Many engineers attempted to use the power of telephone lines to transfer information between consoles long before gaming giants Sega and Nintendo moved into the sphere of online gaming.
At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas in 1982, William von Meister demonstrated groundbreaking modem-transfer technology for the Atari 2600. Users could download software and games using their fixed telephone connection and a cartridge that could be plugged into their Atari console with the CVC GameLine.
The device allowed users to “download” multiple games from programmers all over the world and play them for free up to eight times; it also allowed users to download free games on their birthdays. Unfortunately, the device did not receive support from the major game manufacturers of the time, and the crash of 1983 dealt it a fatal blow.
The release of 4th generation 16-bit-era consoles in the early 1990s, after the Internet as we know it became part of the public domain in 1993, would see real advances in “online” gaming. Satellaview, a satellite modem peripheral for Nintendo’s Super Famicom console, was released in 1995. The technology allowed users to use satellites to download games, news, and cheats directly to their console. Broadcasts continued until 2000, but the technology was never exported outside of Japan.
Sega, Nintendo, and Atari all tried using cable providers to break into “online” gaming between 1993 and 1996, but none of them really took off due to slow Internet speeds and cable provider issues. Real advances in online gaming as we know it today were not made until the release of the Sega Dreamcast, the world’s first Internet-ready console, in 2000. The Dreamcast came with an embedded 56 Kbps modem and a copy of the latest PlanetWeb browser, making Internet-based gaming a standard feature rather than a niche feature used by a small number of people.
The Dreamcast was the first net-centric device to gain popularity, and it was truly revolutionary. It was, however, a colossal failure that effectively ended Sega’s console legacy. At the turn of the millennium, accessing the Internet was expensive, and Sega ended up bearing massive expenditures as consumers utilised its PlanetWeb browser all across the world.
Experts attributed the console’s failure to Internet-focused technology being ahead of its time, as well as the rapid growth of PC technology in the early 2000s, which caused users to question the utility of a console dedicated only for gaming. Regardless of its failure, the Dreamcast paved the way for the Xbox and subsequent generations of consoles. The new consoles, which were released in the mid-2000s, learned from and expanded on the Dreamcast’s net-centric orientation, making online functionality a vital element of the gaming industry.
Runescape’s release in 2001 was a game-changer. MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role-playing games) allow millions of players from all over the world to play, interact, and compete on the same platform. Chat functions are also included in the games, allowing players to connect and talk with other players they meet in-game. These games may appear to be out of date now, yet they are still very popular among gamers.
Gaming in the Twenty-First Century
Since the early 2000s, Internet capabilities have skyrocketed, and computer processor technology has advanced at such a breakneck pace that each new generation of games, graphics, and consoles appears to outperform the preceding. The cost of technology, servers, and the Internet has plummeted to the point that lightning-fast Internet is now available and commonplace, and 3.2 billion people across the world have Internet access. At least 1.5 billion people with Internet connection play video games, according to the ESA Computer and Video Games Industry Report for 2015.
Online marketplaces like Xbox Live Marketplace and the Wii Shop Channel have revolutionised the way users buy games, update software, and connect and interact with other gamers, while networking services like Sony’s PSN have propelled online multiplayer gaming to new heights.
The Transition to Mobile
Since the introduction of smartphones and app stores in 2007, gaming has seen yet another rapid development, transforming not only how people play games, but also bringing gaming into mainstream pop culture in ways never seen before. Over the previous decade, rapid advancements in mobile technology have resulted in an explosion of mobile gaming, which is expected to eclipse income from console-based gaming in 2015.
This massive transition in the gaming business toward smartphones, particularly in Southeast Asia, has broadened gaming demographics while also bringing gaming to the forefront of media attention. Today’s users have rallied behind mobile gaming, much like the early gaming aficionados who formed niche forums, and the Internet, magazines, and social media are rife with new game reviews and industry gossip. Gamers’ blogs and forums are brimming with fresh game suggestions, and sites like Macworld, Ars Technica, and TouchArcade promote games from both lesser-known indie creators and established gaming corporations.