graphics failed to compete with the C64 or Apple II. The new 64-color Enhanced Graphics Adapter (EGA) display standard allowed its graphics to approach the quality seen in popular home computers like the Commodore 64. However, the sound abilities of the AT were still limited to the PC speaker, which was substandard compared to the built-in sound chips used in many home computers. Also, the relatively high cost of the PC compatible systems severely limited their popularity in gaming.
The Apple Macintosh also arrived at this time. It lacked the color abilities of the earlier Apple II, instead preferring a much higher pixel resolution, but the operating system support for the graphical user interface (GUI) attracted developers of some games (e.g. Lode Runner) even before color returned in 1987 with the Mac II.
The arrival of the Atari ST and Commodore Amiga in 1985 was the start of a new era of 16-bit machines. For many users they were too costly until later on in the decade, at which point advances in the IBM PC’s open platform had caused the IBM PC compatibles to become comparably powerful at a lower cost than their competitors. The VGA standard developed for the new IBM Personal System/2 (PS/2) line in 1987 gave the PC the potential for 256-color graphics. This was a big jump ahead of most 8-bit home computers but still lagged behind platforms with built-in sound and graphics hardware like the Amiga. This caused an odd trend around '89–91 toward developing for a seemingly inferior machine. Thus while both the ST and Amiga were host to many technically excellent games, their time of prominence was shorter than that of the 8-bit machines, which saw new ports well into the 1980s and even the 1990s.
Dedicated sound cards started to address the issue of poor sound abilities in IBM PC compatibles in the late 1980s. Ad Lib set an early de facto standard for sound cards in 1987, with its card based on the Yamaha YM3812 sound chip. This would last until the introduction of Creative Labs' Sound Blaster in 1989, which took the chip and added new features while remaining compatible with Ad Lib cards, and creating a new de facto standard. However, many games would still support these and rarer things like the Roland MT-32 and Disney Sound Source into the early 1990s. The initial high cost of sound cards meant they would not find widespread use until the 1990s.
Shareware gaming first appeared in the mid-1980s, but its big successes came in the 1990s.
Early online gaming
Dial-up bulletin board systems were popular in the 1980s, and sometimes used for online game playing. The earliest such systems were in the late 1970s and early 1980s and had a crude plain-text interface. Later systems made use of terminal-control codes (the so-called ANSI art, which included the use of IBM-PC-specific characters not part of an American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standard) to get a pseudo-graphical interface. Some BBSs offered access to various games which were playable through such an interface, ranging from text adventures to gambling games like blackjack (generally played for "points" rather than real money). On some multiuser BBSs (where more than one person could be online at once), there were games allowing users to interact with one another.
SuperSet Software created Snipes, a text-mode networked computer game in 1983 to test a new IBM Personal Computer–based computer network and demonstrate its abilities. Snipes is officially credited as being the original inspiration for NetWare. It is believed to be the first network game ever written for a commercial personal computer and is recognized alongside 1974 game Maze War (a networked multiplayer maze game for several research machines) and Spasim (a 3D multiplayer space simulation for time shared mainframes) as the precursor to multiplayer games such as 1987's MIDI Maze, and Doom in 1993. In 1995 iDoom (later Kali.net) was created for games that only allowed local network play to connect over the internet. Other services such as Kahn, TEN, Mplayer, and Heat.net soon followed after. These services ultimately became obsolete when game producers began including their own online software such as Battle.net, WON and later Steam.
The first user interfaces were plain-text—similar to BBSs— but they operated on large mainframe computers, permitting larger numbers of users to be online at once. By the end of the decade, inline services had fully graphical environments using software specific to each personal computer platform. Popular text-based services included CompuServe, The Source, and GEnie, while platform-specific graphical services included PlayNET and Quantum Link for the Commodore 64, AppleLink for the Apple II and Macintosh, and PC Link for the IBM PC—all of which were run by the company which eventually became America Online—and a competing service, Prodigy. Interactive games were a feature of these services, though until 1987 they used text-based displays, not graphics.
Handheld LCD games
In 1979, Milton Bradley Company released the first handheld system using interchangeable cartridges, Microvision. While the handheld received modest success in the first year of production, the lack of games, screen size and video game crash of 1983 brought about the system's quick demise.
In 1980, Nintendo released its Game & Watch line, handheld electronic game which spurred dozens of other game and toy companies to make their own portable games, many of which were copies of Game & Watch titles or adaptations of popular arcade games. Improving LCD technology meant the new handhelds could be more reliable and consume fewer batteries than LED or VFD games, most only needing watch batteries. They could also be made much smaller than most LED handhelds, even small enough to wear on one’s wrist like a watch. Tiger Electronics borrowed this concept of videogaming with cheap, affordable handhelds and still produces games in this model to the present day.
Video game crash of 1983
At the end of 1983, several factors, including a market flooded with poor-quality games, the commercial failure of several important Atari 2600 titles, and home computers emerging as a new and more advanced gaming platform, caused the industry to experience a severe downturn. This was the "crash" of the video game industry. It bankrupted several companies that produced North American consoles and games from late 1983 to early 1984. It ended what is considered to be the second generation of console video gaming.
As a result of the crash, a globally important video gaming industry emerged in Japan, creating important room for companies like Nintendo and Sega. This brought about the worldwide popularity of the third-generation Nintendo Entertainment System, for which third-party game publishing was strictly overseen by Nintendo.
Third generation consoles (1983–1995) (8-bit)
Whilst a broken gaming industry in the US took several local businesses to bankruptcy and practically ended retail interest in video gaming products, an 8-bit third generation of video game consoles started in Japan as early as 1983 with the release of both Nintendo's Family Computer ("Famicom") and Sega's SG-1000 on July 15. The first clearly trumped the second in terms of commercial success in the country, causing Sega to replace it, two years later, by a severely improved and modernized version called the Sega Mark III.
