The history of videogames is long and sordid. Below, we've outlined a timeline of some of the highlights of the industry. We didn't list every console, handheld, or computer/game console ever devised. You'd get that Page too Big error message if we did.
1951 -- Ralph Baer's boss at Loral Electronics tells him to "Build the best television set in the world." Baer suggests an interactive game. The idea is universally hated and is shelved for 15 years.
1961 -- MIT Student creates Spacewar, the first interactive computer game on a mainframe computer. The unit took the entire floor space of a small house.
1966 -- Sega Enterprises Ltd. Releases electronic shooting gallery game, Periscope, the first arcade game.
1971 -- Magnavox begins developing the Odyssey, an analog TV plug-in device that plays the tennis game that becomes Pong. The console's inventor is Ralph Baer.
1972 -- Magnavox Odyssey launches. In its first six months, Magnavox sells 100,000 units.
1972 -- Nolan Bushnell (then future president of Atari) plays his first game of Magnavox Ping-Pong. Atari is founded from a $250 investment and Bushnell orders the building of a coin-op version of the game: PONG. This results in the first lawsuit in videogame history. Soon, every game company had a video ping-pong clone.
1974 -- Atari creates Home Pong launching the home video game industry.
1976 -- Apple Computers releases the Apple 1 computer: the first single-circuit board computer, with a video interface, 8K of RAM and a keypad.
1976 -- Coleco markets Telestar.
1976 -- Fairchild markets the Fairchild Video Entertainment System (later renamed Channel F), the very first programmable game console. Until this point, all game consoles came with a set number of games built in.
1976 -- Atari works on its programmable game console, but it is behind the market, and in need of cash fast to finish it before the rest of the market piles on and rips them off PONG-style. Nolan Bushnell sells Atari to Warner Inc. for a cool $28 million.
1977 -- Atari 2600 Video Computer System (VCS) launches. Atari ushers in continuous revenue streams for sales of cartridges, and peripheral devices such as joysticks, paddles, and even keyboards. Atari also leverages their existing library of arcade games and ports them to the Atari 2600 VCS.
1977 -- The Mini Videogame Industry Crash shakes out the wannabes. The market is flooded with PONG rip offs and other dedicated consoles. Atari has missed most of the first Christmas sales with its new 2600 VCS. The knock-offs become obsolete under pressure from Fairchild and Atari and they slash their prices to below the manufacturing cost in order to clear their stock and exit the market. Plus, the handheld electronic market has started to come to life. This isn't the last time the industry will face hardship.
1977 -- RCA releases the Studio II. It's fatal flaw: it could only display graphics in black and white.
1978 -- Shortly after Christmas 1977, Fairchild kills the Channel F. Channel F had been on the market only seven months and had 21 games released. It will be sold and revived in various markets, but it will never be a success again.
1979 -- Mattel releases Intellivision. Marketed as "Intelligent Television," Mattel intends to sell a keyboard that would turn the console into a computer. By the time Intellivision is discontinued in 1990, it will have sold three million units and 125 games will have been released. Intellivision is expanded with Intellivoice, a voice synthesis module, and the 2600 System Charger, which allows it to play Atari's library of games. Atari sues for patent infringement... and loses.
1980 -- Texas Instruments releases the TI-99/4A home computer and game system.
1981 -- IBM introduces its personal computer, with Microsoft’s 16-bit operating system, MS DOS 1.0.
1982 -- Commodore releases the VIC-20.
1982 -- Coleco (COnnecticut LEather COmpany) releases ColecoVision. Prior to launch, they had signed a deal with a Japanese game maker by the name of Nintendo for Donkey Kong, which Coleco intended to bundle with their unit. Universal Studios sued, alleging copyright infringement on King Kong. Coleco will settle and give up three percent of their sales. Nintendo will fight the suit and will prevail. ColecoVision will be the first videogame to provide hardware expansion, and the first to play competitor's game cartridges (Atari 2600 with an expansion kit). Coleco also will launch the ill-fated Adam upgrade to convert the ColecoVision into a computer. It will be a mistake that others will repeat.
