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Gaming refers to the activity of playing games on a computer or with assistance from a computing device.

Playing games goes back far in human history, with some of the oldest recorded games going back to pre-dynastic Egypt and the game of Senet found in burials back to 3,500 BCE. While gaming pieces thought to be similar to dice have been found in burial mounds in southeast Turkey considered to be around 5,000 years old. Early types of dice such as stones, knucklebones, and shells were known to be used for games in Mesopotamia, and the common six-sided die in common use was developed during the Roman Empire.

But the idea of gaming on a computer did not come about until 1952 and early experiments by A.S. Douglas and William Higinbotham. The video game industry has since grown into an estimated $100 billion global industry, with two-thirds of American households with members who play video games regularly. These games have been hosted by various platforms, which include arcade systems, home consoles, handheld consoles, computers, and mobile devices. As well, video games are often at the forefront of computer technology.

The earliest video games

The earliest video games started in the laboratories of researchers. This is partly because, in the 1940s and 1950s, research laboratories and universities were some of the few institutions large enough to house computers and also afford them. This led to, in 1952, British professor A.S. Douglas creating OXO, a virtual version of tic-tac-toe, as part of a doctoral dissertation at the University of Cambridge.

Tennis for Two
The Tennis for Two set up at Brookhaven National Laboratory.

This was followed by Tennis for Two, often called the first video game. It was created by William Higinbotham, a nuclear physicist, and was first introduced on October 18, 1958. The game was housed at the Brookhaven National Laboratory and was unveiled at one of the lab's annual visitors day. Tennis for Two was a two-dimensional, side view of a tennis court on an oscilloscope screen. This screen used a cathode-ray tube similar to black and white television tubes. The players would serve and volley the moving dot, which represented the ball, using controllers with buttons and rotating dials to control the angle of the invisible tennis racquet's swing.

PDP-1 and Spacewar!
The massive PDP-1 computer system.

In 1961, the state-of-the-art computer was the PDP-1, which cost $120,000 dollars (uncorrected for inflation) and was twice the size of a refrigerator and sounded like a blender every time it was turned on. This was the computer on which Spacewar! was played. The game was created by Peter Samson and Steve Russel at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It pit two spaceships against each other, and each spaceship orbited a central star. The mechanics of the game were a challenge at the time because of the limited processing power of the PDP-1. The early version of the game was just the two players with minimal graphics.

Early Spacewar! game play; the game was constantly developed by programmers with access to the PDP-1.

In 1962, Samson unveiled a second version of the game, which included explosion graphics and scoring. The game was built on an open-source platform and encouraged collaboration. Since most PDP-1 were at research institutions, most of the players were computer programmers, who continued to develop the game—adding mines and strange inertial effects—and the versions multiplied.

The first consoles

In 1967, Ralph Baer and colleagues at Sanders Associates developed a prototype for the first multiplayer and multiprogram video game system, which the company hoped to license the technology for a commercial venture. The video game system, known by its nickname "the brown box," was played on a television. The system could be programmed to play a variety of games that could be changed by flipping switches on the front of the unit.

Considered the first home console, the Magnavox Odyssey.

The system was eventually licensed to Magnavox, which released the system as the Magnavox Odyssey in 1972. This early game console was not a commercial success, with fewer than 200,000 units sold; sales were impacted by poor marketing that had potential customers under the impression that the Odyssey only worked on Magnavox televisions.


Atari was formed by Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney in June 1972, with an idea to create an arcade game similar to a table tennis game found on the Magnavox Odyssey. This saw Atari release the arcade ping-pong game Pong in the same year. This became one of the first, if not the first, video game craze, with Pong machines being installed almost anywhere possible.

First generation consoles
The Atari Pong home console.

In 1975, Atari released a home version of Pong, which saw similar success to the arcade version. Magnavox and Sanders Associates sued Atari for copyright and patent rights infringement over the home Pong system. Atari settled with Magnavox and became an Odyssey licensee. Over the next twenty years, Magnavox went on to win more than $100 million in copyright lawsuits related to the Odyssey and video game patents. The home Pong system sold 150,000 units in a single year. The main competitor of the home Pong system included Magnavox's modified Odyssey units and the Coleco Telstar, which was the most successful console of the first generation of consoles.

Second generation consoles and the Atari 2600
The Atari 2600.

Between 1976 and 1983, second-generation consoles were produced and sold. These included the Atari 2600 (also known as the Ataric VCS), Mattel's Intellivision, and Coleco's ColecoVision. Each of these consoles featured interchangeable game cartridges that were retailed separate of the console rather than consoles being preloaded in the unit. This allowed users to build a library of games rather than be limited to what came with the console. Other milestones that occurred during this time included:

  • The 1978 release of Space Invaders for arcades
  • The 1979 launch of Activision, which became the first third-party game developer
  • Pac-Man's introduction to the United States
  • Donkey Kong, created by Nintendo, and the introduction of game character Mario
  • Microsoft releases Flight Simulator
The Crash
The E.T. game, considered by some the worst game ever made.