In efforts to make the Famicom marketable in the US, Nintendo created a completely redesigned version of it, called the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), to be sold in the country as a product unrelated to video gaming. For this same reason, the company also developed a toy robot accessory called the R.O.B. to be sold together with some versions. The NES was released on 18 October 1985 in the US, reviving the video game market in the country and proving successful to the American audience, peaking in popularity between 1987 and the early 1990s. The console was later released in other Western countries, but because of heavy competition from home computers such as the ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC and Commodore 64, and a lack of marketing, the NES was prevented from having as much success in Europe.
The Sega Mark III, released to Western consumers as the Master System, dominated the markets of Europe, Oceania and Brazil, selling more than the NES in these regions. Soon, the Famicom/NES and the Master System became the great consoles of the third generation. While Sega focused on unique gameplay experiences and innovative technology (with Master System's superior technical properties which allowed better graphics, and accessories like LCD glasses), Nintendo focused on creating long and popular game franchises which often repeated the same features. Despite different regional dominances, the Famicom/NES sold a superior sum of 61.91 million worldwide copies, against 14.8 million of the Master System.
In this generation, the gamepad or joypad, took over for joysticks, paddles, and keypads as the default game controller. The gamepad design of an 8 direction Directional-pad (or D-pad for short) with 2 or more action buttons became the standard. This generation also marked a shift in the dominance of home video game console hardware and console game production from the United States to Japan.
The third console generation marked the debut of various high-profile role-playing franchises, such as The Legend of Zelda, Dragon Quest, Phantasy Star and Final Fantasy, the latter of which financially saved Japanese developer Square. 1987 saw the birth of the stealth genre with Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear series' first game, on the MSX2 computer. In 1989, Capcom released Sweet Home on the NES, which served as a precursor to the survival horror genre.
In 1988, Nintendo published their first issue of Nintendo Power magazine.
By 1989 the market for cartridge-based console games was more than $2 billion, while that for disk-based computer games was less than $300 million. Large computer-game companies such as Epyx, Electronic Arts, and LucasArts began devoting much or all of their attention on console games. Computer Gaming World warned that computer gaming could become a "cultural backwater," similar to what had happened a few years earlier with 8-bit computers. In 1990, Commodore and Amstrad entered the console market with their C64GS and GX4000 game machines respectively. These were both based on the 8-bit computers of their manufacturers, and had only limited success due to a lack of software support and the arrival of 16-bit machines. Amstrad's GX4000 sold just over 15,000 units, with only 25 officially released game cartridges. Even though it was technically superior to the Master System and Nintendo Entertainment System, it was discontinued after 6 months.
This generation ended with the discontinuation of the NES in 1995.
Fourth generation consoles (1987–2003) (16-bit)
An original synthesized chiptune composition imitating early video game music.
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A 16-bit generation of video game consoles starts in the late 1980s. The TurboGrafx-16, named the PC Engine in Europe and Japan, debuted in 1987 as the first commercial 16-bit game system. It had a large following in Japan, but, did poorly in North America and Europe because of its limited library of games and because of excessive distribution restrictions imposed by Hudson Soft. Sega's Mega Drive/Genesis sold well worldwide early on after its debut in 1988. Nintendo responded with its own next generation system named the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), in 1990.
This time was one of intense competition and not entirely truthful marketing. The TurboGrafx-16 was billed as the first 16-bit system but its central processor was an 8-bit HuC6280, with only its HuC6270 graphics processor being a true 16-bit chip. Also, the much earlier Mattel Intellivision contained a 16-bit processor. Sega used the term "Blast Processing" throughout its marketing to describe the simple fact that their console's CPU ran at a higher clock speed than that of the SNES (7.67 MHz vs 3.58 MHz).
In Japan, the PC Engine was a very successful competitor against the Famicom and a CD drive peripheral allowed it to fend off the Mega Drive in 1988, though it never really caught on to the same degree outside Japan. The PC Engine eventually lost out to the Super Famicom, but, due to its popular CD add-ons, retained enough of a user base to support new games well into the late 1990s.
CD-ROM drives were introduced in this generation, as add-ons for the PC Engine in 1988 and the Mega Drive in 1991. Nintendo experimented with optical media formats for the SNES in a joint venture with Sony, who would go on to develop this concept into the PlayStation and rise to prominence as a major competitor to Nintendo and Sega. Basic 3D graphics entered the mainstream with flat-shaded polygons enabled by added processors in game cartridges like Virtua Racing and Star Fox, while the Mega Drive managed to produce such graphics without special processors, on the ≈8 MHz 68000 chip by using highly simplified polygon models, a slow frame rate (<4 fps), and reduced resolution.
Sonic the Hedgehog, released in 1991 for the Mega Drive/Genesis, gave the console mainstream popularity, and rivaled Nintendo's Mario franchise, starting the so-called "console war." Its namesake character became the mascot of Sega and one of the most recognizable video game characters in history.
SNK's Neo-Geo was the most costly console by a wide margin when released in 1990, and would remain so for years. Its 2D graphics were of a quality years ahead of other consoles. The reason for this was that it contained the same hardware that was found in SNK's arcade games. This was the first time since the home Pong machines that a true-to-the-arcade experience could be had at home, but the system was commercially inviable.
This era also saw a revival of handheld consoles, which were absent in the prior generation. Nintendo's Game Boy, a portable released in 1989 with monochromatic 2D graphics and 35-hours battery life, became widely popular in the world and sold much more than its three competitors, the Atari Lynx, the Sega Game Gear and NEC's Turbo Express, released in Japan in North America until 1991. Despite these three consoles having much more sophisticated 16-bit graphics (similar to home consoles of the time), graphic resource consumed too much battery life, which contributed to their unpopularity. The other consoles also had scarce game libraries compared to over one thousand games released for the Game Boy, including best-selling titles Pokémon Red and Blue, and which inspired an entire line of portable machines that continued through the following two generations.