1982 -- Mattel scraps the Computer Expansion Module for Intellevision.. Fewer than 1,000 were released in a few markets. The computer expansion and keyboard are scrapped due to high cost ($700!) and poor response by consumers.
1983 -- Apple releases the "Lisa," the first personal computer to use a Graphical User Interface. Mattel releases the Aquarius: part computer, part game console, all flop.
1983 -- Commodore releases the C-64.
1984 -- The Great Videogame Industry Crash. The market has been flooded with inferior games. The advent of home computing has diverted consumer attention from game consoles. Sales of games, consoles, and accessories have slumped, causing executives to panic, and venture funding to dry up. Projects are shelved, contracts cancelled, and companies file for bankruptcy and fold. The end of the videogame industry is assumed to have arrived. Sound familiar? Yes, it's similar to the dot.com crash that will happen in 2000.
1984 -- Atari loses $2 million daily. In 1983, Atari had paid $25 million for the game rights to the movie E.T. The Extra Terrestrial. The game was rushed through production and was considered inferior and sold poorly. Legend has it that somewhere in the New Mexico desert is buried a half a million E.T. games cartridges for Atari VCS.
1984 -- Coleco goes out of the game business. Only sales of the Cabbage Patch Kids dolls save it. Coleco had sold six million consoles in just two years.
1984 -- Mattel sells Intelevision to one of its Sr. VPs and a group of investors for $16.5 million.
1985 -- Commodore-Amiga 1000, the first home multimedia PC with 3D, color, sound and games, is introduced.
1985 -- Nintendo test markets the eight-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in New York. (It is released as Famicom in Japan.) Nintendo had approached Atari to manufacture and market its console, but Atari said "No thanks, we're a computer company now!"
1986 -- Sega releases the Sega Master Sytem.
1986 -- In March, much to the consternation of Apple Computers and Microsoft, Philips announces CD-I, which will allow interactive gaming and movie playback on a Compact Disc in a consumer player. Philips plans for a fall 1987 launch. CD-i is heralded as the birth of multimedia. They were in for a prolonged pregnancy.
1987 -- Tiger Media invents CDTV, combining the Commodore Amiga 500 with a CD-ROM. The idea is taken to Commodore by CITOH.
1988 -- NEC launches PC Engine (which is released in the US in 1989 as Turbo Grafx 16). The console will be a success with excellent games in Japan. The US version will flop. Later versions of the PC Engine (called Turbo Duo and Turbo CD) will be the first game consoles to use CD-ROM as a storage medium at a time when few personal computers have them.
1989 -- Nintendo releases the Game Boy, the first portable, hand-held game system with a small black and white LCD screen. The original games will still be played in 2001, twelve years later when its successor will be released.
1989 -- Atari announces the Lynx, a hand-held game system with a back-lit color screen. It initially sells for $179, and the sales will slump.
1989 -- Sega Enterprises of Japan releases the Genesis in the U.S. (It has been previously released in Japan as the MegaDrive.)
1989 -- Tiger Media presses the first disc in the US for CD-i: Parties of the Posh and Pampered, a send up of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. The CD-i players, originally announced for 1987, won't arrive for another few years. The founder of Tiger Media will later found Iacta LLC, the parent company of Net4TV.
1990 -- Microsoft introduces Windows 3.0 for the PC.
1990 -- SNK releases the NeoGeo Entertainment System, an exact copy of its arcade system in a game console. No one buys it at its initial $650 price tag. Even worse, the games cost $200 a piece. Believe it or not, games will still be made for it ten years later.
1991 -- Commodore releases CDTV, a multi-media player game console for the livingroom.
1991 -- S3 introduces the first single-chip graphics accelerator for the PC.
1991 -- The 16-bit Super Nintendo Entertainment System (Super NES in the US and Super Famicom in Japan) is introduced. Super Mario Bros. 3 becomes the all-time best-selling video game cartridge for the Super NES.
