This article is an in-depth analysis of the market that you can find in the first part. I'll try to understand how we got this far by analyzing the entirety of the graph of Visual capitalist and no longer focusing on different media, but on time periods and major events that have marked the history of the video game market.
From Atari to the present, the videogame industry has always experienced extreme competition, with entire companies that in a few years have gone from a situation of market domination to irrelevance. Their stories remind us even today in the video game landscape, that what we believe are names written in stone they could disappear within a few years.
The Golden Age (1970-83)
It all started with Pong, or rather, with Atari. The first video game manufacturer marketed the first massively successful video game in 1972. For a couple of years a small video game niche had found its space, but with Pong the phenomenon explodes for the first time among the general public.
Home consoles soon followed the Arcades, like the Atari 2600, which thanks also to the success of Pong sold millions of units. But soon the market began to become saturated. In 77 the gaming landscape was mainly composed of Pong clones, and sales began to decline.
He thinks about reinvigorating the market Space Invaders, the first Japanese game to be successful. The golden age of the early eighties begins. Arcades and home consoles, as well as early PCs, host classics like PacMan and Donkey Kong, and the gaming phenomenon seems unstoppable.
But is not so. Everyone, at least in North America, wants to play video games. The demand is such that the manufacturers are forced to increase the quantity, but this is to the detriment of the quality of the games. The mercano is flooded with clones bordering on plagiarism, unplayable obscenities and works so bad that they become legend, like ET Once again the market is saturated, but this time the thud is more powerful than that of 77. It is the Crash of 1983.
The Big Crash and SEGA vs Nintendo (1983-1994)
For two years, between 83 and 85, video games seemed fake. The market reaches historic lows, but the recovery comes from Japan, with two companies that will mark the history of the industry, Nintendo and SEGA. In 1985 Nintendo marketed its Entertainment System, the NES, and with it Super Mario Bros. perhaps the most famous video game ever.
Behind Nintendo's strategy is a shift in taste for video games. The public wants them more complex, but also more aesthetically pleasing. This evolution is testified by the rise of the PC market and the release, in 1982, of the Commodore 64. While the arcade market is catching its breath, on the console side the Nintendo monopoly undergoes its first challenge with the release of the SEGA Mega Drive in 1988.
At the end of the 80s the market returns to almost the same value as ten years before, but to push video games to a turnover never seen before is still Nintendo, with a move that will almost become a trademark, the creation of a new niche. . In 1989 the Game Boy was released, the first portable cartridge console, which also thanks to Tetris, obtains a resounding success.
In the mid 90's we are in a full new boom. While in the field Nintendo console re-launches the challenge to Sega with the SNES, on PC comes out Doom, which first made first person shooters popular, a genre that will define gaming in the following years.
But the focus of the market is shifting. Until now, the center of innovation has been video games. The better the game, the higher the sales, while consoles or supports were secondary. Already in 88 things began to change. SEGA with the Mega Drive had shifted the focus to hardware. Cause and effect are reversed, the more powerful the console the better the games that will come out. The mentality with which we approach the market today is born.
But no one in the studios that gave birth to Sonic can imagine that this same move will be the downfall of the company. At the dawn of '94, as SEGA prepares to launch its Saturn, the first console to use CDs instead of cartridges, two new contenders enter the market. They are not video game producers, but huge multinationals ready to start a revolution.
Sony, Microsoft, and the arcade crash (1994-2004)
1994 is the year the PlayStation was released, and it's really hard to go overboard in describing the scale of this event for the market. The impact is also evident at first glance, looking at the graph.
CDs are much cheaper than cartridges, making PS1 games costs less than any other media. The result is a market collapse that only Sony benefits from. To collapse are not only the direct competitors, SEGA and Nintendo, but also and above all the arcades. 'The collapse of the arcade market is vertical, in a few years the cabinet market collapses under the Crash of 83.