Following this relative growth in the home game console industry, the home-based industry experienced a crash. This came from an oversaturated game console market, competition from home computer gaming, and a surplus of over-hyped, low-quality games. Perhaps the best example of this was the Atari E.T. game, based on the eponymous movie, which would become infamous and considered the worst game ever created. This led to the bankruptcy of several home and video game console companies.

The Console Wars
Arguably the system that revived home console gaming, the Nintendo Entertainment System.

In 1985, Japanese video game company Nintendo released the Famicom. Following hardware changes and fixes to the original system, and a redesign of the original console, the name was changed to the Nintendo Entertainment System, or NES, for the American market. This consoles had improved 8-bit graphics, colors, sound, and what some considered better gameplay over previous consoles. Wary of the previous market crash, Nintendo limited the number of games that third party developers could release each year in the hopes of combating the rushed, low-quality games that had led to the previous crash. With the release of NES came the release of video game franchises, including Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, and Metroid, and third-party developed franchises such as Capcom's Mega Man, Konami's Castlevania, Square's Final Fantasy, and Enix's Dragon Quest.

Handheld gaming

In 1989, Nintendo released the handheld gaming console Game Boy, which was an 8-bit video game device. This was often bundled with the game Tetris. This was not the first handheld device released. Both Atari and Sega released handheld video game devices, the Lynx and Game Gear, respectively, which were released around the same time as the Game Boy. These devices offered backlit, color screens that were poor for overall battery health. In contrast, Game Boy offered a simple black-and-white screen without backlighting, with simple features, and with staying power for up to twelve hours on four AA batteries. Tetris would also go on to become one of the best-selling games on the Game Boy system, with more than 30 million cartridges sold.

Competing Technology and Titles
One of the main pugilists of the Console Wars, the Sega Genesis.

1989 also saw the release of Sega's 16-bit Genesis console, the successor to the company's 1986 Sega Master System that had failed to compete against the NES. However, the Genesis offered technological superiority to the NES, and paired with a competitive marketing scheme and the release of Sonic the Hedgehog in 1991, the Sega Genesis console was able to make in-roads against the NES.

The refreshed, 16-bit Super Nintendo Entertainment System.

Following these releases, Nintendo came back with the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), offering 16-bit and an increased color gamut. Over the next few years, Sega and Nintendo consoles continued to battle over console features, exclusive titles, and bundles that offered potential buyers different initial games based on popular titles and ports of old games for new systems. Additionally, Sega and Nintendo competed for exclusive game launches. For example, Capcom's Street Fighter II initially launched on SNES, which offered an increase in console sales. Sega offered the Capcom title a year later. Meanwhile, Sega offered a different version of Mortal Kombat, with game producer Acclaim offering a PG-rated version of the game for SNES, in which blood and gore were replaced by sweat. While on the Sega Genesis console, the blood and carnage could be unlocked via cheat code, which increased sales for that console.

In 1993, in response to some of the violence in the new video games being produced for the new systems (and over fears around congressional hearings over violent video games in the United States), Sega introduced the Videogame Rating Council to provide descriptive labeling for video games sold on the Sega console. This later gave rise to the industry-wide entertainment software rating board, which continues to rate video games based on content.

The Sony PlayStation
The Sega Saturn.

The year 1995 saw a leap in computer technology with the fifth generation of video game consoles. This ushered in the era of three-dimensional gaming. Sony's PlayStation console was introduced, which played games off of CDs rather than cartridges like competitor consoles. Sega, in the same year, released the Sega Saturn system in the United States in order to try and beat the PlayStation to market and reduce the console's possible market share. The Sega Saturn was a 32-bit console that also played games from CDs.

The original PlayStation.

But the release of the console, which was early, caught consumers and retailers by surprise. The console was plagued by slow game roll-outs other than the launch line-up and a had higher price than the incoming Sony PlayStation. This also gave Sony time to gauge the market, develop a better pricing strategy for the PlayStation, and offer better preparation for retailers. Sony introduced the PlayStation for $100 less than the Sega Saturn system.

The 64-bit Nintendo 64.

In 1996, Nintendo launched the Nintendo 64 system. The "64" in Nintendo 64 stood for the 64-bit cartridge-based system. The system launched to great sales numbers due to the release of highly-rated, fan-favorite 3D games, such as Super Mario 64 and Virtua Fighter. Both of the Nintendo and Sega consoles continued to be overshadowed by the PlayStation, which dominated the video game market in sales. Part of this domination came from strong third-party game support, which allowed PlayStation to secure exclusive titles.

PlayStation 2
Arguably ahead of it's time, the Sega Dreamcast was a commercial failure.