1992 -- After years of delay, Philips releases CD-i. Dozens of people notice, but few buy.
1992 -- Tandy releases VIS, which combines a CD-ROM, a 286 computer and Compact Windows designed to be a multimedia game machine for the livingroom. Nobody notices... not even Radio Shack.
1993 -- Panasonic begins marketing 3DO hardware, which is offered as the first 32-bit video game device.
1993 -- Atari releases the 64-bit Jaguar console. Although initial sales were promising it was a dismal failure as game publishers directed their attention to Sega and the upcoming Sony game system. The Jaguar CD in 1995 would be Atari's exit from the hardware business.
1993 -- Sega releases Sega CD add-on for the Genesis (Mega CD for Megadrive in Japan). Concerned about the success of NEC's CD-based Turbo Duo in Japan, and rumors that Sony was creating a CD add-on for Nintendo's SNES, Sega rushes Sega CD to market and runs afoul with consumers with a high price and a weak library of games. Sega CD is doomed, despite high consumer interest and expectations.
Then Sega runs afoul of the US Congress. One of the few games for Sega CD is a project funded by Hasbro, which has just entered the commercial videogame market after earlier failed experiences with interactive videotape. Night Trap immerses the user into a haunted house with scantily clad college women who are being murdered. It is demonized to politicians and the media as a game where players stalk and kill young women. It is the first example of interactive video on a game console. It is also deemed by Congress, in hearings called by a prominent Senator, to be a prime example of the industry's lack of moral standards. This usheres in the era of the videogame ratings system, which will impact broadcast and cable television in the coming years. Night Trap is excoriated in the press. Time calls it the worst product of 1993. Toys 'R' Us pulls the game from its shelves.
Night Trap becomes the best-selling title for Sega CD. The game will later be released in an uncensored version for the PC, complete with advertising lampooning the Congressional hearings and turmoil. Oh, and the Senator Joseph Lieberman who called the hearings will fail in 2000 in his bid for the vice-presidency.
1993 -- In addition to Night Trap, Congress singles out Mortal Combat for it's spectacularly bloody and gory fight scenes where opponents tear the beating hearts out of each other. Just a side note: It is Sega's archrival Nintendo that supplies the footage of Sega's titles gore to Congress and the media. Nintendo's licensing agreements give it tight control over content.
1994 -- Cyan releases Myst, the biggest-selling computer game of all time.
1994 -- Multimedia PC sales take off.
1994 -- Sega Saturn and Sony PlayStation are launched in Japan.
1996 -- Bandai releases Pippin, a multi-media game machine with Internet access that combines CD-ROM and the Apple Macintosh computer. It flops.
1996 -- Entertainment software sales total more than $3.7 billion.
1996 -- The first Barbie game, Barbie: Fashion Designer is released on CD-ROM, a major step in the girls game market.
1996 -- The Nintendo 64 is released in the U.S.
1996 -- In a somewhat convoluted turn of events, Atari became Time Warner Interactive in 1994. Then it was sold to WMS. Then Atari announced a reverse merger with JTS Corporation. The endgame is that Atari was purchased by Hasbro Interactive in 1998 for $5 million for its assets and licenses. Hasbro sold much of its Atari properties to Infogrames.
1997 -- 3D graphic accelerators for PCs enter market in large volumes.
1997 -- Entertainment software sales top $4.4 billion.
1998 -- The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time generates more retail revenues during the last six weeks of 1998 than any Hollywood feature film released during the same key holiday period.
1999 -- Sega releases Dreamcast, the first 128-bit console.
2000 -- Nintendo announces the future release of a new console system: GameCube.
2000 -- Sony releases PlayStation 2 with a 300-MHz processor allowing users to play games, watch DVDs and listen to audio CDs.
2000 -- Microsoft enters the computer and video game industry by announcing the future release of Xbox, a new console system.