The History of Video Games: From Pong to Fortnite

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Video games have come a long way since the early 1950s when they were first invented. 

The first known video game, Tennis for Two (1958), was developed by computer scientists as part of their research. Their intention was never to produce games commercially — it was simply an experiment; to see if they could.

Since then, video games have grown to become one of the most popular forms of entertainment. Millions of people all across the globe play different types of video games on all types of mediums.

While the first commercial video game, Pong, was released in 1972 by Atari, some of the most popular modern games include Fortnite, Minecraft, and Grand Theft Auto. These have each had hundreds of millions of sales since their release.

In this blog post, we’ll be taking a look at the evolution of video games. We’ll cover their development through history, as well as the first video game ever invented.

These classic, iconic games have inspired the most popular video games we know today. Let’s explore what each of these games are and how they came to be.

What is the History of Video Games?

To look at the history of video games, we need to go back to the 1940s and 1950s, when computers were so large and expensive that only large companies and universities could afford them. The general public did not use computers, though they were very interested.

Games like Tic-Tac-Toe were set up as temporary displays. These were a great way to attract public attention and interest, as computers were not in usual use for everyday people. However, these never took off commercially and were disassembled later.

When home television sets became commonplace in most American households during the 1960s, engineer Ralph Baer began to wonder if similar technology could be used to play games.

Now considered the “Father of Video Games”, he created the first home video game console in the late 1960s and early 1970s initially named the Brown Box (later Magnavox). He created and developed various games that could be played on the device, though they were not a commercial success. 

Instead, the first successful game, Pong, based on Baer’s Table Tennis, was released in 1972 by Atari, Inc. However, its success was somewhat limited, as the price was high and the advertising confused potential customers.

Over the next couple of decades— and with the rise of video game arcades— gaming only grew in popularity, hitting its peak in the 1980s. Arcades and the availability of home consoles led the charge at this time. However, video gaming was still a niche hobby, and as a result the industry crashed not too long after.

Video gaming continued to suffer until Japanese company Nintendo released its Nintendo Entertainment System in 1986. The popularity and commercial success of this grew larger than any other game console before it, leading us to today.

Video games found a foothold in mainstream American life, and the industry grew from there to what we know now.

Who Invented the First Video Game?

The inventor of the first video game is debatable. Some believe that the first video game was made by Josef Kates in 1950. It was called Bertie the Brain — a four-meter-tall artificial intelligence Tic-Tac-Toe machine. 

Displayed at the Canadian National Exhibition, visitors marveled at this new technology, as it had never been seen before. Despite this, Bertie the Brain was sadly disassembled afterwards.

Although this early machine is a crucial part in the history of video games, Bertie the Brain did not meet the exact definition of a video game. That is, “a game played by electronic manipulating of computer-generated images on a monitor or other display”.

On the other hand, William Higinbotham, a physicist, is seen by many as the inventor of the first video game. In October 1958, Tennis for Two was revealed. Higinbotham’s creation was the star of the show at Brookhaven National Laboratory’s open house.

Gameplay consisted of players moving two knobs and pushing a button on a small analog computer, which simulated a tennis game on an oscilloscope. Even though the game was a success at the exhibit, Higinbotham didn’t focus on developing any more games, and Tennis for Two was eventually dismantled.

Tennis for Two was essentially the first version of Pong, created 14 years later.

What was the First Commercially Successful Video Game?

Pong, released in 1972 by Atari, is considered to be one of the first computer games ever created— and the first commercially successful game.

Founded by Nolan Bushnell in 1972, Pong was actually a training exercise for one of the employees at Atari, Allan Alcor,( though it took heavy influence from Ralph Baer’s Table Tennis)

The first Pong machine was installed in a local bar in California. Funnily enough, the bar owner complained that it was malfunctioning after only a couple of weeks. However, when they opened it up they discovered it was actually overflowing with quarters due to its popularity!

Pong was so successful in its first year of release that Atari decided to keep it for themselves instead of licensing it to other companies, which was the initial intention of the company. 

Production began in 1973, and by year’s end Pong arcade machines were widely available throughout America and abroad!

Pong is regarded as one of the classic video games, along with PacMan (1980), Space Invaders (1978), and Tetris (1988). The design of all of these games are simple, yet addicting. The creation of these games grew the gaming industry and took the world by storm.

The 1990s saw the release of The Legend of Zelda (1991), Super Mario World (1990), and Mortal Kombat (1992). These went on to gain cult followings, and inspire modern-day video games.

As of today, the best-selling video game of all time is Minecraft, a Microsoft sandbox game with two modes: Survival or creative. Its blocky 3D world has led to critical acclaim, as well as multiple lines of spin-off merchandise. The majority of its players are aged between 15–21.

Released in 2011, it has now sold over 238,000,000 units on PC, mobile devices, and consoles. As of 2021, there were nearly 140,000,000 monthly active players!

Grand Theft Auto (GTA), created by Rockstar Games, is another popular video game series. A sandbox RPG game, gameplay consists of stealing and driving cars around major world cities, as well as completing various crime-themed quests.

First released in 1997, the franchise is still going strong. The most recent release was Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy — The Definitive Edition, released at the end of 2021, and GTA V Next Gen update, released in March 2022. 

Grand Theft Auto V , which was first released in 2013, is the second most best-selling video game of all time. It has sold over 170,000,000 units across multiple platforms.

Lastly, this section wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Fortnite! This shooter-survival game exploded onto the scene in 2017, generating more than 125,000,000 players in less than a year.

Fortnite Battle Royale is a cultural phenomenon, and one of the most popular video games in recent times.

In Conclusion

It’s amazing to see how video games have changed over the years. 

From the first games such as Tennis for Two, to more recent gaming experiences like Fortnite, video games have now been a source of entertainment in our homes and beyond for over fifty years.

As the technology continues to develop, so do our gaming options and capabilities. The future will, no doubt, see many advances in the gaming industry. 

While we can’t predict what changes we’ll see, we can be sure of one thing — it will always be entertaining!

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