Sony did not slow down into the later 90s/early 2000s. Sega introduced the Dreamcast in 1999, after the commercial failure of the Saturn. This console again focused on features the Nintendo and Sony consoles did not initially offer, in order to compete from the lower market share position. Because of this, many considered the Dreamcast to be ahead of its time, due in part to the ability to play games with others online. But it was a commercial flop and Sega pulled the system from the market and transitioned to a third-party software company as of 2001.

The best-selling Sony PlayStation 2.

Meanwhile, Sony released the PlayStation 2 in 2000. The console was capable of playing original PlayStation games, which continued to be produced into 2006, and was the first console that played DVDs. The PlayStation 2 dominated the video game market and went on to become the best-selling game console of all time, while competing with the 2001 releases of Nintendo's GameCube and Microsoft's Xbox in 2001.

Gaming in High Definition

While, arguably, the console manufacturers have never stopped competing with each other, the competition between Sega and Nintendo, especially in the early 8-bit era, was dirty and intense. Especially as these consoles began to offer exclusive titles never intended to appear on the other console, they appeared on the competing console when it was not expected. A lot of this was courtesy of unlicensed game manufacturers, with a good example being Tengen, which was able to port a few Sega games to the Nintendo system before shutting down.

Competing ecosystems

In the early 2000s, the market began a slow shift. This was, in part, based on Sega's transition, the introduction of Microsoft to the console market, and improvement of internet capabilities and computer processing technology. This brought high-definition gaming consoles between 2005 and 2006 with the launch of Microsoft's Xbox 360, Sony's PlayStation 3, and Nintendo's Wii. These consoles seemed to introduce a new era of gaming, and new ways of competing against each other. An example was the PlayStation 3's capability to play Blu-rays, while the Xbox 360 was capable of playing the defunct HD DVD format. Both of these new standards of optical discs were capable of storing high-definition video and audio and offered a new way for the consoles to compete.

The seventh generation consoles.

Part of the competition grew to include the ecosystem of a game console that moved beyond the exclusive game consoles towards the feature set around the system. For example, Xbox 360, which had similar graphics capabilities to the PlayStation 3, was lauded for the online gaming ecosystem the console developed and, in turn, won more Game Critics Awards than the other platform in 2007. Microsoft also developed the Microsoft Kinect system for the Xbox 360—a motion capture system offering a different way to play games, which never truly caught on. Meanwhile, the technologically-inferior Nintendo Wii beat the competition in sales. This system offered motion-sensitive remotes that made games more active and appealed to a larger portion of the general public, including people in retirement homes. This was also helped by the lower cost of the Wii console compared to the competition.

Evolution of the industry

Towards the end of the decade and the beginning of the next, video games began to spread to a larger, casual gaming audience through gaming on social media platforms, like Facebook, and on mobile devices, like the iPhone. Rovio, the company behind the Angry Birds mobile device game, made around $200 million in 2012. The revenue from mobile gaming grew to the point that it overtook the revenue from console gaming and as the industry began to see increased crossovers between the formats as console manufacturers tried to increase revenues. As well, more complex multiplayer games, such as Clash of Clans for mobile, brought in large revenue, and games such as League of Legends for the PC saw increased players and revenues.

Toy figurines required to play the Skylanders games.

A further change during this period was the introduction in 2011 of Skylanders: Spyro's Adventures, which brought video games into the physical world. The game required players to place plastic toy figures, which were sold separately, onto an accessory that read the toys' NFC tags and brought the characters in the game. This would lead to several sequels and other toy-video game hybrids, such as Disney Infinity, which featured Disney characters.

Eighth generation consoles

The eighth generation of consoles likely began in 2012 with the release of the Nintendo Wii U. Sony and Xbox followed in 2013 with the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One. Despite the Wii U featuring a touch screen control capable of off-TV gaming and the ability to play Wii games, the Wii U was a commercial failure and discontinued in 2017. Meanwhile, the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One were commercial successes and saw more consumers comparing PlayStation and Xbox and leaving Nintendo out of the conversation.

The eight generation of gaming consoles.
Move to 4K

In 2016, Sony released an upgraded and more powerful version of the PlayStation and capable of 4K video output. In late 2017, Microsoft released its 4K-capable console, the Xbox One X. However, in early 2017, Nintendo released the Nintendo Switch, a successor to the Wii U, and the only system that allowed both television-based and handheld gaming.

Increased competition

In 2020, both Sony and Microsoft released new consoles. The PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Series X both offered 4K capable output, with both systems having similar components, similar capabilities, and the same price tag. These included similar game-loading times and the same processing technology shared between consoles. This led some to suggest the consoles were almost the same console.

