Gaming has come a long way from its humble beginnings. We’ve gone from a few pixels moving across screens to massive productions that require development teams the size of a major motion picture, from things that cost a few thousand dollars tops to make to an industry that earns more than Hollywood, all in just over three decades. Throughout this, a culture has arisen from the gaming industry that everyone reading this is a part of. And, like any other culture, gaming has a rich (if short) history that has played host to many, many, many incredible moments. This list takes a look at some of the biggest ones.

It seems somewhat fitting to open the list with this little gem, as it covers two aspects of gaming with one game. Gaming was always competitive on some level pretty much right back to its roots, even if it was just trying to beat your buddy’s high score. However, the 1990 Nintendo World Championship was really the first time a gaming company held a large scale gaming competition for the top gamers to not only talk trash to each other but actually back up their claims. For those that don’t know, in 1990 Nintendo held a tournament in several major cities across the US to help promote their company and find out just who the true gamers were out there. Gaming hopefuls had to try their hand at this game, actually a mixture of Super Mario Bros., Rad Racer, and Tetris, with the top scorers being flown to Universal Studios for a finalists round. This really served as the first true forum for large-scale, major competitive gaming that has since become a huge part of gaming life. From Microsoft’s Xbox Live Scoreboard to professional gamers being elevated to the same level as pro sports players overseas, competitive gaming is now everywhere. Somewhat ironically, this game also spawned competition of a different sort by becoming arguably the most sought after game by collectors ever. With only 116 copies produced (26 gold edition, 90 regulars) this game has become THE Holy Grail for game collectors worldwide, often netting a price tag of several thousand dollars on eBay. Since both competitive gaming and game collecting have since become a huge part of gaming, this game gets the #10 spot.

In the 1980’s Pac-Man became the first video game character to break out of gaming and achieve success in the land of pop-culture. At the apex of his popularity, Pac-Man had a board game, a comic book, a TV show and even had pasta made in his image. As gaming was still very much a “nerd” hobby at that point, for a video game character to become so popular outside of gaming marked a huge milestone for the industry. Pac-Man pioneered the path of pop-culture popularity (how’s that for some alliteration?) that would be tread later by the likes of Sonic the Hedgehog, Mario and Pokemon, all of which would also gain comic books, TV shows (four in Sonic’s case), movies and countless other pieces of merchandise, but a nod goes to Pac-Man for doing it first.

Arcades were the very first step in gaming and, for a long time, were pretty much the only places most people could find video games. Then a few home consoles started popping up here and there, bringing gaming straight to people’s homes. But it was Nintendo in 1989 who really made it possible to game ANYWHERE. Though it faced some competition in the form of the Atari Lynx and, later, the Sega Game Gear, Nintendo’s Gameboy quite easily trounced them all, due partially to a much more reasonable battery life and, more pertinently, the presence of Tetris. Tetris became a worldwide phenomenon, a simple, yet addictive game that appealed to gamers of all demographics. Its popularity reached far and wide and helped Nintendo to push over 100 million Gameboys into service and develop a stranglehold on the handheld market that not only rivalled but actually surpassed the one held by the NES in the console market. This dominance of handhelds has gone almost totally unchallenged for years, and only in recent years has any serious competition to Nintendo’s monopoly surfaced in the form of Sony’s PSP and even then, Sony has failed to do more than lower the margin by which Nintendo leads its competition.

No list of important events in gaming is complete without this entry. Some of you were probably expecting it to be higher on the list... but really, Pong just sort of seemed to be a natural step, where some of the other events on this list were totally out of left field. At the time, we were starting to get more stuff from computers... why not try and make a game with them? Little did they know that two bars and a ball would eventually evolve into a multi-billion dollar industry that involves companies from across the globe and millions of gamers worldwide.

