Home video game consoles are big business and big businesses are taking notice. With promotions like RateSupermarket’s contest for a free PS4, it’s easy to see how video games are getting more and more attention in the world. From simple sprites to three-dimensional worlds and characters rich in color and interactivity, video gaming has grown immensely, dwarfing the money that the music and movie industries rake in per year. However, it took more than five decades for the video game industry to ascend to its lofty position, and some of the consoles produced during this time gained are now icons for revolutionizing or contributing significantly to this sector.
Ralph Baer, a German-born television engineer, is credited with creating the first video game console, which was simply called the “Brown Box,” in 1967. However, it was electronics company Magnavox that produced the first commercial video game system in 1972. Interestingly, this system, which was called the Magnavox Odyssey, was based on the “Brown Box” prototype. The Odyssey introduced the game cartridge concept to an industry still in its infancy.
Consumer electronics company Atari was founded the same year Magnavox introduced the Odyssey. In 1975, when the Odyssey’s novelty had worn off, Atari released the home console version of its popular game, Pong. Unlike Magnavox’s machine, which came with six cartridges offering up to 12 games, Pong came with just one: a simplified tennis simulation represented by a dot and lines that acted as the ball and paddles, respectively. Pong made Atari a household name, kicking off the popularity of home video gaming, and enabling the company to follow up with their own cartridge-based system, the Atari 2600.
Nintendo Entertainment System
By 1984, however, the video game industry had crashed, due to an oversaturation of video gaming from Atari and its competitors. At that time, Nintendo was a playing-card company based in Japan, and when it decided to release the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in the United States in 1985, consumers were initially skeptical. However, the NES was able to win over the public with classic in-house titles like Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, and Metroid. Also, unlike Atari and other companies, Nintendo exercised quality control over its third-party developers, producing iconic franchises like Castlevania, Final Fantasy, Mega Man, Ninja Gaiden, and Tecmo Super Bowl. By single-handedly saving the video game industry and crowning Nintendo king, the NES is the most important gaming console of all time.
Sega Genesis and Super NES
Nintendo had its first true challenge from Sega when the latter released its Genesis system in 1988, the first successful 16-bit video game console in history. The sleek black machine with new titles like Sonic the Hedgehog made the NES look comparatively old.
Nintendo responded with the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in 1991. Although the Super NES eventually triumphed, the Genesis-SNES rivalry is notable for being the first “console war” and raising the stakes regarding video game quality, marketing, and industry growth.
The name “Dreamcast” today conjures images of Sega’s hardware Waterloo. However, Dreamcast had a number of achievements. It was the first 128-bit console in history — boosting the popularity of optical disc-based games — and it introduced the concept of online gaming.
PS1 and PS2
Sony tossed its hat into the video game ring with the first PlayStation console (PS1) in 1994. The PS1 was the first console to sell over 100 million units, eclipsing the numbers of other 32-bit units (Sega Saturn and Nintendo 64). Its successor, the PlayStation 2 (PS2), debuted in 2000 and its popularity helped to force the Dreamcast and Sega out of the console manufacturing business. The PS2 was the first console to enable DVD playback, and is the most successful console in history, with over 150 million units sold.