The videogame industry is a young business that’s jam-packed with passionate innovators, controversial law suites, and fans that will continue to come back for more. Steven Kent spent years conducting hundreds of interviews to preserve the history of our hobby and presents it in an easy to read format, The Ultimate History of Videogames.
This book has existed for a while, so I’m not going to go too deep on the contents, but to tell you that if you haven’t read it you should probably do so. The book starts with the amusement game business in the early 1900s and progresses to the launch of the PlayStation 2. You’ll learn that a lot of big companies like Sega existed well before videogames were a thing. Readers won’t get a lot of insight on as much industry drama as I would have hoped (totally grazes over Nintendo fucking over Sony on the creation of the “Nintendo PlayStation”), but the book is mostly written from the perspective of the men and women who built this crazy business, with quotes and insights broken up by context from the author.
Kent hits the basics, nerds launch some consoles, Chuck E. Cheese, nerds get billions, industry crash, Nintendo saves the industry, Sega is successful for a console cycle, the government gets pissed off at videogames, Sony says “what’s up”, and finally the millennium. It goes into more depth than that, but you get the idea. You won’t get any deep insight to what makes Miyamoto tick, but you’ll learn some motivations and the business end of virtually every major event in the game industry. Any big-name that played a role before the millennium that you can think of has plentiful quotes in the book to shed some light on whatever even they were involved in. No major figure seems to be missing.
Possibly the most powerful element of the book for me personally, was putting in perspective of how young the videogame industry is. A mere forty years ago, no one knew what a “videogame” was. Now, videogames are cemented in popular culture and outperforming Hollywood and other popular culture in a lot of ways. A team of 4 men in a garage could create a masterpiece; now most videogames involved hundreds of talented individuals and millions of dollars to create. Just 15 years ago we had a lot of old people on capital hill yelling, “Videogames are the devil and cause kids to conduct mass-murder”. Well, not literally, but you get my point.
Looking back at the past, the failed consoles and weird business decisions like how Sega dealt with the Genesis and the Saturn shine a bright light on the game industry has had a lot of growing pains over the years but has matured and grown much faster than virtually any other form of entertainment. The release of the original PlayStation and N64 were when videogames outgrew their infancy, and studios began to think tactically about how to conduct business and present themselves to the public. I feel like now, with the current generation, videogames finally found their footing in American culture.
The book ends with the announcement of the original Xbox. It’s crazy how much this industry and gaming has changed since then. Entire genres have come and gone and the way we consume videogames is entirely different. I tip my hat to forty years of interactive entertainment and forty more years of an ever-changing medium.