Microsoft versus Sony

Both Microsoft and Sony offered different versions of these consoles. The main difference was the lack of an optical drive, with Sony offering a digital-only or an optical drive-enabled PlayStation 5, with the digital-only console offered at a reduced cost but with the same capabilities as PlayStation 5 with optical drive. Meanwhile, Microsoft offered the Xbox Series S, which was a smaller and scaled-back version of the X, offering a reduced price but only intended for 1440p rather than 4K gameplay.

The Xbox Series X and PS5 respectively.

Because of the similarities of the consoles, a lot of the competition came down to the controllers offered, with each offering different tweaks and capabilities and improvement to the haptic feedback systems. Further, the backwards compatibility of the consoles was compared, which can help a user decide which console to purchase. And neither console offered many exclusive games, with many of the exclusive titles offered by the Microsoft Xbox Series X also available on PC. A lot of the competition came down to the subscription gaming options offered by either console. These systems, PlayStation Plus Collection and Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, respectively, offered users different ways of playing games, such that users did not need to own a game in order to play it, similar to streaming media. The consoles also competed over the cost of playing games online. Known as the Xbox Live Gold or PS Plus, respectively, these subscriptions offer users a fixed monthly or yearly cost for connecting to online multiplayer.

Nintendo Switch
The convertible Nintendo Switch system.

While the Sony and Microsoft consoles competed, offering nearly identical form-factors and feature-sets, the Nintendo Switch offered a different console experience, a different controller experience, and included different computing hardware from different manufacturers than the consoles offered by Sony and Microsoft. One feature missing from the Nintendo Switch, when compared to the competition, was the lack of high resolution game-play. Nintendo did compete with Sony and Microsoft in exclusive game titles. With most Microsoft exclusive games available on PC, Sony and Nintendo seemed to compete more on titles. Meanwhile, game publishers worked to port game titles that had not originally been available to the Switch onto the platform.

Nintendo has committed to the launch of a Nintendo Switch Pro version sometime in 2021, which will offer 4K capability, compared to the 1080p capability of the original Switch console. As well, the built-in screen of the Switch Pro is expected to be an OLED display, compared to the 720p LCD display on the original Switch.

Other platforms

The new consoles faced increased competition from computer gaming, which took off in popularity with the introduction of game launchers, such as Steam, and the proliferation of publisher-unique game launchers (such as the Epic Game Launcher or the Origin game launcher) increased the availability of games on PC. As well, the computer hardware advanced at a faster rate than console hardware, and games publishers moved to developing for computers over consoles as they could develop more immersive and graphically-intensive games that could then be ported to the consoles.

The Google Stadia system, which required a controller and casting device for gaming.

Meanwhile, the new consoles also faced competition from game streaming—hardware-free cloud gaming services. These services mean a user needs limited, less expensive equipment to play games, and often these games have been offered on a subscription basis and don't require users to buy each individual title in order to play. This was similar to Netflix, and included services such as Google Stadia, Amazon Luna, and Nvidia GeForce Now. However, these game streaming platforms have dealt with network latency issues that can create stuttering and interrupted gameplay for users. The game services have had slow initial adoption, but this is expected to change as network speeds increase and as Apple offers a mobile game subscription service, Apple Arcade, and as Xbox Game Pass Ultimate continues to develop for the Xbox consoles and for the PC market.

Computer Gaming

The history of playing video games on a home or personal computer, or computer gaming, is, in part, a history of technology. The computer game requires technology capable of handling large amounts of data and of representing this data. And while computer consoles and arcade game systems were developed to play games specifically, the games for home computers developed at the rate the home computer developed. In turn, as processors and graphics accelerators developed, so did the sophistication of computer gaming. This saw the development of gaming on home PCs to the preferred platform for developers, with 56 percent of developers releasing their games on PC in 2019, and with most games being developed for PC before being ported or adapted for consoles.

Early computer gaming

Fifteen years after Spacewar! was created for the PDP-1, the first "text adventure" game Adventure was created in 1977. This game was not based on fast reflexes, but based on the player communicating with the computer textually, and with movements typed into the computer. The adventure game was based on a loose interpretation of the J.R.R. Tolkien books, and gameplay revolved around puzzles and traveling through a system of caves to find a treasure.

The Apple II home computer.

The growth of the home computer market in the 1970s paralleled the emergence and growth of video game consoles. The first computer designed and sold for the home consumer was the Altair, first sold in 1975, and mostly sold to a hobbyist market. In 1977, three computers, Radio Shack's TRS-80, the Commodore PET, and the Apple II, were produced and sold to the home market. These early computers gave rise for the development of games for the computer systems. An early example being the game Mystery House developed in 1979 for the Apple II computer and the game Rogue, developed in 1980 for IBM PCs. These games tended to focus on extended plots and story lines, where the home console and arcade counterparts focused on puzzle-based play. The early computer games saw players move through landscapes of basic graphics, solving problems, and working through the narratives. These games expanded the ability of video games for the personal computer platform.

The IBM 5150.