Gaming online has been around almost as long as the internet itself, but for the most part it consisted of fairly simple games that did not suffer for the slow connection speeds of the day. And yet, it was always a dream in the minds of gamers everywhere to be able to play with anyone, anywhere, regardless of their physical location in the world. That vision has slowly been made a reality, mostly over the last two console generations and a few years before that on PC. Now that we finally have internet connections capable of handling the large amount of data-transfer needed for modern games, we can enjoy those games with our friends across the globe. The choice for which game best represented such a long-coming change in the way people play games was difficult, but I wound up choosing Diablo simply for its accessibility. Blizzard, along with their infamous battle.net program (launched in 1997), was one of a select few companies really responsible for pulling mainstream gaming into the online realm. Diablo was their first game designed to work online in a large scale and it caught on like wildfire. Although there were plenty of problems (is there anyone here who has played Diablo online and doesn’t know how to ‘dupe’ stuff?), it really stood as a sign of the times. We were no longer playing alone.

Two names dominated the early gaming industry. The first and second generations unquestionably belonged to Atari, while the third was dominated by Nintendo. The NES’s market dominance was so absolute, “Nintendo” became a synonym for “video game console.” (I’m sure those of you with older parents have heard them say “Oh, did he get another game for his Nintendo?” even if you happen to be playing an Xbox.) Despite attempts by a number of companies, nothing could break the NES’s stranglehold on the video game market. Sega tried their best, using a console titled the Sega Master System, but still lacked the market penetration they would need to topple the video game megalith that was Nintendo. However, this all changed when Sega released the Genesis. Championed by their new mascot, Sonic the Hedgehog (who, for a time, was the most popular video game character, surpassing old fan favourites like Mario, Link and Pac-Man in popularity) and fuelled by a much more expansive and aggressive advertising campaign, Sega suddenly moved into a position to seriously threaten Nintendo’s rule of the video game market. Ultimately the SNES outlasted and outsold the Genesis, though the victory was hard-fought indeed. It remains the closest console war to date and you will still occasionally find debates on who really did win the 4th generation console war. This marked a significant change in the way video games were viewed. Before this generation, one company dominated the market and was never seriously challenged by a competitor. After the coming of the Genesis, the game industry suddenly became polarized into fierce struggles between the gaming companies that have never lulled in their tenacity.

It had taken a market crash to dethrone the last king of gaming and Nintendo seemed poised to hold the industry in the palm of their hand for the rest of gaming’s existence. Despite increased competition from Sega, as the console war raged on it soon became apparent that it was Nintendo that would take the title of winner of the fourth generation. Against the two powerhouses of Sega and Nintendo, any competition was quickly crushed and it was soon deemed foolhardy for anyone to even try and make an entrance into the console battleground. Enter Sony. Victim of a deal gone bad with Nintendo on the development of a new CD-based add on for the Super Nintendo (designed to compete with the then state-of-the-art Sega CD), Sony took this failed peripheral and retooled it into their own console, which they dubbed the Playstation. Everyone saw the writing on the wall as Sony made their entrance, and expected to see them join Atari and Neo-Geo in the pile of failed competitors to Sega and Nintendo. However, Sony’s timing could not have been more perfect. Sega had begun their console blitz, releasing new console after new console and failing to support any of them, while Nintendo remained with their old faithful SNES, which could not compete with the hardware specs of the newer systems. But what really clinched the deal for Sony was their business practice. Sony decided to try what Nintendo and Sega had not: aim for a different demographic. Up until that point, everyone had taken it as more or less a given that gaming was a “kiddy” hobby that no one over 20 years old took seriously. Sony, however, decided to aim for the 20-30 age bracket, rather than the younger demographics. Their tactic worked perfectly. Unlike the little kids, young adults did not need to ask for mommy and daddy’s permission (and credit card) before sinking several hundred dollars into a new gaming system, and an excess of disposable income meant they had enough left over to buy a host of games afterwards. With several runaway hits like Final Fantasy VII fleshing out their lineup, Sony took the gaming world by storm and created a monopoly rivalling that of Nintendo’s for the next two generations. It is only now that we are seeing the Sony-storm abate as their overconfidence in their brand-name power seems to have caught up with them.

