History of Retro Gaming

In recent years, FIRST has implemented themes into the creation of each game, adding an element of intrigue and relatability. Spectators have watched teams try to invade a medieval-style castle (in 2016’s FIRST Stronghold) and power an airship to give it the power of flight (in 2017’s steampunk-inspired FIRST Steamworks). With power-ups and robots that climb to face the boss, it is easy to see how this year’s FRC game, FIRST Power Up is based on classic retro video games.
While a comprehensive knowledge of video game history isn’t required to be successful at the game, just as one didn’t need to have to know everything about Medieval or Steampunk eras, it does make the novelty of the video game theme make more sense to non-gamers. Despite being around since the 1940s, most video games were almost exclusively played at places such as university computer labs. This changed in 1972 with Atari’s Pong, the first commercially successful video game. A success from the start, Pong made Atari the king of video games. Atari later expanded its video game empire with the Atari 2600, the most popular video game console during its release. Video games quickly gained in popularity with arcades popping up on street corners and home consoles appearing in many living rooms across the U.S. However, in the early to mid-1980s the home console video game industry crashed due to an oversaturation of the market.  Industry revenues dropped by 97% in just over two years – from $3.2 billion in 1983 to only $100 million in 1985.
Arcade games did not lose sales to home consoles during the late 1970s and early 1980s and were unaffected by the Crash of 1983. A popular arcade game at the time was Donkey Kong, which seems to have influenced the game pieces in FIRST Power Up.  This game was released by Nintendo, a Japanese company looking to succeed in America. They did this with Donkey Kong and continued to expand their library with the arcade game Mario Bros. However, during the 1990s, arcade games declined in popularity, with only a few popular games remaining, such as Mortal Kombat.  Currently, arcade games represent only a small portion of the overall video game industry.
Following the decline of the home console industry in 1985, Nintendo took steps to gain market shares in the empty space that the home console left, with the release of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), their Japanese console, the Famicom.  The NES became massively popular and soon revived the video game industry across North America. Its successor was the SNES, which competed with a console called the Sega Genesis. Sega was (and still is) a Japanese game company. One of Sega’s earliest noticeable entries into the video game market was the Sega Master System. This console was a success in Europe, Australia New Zealand, and Brazil. However, due to its failure in some of the largest video game markets- Japan and the United States- the consoles were not very successful; Its successor, the Genesis, was. The Genesis proved to many that a non-Nintendo console could succeed, as the NES was the only successful console of its era. This success led to the release of the Sony PlayStation in 1995, which competed with the Nintendo 64 and the Sega Saturn. The PlayStation crushed both consoles in sales, selling over 100 million consoles, more than triple that of the N64 and 10 times the Saturn’s sales.
Today, the video game industry continues to evolve and change with games on mobile devices taking the place of home consoles. Yet the stereotypical game that many non-gamers mentally picture is one that has not been popular for three decades- the arcade game. From the rise of the arcade games in the 1970s to today’s industry titan of mobile gaming, the video game industry continues to move further away from arcade games. Despite this change, FIRST Power Up still returns to the golden age of arcade games and makes a modern, real-life version of the beloved games of old.