In 1981, the IBM 5150 was released. Considered another important moment for computer gaming, this was a machine that came with a display and keyboard, and unlike previous systems that were built with a singular purpose in mind, the IBM 5150 was built to have multiple functions, one of which was playing computer games. The computer was released in the same year the operating system MS-DOS was released, which was integral to the development of computer games. In the 1980s, games continued to be dominated by pixelated, text-based games. This included the trilogy of Zork games by Infocom, based on the blueprint of Adventure, but with better textual descriptions and a sense of humor. Further development included multiuser dungeons, or MUDs, role-playing games which were played online by multiple users at once. These games allowed creators to create characters, move through different worlds, accomplish goals, and after attaining a certain skill level, to design their own user of the world.

A graphically-enhanced text-based adventure game.

The mid-1980s saw a demographic shift, where, between 1985 and 1987, games designed to run on business computers rose from 15% to 40% of games sold. This meant developers could use the increased processing power of business computers to create more complex games, and that adults with these computers were interested in these games. In turn, the 1980s saw a leap in hardware, including the Intel 80386 processor, the base for its Pentium line, the EGA video card that offered better graphics and playability, and the SoundBlaster card that offered improved video game sounds. This time experienced the rise of hardware improvements, the arrival of the computer mouse, and textual interaction was replaced with graphical interfaces.

Gameplay from the first-person shooter game Doom.

While computer gaming remained a niche market into the 1990s, the increase in hardware capability saw developers push to continue to create bigger and more graphically involved games. This period saw the 1992 release of Wolfenstein 3D and the 1993 release of Doom, which popularized the first-person shooter genre. Quake, soon followed. Released in 1996, Quake used the increasing processing power of computers to create more vivid three-dimensional worlds that were impossible to fully replicate on game consoles of the era, increasing game graphic violence realism.

At the same time, games like Diablo and Baldur's Gate were released and popularized the role-playing game genre, which offered gameplay similar to the earlier text-based adventure games of the 1970s and 1980s, except with a complete graphical interface. Arguably, Diablo and Baldur's Gate made way for the popular World of Warcraft.Most similar to the early text-based adventure games was the game Myst, and its sequel Riven. In both of these games, a player embarked on an adventure on an island where they were required to solve a mystery. Similar non-violent games such as SimCity and the Sims drove the simulation game market and challenged the notion that only violent video games sold.

An image of PCI slots, an important feature for the growth and expansion of computer systems and games.

Further hardware developments continued to develop computer gaming. These developments, included the CD-ROM drives for computers, which allowed for larger games to be built and loaded onto computers. And the PCI slot, which allowed for further customization of computers and allowed users to attach new cards and expansions to a computer's motherboard, which led to the development of network cards, sound cards, and graphics cards, and served as the prototype for custom computer building.

PC gaming in the 21st Century

The 2000s saw increased game improvements over those found in the late 1990s, with increased technological and graphical improvements of the CryEngine 2 and DirectX 10 technologies, which all pushed computer gaming to the edges. In 2007, at the release of Crysis, few computers were actually technologically capable of running the game. However, the visuals and related technology continue to be used in games and began a new era of video game performance and hardware escalation.

Early Steam interface.

In 2003, along with Valve's game Half-Life 2, the development company launched Steam. This was not seen as an important development in 2003; rather, it was seen as a way for the developer to offer a hub for content updates. However, by 2004, Steam was the only way to be able to play Half-Life 2 on PC, and Valve had aspirations to turn Steam into the leading digital video game distribution platform. This worked, as Steam is considered the go-to digital game distribution platform for PC, despite the Epic Games Store and other digital game distribution platforms competing with the platform.

Example of an early-2000s gaming computer.

However, as consoles continued to develop and were considered a more affordable platform to play games, and as more games became cross-platform, gaming on personal computers towards the end of the 2000s became a costly niche market of the larger gaming community. There was a belief that to play on a personal computer, a player had to be willing to pay a lot of money for a computer designed for gaming.

2010s and Online Gaming

With the early development of gaming on computer, there was a parallel development of online gaming. This included the MUD games that were created in the 70s and could be played over an internal network before being connected to ARPANet in 1980. Following this, and the commercial internet, came commercial role-playing games and the development of online games, with notable titles including Quakeworld, Starcraft, Counter-Strike, and EverQuest.

Example of gameplay from World of Warcraft.

Despite these early examples, and their relative popularity, it was the development of Blizzard's massively multiplayer online game (MMOs) World of Warcraft, released in 2004, that online gaming began to attract a larger audience. Following the popularity of World of Warcraft, games such as Star Wars Galaxies, City of Heroes, Wildstar, Warhammer Online, and Toontown Online were released and all shuttered as the games struggled to exist in the saturated market.


