The humble video game is a fond friend for most adults in the world. It was how we went on adventures to splendid new worlds, learned about our preferences in life – battle lines were drawn over whether to play Halo, FIFA, Final Fantasy or Need for Speed – and more recently determined your career choices in life.
In recent years gaming has evolved from something children are allowed to do in order to give their parents a break to a multi-billion Euro industry that creates opportunities for coders, designers, musical score producers and marketing executives. However it is not only corporate entities who are benefiting from gaming as streamers on platforms like Twitch, Facebook and YouTube and eSports professionals, who compete for massive cash prizes, have created a whole new career niche around gaming.
The Nerdy History of the First Video Game
Any discussions of video games will have older generations wistfully remembering their Atari video game system, which comprised almost solely of Pong, or perhaps the more beloved Nintendo system.
The reality, however, is that the first commercially available video game was produced by a physicist named William Higinbotham back in October 1958. As the head of Brookhaven National Laboratory’s instrumentation group, he felt it was his job to ensure their annual open day was exciting for the visitors.
He came up with the idea for a tennis game which would allow the event’s guests to have an interactive experience. Using his experience with radar systems Higinbotham conceptualised and built the first tennis video game, Tennis for Two, in less than two weeks.
The game was a smash hit with long lines of players, later he would say of the launch title:
“It never occurred to me that I was doing anything very exciting. The long line of people I thought was not because this was so great but because all the rest of the things were so dull”
Despite being an early adopter of what would one day become one of the world’s largest and most profitable industries Higinbotham never made any money from his game, nor could he since he was a Federal employee and any patents he submitted would have become government property.
Early Consoles & Vintage Game Collecting
The early 1970s would see standing arcade games become a fixture of shops and arcades where youth would congregate and spend the money they had begged from their parents or earned doing chores but nothing lit a fire under gamers like the chance to own your gaming console.
These early consoles presented some challenges of their own:
The Magnavox, Nintendo and Atari consoles of the 70s ranged in price from $75 up to $199, in present terms this is from $400 up to $750.
By the late 70s, only 15 million households owned a television set in the US, which was a requirement for playing video game consoles. Even then it was only one set which meant gaming had to wait till the family wasn’t using it.
If you were lucky enough to get a console and had a television to play it on the average game would cost around $40 which equates to about $140 today.
It is worth keeping in mind that the minimum wage in the 1970s was less than $2 per hour, making putting these kinds of entertainment expenses out of reach for the many middle to lower class families.
Rather than bury these classic games in the annals of history these fond memories, often of renting the games or playing at a friend’s house, has led to a rabid vintage game collecting market where boxed, or near mint condition, Nintendo, Magnavox, Atari, Coleco Vision and Mattel’s Intellivision systems are bought for a premium.
The games themselves are where the real value lies with some really bad games, also knowns as lemons, which sold poorly during their heyday now being worth small fortunes due to scarcity.
Here are just some of the crazy price ranges these retro games can ask:
Stadium Events (1987) by Bandai – up to $40,000
Air Raid (1984) by Atari – up to $34,000
Gold Nintendo World Championships (1990) – up to $30,000
There are also stories of games which plummeted in value as their scarcity evaporated. One such game is Atari’s E.T. which was a terrible game and sold so poorly that thousands of copies were destroyed.
This resulted in the copies which remained reaching prices of up to $37,000 on eBay. However, a 2014 dig discovered nearly 800,000 copies of E.T. in a landfill. The sudden flood of copies onto the market saw the value of the game drop to as low as $5!
The eSports Evolution
From the 1980s to the present day many original consoles fell away leaving us with the PlayStation, Xbox and Nintendo Switch as the only names in console gaming. These systems are far more complex delivering gorgeous 3D graphics and finger-twisting gameplay with some systems offering the option to live out your favourite new adventure in 4K!
It is not only the systems that have evolved but also why people play games. Far from a childish pursuit, the advent of competitive gaming events has given rise to a multi-billion Euro competitive eSports industry comprised of both team and individual competitions.
The prize money available to this burgeoning competitive sector is astounding:
Dota 2 – prize pool of more than $200 million
CS:GO – prize pool of more than $87 million
Fortnite – prize pool of more than $84 million
League of Legends – prize pool of more than $70 million
Starcraft 2 – prize pool of more than $30 million
While the competitive scene draws a lot of attention when it comes to making money a lesser-known component of the industry is live streaming. A former MLG National Champion and now Warzone streamer, Nick Mercs, recently crossed the 50,000 subscriber mark on his Twitch channel.
Twitch charges a minimum of $4.99 per month per subscription, at the minimum split of 50% this means Nick is earning at least $125,000 per month, this figure excludes in-app advertising by big brands, sponsorships, tips (which are called Bits in the Twitch ecosystem) and the sales of his own MFAM branded merchandise.
If gaming isn’t your forte but betting is there is a growing eSports betting market where bookmakers like Betway offer odds on the outcomes of various international gaming events. Whichever way you look at it, eSports is on the rise and the money will follow.
Growth of Mobile Gaming
When the first mobile phone launched it revolutionised how we communicated around the world, what no one foresaw was that these “phones” would evolve into powerful handheld gaming devices.
With improved processing power, massive SSD hard drives and picture-perfect 4K displays the mobile phone has become a global mobile gaming playground worth more than $60 billion!
Initially, mobile gaming was limited to popular free to play gaming titles like Candy Crush Saga, which generated revenue, not through game sales but microtransactions which allowed the player to bypass delays and timers to keep them in the game. At its peak, the game was reported to make $1 million a day from these small in-game purchases.
The Nintendo owned Pokémon GO augmented reality game rocked the mobile gaming market to its core when it skyrocketed up the charts in 2016. By late 2019 the game had already generated more than $3 billion in revenue from in-app microtransactions boasting more than 147 million active monthly players.
Since then all major studios have been working tirelessly on their market capitalisation strategy with eSports titles all offering if not their core game on mobile, then at least a standalone game featuring the characters and lore from their main game, as a way to attract this spend happy market sector.
Gaming’s Impact on Casino Game Development
Gaming has had an impact on the casino games we enjoy today in terms of technology, design and branded crossovers:
The online casino game development experts have always been at the cutting edge of any new technology and customer experience requirement. In 2004, long before other markets considered the mobile device a valid gaming platform Microgaming launched the first mobile casino.
They would also go on to release the first slot for use with a smartwatch, while the technology never really grabbed mainstream appeal like mobile gaming it showed their commitment to offering players gaming whenever and wherever they wanted it.
✓Design and Gameplay:
More recently we saw mobile gaming impact the way in which online slot-type games played out on screen. Puzzle games like Candy Crush and Montezuma which featured exploding symbols and non-standard reels heavily influenced games like Gonzo’s Quest and Finn and the Swirly Spin.
Visually there was a move away from a more realistic art style to oversized brightly coloured icons with the inclusion of pops and explosions to emulate the onscreen “excitement” found in so many casual game titles on mobile.
There are a number of online slots which lean into our nostalgia for retro gaming. Games like Hellcatraz do this purely through their visual design and layout, the faux 16-bit graphics and vertical scale being reminiscent of the 1986 arcade classic Rampage.
However, 2020 saw NetEnt release an official Street Fighter II: The World Warrior video slot featuring the full suite of fighters, a reel set emulating the game screen including fighter specific locations, the original soundtrack and in-game sound effects. They even went so far as to include mini-games from the arcade game like vehicle destruction!
Celebrating Video Game Day
Whether you're an avid gamer or haven't really picked up a controller in years why not join us in celebrating Video Game Day by loading up your favourite game and taking a moment to remember how many great adventures you've had over the years.