Saturday, May 26, 2007

Lessons Learnt from the History of Video Games

I refer to the article on Wikipedia about the History of Video Games. I find it fascinating that video games have evolved so much from the past, all the way to the present. This is evident, as it all started from simple pinball machines, all the way to our current electronic games. One thing that I find interesting about history is how we can learn from it, and the history of video games is no exception.

1977-1983 - The Rise, and Deathly Fall, of the Video Games Industry

There are several interesting events in the change of this entertainment medium which I would like to talk about. Firstly, the birth of the games industry offers a fascinating insight as to how the medium's popularity nearly led to its downfall. After Ralph Baer created the Magnavox Odyssey, the first commercial video games console, Atari created the home version of PONG. This sparked the immense popularity of home video games. Soon, many clones of the same game emerged, and later newer consoles were made, such as the Video Computer System, the Intellivision, and the Colecovision. Because of the rising popularity of games, many developers decided to 'Jump In' (quote from Microsoft's current slogan for their XBOX 360) and several different consoles were made, offering too much choice for the average consumer. Most of the developers were not prepared for what the industry had to offer, and as a result, they produced games that were of poor quality. A popular example is the Atari 2600 version of the game E.T. This led to the erosion of interest in games made by consumers, and from Christmas 1982 to 1983, the video games industry crashed. The terrible long term effect of this crash was the shift in the balance of power between the Japanese and American video games markets. When the industry recovered in 1987, the leading console was the Japanese Nintendo Entertainment System. This shift in power can be seen today, as the Japanese console manufacturer, Sony, is the current market leader. This is because of their highly successful PlayStation and PlayStation 2. The lesson learnt from this is that for this industry to survive, it must always produce products that have certain values, such as 'FUN' and 'Quality Entertainment' experiences. An example of a device that is beneficial for the games industry today is the Nintendo Wii. It's a games console which uses motion sensing control for input. It is beneficial for the industry because of its simple motion controls, thus attracting today's non gamers (mothers, fathers, grandparents) to an entertainment medium that has lasted for more than a decade. Thus, the circle of gamers in the industry has expanded, and more people are now willing to play games than before. Overall, I praise the Wii in its universal appeal, and making the industry more colorful than the often stereotyped 'DOTA/Counter-Strike' player (Hardcore Gamers).

1994-1999 – Changes in Format in the Video Games Industry

Change occurs in many different ways, but for the video games industry, if one is to survive, one must handle change INSTANTANEOUSLY and without hesitation. A good case study of change was seen in the 32/64 bit generation of video games, when Nintendo decided to continue to use cartridges as the medium for video games with their Nintendo 64, instead of adopting the new Compact Disc formats its competitors followed. This was because they wanted to reduce piracy of games for their console, and enabled their games to have shorter loading times. However, the downside of using cartridges meant that Nintendo charged greater licensing fees because cartridges had a higher manufacturing cost than CDs. This led to developers preferring to develop for Nintendo's top rival console, Sony's PlayStation. This was due to the fact that it was cheaper to develop for, and that they could change production to meet demand. In the end, the Sony PlayStation became one of the highest selling consoles of all time, with 102.49 million consoles sold worldwide as of 31 March, 2005. This was significantly higher than that of the Nintendo 64, which sold only 32.93 million. The lesson learnt from this part of history is that developers and hardware manufacturers must meet the demand of great changes in the video games industry, and for them to satisfy the demands of their clients, not themselves.

Overall, I believe that the history of video games has a lot to teach us, and that we can learn from our past. History can guide us as game developers to not only avoid past errors, but to work towards a better future for this industry.

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