This led, instead, to the development of the multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) format. In this format, many players would be in a battle arena where they would compete against each other. The first MOBA was Defense of the Ancients (DOTA) tied to Blizzard's World of Warcraft. Further games developed from this, including League of Legends and Heroes of Newerth in 2010, and Dota 2 in 2013. League of Legends and Dota 2 ended up as top-tier eSports titles, thanks in part to the games need for strategic play, which also kept the game from growing as the title has grown to be seen as too complex for new players to be able to approach easily.

Battle Royale
Example of gameplay from Fortnite.

In 2021 and the few years preceding, the industry has been populated with the growth of the battle royale genre of online games. The trend began with PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, which dropped players into a battleground with no weapons or supplies, for which they had to scrounge while also working to be the last person standing. This became the format for following games. These games, such as Electronic Arts' Apex Legends and the hugely popular Fortnite, began to turn the trend into a craze. These games included eSports leagues and players who made careers out of their success in these games.

This also led to developers creating battle royale options for games that were not considered to be battle royale games. For example, Bethesda Game Studio included a battle royale option in the company's Fallout 76, a survival role-playing game. Similarly, the narrative-driven role-playing game Red Dead Redemption 2 included a battle royale option into an online multiplayer version of the game, and the puzzle game Tetris 99 offers a battle royale setting.

Part of the popularity of many of the battle royale games, and similar online titles, is that many of the games are free, while many of the cosmetic content or player progression is behind a paywall. In 2018, League of Legends made $1.4 billion and Fortnite made $2.4 billion.

And, as of 2020, the global online gaming market generated approximately USD$21.1 billion in revenues. This is matched with an estimated 1 billion online gamers worldwide, with the largest online gaming populations in China, South Korea, and Japan.

Games as a social network

With the increased popularity of online games through the last two decades, and the increase of online engagement (such as social networks or streaming media) overall, gaming has also seen an increased use of games as a social network. In this context, games offer a virtual space where friends can spend time and can talk to each other without the formality of a video chat. These are also areas where friends can share experiences, whether those are game-related experiences or just time spent together. Much of the development of games as social networks has suggested a way for future work and personal interactions in the digital realm, especially with the development of augmented and virtual reality technologies, and the increase in remote work.

Image of Animal Crossing on the Nintendo Switch Lite.

The COVID-19 pandemic drove people globally into their homes and games offered a way for people, especially those who had never used games as a social network, to interact with each other and keep in touch with each other. This included games such as Among Us which allowed friends to play together to figure out who a saboteur is "among" the group, or Animal Crossing: New Horizons, which offered players on the Nintendo Switch to develop their own tropical town and visit other player's tropical towns to visit with them. Animal Crossing alone tripled Nintendo's profits when it was released in March 2020.

Augmented and Virtual Reality Gaming

While related, virtual reality and augmented reality technologies are growing in popularity, with the augmented reality mobile game Pokémon Go making many people aware of augmented reality, and the cost of virtual reality headsets reducing, increasingly becoming platform agnostic, and growing in popularity. The technologies are similar and tend to bleed into each other, but do have different concepts.

Augmented Reality

Augmented reality (AR) came out of similar early experiments in 1968 at Harvard as Virtual reality (VR) with the experiments and head-mounted display system developed by computer scientist Ivan Sutherland. Despite this, the credit for creating or coining the term augmented reality often is given to Tom Caudell, a researcher at Boeing Computer Services, in the 1990s. Tom Caudell's research was into the development of using a virtual reality technology to help the manufacturing process, and he developed a complex piece of software to overlay positions of where things were in the building process.

Early augmented reality system developed for the US Air Force

In 1992, Louis Rosenburg, a researcher at the US Air Force's Armstrong's Research Lab, developed one of the first functional AR systems, called "Virtual Fixtures," which worked to allow military personnel to control and guide machinery and train for safer flying practices. It was not until 1994 that AR technology began to move towards consumers, with Julie Martin, a writer and producer, using early AR technologies in her theater production Dancing in Cyberspace. While AR hit the small screen in 1998, with Sportsvision broadcasting the first live NFL game with the virtual 1st and Ten graphic system, or the yellow yard marker, which displayed a yellow line on top of the feed so viewers could easily see where a team had to advance to get a first down.

These systems still required bulky equipment and software programs, and as such, were not widely used, until 1999, when Hirokazu Kato from the Nara Institute of Science and Technology released a piece of software called the ARToolKit. This software allowed for video capture of real-world actions to be combined with the interactions of virtual objects and was able to be experienced with a simple handheld device and an internet connection.

The ARQuake system.

In 2000, Bruce Thomas demonstrated the first outdoor mobile augmented reality game, which allowed players to walk around without the use of a joystick or handheld controller. The game was called ARQuake and required a computer backpack and gyroscopes and a head-mounted display for the user to see the game based on their physical location. Eight years later, the same style of applications were being offered on smartphones. The first application was for Android users, which allowed the mobile phone camera to see augmentations on the screen for points of interest, referred to as Wikitude Drive. With the ubiquity of smartphones, simple augmented systems have since proliferated, offering everything from information overlays for a users surroundings to live text translations and playing augmented reality games on the go.