The 1990s were a decade of marked innovation in video gaming. It was a decade of transition from raster graphics to 3D graphics and gave rise to several genres of video games including first-person shooter, real-time strategy, and MMO. Handheld gaming began to become more popular throughout the decade, thanks in part to the release of the Game Boy in 1989. Arcade games experienced a resurgence in the early-to-mid-1990s, followed by a decline in the late 1990s as home consoles became more common.
As arcade games declined, however, the home video game industry matured into a more mainstream form of entertainment in the 1990s, but their video games also became more and more controversial because of their violent nature, especially in games of Mortal Kombat, Night Trap, and Doom, leading to the formation of the Interactive Digital Software Association and their rating games by signing them their ESRB ratings since 1994. Major developments of the 1990s include the popularizing of 3D computer graphics using polygons (initially in arcades, followed by home consoles and computers), and the start of a larger consolidation of publishers, higher budget games, increased size of production teams, and collaborations with both the music and motion picture industries. Examples of this include Mark Hamill's involvement with Wing Commander III, the introduction of QSound with arcade system boards such as Capcom's CP System II, and the high production budgets of titles such as Squaresoft's Final Fantasy VII and Sega's Shenmue.
Resurgence and decline of arcades
In North America, arcade games, which had seen a slow decline with the increase in popularity of home gaming, experienced a resurgence in the early-to-mid-1990s, with the 1991 release of Capcom's Street Fighter II popularizing competitive one-on-one fighting games and reviving the arcade industry to a level of popularity not seen since the days of Pac-Man. Its success led to a wave of other popular fighting games, such as Mortal Kombat and The King of Fighters. Sports games such as NBA Jam also briefly became popular in arcades during this period.
Transition to 3D
3D computer graphics using polygons were soon popularized by Yu Suzuki's Sega AM2 games Virtua Racing (1992) and Virtua Fighter (1993), both running on the Sega Model 1 arcade system board; some of the Sony Computer Entertainment (SCE) staff involved in the creation of the original PlayStation video game console credit Virtua Fighter as inspiration for the PlayStation's 3D graphics hardware. According to SCE's former producer Ryoji Akagawa and chairman Shigeo Maruyama, the PlayStation was originally being considered as a 2D-focused hardware, and it wasn't until the success of Virtua Fighter in the arcades that they decided to design the PlayStation as a 3D-focused hardware. Texture mapping and texture filtering were soon popularized by 3D racing and fighting games.
However, with the advent of 32- and 64-bit consoles in the mid-1990s, home video game consoles such as the Sega Saturn, PlayStation and Nintendo 64 also became able to produce texture-mapped 3D graphics. Increasing numbers of players would wait for popular arcade games to be ported to consoles rather than pumping coins into arcade kiosks. This trend increased with the introduction of more realistic peripherals for computer and console game systems such as force feedback aircraft joysticks and racing wheel/pedal kits, which allowed home systems to approach some of the realism and immersion formerly limited to the arcades. To remain relevant, arcade manufacturers such as Sega and Namco continued pushing the boundaries of 3D graphics beyond what was possible in homes. Virtua Fighter 3 for the Sega Model 3, for instance, stood out for having real-time 3D graphics approaching the quality of CGI full motion video (FMV) at the time. Likewise, Namco released the Namco System 23 to rival the Model 3. By 1998, however, Sega's new console, the Dreamcast, could produce 3D graphics on-par with the Sega Naomi arcade machine. After producing the more powerful Hikaru board in 1999 and Naomi 2 in 2000, Sega eventually stopped manufacturing custom arcade system boards, with their subsequent arcade boards being based on either consoles or commercial PC components.
As patronage of arcades declined, many were forced to close down. Classic coin-operated games have largely become the province of dedicated hobbyists and as a tertiary attraction for some businesses, such as movie theaters, batting cages, miniature golf courses, and arcades attached to game stores such as F.Y.E.
The gap left by the old corner arcades was partly filled by large amusement centers dedicated to providing clean, safe environments and costly game control systems unavailable to home users. These newer arcade titles offered games based on driving, sports like skiing or cycling, and rhythm games like Dance Dance Revolution and path-based shooting gallery games like Time Crisis, which have taken a large part of the market. Dave & Buster's and GameWorks are two large chains in the United States with this type of environment. Aimed at adults and older kids, they feature full service restaurants with full liquor bars and have a wide variety of video game and hands on electronic gaming options. Chuck E. Cheese's is a similar type of business for younger children.
Handhelds come of age
In 1989, Nintendo released the Game Boy, the first handheld game console since the ill-fated Microvision ten years before. The design team headed by Gunpei Yokoi had also been responsible for the Game & Watch systems. Included with the system was Tetris, which became one of the best sold video games of all time and was ported to a large variety of systems. Several rival handhelds made their debut in the early 90s, including the Sega Game Gear and Atari Lynx (the first handheld with color LCD display). Although these systems were more technologically advanced, they were hampered by higher battery consumption and less third-party developer support. While some of the other systems remained in production until the mid-1990s, the Game Boy, and its successive incarnations the Game Boy Pocket, Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance, would be virtually unchallenged for dominance in the handheld market, until the PlayStation Portable was released in 2004 to compete with Nintendo's successor to the Game Boy line, the Nintendo DS.
The increasing computing power and decreasing cost of processors such as the Intel 80386, Intel 80486, and Motorola 68030, caused the rise of 3D graphics, and multimedia abilities through sound cards and CD-ROMs. Early 3D games began with flat shading graphics (Elite, Starglider 2 or Alpha Waves), and then simple forms of texture mapping.
