Did you know 79% of boys and 64% of girls play video or computer games regularly? Video games are everywhere nowadays! With that said, video games are a relatively new hobby. Video games did not start becoming popular until computer chips became more accessible in the 1970s and 1980s. How have video games evolved from the very first experimental games to today? Read more to find out all about the history of video games!
Discover the history of video games: timeline and facts
Today we'll guide you from early video games before 1983 such as OXO, all the way through today's modern games such as Roblox and Minecraft.
Early video games: before 1983
- The very first video game is considered to be OXO, a tic-tac-toe simulator created in 1952 in a lab at Cambridge University in England. The game’s display showed the tic-tac-toe board and was played on a vacuum tube computer (to learn what a vacuum tube computer is check out our article on the history of computer hardware!) Even though the game was really simple, the game used artificial intelligence to play against the human opponent!
- The first publicly available video game was Spacewar created in 1962 by students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The object of the two player game was to destroy your opponent’s spaceship by either shooting it or crashing your ship into theirs while avoiding the black hole in the middle of the screen. The game was never sold to make money but the code for it was released publicly. The game spread to other universities and hobbyists.
- The first home video game console is the Magnavox Odyssey, released in 1972 and invented by Ralph Baer, an American inventor. All of the Odyssey’s games consisted of three squares and a vertical line. Certain games required players to tape semi-transparent “screen overlays” onto their TVs. Certain games didn’t even track score for the players! The Odyssey didn’t sell well (350,000 units) but it paved the way for more innovation.
- Inspired by the Magnavox Odyssey, the American company Atari released Pong, the first arcade game. Pong skyrocketed in popularity because the arcade machines were very profitable. In 1975 Atari released a home console specifically for Pong and in 1977 Atari released the Atari 2600, a more general home console with changeable cartilages.In 1980, Namco released Pac-Man and Galaga. In 1981, Nintendo released Donkey Kong. The release of these two games put Japanese video game companies on the radar for American consumers. It should be noted that these were arcade games, not home consoles.
The video game crash and console wars: 1983 - 1995
- From the late 1970s to early 1980s tons of companies made competing video games. In addition to the Magnavox Odyssey and Atari 2600 mentioned earlier, there were 12 other major consoles. Each console had their own games. Many of these video games were created by small startups and these games were very low quality by being unoriginal or filled with bugs. Around 1983 many of these startup video game studios closed due to poor business, leading to what historians call “The Video Game Crash of 1983.”
- The dark ages of video games ended in 1985 when Nintendo released the NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) home consoles. The NES hardware had improved technology such as 8 bit graphics and more sound options. For the software, Nintendo corrected past mistakes by enforcing strict quality standards for third party games created for the NES. Each NES game had to have the official “Nintendo seal of approval” before release. For Nintendo’s own games, they focused on producing fewer, higher quality games. Many of Nintendo’s NES games would become instant classics such as Super Mario Bros, The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, and Final Fantasy.
- In 1989, Nintendo released the first Game Boy, a handheld gaming system. The Game Boy became super popular and was the first mainstream handheld console. The Game Boy came preloaded with Tetris, still a popular puzzle game. Although not released until 1996, the most well known game series to start from the Game Boy is Pokemon.
- Also in 1989, Japanese company SEGA released the Genesis system, meant to directly compete with Nintendo’s NES. The Genesis’ hardware was better and the Genesis had its own exclusive popular game in Sonic the Hedgehog. In retaliation, Nintendo released the Super NES in 1991, sparking what gaming historians call “the first console war.” These two systems, along with the Game Boy, would be grouped into its own generation of game consoles. The Super NES started well known gaming franchises such as Mario Kart, Kirby, and the sports games Madden NFL and FIFA.
- In the early 1990s the rise in popularity for violent fighter games such as Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter as well as the groundbreaking 3D first person shooter game Wolfenstein 3D led to parental uproar, even leading to a congressional hearing in 1993. These hearings led to the creation of the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) which even today rates games from E (for Everyone) to M (for Mature).In 1994 Tetris was pre-installed on a cell phone model called the Hagenuk MT-2000. This is considered the first game on a mobile phone. Many cell phones around this time also came installed with Snake.
