What was your first video game system? What was your favorite game console? Which one is hooked up to your TV in your living room right now? Whatever your answers may be, it is safe to say that you’ll find them at The National Videogame Museum. The National Videogame Museum is the only museum in America dedicated to the history of the video game industry. Its archive is unparalleled in size and comprised of dozens of one-of-a-kind artifacts, in addition to more than 100,000 pieces of video game hardware, software, documentation, and memorabilia. Here are five fun facts I learned at the National Videogame Museum.
Timeline of Consoles
When you walk into the museum, you are greeted with a timeline of over 50 different game systems from 1972’s Magnavox Odyssey to the current consoles from Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft. Did you know that the first video game console ever made was Magnavox Odyssey in 1972? It sold over 101 million units and its price at release was $99.00.
Redefining the Industry
If you had a home video game system in the 1970s, the only games you could play were “first-party” games; they were all made by the same company that made the console. That all changed when four of the industry’s brightest game designers left Atari to form their own video game company. In October 1979, they founded Activision and in 1980 released Dragster, Boxing, Checkers, and Fishing Derby for the Atari 2600.
Activision’s success inspired dozens of companies to follow suit. Movie and TV studios, board game manufacturers, and even a food conglomerate all opened video game divisions within their companies. Arcade game makers soon got in on the action, selling home console versions of their own coin-op hits. Even Atari, Mattel, and Coleco began selling versions of their popular titles for their rival’s game systems.
Nowadays, it’s hard to imagine a console becoming successful without games from established third-party publishers like Electronic Arts, Capcom, Rockstar Games, Gearbox, Square Enix, and many others.
As TVs became more affordable, a hand-me-down or even a new TV in a bedroom started to become less and less of a fantasy and much more common. The family-oriented high-score competition of the Atari era was soon replaced by single-player adventure and role-playing games on the Nintendo Entertainment System.
There were two by-products of the migration of gaming from the living room to the bedroom. The first is freedom. Without other people nagging for time on the TV, private gaming sessions in the bedroom quickly became marathons lasting many, many hours. Consequently, gamers and their appetite for new releases became insatiable.
The second by-product was that gamers began feeling somewhat isolated. No matter how immersed the player was in the world in which their game was taking place, he or she still longed for interaction with others. Fortunately, game and console developers recognized this and companies like Microsoft built their brands around online interactive multi-player gaming.
The Birth of Multi-Player
Online gaming originated on the University of Illinois PLATO computer system in the early 1970s. Game programs like Empire and Spasim were “international” games that could be played simultaneously by multiple users seated at networked terminals. The general public weren’t able to play online multiplayer games until 8-bit personal computers started to become affordable in the early 80’s. In those pre-internet days, computers were primarily networked together via modems connected to phone lines.
While phone lines offered a simple way for home computers to connect with online networks, early video games attempted to use networks as an avenue for electronic software distribution. The CVC Gameline Master Module allowed users to download games from a central server for play on a special modem cartridge for the Atari 2600. The PlayCable Adapter for the Genesis did the same things but used a cable TV feed instead of a phone connection. Activision and Atari formed a joint venture called The Electronic Pipeline which used regular radio waves to transmit downloadable games. It wasn’t until Catapult Entertainment introduced the XBAND Video Game Modem for the Genesis (1994) and Super NES (1995) that players could compete against each other online. The device was a remarkable technical achievement as it allowed online competition in pre-existing games that was designed for local multiplayer use only.
Gamers Gone “Live”
Online gaming reached a tipping point in the mid-1990s, as the growing popularity of Web browsers introduced the general public to the wonders of the Internet. For the first time, “going online” meant connecting to a decentralized worldwide network of computers. Before long, computer owners with modems could play massively multiplayer games like Neverwinter Nights and Ultima Online with not just one other player, but hundreds of other participants simultaneously.
Ultimately, Microsoft’s Xbox Live set a standard for online console gaming services that would be appropriated by both Sony and Nintendo. Today’s fiber-optic networks, Wi-Fi access points and mobile broadband have made high-speed online gaming commonplace, even on handheld consoles and cell phones.
Plan your visit to the National Videogame Museum, located at 8004 Dallas Parkway in Frisco, TX, by visiting nvmusa.org.