Pokémon Go used AR to bring the popular creatures into the real world via smartphones.

Although games like Pokémon Go and Ingress were popular mobile augmented reality games, there has been a slower development and adoption of augmented reality games since the development of the technology, with more interest in the technology for offering increased information and context for a user's surroundings. Although, with the increase in the technology capabilities, and the introduction of proposed technologies such as Google's Glass and Facebook's smart glasses, the development of future AR games for users is expected.

Virtual Reality

Similar to augmented reality, the history of Virtual Reality (VR) goes back further than the adoption of the technology would suggest, with the first developments coming in the 1950s and military-focused simulators for pilots. The first VR head-mounted display with developed by computer scientist Ivan Sutherland in 1968. The Sword of Damocles was the first VR-head mounted display and utilized technology that would define the VR experience, This technology continued to develop for training and simulation in the U.S. military and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Early VR gaming
The Virtuality VR arcade machine, known as the Virtuality Pod.

VR has a longer tie to gaming and a longer history with it as well with the technology offering users an immersive gaming experience. The earliest gaming systems came from technology developed by Antonio Medina, a NASA scientist, who had designed a VR system to drive the Mars rover from Earth. This technology moved to the Virtuality Group, which launched Virtuality in 1991. These were arcade VR machines that gamers could sit in and use to play in 3D games, and are considered to be the first mass-produced VR game systems. Following this, SEGA announced the company was working on the SEGA VR headset. Despite four games being developed for it, SEGA never released the headset, citing concerns of people injuring themselves while using the realistic VR effect.

Instead, in 1994 SEGA released SEGA VR-1, a motion simulator arcade machine. In the same year, VictorMaxx released a VR headset called CyberMaxx. Not to be outdone, in 1995 Nintendo launched the Virtual Boy console that played 3D monochrome games. The system was a commercial failure and was discontinued a year later. And, as often happens in the VR gaming space, starts and stops interrupted adoption of the technology.

Oculus Rift and modern VR

This changed in 2010, with the introduction of the Oculus Rift prototype for PC gaming. This early headset, which was PC-tethered, developed the form factor that would be adopted by the wider industry. This involved a headset that used six-degrees-of-freedom motion tracking from either external sensors or cameras, or outward-facing cameras on the headset, which allowed the headset to detect the direction a wearer is facing and their movements. These are combined with motion controllers, which give the user virtual hands and allow the user to interact with the virtual environment.

An untethered VR headset.

From 2014 to 2017, competitors brought virtual reality headsets to the market, such as the HTC Vive, consoles with systems such as Sony's PSVR, and an expansion to mobile-tethered headsets such as Samsung's GearVR, and Google's Google Cardboard.

Untethered headsets arrived in 2018. These headsets, which included the Oculus Go, the Lenovo Mirage Solo, and the HTC Vive Focus respectively, turned VR into an independent platform. The year 2019 has been considered the year when VR matured and became a proper gaming platform. The standalone VR headsets offer an easier user experience for the average consumer. It was in 2019 that Nintendo released the Labo: VR kit for Nintendo Switch, and Beat Saber became the first VR game to sell over 1 million copies in a year.

Competitive gaming

Also known as eSports, competitive gaming is a form of competitive video gaming that has developed around it a spectatorship, competitive teams, and championships. Competitive gaming has developed into a professional league of gaming sports, featuring players competing as individuals or as a part of teams to be the best in their respective games. These competitions come with prize purses, and players are often contracted to play for different organizations, similar to players in other professional sports leagues.

Early days

As with most things, recorded competition in video games goes back near the beginning of video games. Specifically, the most commonly referred to advent of an official and recorded video game competition happened at Stanford University on October 19, 1972, where players competed in Spacewar!. Students competed against each other for the top prize of a one year's subscription of Rolling Stone magazine, which was awarded to Bruce Baumgart.

Billy Mitchell, an early eSports champion.

In 1980, Walter Day created Twin Galaxies, an organization to record and keep world records in video gaming. An early competitive gaming craze began, with arcade games such as Pac-Man and Donkey Kong. And with Billy Mitchell becoming an early, well-known figure for his records on games such as Pac-Man and Donkey Kong.

eSports as Marketing
Marketing material for the 1990 Nintendo World Championships.

In the early 1990s, with the NES, later SNES, and the general arms race with Sega and the Sega Genesis console, Nintendo held a competitive gaming tournament, known as the Nintendo World Championships. The tour ran for 1990s and toured the United States before holding a championship at Universal Studios in California. Nintendo held another world championship in 1994 to promote the Super Nintendo Entertainment System.

Quake and the rise of eSports leagues
Quake gameplay.

