Although the first video game can be disputed, the first serious title was Pong (1972) – a very basic 2D version of table tennis by Atari.
This spawned the launch of arcade machines, which would appear in shopping malls, bars and bowling alleys the world over.
It still took five years or so for other games to hit with the same gravitas, but momentum began to build with the arrivals of Space Invaders (1978), Pac-Man (1980) and Donkey Kong (1981).
The majority of games today are multiplayer titles that can be played repeatedly with or against other players.
Initially, multiplayer games were confined to players competing on the same screen. That changed with Empire (1973), a strategic game for up to eight players created by PLATO (Programmed Logic for Automatic Teaching Operation).
The following year, Spasim (1974) arrived, enabling 32 players to battle it out in the space-shooter, considered to be the first 3D multiplayer game.
Things became more interesting in the 90s, thanks to Doom (1993), which was a pioneering first-person shooter (FPS) series. It was supported by LAN (Local Area Network) for up to four players.
Growth in the space during this period is best highlighted through Ubisoft, which only started in the 1980s to diversify as a support business for farmers. Within a decade, the company had gone from CD audio media, to producing smash hit Rayman (1995), one of the best-selling PlayStation games of all time, selling 4 million copies.
It wasn’t until the arrival of the Sega Dreamcast, the first internet-ready console, that real advances were made in online gaming as we now know it.
Ironically, the Dreamcast was a failure. The cost of using the PlanetWeb browser was huge – and it brought the end of Sega’s line of consoles. PC gaming was booming, and it turns out the Dreamcast was ahead of its time.
Xbox, and the arrival of Xbox Live, was perhaps the most significant step into how we play games online today. The online gaming service enabled players to play with and against other players – fitting perfectly for the incredibly popular Halo and Call of Duty series.
By the time the Xbox 360 and Sony’s PlayStation 3 arrived, internet speeds were now reliable enough to support online play, and there was the option to connect via WiFi. In 2010, Xbox Live had 25 million members, whilst PlayStation Network (which was free) had over 50 million.
“Gaming has so often been painted with the wrong brush – stereotyped as being isolating and unsociable. However, the pandemic has shown this could not be further from the truth.”
Bartosz Skwarczek, co-founder and CEO of online gaming marketplace G2A.com
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It didn’t take long for PlayStation to follow Xbox’s paid online model with the launch of PS Plus in 2010. This not only allowed players to play online, but also granted them two free games each month with their subscription.
Xbox Live provided something similar with “Games with Gold” – but they brought in a new model in 2017 with Xbox Game Pass.
This was a different subscription, that included Xbox Live Gold membership, but also a full catalogue of free titles – similar to the options that Netflix subscribers would get with their options of TV shows and movies. Like Netflix, titles come and go from the platform to keep players subscribed.
Up to the present – and with a console war between Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 amid the pandemic – Sony realised it had to do something to give people more of a reason to chose their console over Xbox.
In terms of gameplay – PS5 was to offer exclusive games on the best console, whereas Xbox haven’t made any games exclusive to the Series X – they are still playable on the Series S and previous Xbox One console, with just varied levels of performance.
For hardcore gamers, PlayStation was winning but they still needed to compete with Xbox Game Pass – which had gone from strength to strength. The arrival of the PS5 saw the “PS Plus Collection”, a set catalogue of games of PS4 classic titles.
For previous Xbox players, this game them the opportunity to play many exclusive titles they had missed out on.
Fast forward to 2022, and with those initial PS4 titles now feeling out of date, Sony altered their offering, removing the PS Plus Collection and offering various tiers of PS Plus to give gamers a full catalogue of titles.
Many game publishers offer their own subscription service, with Ubisoft+, EA Play and even Apple Arcade for iOS devices enabling players to play a range of games for a monthly or annual fee.
We are yet to mention some very significant titles that affected the gaming space, so much so that they are currently influencing society.
Of course, there were a few titles that Fortnite (2017) took inspiration from. Open world games were nothing new, and even the concept of a battle royale had been done before, but combining these elements in a modifiable world is what has pushed it above the rest.
Fortnite has all the components to be successful:
- Free to play
- Online multiplayer in which you can compete in solos, duos, trios or teams
- Micro-transactions for in-game items
- Seasonal changes, both in map & in-game items
- Placements for brands to collaborate
That final point, utilising Fortnite as a marketing platform for brands, has been an absolute game changer. Gamers have 100% focus in-game (whereas when watching TV you can be distracted by your phone or other people), making modifiable worlds like Fortnite a fantastic destination for marketers.
One of the first examples of this was the Infinity Gauntlet Limited Time Mode (LTM) in 2018, which saw a collaboration with blockbuster movie Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War. With comics and gaming have a strong cross-over audience, this was a great example of an intrinsic brand placing themselves within a brand.
Fortnite has also had collaborations with NFL, John Wick, Stranger Things, Air Jordan and DC Comics to name but a few, as well as hosting in-game concerts for Marshmello, Major Lazer, Ariana Grande and Travis Scott.
Those concerts may gained traction due the pandemic, but their successes after – and the meeting of the digital and physical – shows the potential of platforms like Fortnite.
Travis Scott racked up 12.3 million live viewers in Fortnite, and Elton John recently produced his own world in Roblox, enabling online users to feel a part of his final ever tour, and providing an opportunity for younger fans to experience his music.
Even non-open world games have seen collaborations, with even EA Sports FIFA partnering with Marvel and Adidas, as well as charitable organisations like Stonewall or the Premier League’s No No Room For Racism campaign.
Whichever way you look at it, this is the dawn of the metaverse. An online platform for brands to advertise.
Epic Games, developers of Fortnite, raised $2 billion last year to develop its metaverse efforts, suggesting that they may continue to use Fortnite as a testing ground, but still see the metaverse existing on a separate platform.