The rise of 3D Gaming and modern games: 1995 to 2005
- Around 1995 the next generation of game consoles that can support 3D graphics emerged. Sega launched the Saturn, Sony released its first Playstation (PSOne), and Nintendo came out with the Nintendo 64. The Sega Saturn and Sony Playstation used disks instead of cartilages for games while the Nintendo 64 still used cartilages. Disks were cheaper to manufacture and were able to store more game data than cartilages. However, the Playstation and Nintendo 64 were the most popular in terms of sales. Well known game series that started around this time include Super Smash Bros on the Nintendo 64, and Grand Theft Auto, Crash Bandicoot, Resident Evil, and racing games Need for Speed and Gran Turismo on Playstation.
- Around 2000 manufacturers released another generation of game consoles. In 1998, Sega released the Dreamcast. Although it was revolutionary at the time for supporting online multiplayer games, it didn’t sell well and it became Sega’s last console. In 2000, Sony released the Playstation 2 (PS2), which would eventually become the best selling console of all time with 155 million units sold. PS2s and new games for PS2s were being sold as late as 2013! In 2001, Microsoft also entered the console business with its Xbox. The Xbox became very popular in part due to the release of Halo and its Xbox Live online subscription. Nintendo released Gamecube the same year, which was somewhat successful but was not as powerful as the Playstation or Xbox. Well known game series that started around this time include Call of Duty for Xbox and Playstation, Animal Crossing for Gamecube, and NBA 2K for all consoles.
- In 2003 American company Blizzard released Warcraft III. This game is considered the first popular massively multiplayer online game. Other popular PC games followed in its footsteps such as Starcraft, League of Legends, Overwatch, and Dota. These games now have large competitive followings (e-sports).
- In 2004 Nintendo released the DS portable gaming console, Nintendo’s biggest revolution in portable gaming since the Game Boy. The DS used two screens, one of them being a touchscreen. Around the same time Sony released its PSP (Playstation Portable). These two portable consoles were rivals and both sold very well, the PSP eventually selling around 80 million units while the DS eventually selling 150 million units.The next generation of game consoles came around 2005 when Microsoft released the Xbox 360, Sony released the PS3, and Nintendo released the Wii. These are considered the first modern consoles because they supported high definition gaming. Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 continued to do well among hardcore gamers but the Wii was the most popular system due to its fun to use motion controls. To compete with Wii’s interactiveness, the Xbox 360 eventually became compatible with a new motion sensing camera called the Kinect. Well known games series that first came out around this time include Guitar Hero for all the consoles, Wii Sports and Just Dance for Wii, and Assassin’s Creed for Xbox 360 and Playstation.
Modern video games: 2005 to today
- Mobile gaming began to really take off in 2008 when Apple launched the Apple App Store for iPhone. Since then mobile games such as Angry Birds, Candy Crush, Subway Surfer, and countless others have become super popular. Many of these mobile games interface with social media. In fact, Facebook had its own super popular social games such as Farmville.
- Roblox was first released online in 2006 and today it has 165 million monthly users. Learn coding with Roblox Studio with Create & Learn today!
- Minecraft was released in 2009 and since its release it has become the best selling game of all time with 200 million downloads across all platforms. It also has a robust modding system, learn how to create your own Minecraft mods with Create & Learn!
- We now get to some modern day consoles that you may have at your house! Around 2013 another generation of game consoles were released: Nintendo’s Wii U, Microsoft’s Xbox One, and Playstation’s PS4. Nintendo’s Wii U did not sell too well but the Nintendo Switch, their 2017 release, became super popular and continues to be to this day. Around 2020 Sony released the PS5 and Microsoft released the Xbox Series X/S. These modern consoles are characterized by the use of downloadable content instead of disks and 4K graphics.
- A potential future for video games is virtual reality gaming. Although VR gaming has its roots with Nintendo’s Virtual Boy in 1995, VR gaming is just today gaining popularity thanks to Meta’s Oculus headset system.
The history of video games continues to evolve! Want to develop the next revolutionary game? You can start creating basic computer games with Scratch, an easy to learn drag-and-drop programming language! Sign up for a Create & Learn Scratch Ninja class today! Or do you have lots of programming experience and want to use the same tools used in professional game development? Sign up for Create & Learn’s Unity class today.
Written by Brandon Lim, a Create & Learn instructor and curriculum developer. Brandon also works full-time as a software engineer and holds a BS in Computer Science from Johns Hopkins University. Brandon has experience teaching coding to students of all ages from elementary school to college and is excited to share his deep knowledge and relentless passion for coding with the next generation of technology leaders.