With the rise of PC gaming in the late 1990s, and the internet making it possible for global competition, came some of the first leagues for eSports, including the Cyberathlete Professional League (CPL), the Professional Gamers League, and Quakecon. The featured games at these events included Quake, Counter-Strike, and Warcraft. One such event was the Red Annihilation, a Quake event which took place in May of 1997 and is considered by some to be the first true eSports competition. The internet allowed for over 2000 entrants to face each other in one-on-one competitions in Quake before a final 16 players were left. The final 16 were flown to Atlanta, Georgia, where they would compete at the Electronic Entertainment Expo. The event drew spectators and received news coverage as Dennis "Thresh" Fong earned the win, with a prize Ferrari 328 GTS.

Into the early 2000s, with the increased interest in video games and the growing online video game community, players were given more chances to compete in multi-player games. In 2006, FUN Technologies held a Worldwide Webgames Championship with seventy one players competing for a $1 million grand prize. This competition served as an example of the growing interest and prize pools of gaming tournaments. In 2010, Nintendo returned to competitive gaming with the Wii Game Summer, which lasted over a month and had over 400,000 participants and established Super Smash Brothers as a competitive title and as one of the most popular games for the Wii console.


Even though there were increased tournaments, and some of those tournaments garnered sporadic television coverage in the United States, Twitch, which launched in 2011, offered a platform for broadcasting competitive gaming for areas that, unlike South Korea, did not feature frequent broadcasts of eSports tournaments. This, in turn, increased interest in the sport.

Twitch allowed anyone to stream their gameplay to an audience and in turn make revenue.

By 2012, viewership increased into the hundreds of thousands, with a corresponding increase in prize pools. Popular games such as Starcraft, League of Legends, DOTA, and Call of Duty had leagues develop around the games with top players streaming their gameplay through Twitch and earning 10 to 20,000 viewers at a time and earning advertising revenue on top of prize money. Starcraft, and subsequently, Starcraft 2 became the most popular early eSports games, due in large part to it acting as a national sport in South Korea and the top players being treated as professional athletes of other sports are treated in respective sports.

Modern eSports
eSports competition held in an arena full of fans.

As of 2019, global eSports revenues reached $1.1 billion. Brand investments in advertising, sponsorship, and media rights to competitive gaming were worth $897 million that year, which represented a tripling since 2015. The popular games included League of Legends, Dota 2, and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. As well, specific leagues, such as Activision Blizzard's Overwatch League, were able to announce corporate sponsorships—in this case Coca-Cola. The year also saw a growth of merchandise and ticket sales as eSports tournaments and competitions traveled to be held in arenas around the world. As eSports have gained popularity, sites to follow the eSports calendar with places to watch have developed, and more competitions have begun to be televised on sports channels outside of South Korea.

Organizations in these leagues have different teams dependent on the game being played. For example, Fnatic, founded in 2004, has had teams for games such as Fortnite, League of Legends, and PUBG Mobile. Other top organizations in eSports have included G2 esports, Team SoloMid, and Team Liquid. Further, part of the popularity of eSports, has been the capability for any multiplayer or competitive game to have a sport or league developed around it, either with the support of players, game developers, or community support. This organic growth has seen more entertaining games end up as popular games, rather than a game developed specifically as an eSports game.

For a game to work as an eSports game, there has to be balance within the game. For example, in a game such as Counter-Strike, a competitive first-person shooter game, if there was a single gun that was outright better than other guns in the game, players would all use the same gun leading to repetitive and ultimately boring matches. A good example of balance is Rocket League, which offers players an identical playing field aside from the car used, which has a negligible effect on gameplay, and results in a high skill ceiling and high accessibility.

Gaming companies


June 4, 2021
Training break: Pharma companies get into gaming to boost retention, recall—and fun.
June 3, 2021
Nintendo has announced the construction of a museum tracing the history of the company's products over the years in Kyoto.
June 3, 2021
Cloud Gaming market expected to reach USD $1,861.3 million by 2028.
June 3, 2021
Riot games is expected to bring Valorant to the mobile platform.
June 1, 2021
Dark Horse Comics starts a gaming and digital entertainment division.
May 31, 2021
PCs offer "Better gaming experience than 100% of Mac laptops," Intel claims in ongoing anti-Apple campaign.
May 30, 2021
Netflix reportedly wants to break into the video game business.
May 28, 2021
Mobile gaming is set to become the largest gaming platform, with spending in mobile gaming exceeding console and PC gaming in 2019.
May 22, 2021
Retro gaming is making its return with games like Pac-Man and Frogger.
The Nintendo Switch officially outsold the Game Boy Advance.

Further Resources


'Spacewar!' The story of the world's first digital video game

Russell Brandom


February 4, 2013

A Brief History Of Video Games | WePC


May 21, 2021

BNL | History:The First Video Game?


First Video Game?


October 21, 2008



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