20 April 2013

Games Have Come a Very Long Way

In 1947 Thomas T. Goldsmith and Estle Ray Mann developed the very first recognisable arcade videogame, a year later they received the very first patent for a game.

Their title, based on cathode ray tube technology, was a missile simulator inspired by the events of World War II. In other words, the first game ever developed was a war game. Jump ahead to 1962 and the students of MIT came together to produce earliest multiplayer game, Spacewar!

As the name suggests Spacewar! saw players assume control of a spaceship and lobbed missiles at each other.

We've come a long way since those days. Donkey Kong (1981) cost $100,000, Star Wars: The Old Republic (2011) came in at $200 million. Yet as the cost of game development has exploded so too has the size and scope of the industry.

In 1996 the US videogame market was worth about $2.9 billion, by 2012 that same market had a value of $14.8 billion. But of course, it's not the same market at all. 75% of households play games, 25% of gamers are over the age of 50, 47% of gamers are female and the average age of a gamer is 35.

None of those figures would have conceivable when Goldsmith and Mann got to work, or for that matter, in 1995 when Sony launched the first PlayStation in the West and heralded the arrival of 3D gaming (as opposed to 3D games).

Even the perception of games has been altered enormously in that time. While Sony were the first to radically expand the perception of what a gamer could be, largely with the help of accomplished marketing (though they would no doubt argue the games they developed helped), Nintendo carried that mantle forward by creating what was, for better or worse, something revolutionary with the Wii.

Indeed, the Wii's codename was Nintendo Revolution, and as we all know it got people who had never gamed before to pick a Wii Mote and play. That market has largely migrated to mobile and tablets of course, but that doesn't mean they aren't gamers anymore.

This generation of consoles has seen the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 become entertainment hubs as much as gaming devices with both consoles used more for movies, TV or music than games. In fact PS3 is the world's most used device for Netflix. When Sony placed a CD-Rom in the PS One they took a risk and it payed off immensely, the same when it came to the PS2's DVD player - and whatever else you might say about PS3, it's a hell of a Blu-ray player - this will continue next-gen and expand, a radical leap from a time when a game system could do was play games.

In 2004 Leonardo DiCaprio met with Quantic Dream's president Guillaume de Fondaumiere concerning the possibility of DiCaprio appearing in a game.

"He made us realise that from an image perspective, this wasn't going to work," de Fondaumiere revealed this week. However, Quantic Dream's next game, Beyond: Two Souls, stars Willem Dafoe and Ellen Page - who appeared alongside DiCaprio in Inception - while LA Noire's lead, Cole Phelps, was voiced by Mad Men's Aaron Staton.

There are many more examples. 

In every way games have evolved since 1947, they're art. Yes, the very first game was a war title, but each time a politician or a media pundit voices their angst at the violence sometimes found in games remember there are games like Papo & Yo, Journey, Beyond. The important thing is, music and movies had these arguments around them before, and each time the new form of media won out over the naysayers.

We've come a long way and despite the difficulties currently gripping much of the industry the only way is up.

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