The Early History of Gaming – Part 2

Tech guys recognised that they were onto something. From 1972-1985, over 15 firms started to develop video games for the growing market.

The birth of multiplayer gaming

In the 70’s, a group of U.S. chain restaurants took advantage of the new trend by installing video games. These games encouraged competition among users as they were able to record their scores and wanted to see their initials next to the highest ranking. Multiplayer gaming, at the time, was restricted to gamers sharing a single screen.

Users weren’t able to play on multiple screens until 1973 when a strategic game called Empire was released. Eight people could play the game, which was developed for the PLATO network system (Programmed Logic for Automatic Teaching Operation).

The PLATO system’s usage logs say that gamers enjoyed approximately 300,000 hours of Empire time from 1978-1985. Jim Bowery released a space shooter called Spasim for PLATO, also in 1973, a game that is considered to be the very first 3D multiplayer game.

Only large organisations like Atari and universities had the funds for the connections and computers required to join the network. PLATO played an integral part of the early technological journey to the World Wide Web, as well as online multiplayer gaming like we know it today.

Gaming had now captured the imagination of the younger generation, with players still enjoying the competition with their peers in the arcades. Most people, however, wouldn’t have predicted that 80% of households in the U.S. would own a games system.

Home gaming is real

As well as gaming consoles achieving popularity in U.S. chain restaurants and commercial centres, the 70s further saw the emergence of personal computers mass-produced consoles. Progress in technology, such as the first-ever microprocessor from Intel, resulted in the development of games like 1975’s Gunfight, a multiplayer man-to-man combat shooter.

Gunfight, while no Call of Duty, was a significant release when it was first available to play in arcades. It offered a new kind of gameplay, employing one joystick to control movement with another being used for shooting direction.

In 1977, we saw the release of the Atari VCS, which would later be called the Atari 2600. However, it didn’t take off with just 250,000 sold in the first 12 months. While 550,000 were sold in 1978, it was still far below the numbers anticipated.

The poor performance has been attributed to the fact that colour TVs were still somewhat new to American homes and the public was just getting used to them so perhaps a new addition to the home was a little bit too early. The consoles were also expensive, which was likely a factor, as was people becoming bored with Pong, the most popular game on Atari.

Upon release, the console was designed to play just 10 basic challenge games, including Pong, Tank, and Outlaw. The console, however, included an external ROM that allowed game cartridges to be plugged into it. Programmers everywhere saw the potential to develop games that would far exceed the original design of the console.