In retrospect, Sega never really had its day in the sun, always playing second-fiddle to either Nintendo or Sony. Sega had a reasonable amount of success with the Genesis, but then developed a very poor business strategy that ultimately led to their downfall. While Nintendo still clung to the Super Nintendo, milking their dated hardware for all they could, Sega took the opposite route, releasing a string of consoles and half-consoles with very few games for them. This decimated support for Sega and the company found its userbase rapidly dwindling with each new release. They finally reigned in their bad habits by the time the Saturn was out, but by then it was too late. Saturn spent most of the generation ignored in favour of Sony and Nintendo. Hopes were resurgent with the launch of the Dreamcast that Sega might reclaim its lost glory, but unfortunately the Dreamcast was doomed before it even launched. Sega’s poor business decisions ultimately meant the fate of the Dreamcast was sealed, regardless of its performance. The console itself was actually fairly well received, and games like Soul Calibur, the Power Stone series and the Sonic Adventure games rekindled hopes in the hearts of Sega enthusiasts. Sonic Adventure is a perfect example of what the Dreamcast represented: A beautiful game with fantastic gameplay, but too little too late to save Sega from their fate. On January 31, 2001, Sega announced the discontinuation of the Dreamcast and their resignation from console development. Not since the days of Atari had such a major player in the console wars dropped out of the race. It remains a day that video gamers will never forget.

The year was 1983 and video games were about to face their baptism of fire. The booming industry was rapidly becoming bloated with bad ideas and poor quality games. Given the ease of making games in the day and the fairly lax laws surrounding their production, dozens of companies stepped up to the bat, hiring small teams of programmers (or sometimes just individuals) to push out a quick game that they would sell for a large mark-up, making a huge profit. This resulted in the market being veritably flooded with a massive number of poor quality titles. Consumer interest in the industry began to wane as the overall quality of games diminished. The writing on the wall was clear, for those that bothered to look; Gaming was in for a fall. Sure enough, the bubble burst in 1983 as dozens of gaming companies whose games hadn’t sold went bankrupt. Unable to return unsold games, retailers dramatically reduced the price of games being sold, making the situation even worse. Games that companies were hoping to be big sellers crashed and burned. Even Atari, then king of the industry, was not immune to the effects. Proving the old adage about “the bigger they are,” Atari lost hundreds of millions of dollars in the crash and was eventually forced to declare bankruptcy in 1984. The poorly-made ET game produced for the Atari 2600 was perhaps the most puissant example of this era. Hoping to sell the game on brand-name power alone, Atari produced 4 million copies, only 1.5 million of which were sold, costing Atari millions. The game itself is widely regarded as one of the worst games ever produced. The industry very nearly died that year, as many who regarded video games as nothing more than a passing fad cited the crash as evidence that this fad’s end was nigh. It took two years, but eventually a little-known company in Japan called “Nintendo” was able to resurrect the industry and repair the damage done in the 1983 crash...

Like a phoenix from the ashes, video gaming did live to rise again. With the success of the arcade game Donkey Kong, Nintendo decided to try their hand at the now almost-dead console market. However, given that consumers were now somewhat jaded to the concept of home consoles, Nintendo had to try a different approach. Naming their new console as the FAMIly COMputer (Famicom) to hide its nature as a video game console, they launched to critical success in Japan, later porting the system to the West as the Nintendo Entertainment System. With a host of successful, high quality games to champion their new console and new security chips to ensure the laxity of standards that allowed for the 1983 crash could never occur again, the NES went on to take over the gaming market and bring it back from the brink. Love them or hate them, you all have Nintendo to thank for saving console gaming from the grave and turning into the industry we all know and love today.

Gaming has come a long way indeed... and everyone here has helped contribute to this colourful and vivid history in their own little way. Whether you’re the fanatic game collector, the rabid MMO zealot, the ever-elusive girl gamer or just the guy who likes playing video games in his spare time, I’m sure you’ve been directly affected by several, if not all of the above events. It has been 35 years since the launch of Pong in the arcades and look at how far we’ve come. Our hobby is indeed an interesting one and I’m sure the next 35 years will provide even more wild and crazy events for us to gawk at. Whatever the future holds, gamers around the world will be there to watch, play and enjoy.

List by darkknight109 (09/17/2007)

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