Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow: A look at the video game market from 1972 to the present day

By Patrick Johnson

It’s a fascinating world we live in as gamers. For the first time ever, we have access to nearly every, if not all, video games ever made from 1972 to today. On Nintendo’s SNES (1990-2003), that alone covers nearly 800 games. I know for myself, and probably everyone else, that I have NEVER played anywhere near that many games. Maybe 200 at most, maybe 300 across all consoles. But there was a time, seemingly eons ago, when this amount of access was way too much for people to handle.

The year was 1977. The first Star Wars film was just being released, and the world found itself falling into an overpriced console and cartridge market. Prices were high, and video gaming was expensive. Not only that, most of the games were so terribly developed because of a concern more for financial benefit instead of consumer enjoyment that by the time Return of the Jedi was released in 1983, parents, children and business owners had no intention of helping the industry move forward. As a result, the video game market crashed just as quick as the second Death Star.

Over 30 years have passed since that embarrassment to the video game market. Thanks to companies like Nintendo and SEGA, things were back up and running properly by 1985, and it has been rapidly increasing since then.

A recent study done by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) has shown that it’s because of this increasing rise and power of the video game market that helped the United States economy re-stabilize itself after it crashed in 2008. The same thing happened in the late 1990’s with South Korea and StarCraft. All in all, it’s safe to say that there is the good, the bad, and the ugly in the video game market. And it’s that very ugly part that many gamers are afraid of coming back in the near future. Although the market crash of 1983 was something temporary, it actually paints a very familiar picture that gamers today are fully able to understand. That’s because it MIGHT be happening again.

Today’s video game industry marks what is known as the 8th Generation of Entertainment Consoles, based off an unofficial officially recognized order of chronological releases of video game consoles from the 1970s to today. This generation has found itself with what many consider to be modern remakes of the seventh generation, with no real change other than exterior designs. Along with that, the names are eerily similar between the two generations (Nintendo‘s Wii & Wii U, Microsoft‘s Xbox 360 & Xbox One, and Sony‘s Playstation 3 & Playstation 4). Games made for the 8th generation consoles, although better High Definition quality, also find themselves with (in most cases) to be the same releases on the previous consoles. To top it off, the development quality of most of these games are terrible. Xbox One’s Assassin’s Creed: Unity is perhaps the best example of this trend, as it resembles something more along the lines of a french Napoleonic war film that takes place in a mausoleum full of rotting maggots and flying hands (personal experiences shared by three of LTG’s staff members and gamers across the world), but has a whopping asking price of $60 USD.

But that’s not to say that the market is headed in the wrong direction. The industry already has many plans to get ahead and stay on top and keep flying. There’s already a fantastic line up for next year, and even previous generation consoles are making an unprecedented comeback, with used games and arcade cabinets (in some cases) reaching selling prices well over $5,000 US.

Having observed both sides of this inner conflict, there’s a few things to point out that are crucial to predicting the future of the current market. The biggest factor that distinguishes the market of 1977-83 compared to today is the level of communication and accessibility, or, lack thereof. Back then, cell phones were rare. REALLY rare. The internet was an 8 bit top secret government project, and digital everything was really a thing of the future. They didn’t have the ability to communicate so quickly like we do today. They didn’t have access to emulators, ROMs, downloads, updates and bug fixes. Gamers back then had to deal with the price of one console or the price of another. Nowadays, we live in a generation of “if I can’t afford it, I’ll just wait and play my other favorite games on an emulator.”

I believe that it’s because of the ease of communication across the globe that we are able to maintain the video game market and keep it stabilized. I have a feeling that as long as we make it a point to take control of the market and put quality first, we can keep it going ever upward and turn the ugly into fantastic. Speaking of ugly, Assassin’s Creed, have you seen the release notes on the one lined up for next year? Victorian London, here we come!

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About

Marshall Garvey is a graduate of UC Davis in history, and a gamer since third grade. He has many favorite games, among them “Batman: Arkham City,” “Zelda: Majora’s Mask,” “Resident Evil 4,” “All-Star Baseball 2001,” “Banjo Kazooie,” “Silent Hill 2,” “The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion,” and “Fallout: New Vegas,” among many others. His other interests include baseball, football, boxing, politics, music, movies, jogging, playing trombone, and writing, and he is a devoted fan of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Sacramento Kings, Minnesota Twins, and Oakland Athletics. He recently finished two tenures at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda, CA, the first being as an intern at the National Archives wing and the second as a staff writer for the Nixon Foundation. Right now, he’s working on two books for the Sacramento Historical Society, one about the history of baseball in the city and the other about the Governor’s Mansion. He is also the creator of his own trading cards franchise, the United States Presidents Baseball Club, which can be visited at: www.presidentsbaseball.com. You can also see his writing about baseball at: www.brushbackpitch.com

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