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The Evolution of Online Gaming

Here in 2021, the gaming industry is a massive global super-power. The industry is built from a vast ecosystem of developers, distributors, multimedia companies, manufacturers and distributors. When you consider the fact that computer games were first created as a means to check the efficacy of early devices back in the mid-20th century, the industry has come a long way indeed.  

With gaming set to be dominated by high-tech advancements like cloud gaming and alternative realities, now is the perfect time to look back at the industry’s decades-long development.

The Birth of the Internet  

When the internet was officially created on 1st January 1983, it opened up an entire realm of new possibilities for the burgeoning gaming industry. 

Manufacturers had already begun experimenting with multiplayer gaming throughout the 1970s. However, increased connectivity allowed them to be more ambitious with their releases. In 1987, Atari released the Midi Maze, which utilized this new technology to connect up to 16 consoles, bringing about the “deathmatch” concept.  

It wouldn’t be long before gaming across the internet became possible, with the IP Multicast in 1989, swiftly followed by SEGA’s attempt to capitalize on the emerging market with its Meganet online gaming service and Dreamcast/Saturn NetLink.  

These early attempts at connected gaming may have been elementary, but online gaming was well on the way to the mainstream.

Made for the Internet 

The 90s may have been a period of trials and tribulations for many global industries, but the development of online gaming was significant. This was the decade when computers and consoles were released that were designed specifically for digital gaming.  

Windows ‘95 and the range of affordable Ethernet cards that were launched acted as catalysts for the emerging market, and Nintendo’s add-on for online gaming on the Nintendo 64 created its own milestone events, not least of which was the ability to play Super Smash Bros online.  

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Digital gaming was proving to be commercially viable as more households were going online. This trend was capitalized on further by powerhouse gaming manufacturers like Sony and Microsoft. Sony had already released its internet add-on for the 1994 PlayStation, but in 2001 it launched its PS2 Online service, making games like Final Fantasy XI and Metal Gear Solid 3 available to play online.  

Microsoft, not willing to be outdone, would go on to launch its online gaming service for the Xbox, Xbox Live, a year later. The service generated 100,000 subscriptions within the first two weeks.  

Creating New Genres 

As online video gaming took off at full speed in the noughties, the public’s appetite for innovative gaming experiences would give rise to brand new gaming genres. The advent of online gaming also brought about major changes for other gaming verticals, updating traditional activities like Texas Hold’em for a modern audience. In fact, the emerging online poker market underwent a massive boom in 2003, as aspiring players across the world signed up for gaming platforms following Chris Moneymaker’s surprising win at that year’s World Series of Poker main event. 

It was also only a matter of time and technology before multiplayer online gaming became a global, competitive discipline. A mix of video gaming and the competitive element of sports, eSports is gaming for the 21st century and launched the careers of many a pro gamer. The genre is even creating a globally popular sub-culture of its own, with gamers, aspiring players and content creators driving eSports forward into the mainstream.  

A Mobile Revolution 

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As technology advanced during the second decade of the new Millenium, mobile gaming was about to take over as the new method of online, connected gaming.   

In 2015, mobile gaming wasn’t exactly new. The genre had emerged over time as smartphones and mobile handsets became more sophisticated. A key milestone in the development of mobile gaming as a stand-alone gaming vertical was in 2009, when Angry Birds exploded into the AppStore. However, that was the first year that mobile gaming overtook console gaming in terms of revenue.  

2016’s Pokemon Go, with its captivating mix of virtual geo-caching and augmented reality, would prove just how engaging mobile games could be, changing the way gaming apps generated revenue in the process. Since then, mobile gaming has gone from strength to strength, outperforming both console and PC gaming combined.  

Amazingly, the internet is still very much in its infancy, so we’ve really only scratched the surface in terms of what it can do for gaming and entertainment in general. As the advent of 5G promises to bring about improvements in bandwidth speeds and network latency, particularly across mobile networks, it’s going to be interesting to see how far online gaming will develop over the coming decades. 

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