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A Brief History of Second-Generation Video Game Consoles

After the worldwide success of Atari’s Pong, companies began to realize how profitable home consoles could be. The so-called “golden age” of arcade games also contributed to the genesis of the second generation, as many game developers ported popular arcade games to new consoles. Around 1976, the second generation of video game consoles officially began with the release of the Fairchild Channel F, but the console that would come to dominate the market, and become synonymous with the second generation of consoles, was the Atari 2600.

Featuring revolutionary 8-bit graphics and a vast array of games, the Atari 2600 reinvented the home console. Like other consoles in the second generation, Atari’s new machine utilized ROM cartridges for storing games, allowing multiple games to be played on one console. The second wave of consoles also introduced A.I.-controlled simulation opponents, which allowed for single=player gaming.

To compete with the success oft he Atari 2600, Magnavox released their second-generation console, the Odyssey2, in 1978. Like the Atari, it featured 8-bit graphics, but also came with a built=in keyboard, a unique feature to the console. The Odyssey2 never gained the popularity of the Atari 2600, which dominated the second-generation console market, but Magnavox still enjoyed a smaller market share.

Another major player that arose as a possible challenger to Atari was Mattel’s Intellivision. The Intellivision seemed to pose the most serious threat to overtake Atari, as its graphical and sound capabilities were both superior to that of the 2600. However, the worldwide popularity of arcade games during their golden age was a major factor during the period of second=gen consoles, and ultimately Atari’s exclusive access to most of the arcade game ports kept them selling more units year after year, along with the fact that the 2600 was less expensive than the Intellivision.

Many gaming enthusiasts and pop-culture historians refer to the competition between the Atari 2600, Intellivision and Odyssey 2 as the first true console war. Because home console gaming was still young, developers were constantly searching for new innovations to give them the edge, be it in graphics, sound or controls. Atari’s eight-way joystick controller, which also had one digital button, proved to be the most successful and most frequently imitated controller design, but developers experimented with everything from trackballs to the Odyssey2’s built=in keyboard. Atari ultimately won the first console war by a wide margin, selling 30 million units, while the Intellivision sold 3 million units and the Odyssey2 approximately 2 million.

While Atari was the winner and Mattel and Magnavox claimed much of the rest of the market share, a few other console developers still managed to leave their mark on the second generation. The ColecoVision, released towards the end of the second generation in 1982, featured more advanced graphics and would end up selling nearly as many units as the Odyssey2. There was also the Vectrex, which, although it didn’t sell as well, was the only home system of the time to feature vector graphics and its own, self-contained display. Gaming giant Sega released their first console, the SG-1000, towards the end of the generation. Although it wasn’t particularly successful, and had only limited release outside of Japan, it gave the company experience in console development and would pave the way for Sega’s Master System.

It’s impossible to discuss the second generation of consoles without mentioning the “Video Game Crash,” of 1983. This refers to the sudden decrease in home console sales (although arcade games, still in their golden age, weren’t affected) that was caused by a variety of factors. First of all, the market was oversaturated, with more consoles, games and add-ons than consumers could keep up with. Not only were people unsure of which consoles or products to buy, but stores weren’t sure which ones to carry. Many shopkeepers and investors also viewed home consoles as a fad that wouldn’t last. In addition, the beginning of home computers left investors unsure of which to invest in, home computers or game consoles, and consumers unsure which to buy, as both were expensive.

While the second generation of consoles would never produce a console war as fierce as the Nintendo-Sega wars, or the current competition between Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft, the second generation cemented home consoles as a popular and viable market. Today, these now “retro” games remain popular not only as history, but also among enthusiasts who collect and still play second-generation games, even creating events like RetroGameCon. The second generation of consoles may have had its hiccups and featured far more consoles than was profitable, but it ended up paving the way for the development of future gaming consoles.

About the Author:

Leslie Holden is a passionate gamer, a F.R.I.E.N.D.S. lover, and a Star Wars couch spectator every year.

She is also a Content Writer for GamingReview, where you will find reviews on the latest best games with information on everything you need to know about them and grades for each one.

Image source: DepositPhoto

The Author

Agents of Geek

Agents of Geek

Founded in 2012, AgentsofGeek.com is your source for Geek Culture. We cover the latest in Art, Movies, TV, Video Games and More. We post News, Reviews, Interviews, Trailers and Contests.

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