1989 and the early 1990s saw the release and spread of the Multi-User Dungeon (MUD) codebases DikuMUD and LPMud, leading to a tremendous increase in the proliferation and popularity of MUDs. Before the end of the decade, the evolution of the genre continued through graphical MUDs into the first massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs), which freed users from the limited number of simultaneous players in other games and brought persistent worlds to the mass market.
In the early 1990s, shareware distribution was a popular method of publishing games for smaller developers, including then-fledgling companies such as Apogee (now 3D Realms), Epic MegaGames (now Epic Games), and id Software. This gave consumers the chance to try a trial portion of the game, usually restricted to a game’s complete first section or "episode", before purchasing the full game. Racks of games on single 51⁄4" and later 3.5" floppy disks were common in computer stores, often only costing a few dollars each. Since the shareware versions were essentially free, the cost only needed to cover the disk and minimal packaging. As the increasing size of games in the mid-1990s made them impractical to fit on floppies, and retail publishers and developers began to earnestly mimic the practice, shareware games were replaced by shorter game demos (often only one or two levels), distributed free on CDs with gaming magazines and over the Internet.
Real-time strategy became a popular genre of computer games in the early 90s, with Dune II setting the standard game mechanics of many games since. Meanwhile, Alone in the Dark influenced the survival-horror genre with its action-adventure elements. It established the formula that would later flourish on CD-ROM–based consoles, with games such as Resident Evil, which coined the name "survival horror" and popularized the genre, and Silent Hill.
Graphic adventure games continued to evolve during this period, with the creation of the point-and-click genre. Some of the genre's most prolific titles were being produced by Sierra Entertainment and LucasArts during the 90s, and Myst and its sequels inspired a new style of puzzle-based adventure games. It was in the 1990s that Maxis began publishing its successful line of "Sim" games, starting with SimCity, and continuing with a variety of titles, such as SimEarth, SimCity 2000, and eventually The Sims, which was first released in early 2000.
In 1996, 3dfx Interactive released the Voodoo chipset, leading to the first affordable 3D accelerator cards for personal computers. These devoted 3D rendering daughterboards performed a portion of the computations and memory-handling required for more-detailed three-dimensional graphics (mainly texture filtering), allowing for more-detailed graphics than would be possible if the CPU were required to handle both game logic and all the graphical tasks. First-person shooters (FPS) were among the first to take advantage of this new technology. While other games would also make use of it, the FPS would become the main driving force behind the development of new 3D hardware, and the yardstick by which its performance would be measured, usually quantified as the number of frames per second rendered for a given scene in a given game.
Several other less mainstream genres were created in this decade. Looking Glass Studios' Thief: The Dark Project and its sequel were the first to coin the term "first person sneaker," and the turn-based strategy progressed further, with the Heroes of Might and Magic series popularizing the thus far niche and complex genre.
Id Software’s 1996 game Quake pioneered play over the Internet in first-person shooters. Internet multiplayer ability became a de facto requirement in most FPS games since. Other genres also began to offer online play in the late 90s, including real-time strategy games as Age of Empires, the Warcraft and StarCraft series, and turn-based games such as Heroes of Might and Magic. Developments in web browser plug-ins like Java and Adobe Flash allowed for simple browser-based games.
Fifth generation consoles (1993–2005) (32- and 64-bit)
In 1993, Atari re-entered the home console market with the introduction of the Atari Jaguar. Also in 1993, The 3DO Company released the 3DO Interactive Multiplayer, which, though highly advertised and promoted, failed to catch up to the sales of the Jaguar, due to its high pricetag. Both consoles had very low sales and few quality games, eventually leading to their demise. In 1994, three new consoles were released in Japan: the Sega Saturn, the Sony PlayStation, and the PC-FX, the Saturn and the PlayStation later seeing release in North America in 1995. The PlayStation quickly outsold all of its competitors mainly on the strength of its available titles, with the exception of the aging Super Nintendo Entertainment System, which still had the support of many major game companies.
The Virtual Boy from Nintendo was released in 1995 as one of the first consumer consoles providing 3D depth perception, but did not achieve high sales, largely due to the monochrome display and the lack of third-party support. In 1996 the Virtual Boy was taken off the market.
After many delays, during which Sony's PlayStation gained industry acceptance, Nintendo released its 64-bit console, the Nintendo 64 in 1996. The console's flagship title, Super Mario 64, became a defining title for 3D platformer games.
PaRappa the Rapper popularized music video games in Japan with its 1996 debut on the PlayStation. Subsequent music and dance games like beatmania and Dance Dance Revolution became ubiquitous attractions in Japanese arcades. While Parappa, DDR, and other games found a cult following when brought to North America, music games would not gain a wide audience in the market until the next decade with titles like Guitar Hero. Also in 1996 Capcom released Resident Evil, the first well known survival horror game. It was a huge success selling over 2 million copies and is considered one of the best games on the PlayStation.
Other milestone games of the era include Rare's Nintendo 64 title GoldenEye 007 (1997), which was critically acclaimed for bringing innovation as being the first major first-person shooter that was exclusive to a console, and for pioneering certain features that became staples of the genre, such as scopes, headshots, and objective-based missions. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998) for the Nintendo 64 is one of the most critically acclaimed games of all time, and is still the highest ranked game across all platforms on video game aggregator Metacritic. The title also featured many innovations such as Z-targeting, which has persisted through subsequent Zelda titles on newer consoles and is commonly used in many other franchises today.
