The very first mass produced home gaming console came in the form of the Magnavox Odyssey, released in 1972. Up until this time gamers could only experience gaming by taking a trip down to their local arcade armed with a pocket full of spare coins. Granted, the retro gaming graphics look almost laughable compared to XBox or PS games available today, with small squares bouncing around the screen which required a lot of imagination to turn into a game theme. Overlays were used for creating gaming environments on the Magnavox Odyssey that fitted onto your TV screen.
Other gaming consoles began to be produced including the Ping-o-Tronic, Coleco Telstar, Radio Shack TV Scoreboard and many other classics.
The era of ‘Pong’ soon followed with a game called Pong brought out by Atari which was based on the tennis game originally on the Magnavox Odyssey on their Atari 2600. Magnavox tried to sue Atari in the courts over this game as they saw it as a blatant copy of their idea.
With more powerful second generation consoles entering the market and Atari firmly taking control of the market with their Atari 2600 in the 80s, everyone who was capable of making a console was trying their hand at marketing a killer console. Pong clone consoles abounded and there were hundreds of these poor quality mirror console clones flooding the market.
Atari in the 1970s and early 1980s stood firm and kept their lead in the gaming console market by bringing out such iconic games as Space Invaders and Combat. It looked like Atari would be a giant that would be hard to topple. They brought out the Atari 5200 but this console crashed and burned. It was seen as too big and had design flaws. Competition from top quality consoles like the Intellivision and ColecoVision put more pressure on Atari and threatened their lead on the marketplace.
However, the attitude at the time was not on producing quality games in the gaming console market. The approach by gaming console developers was to design a console and just bang out poor quality games with it. At the time the marketing departments were of the opinion that people bought gaming consoles and did not base their reasons for purchasing a particular console on the quality of the library of games. This was a mistake that eventually caused the collapse of the gaming console market in 1983..
The Gaming Console Crash of 1983
People were fed up of poor quality games being churned out and were no longer falling for the creative ad campaigns dreamt up by the marketing departments from game console companies. People just stopped buying gaming consoles and some people said that it was just a phase that had burnt itself out. Atari lost more than 90% of their sales in the crash and gaming consoles were just sitting on the store shelves gathering dust. In fact, most outlets just stopped stocking consoles and lost faith in what was then considered as a fad. Atari had reigned but had made a classic mistake by not focusing on the quality of the games and paid for it dearly. Their were some great game titles out there, but most were just rubbish games churned out for profit.
The Rise of a Giant
A miracle was needed to revive the gaming console market and despite some great consoles being produced, it was Sega who first started to breathe new life into the market with their Sega Master System. However, there was a new leader that entered the market and brought the gaming console market out of its slump with the Famicom . . . Nintendo had arrived and would continue to dominate the market for many years to come. Their NES and SNES (Super Nintendo Entertainment System) won many gamer’s hearts. Sega put up an admirable fight but eventually Nintendo overshadowed Sega, as Sega made some expensive design mistakes. They learnt from their mistakes and brought out the Sega Dreamcast which was a great console, but by then most of their fan base had disappeared, disillusioned by Sega’s failures in the past.
The most interesting era in gaming was between 1772 and the year 2000. Some great consoles were competing with each other and some real classics emerged.
Favourite retro consoles prized by collectors also include the Vectrex, with its original vector display and reliable solid build, the Neo Geo which was expensive but way ahead of its time and all-in-one multimedia entertainment systems such as the CD-i.
Perhaps the most advanced system ever brought out for its time was the Neo Geo. Whilst most gamers couldn’t afford the cost of one of these beasts, the Neo Geo displayed game play capabilities that no one had ever seen up until then. The Neo Geo still has a following of devoted fans to this day.
The Giant Killer
Nintendo were partnered with Sony to produce a CD add-on for their games system. In a shock announcement Sony unveiled their own console project called the ‘PlayStation.’ Sony originally had plans for the PlayStation to be capable of playing SNES games with their partnership with Nintendo. Nintendo turned their noses up at this idea and instead broke their contract with Sony after a series of disagreements.
When Sony released their PlayStation it had problems with overheating issues at first, but Sony fixed this and it did not damage sales of the PlayStation. The PlayStation literally levelled its competitors and took a firm lead on the market. It was not until the XBox was released that Sony had serious competition to go up against.
Classic Console Collecting
Classic console collecting gives you a feeling of nostalgia, playing games that you maybe remember playing when you were a kid. Some people collect for investment, some for the feeling of nostalgia, some for the feeling of belonging to a niche community and some for the fun of retro game play. You can find classic consoles at car boot sales / garage sales and online. If you know what you are looking for you can sometimes pick up a real bargain. Most of all it’s a fun hobby where you can even put together a classic console gaming room, and join with other collectors and enthusiasts online or in your local area.
My favourite retro consoles have to be the Atari 2600, SNES and the Neo Geo. The Atari 2600 for nostalgic reasons as I used to own one as a kid and play Space Invaders for hours on end, the SNES for the huge library and unique game play style, and the Neo Geo because the games are fantastic and the console still looks like an amazing design from the future. What’s your favourite console and why?
Kevin Baker is the author of ‘The Ultimate Guide to Classic Game Consoles‘ – a comprehensive eBook guide for collectors and enthusiasts who love retro consoles.