The rest of the market, although healthy, is struggling to fill the void. Nintendo is fortunate to have its own portable niche, that nobody even tries to scratch. Try to compete in 96 with the Nintendo 64, which even with good results cannot compare to the success of PlayStation. SEGA, on the other hand, sees its two reference markets collapse, and in fact it will never return to the glories of the early 90s.
The market loses value for three consecutive years, until 97 when cell phones began to spread. It is the explosion of Snake to kick off the mobile market, which together with the consistency of PCs and portable consoles, starts the recovery.
During this recovery from what we might call the arcade meltdown, the market slowly takes the shape it will take for the next two decades. At the turn of the millennium, Microsoft responds to Sony for the first time, breaking the Japanese dominance in the console field with the XBox.
Taking advantage of its experience in the PC field with DirectX, the Windows company takes the throne of Sony's challenger by ousting a Nintendo that, however, with the Game Cube does not stop trying. Meanwhile, Sony has already launched the PlayStation 2 on the market, which places DVD as the new standard of support, as it prepares to enter the portable market with PSP, to challenge the Game Boys.
The new consoles push the market, which however reaches the levels of 94 only in 2004. To mark the point of no return, the moment in which the videogame market will never stop growing, is the release of World of Warcraft. It is the dawn of a new era, the era of the internet and mass gaming.
The era of mass gaming (2004-present)
Massive Multiplayer Online, not only a type of game, among the most popular at the dawn of the internet age, but perhaps also the three words that best describe the evolution of the market from 2004 onwards. Wow is just the first step, followed two years later by the seventh generation of consoles. Massive for the amount of people involved, never seen before. Multiplayer for the slow but steady success of this type of games to the detriment of the single player e Online, for the very close link that the network and video games will develop in these sixteen years.
While Xbox 360 and PS3 definitely open up to the internet (which Microsoft with Live and the first Xbox had already anticipated), Nintendo manages to overturn the market once again doing what no one imagined. The release of the Wii it is epochal, comparable only to that of the first PlayStation. A console that disengages from the competition on graphics and processors, gives players rough motion controls, and against all odds, it breaks through.
Video games really enter every home. The entertainment that Wii offers is simple, straightforward, bypasses generational barriers and definitively clears the hobby. The following year comes the consecration of mobile gaming, which with the release iPhone begins its unstoppable rise, closely linked to the spread of smartphones. Thus, while Angry Birds is depopulating on everyone's phones, a new revolution takes place on PC: the colonist of a Mod of a strategy game popularizes the MOBA genre, and with it the free to play supported by in-game transactions. League of Legends redefines the PC market, which the following year is invested by the release of Minecraft.
This is the moment when it explodes the Let's Play phenomenon, which popularize casual gaming on YouTube, while Twitch takes its first steps. In 2011 the eighth generation begins, which will see the debut in 2013 of the Sony and Microsoft, anticipated by the WiiU.
During this era the graph shows a slight contraction of the console market, due to both the lack of innovation and the failure of the Nintendo console. The resumption for this segment will only begin with the release of Switch, another incredible marketing move by the Kyoto-based company.
But what really makes the market grow is the explosion of mobile games, that cannibalize the portable market in a few years and with an exponential growth bring the turnover to levels unimaginable only a few years earlier.
50 tumultuous years
The conclusions we can draw from looking at this graph can help us orient ourselves in the world of video games. An unstable market, extremely susceptible to both marketing and technological innovation, made even more unpredictable at a relatively young age.
The first 50 years of our hobby were definitely tumultuous, and what lies ahead does not promise change in the short term. There are many unknowns. How much will the mobile market hold up at these levels? Will consoles be supplanted by cloud gaming? Will VR succeed or will it remain a luxury for a few? And what role will PCs play in the future?
The only certainty seems to be the role that the internet has carved out for itself in this ecosystem. Not only indispensable in the way it has integrated with multiplayer, but now almost monopolistic in the distribution of video games, whose physical copies are only collector's items.
So let's get ready for other big changes, because this seems to be the nature of the video game market. Not just a continuous technological evolution, but a constant mutation of media, tastes, genres and people.