Nintendo's choice to continue using ROM cartridges instead of moving to CD-ROMs for the Nintendo 64, unique among the consoles of this period, proved to have negative consequences for the console and for Nintendo's market share. While cartridges had faster access times, were more durable and resistant to unlicensed copying, CDs could hold far more data (650MB, over ten times the capacity of the largest N64 ROM at 64MB) and cost far less to produce, causing many game companies to turn to Nintendo's CD-based competitors. Notably, Square, which had released all prior games in its Final Fantasy series for Nintendo consoles, now turned exclusively to the PlayStation; Final Fantasy VII (1997) was a massive success, establishing the popularity of role-playing video games in the west and making the PlayStation the primary console for the genre, taking the crown from Nintendo who had enjoyed it with the SNES and Square's then Nintendo-exclusive Final Fantasy, Secret of Mana and Chrono Trigger titles. Copies of FFVII still command like-new prices of between US$30–$50 on the used market. Square would not return to Nintendo's main console platforms until 2003 with the GameCube and the cross-platform title Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles (the only Square-published title for that console), and has not, to date, released a "main series" Final Fantasy title for a Nintendo platform since FFVI for the SNES. Capcom also largely departed from Nintendo during the N64 days; the next 4 installments of its popular Mega Man 2D platform shooter were released on PlayStation and Saturn. Capcom was somewhat quicker and more eager to return than Square, however, providing two anthologies of Mega Man titles for the GameCube, including Mega Man 8 and Mega Man X4-6 that Nintendo players had missed.
By the end of this period, Sony had become the leader in the video game market. The Saturn was moderately successful in Japan but a commercial failure in North America and Europe, leaving Sega outside of the main competition. The N64 achieved huge success in North America and Europe, though it never surpassed PlayStation's sales or was as popular in Japan, and began to show a decline in third-party support for Nintendo's home consoles.
This generation ended with the discontinuation of the PlayStation (known in its re-engineered form as the "PSOne") in March 2005.
Transition to 3D and CDs
The fifth generation is most noted for the rise of fully 3D games. While there were games prior that had used three dimensional environments, such as Virtua Racing and Star Fox, it was in this era that many game designers began to move traditionally 2D and pseudo-3D genres into full 3D. Super Mario 64 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time on the N64, Crash Bandicoot, and Spyro the Dragon on the PlayStation and Nights into Dreams... on the Saturn, are prime examples of this trend. Their 3D environments were widely marketed, and they steered the industry's focus away from side-scrolling and rail-style titles, and opened doors to more complex games and genres. Games like GoldenEye 007, Ocarina of Time or Virtua Fighter were nothing like shoot-em-ups, RPGs or fighting games before them. 3D became the main focus in this period, as was a slow decline of cartridges in favor of CDs, which allowed far greater storage capacity than what formerly possible. The N64 was the last major home console to use the cartridge format, although it persists to this day in handheld games on Nintendo and Sony devices using memory cards similar to Secure Digital (SD) cards.
Mobile phone gaming
Mobile phones began becoming video gaming platforms when Nokia installed Snake onto its line of mobile phones in 1997 (Nokia 6110). As the game gained popularity, every major phone brand offered "time killer games" that could be played in very short moments such as waiting for a bus. Mobile phone games early on were limited by the modest size of the phone screens that were all monochrome, the very limited amount of memory and processing power on phones, and the drain on the battery.
The 2000s (decade) showed innovation on both consoles and PCs, and an increasingly competitive market for portable game systems.
The phenomena of user-created modifications (or "mods") for games, one trend that began during the Wolfenstein 3D and Doom-era, continued into the start of the 21st century. The most famous example is that of Counter-Strike; released in 1999, it is still one of the most popular online first-person shooter, even though it was created as a mod for Half-Life by two independent programmers. Eventually, game designers realized the potential of mods and custom content in general to enhance the value of their games, and so began to encourage its creation. Some examples of this include Unreal Tournament, which allowed players to import 3dsmax scenes to use as character models, and Maxis' The Sims, for which players could create custom objects.
In China, video game consoles were banned in June 2000. This has led to an explosion in the popularity of computer games, especially MMOs. Consoles and the games for them are easily acquired however, as there is a robust grey market importing and distributing them across the country. Another side effect of this law has been increased copyright infringement of video games.
Sixth generation consoles (1998–2013)
In the sixth generation of video game consoles, Sega exited the hardware market, Nintendo fell behind, Sony solidified its lead in the industry, and Microsoft developed their first gaming console.
The generation opened with the launch of the Sega Dreamcast in 1998. As the first console with a built-in modem for Internet support and online play, it was initially successful, but sales and popularity would start to fall. This has been attributed to Sega's damaged reputation from the relative failures of the 32X and Saturn, copyright infringement, and the huge anticipation for the upcoming PlayStation 2. The Dreamcast's library contains many titles considered creative and innovative, including the Shenmue series which are regarded as a major step forward for 3D open-world gameplay and has introduced the quick time event mechanic in its modern form. Production for the console would discontinue in most markets by 2002 and it would be Sega's final console before it reorganized its business as a third party game provider only, partnering primarily with its old rival Nintendo.
The second console of the generation, released in 2000, was Sony's PlayStation 2 (PS2), which featured DVD-based game discs with 4.7GB capacity, increased processor and graphics ability over its predecessor including progressive-scan component video connections, built-in 4-player connection, available Ethernet adapter (which became built-in with the winter 2004 release of the "slimline" PS2 chassis), and the ability to play DVD movies and audio CDs, eliminating the need for a separate DVD player and making the PS2 a complete home entertainment console. The console was highly successful during the generation.
