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Game On! The Creation of the Video Game Console

December 31, 2014

There’s a keystone in every great invention.

Electronic entertainment comes in many forms, but few media can match the global popularity of video game consoles. These interactive machines engage users by offering boundless diversity; there are several genres of games to choose from, and each game has unique environments to explore and challenges to overcome.

Video game consoles rouse the imagination, much like motion pictures and television, but consoles stand apart because the gamer controls the action. In-game decisions affect the entire experience, providing many gamers with a sense of empowerment, and eventually, accomplishment.

The First Console

The video game console has existed for several decades, and the very first is attributed to German-born American engineer Ralph H. Baer. While working for U.S. defense contractor Sanders Associates in 1966, Baer began cultivating ideas for his console. Baer sought to fully integrate games with television sets, and in his spare time, he developed various prototypes.

Baer’s employer immediately took notice of his prototype. Realizing its potential on the market, Sanders Associates started to support the project, and Baer’s goal finally came to fruition. In 1968, the “brown box” console was born.

To simulate different backgrounds and obstacles, the console utilized clear, plastic overlays that were placed in front of television screens. The brown box featured several games: volleyball, soccer, table tennis, checkers, golf, handball, and target shooting. Baer’s console was licensed to the electronic company Magnavox, where it became the Odyssey.

A New Odyssey of Gaming

The Magnavox Odyssey console was released in 1972. Though it was a groundbreaking invention, the Odyssey had mixed results. Many people thought the console’s marketing campaign was rather ineffective; the Odyssey was sold with dice, play money, and score sheets, similar to many traditional board games. Initially, only around 100,000 units were sold.

Moreover, at the time of Odyssey’s release, $100 was too high a price for many consumers to afford; sales continued to suffer as a result. In fact, sales didn’t pick up until the creation of an arcade game called Pong, developed by Atari Inc. later in 1972.

Pong drew inspiration from the Odyssey’s table tennis game, much to the chagrin of Baer, Sanders Associates, and Magnavox. An infringement lawsuit ensued, and an out-of-court settlement led to Atari becoming a Magnavox licensee. Pong greatly increased consumer interest in the video gaming industry, which gave a huge boost to the Odyssey.

As video game consoles grew in popularity, they became more advanced. Modern era consoles—such as the Sony PlayStation 4 and Microsoft Xbox One—integrate technologies like motion control, digital sound and imaging, and Internet connectivity with minimal effort.

In order to provide gamers with high-level entertainment, video game consoles depend on suitable components. Many Keystone products can be found in video game consoles, including plugs and sockets, test points, tips and probes, Battery Clips, Contacts and Holders, PC Card computer brackets and various hardware & accessories.

After nearly five decades, video game consoles are still among the top electronic devices on the market today. The home console will keep thriving because video games continually inspire new generations of designers, programmers, and innovators. Much like Ralph H. Baer in the 1960s, the video game fans of today seek to progressively change how people interact with the medium.