Nintendo followed a year later with the GameCube (code-named "Dolphin" while in development), the company's first optical disc-based console. While it had the component-video ability of its contemporaries, the GameCube suffered in several ways compared to Sony's PS2. First, the PS2's high anticipation and one-year head start gained it player and developer attention before the GCN's release. As a result, the GameCube had less third-party backing and very few third-party exclusives, mostly from Nintendo-faithful studios such as Rare and the now-defunct Midway Games. Cross-platform giants like Capcom, Electronic Arts and Activision released most of their GameCube titles on other consoles as well, while Square Enix released high-demand PS2 exclusives. The GCN's game disc capacity was a third that of the PS2's full-size DVD disks, forcing a few games to be released on multiple discs and most titles to compromise on texture quality and other features of GameCube games, when other platforms had no such limitations on their versions. It had no backward compatibility with the now-obsolete cartridges of the N64. It was a dedicated game console, with the optical drive being too small to hold a full-size CD or DVD. Lastly, The GameCube was hindered by a reputation for being a "kid's console", due to its initial launch color scheme and lack of mature-content games which the current market appeared to want. Though T- and M-rated titles did exist on the GameCube, almost all GCN games were E-rated and mostly cartoon-style in their art design.
Before the end of 2001, Microsoft Corporation, best known for its Windows operating system and its professional productivity software, entered the console market with the Xbox. Based on Intel's Pentium III CPU, the console used a great deal of PC technology to leverage its internal development, making games for PC easily portable to the Xbox. To gain market share and maintain its toehold in the market, Microsoft reportedly sold the Xbox at a significant loss and concentrated on drawing profit from game developing and publishing. Shortly after its release in November 2001 Bungie Studio's Halo: Combat Evolved instantly became the driving point of the Xbox's success, and the Halo series would go on to become one of the most successful console shooter franchises of all time. By the end of the generation, the Xbox had drawn even with the Nintendo GameCube in sales globally, but since nearly all of its sales were in North America, it pushed Nintendo into third place in the American market.
In 2001 Grand Theft Auto III was released, popularizing open world games by using a non-linear style of gameplay. It was very successful both critically and commercially and is considered a huge milestone in gaming. It was also yet another set piece in the debate over video game violence and adult content, with advocacy groups decrying the series' glorification of prostitution, the mafia, and violence, including that against first responders such as police and EMS.
Nintendo still dominated the handheld gaming market during this period. The Game Boy Advance, released in 2001, maintained Nintendo's market position with a high-resolution, full-color LCD screen and 16-bit processor allowing ports of SNES games and simpler companions to N64 and GameCube games. Finnish cellphone maker Nokia entered the handheld scene with the N-Gage, but it failed to win a significant following.
In January 2013, Sony announced that the PlayStation 2 had been discontinued worldwide, ending the sixth generation.
Return of alternative controllers
One significant feature of this generation was various manufacturers' renewed fondness for add-on peripheral controllers. While alternative controllers weren't new (Nintendo supported several for the NES and PC games have long supported driving wheels and aircraft joysticks), console games built around them became some of the biggest hits of the decade. Konami sold a soft-plastic mat version of its foot controls for its Dance Dance Revolution franchise in 1998. Sega came out with Samba de Amigo's maraca controllers. Nintendo's bongo controller worked with a few games in its Donkey Kong franchise. Publisher RedOctane introduced Guitar Hero and its distinctive guitar-shaped controllers for the PlayStation 2. Meanwhile, Sony developed the EyeToy peripheral, a camera that could detect player movement, for the PlayStation 2. This would further be developed into whole-body tracking technologies such as Sony's PlayStation Move and Microsoft's Kinect.
Online gaming rises to prominence
As affordable broadband Internet connectivity spread, many publishers turned to online gaming as a way of innovating. Massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) featured significant titles for the PC market like RuneScape, World of Warcraft, EverQuest, and Ultima Online. Historically, console-based MMORPGs have been few in number due to the lack of bundled Internet connectivity options for the platforms. This made it hard to establish a large enough subscription community to justify the development costs. The first significant console MMORPGs were Phantasy Star Online on the Sega Dreamcast (which had a built in modem and aftermarket Ethernet adapter), followed by Final Fantasy XI for the Sony PlayStation 2 (an aftermarket Ethernet adapter was shipped to support this game). Every major platform released since the Dreamcast has either been bundled with the ability to support an Internet connection or has had the option available as an aftermarket add-on. Microsoft's Xbox also had its own online gaming service called Xbox Live. Xbox Live was a huge success and proved to be a driving force for the Xbox with games like Halo 2 that were highly popular.
In the early 2000s (decade), mobile games had gained mainstream popularity in Japanese mobile phone culture, years before the United States or Europe. By 2003, a wide variety of mobile games were available on Japanese phones, ranging from puzzle games and virtual pet titles that use camera phone and fingerprint scanner technologies to 3D games with PlayStation-quality graphics. Older arcade-style games became very popular on mobile phones, which were an ideal platform for arcade-style games designed for shorter play sessions. Namco began making attempts to introduce mobile gaming culture to Europe in 2003.
Mobile gaming interest was raised when Nokia launched its N-Gage phone and handheld gaming platform in 2003. While about two million handsets were sold, the product line wasn't seen as a success and was withdrawn from Nokia's lineup. Meanwhile, many game developers had noticed that more advanced phones had color screens and enough memory and processing power to do reasonable gaming. Mobile phone gaming revenues passed 1 billion dollars in 2003, and passed 5 billion dollars in 2007, accounting for a quarter of all videogaming software revenues. More advanced phones came to the market such as the N-Series smartphone by Nokia in 2005 and the iPhone by Apple in 2007 which strongly added to the appeal of mobile phone gaming. In 2008 Nokia didn't revise the N-Gage brand, but published a software library of games to its top-end phones. At Apple's App Store in 2008, more than half of all applications sold were iPhone games.
Due to the debut of app stores created by Apple and Google, plus the low-cost retail price of downloadable phone apps, games available on smartphones increasingly rival the video game console market. Among the most successful mobile games of this period is Angry Birds, which, released in 2009, reached 2 million downloads within one year. Nintendo announced their intentions for developing more games and content for mobile devices in the early 2010s, while Sega company is also dedicating development resources toward creating more mobile games. Independent small developers are entering the game market en masse by creating mobile games with the hope they will gain popularity with smartphone gaming enthusiasts.
Since 2007, the fast growing mobile market in African countries such as Nigeria and Kenya has also resulted in a growth in mobile game development. Local developers have taken advantage of the recent increase in mobile internet connection in countries where broadband is rarely available and console games are costly, though locally developed applications have difficulty competing against millions of western applications available on the Google Play Store
Seventh generation consoles (2005–present)
The generation opened early for handheld consoles, as Nintendo introduced their Nintendo DS and Sony premiered the PlayStation Portable (PSP) within a month of each other in 2004. While the PSP boasted superior graphics and power, following a trend established since the mid-1980s, Nintendo gambled on a lower-power design but featuring a novel control interface. The DS's two screens proved extremely popular with consumers, especially young children and middle-aged gamers, who were drawn to the device by Nintendo's Nintendogs and Brain Age series respectively. The PSP attracted a significant portion of veteran gamers in North America and was very popular in Japan, though a large portion of its visual novels and anime-based games have never been localized in the west. This combined allowed Nintendo to continue its dominance in handheld gaming. Nokia withdrew their N-Gage platform in 2005 but reintroduced the brand as a game-oriented service for high-end smartphones on April 3, 2008.
In console gaming, Microsoft stepped forward first in November 2005 with the Xbox 360, and Sony followed in 2006 with the PlayStation 3, released in Europe in March 2007. Setting the technology standard for the generation, both featured high-definition graphics over HDMI connections, large hard disk-based secondary storage for save games and downloaded content, integrated networking, and a companion on-line gameplay and sales platform, with Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network respectively. Both were formidable systems that were the first to challenge personal computers in power (at launch), while offering a relatively modest price compared to them. While both cost more than most past consoles, the Xbox 360 enjoyed a substantial price edge, selling for either $300 or $400 depending on model, while the PS3 launched with models priced at $500 and $600. Coming with Blu-ray Disc and Wi-Fi, the PlayStation 3 was the most costly game console on the market since Panasonic's version of the 3DO, which retailed for little under $700. The PlayStation 3's high price led to the console being defeated by the Xbox 360 (also resulting in Xbox 360 gaining market leadership until 2008), thus breaking the streak of dominance that the PlayStation brand once had, which was started in 1994 with the success of the original PlayStation. However, the slim model and the PlayStation Move controllers caused a massive recovery for PlayStation 3, and the console would soon outsell Xbox 360 by 2013.
In this generation, Nintendo not only secured its dominance in the handheld video game market, but also successfully regained total dominance on both the home video game market and the entire video game industry with the release of its home console, the Wii. While the Wii had lower technical specifications than both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, only a modest improvement over the GameCube and the only 7th-gen console not to offer HD graphics, its new motion control was much touted, and its lower pricepoint of around $200–$250 appealed to a larger demographic. Nintendo took cues from PC gaming and their crafted games that capitalized on the intuitive nature of motion control. Emphasis on gameplay turned comparatively simple games into unlikely runaway hits, such as Wii Sports, and Wii Fit. Many gamers, publishers, and analysts initially dismissed the Wii as an underpowered curiosity, but were surprised as the console sold out through the 2006 Christmas season, and remained so through the next 18 months, becoming the fastest selling game console in most of the world's gaming markets. As a result, the Wii became a global success and the runaway market leader of the seventh generation of consoles. As of September 2013, the Wii has sold 100.3 million units worldwide and is currently Nintendo's best selling home console.
In June 2009, Sony announced that it would release its PSP Go for US$249.99 on October 1 in Europe and North America, and Japan on November 1. The PSP Go was a newer, slimmer version of the PSP, which had the control pad slide from the base, where its screen covers most of the front side.
Increases in development budgets
With high-definition video an undeniable hit with veteran gamers seeking immersive experiences, expectations for visuals in games along with the increasing complexity of productions resulted in a spike in the development budgets of gaming companies. While some game studios saw their Xbox 360 projects pay off, the unexpected weakness of PS3 sales resulted in heavy losses for a few developers, and many publishers broke formerly arranged PS3 exclusivity arrangements or cancelled PS3 game projects entirely due to rising budgets.
Rise of casual PC games
Starting with PCs, a new trend in casual games, with limited complexity and designed for shortened or impromptu play sessions, began to draw attention from the industry. Many were puzzle games, such as Popcap's Bejeweled and PlayFirst's Diner Dash, while others were games with a more relaxed pace and open-ended play. The biggest hit was The Sims by Maxis, which went on to become the best selling computer game of all time, surpassing Myst.
Other casual games include Happy Farm and Zynga games like Mafia Wars, FarmVille, and Café World, among many others, which are tied into social networking sites such as Myspace, Facebook, and Mixi. These games are typically free to play, with the option to buy in game items and stats with money and/or reward offers.
In 2008, social network games began gaining mainstream popularity following the release of Happy Farm in China. Influenced by the Japanese console RPG series Story of Seasons, Happy Farm attracted 23 million daily active users in China. It soon inspired many clones such as Sunshine Farm, Happy Farmer, Happy Fishpond, Happy Pig Farm, and Facebook games such as FarmVille, Farm Town, Country Story, Barn Buddy, Sunshine Ranch, Happy Harvest, Jungle Extreme, and Farm Villain. The most popular social network game is FarmVille, which has over 70 million active users worldwide. Other popular social network games include YoVille, Mob Wars, Mafia Wars, and FrontierVille.
Cloud computing comes to games
In 2009, a few cloud computing services were announced targeted at video games. These services allow the graphics rendering of the video games to be done away from the end user, and a video stream of the game to be passed to the user. OnLive allows the user to communicate with their servers where the video game rendering is taking place. Gaikai streams games entirely in the user's browser or on an internet-enabled device. Experts estimate the streaming games market will grow nine-fold by 2017, reaching 8 billion dollars.
The new decade has seen rising interest in the possibility of next generation consoles being developed in keeping with the traditional industry model of a five-year console life cycle. However, in the industry there is believed to be a lack of desire for another race to produce such a console. Reasons for this include the challenge and massive expense of creating consoles that are graphically superior to the current generation, with Sony and Microsoft still looking to recoup development costs on their current consoles and the failure of content creation tools to keep up with the increased demands placed upon the people creating the games.
On June 14, 2010, during E3, Microsoft revealed their new Xbox 360 console referred to as the Xbox 360 S or Slim. Microsoft made the unit smaller and quieter, while also installing a 250GB hard drive and built-in 802.11n WiFi. It started shipping to US stores the same day, not reaching Europe until July 13.
The Onlive cloud-based gaming system would be one of the first cloud gaming systems known in video game history.
Eighth generation consoles (2012–present)
The Nintendo 3DS is a handheld video game console, revealed at Nintendo's E3 2010 press conference. Released in Japan in February 2011, it was released worldwide less than a month later. It uses autostereoscopic 3D to produce a 3D effect on-screen.
On January 27, 2011, the PlayStation Vita (code-named Next Generation Portable, or NGP, during development) was announced. It has a 5-inch OLED multi touch front screen and a rear touch pad, two analog sticks, 3G and WiFi connection, Sixaxis control and 3-axis electronic compass. It was released on December 17 in Japan and has been released on 15 (first edition bundle) and on February 22, 2012 in Europe (3G/ Wifi Vita, release bundle Vita, or the WiFi only Vita), as well as in the Middle East, Australia and North America. Sony is looking to have up to forty launch titles for the western release and up to 100 within the release window.
The Wii U is a video game console from Nintendo. Billed as the successor to the Wii, it was mentioned in statement released by Nintendo on April 25, 2011, that the company was planning to reveal it during E3 2011 and that playable console units would be present as well. Code-named Project Café, it was officially introduced on June 7, 2011 with its final name, Wii U. The console released in North America on November 18, and in Europe, Australia and New Zealand on November 30, 2012, officially starting the "eighth generation" of video game consoles. Features of the new console include HD graphics support (on Wii U only), and a controller, the Wii U GamePad, which features a 6.2 inch touch screen built-in that can be used as a second screen providing added info and interactivity, such as "asymmetric gameplay". The Wii U GamePad allows some games to be played without needing a TV set, through Off-TV Play. Most peripheral hardware from its predecessor, the Wii, such as the Wii Remote and Wii Nunchuk, Classic Controller and Wii Balance Board are confirmed to work with the new console, and the console is backward compatible with all Wii and Virtual Console titles. The Wii U discontinues backward-compatibility support for GameCube discs and controllers, which also means that Wii games that support the GameCube's controller will instead require use of an alternate control scheme such as the Classic Controller when playing them on the Wii U. The Wii U also has its own more conventional controller, the Wii U Pro Controller, which resembles an Xbox 360 controller in form and function and is compatible with most Wii U and Virtual Console titles, but not original Wii games. The console is available in two sets. The basic set includes the Wii U console with 8 GB of internal memory, the Wii U GamePad, an AC adapter, an HDMI cable and the Wii Sensor Bar. The Deluxe set includes all of the items in the basic set, but it has 32 GB of internal memory instead of only 8 GB and is bundled with a GamePad charging cradle, stands for the GamePad and the console, as well as Nintendo Land. The Sensor Bar is not included in the basic set in Europe, Australia and New Zealand.
The PlayStation 4 (or PS4) is a video game console from Sony Computer Entertainment. Billed as the successor to the PlayStation 3, the PlayStation 4 was officially announced at a press conference on February 20, 2013. The fourth home console in Sony's PlayStation series, it was launched on November 15, 2013 in North America and on November 29, 2013 in Europe, and was launched on February 22, 2014 in Japan. Moving away from the Cell architecture, the PlayStation 4 is the first in the Sony series to feature compatibility with the x86 architecture, specifically x86-64, which is a widely used platform common in many modern PCs. The idea is to make video game development easier on the next-generation console, attracting a broader range of developers large and small. These changes highlight Sony's effort to improve upon the lessons learned during the development, production and release of the PS3. Other notable hardware features of the PlayStation 4 include 8 GB of GDDR5 RAM memory and a faster Blu-ray drive.
The Xbox One is a video game console from Microsoft. Billed as the successor to the Xbox 360, the Xbox One was officially announced at a press conference on May 21, 2013. Microsoft had intended to implement strict controls over game resale and DRM controls, but later reversed its decision due to public backlash. It is the third home console in Microsoft's Xbox series and launched on November 22, 2013 in North America, United Kingdom, Spain, Mexico, Italy, Ireland, Germany, France, Canada, Brazil, Austria, New Zealand and Australia. The release was delayed until sometime in 2014 in eight European countries (Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Netherlands, Norway, Russia, Sweden and Switzerland) due to various localization issues.
The Wii U was met with slow consumer adoption, with low sales primarily credited to a weak lineup of launch titles, third-party support, and marketing reasons. Wii U production officially ended in January 2017. On March 3, 2017, Nintendo released a new flagship home console, the Nintendo Switch, although the Wii U was noted for pioneering several concepts that were refined in the Switch. The Nintendo Switch's software supports online gaming through standard Internet connectivity, as well as local wireless ad hoc connectivity with other Switch consoles. Nintendo Switch games and software are available on both physical flash-based ROM cartridges and digital distribution via Nintendo eShop; the system does not use region locking. The Nintendo Switch competes on the console gaming market with contemporaries being Sony's PlayStation 4 and Microsoft's Xbox One.
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