How Did ’80s Video Game Consoles Change the Industry?


In the late 1970s, video games were just beginning to catch people’s attention. Most games were found in arcades, and home gaming was a new idea. But in the 1980s, something big happened that changed games forever. This was the era when video game consoles for the home really took off. These consoles weren’t just a new kind of toy; they started a whole new way to play and think about games.

The 1980s brought us famous consoles like the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and the Sega Master System. They moved gaming from the arcade to the living room. This change wasn’t just about where we played games, but it also brought new kinds of games that we could never have imagined before. Characters like Mario and Sonic became famous, and games became a big part of pop culture.

But, what was really happening was a groundbreaking event of laying the foundation of modern day video gaming consoles. How? We’ll learn more about this in today’s blog!

Early ’80s Video Game Landscape

In the early 1980s, the video game industry was vibrant, primarily centered around arcade games. These arcade games were a significant business in the US, generating $5 billion in revenue annually by 1981. The popularity of video games during this period also began to influence other media like films and music. However, this golden era of arcade games led to an oversaturated market, with many companies jumping into the fray, which would eventually contribute to the industry’s collapse in 1983.

The 1980s: A Decade of Video Game Revolution

There were several video game consoles that got popular in the 80s.

Atari 2600: The Trailblazer

The Atari 2600, first released in 1977, remained a significant player in the video game industry throughout the 1980s. It was a pioneer in home gaming, introducing the concept of interchangeable game cartridges and joysticks. This console brought the excitement of arcade games into the living room, with classic titles like “Space Invaders,” “Pac-Man,” and “Pitfall!” capturing the imagination of players.

Nintendo Entertainment System (NES): Reviving the Industry

1985 saw the introduction of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), a console that played a crucial role in reviving the video game industry after the 1983 crash. Known for its advanced graphics and sound capabilities, the NES was instrumental in elevating storytelling in games. It launched iconic franchises such as “Super Mario Bros.,” “The Legend of Zelda,” and “Metroid,” which have become synonymous with video gaming itself.

Nintendo Entertainment System

Sega Master System: A Strong Contender

The Sega Master System, launched in 1986, might not have reached the heights of the NES in North America but it found significant success in Europe and Brazil. It stood out for its superior graphics and sound, offering a rich gaming experience. The console is remembered for titles like “Sonic the Hedgehog,” “Alex Kidd in Miracle World,” and the RPG classic “Phantasy Star.”

Game Boy: Revolutionizing Handheld Gaming

In 1989, Nintendo changed the gaming landscape yet again with the release of the Game Boy. This handheld gaming device popularized gaming on the go, a concept that was novel at the time. Its portability, combined with a strong game library including “Tetris,” “Pokémon Red and Blue,” and “Super Mario Land,” made it a huge success.

The Shift from Arcade to Home Gaming Experiences

This era witnessed a significant shift from arcade to home gaming. The video game crash of 1983, caused by an oversaturated game console market and a surplus of low-quality games, led to the bankruptcy of several home computer and video game console companies. However, the industry began to recover with the introduction of the NES in the United States. The NES, with its superior 8-bit graphics and sound, along with iconic franchises like Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda, played a crucial role in reviving the home gaming industry.

The introduction of these consoles and the shift towards home gaming marked the beginning of a new era in the video game industry and they were thought to be some of the best gadgets of 1980s. The focus on home gaming consoles opened up new opportunities for storytelling and gameplay innovation, setting the stage for the rich and diverse gaming landscape we see today.

Technological Innovations and Game Design

The 1980s were a period of significant technological innovation in video game consoles, leading to a transformative impact on the gaming industry. The early part of the decade was still dominated by second-generation consoles like the Atari 2600, introduced in 1977, which featured interchangeable game cartridges, joysticks, and multi-colored games. However, the true technological leap occurred with the advent of third-generation consoles.

Attari 2600

In 1983, the third generation of video game consoles began, offering significantly improved 2D graphics and sound compared to earlier generations. This era was marked by the introduction of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in 1985, which revitalized the home console market in North America after the video game crash of 1983. The NES was known for its storytelling capabilities on a home console, a feature more commonly associated with computer games at the time.

Impact on Game Design

These technological advancements had a profound impact on game design. The improved graphics and sound capabilities of consoles like the NES allowed for more complex and visually appealing games. This era saw the creation of iconic video game franchises like Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, and Metroid by Nintendo. The ability to create more detailed and engaging game worlds led to an expansion in the variety and depth of games available, attracting a wider audience to video gaming.

Additionally, the rise of third-party game developers, pioneered by companies like Activision in the late 1970s, further diversified the types of games available on these consoles. This period saw the introduction of long-lasting franchises from third-party developers, including Capcom’s Mega Man, Konami’s Castlevania, Square’s Final Fantasy, and Enix’s Dragon Quest.

Handheld Gaming

In 1989, another significant innovation was introduced by Nintendo – handheld gaming. The release of the Nintendo Game Boy, an 8-bit handheld gaming device, along with the highly popular game Tetris, popularized gaming on the go. This development opened up a new frontier in the gaming world, allowing players to enjoy their favorite games anywhere.

How Did ’80s Video Game Consoles Change the Industry?

The 1980s marked a significant shift in the gaming industry, moving from arcade-centric gaming to a focus on home entertainment. Consoles like the Atari 2600, despite facing a downfall during the video game crash of 1983, had already set the stage for home gaming. 

The introduction of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and the Sega Master System further solidified this trend. These consoles brought arcade-like experiences into living rooms, fundamentally changing how games were consumed and perceived.

Establishing Industry Standards

The 1980s were crucial in establishing standards and practices in the gaming industry. After the video game crash, which was partly caused by an oversaturated market with poor quality games, Nintendo implemented strict quality control measures and licensing agreements with the NES. 

This approach ensured a steady stream of high-quality games and rebuilt consumer trust in video gaming. The concept of third-party game development, which began with companies like Activision, also became more structured and legitimate.

Technological Innovations

This decade was marked by notable technological innovations. The shift to 8-bit graphics with consoles like the NES and the Sega Master System allowed for more detailed and vibrant game worlds, paving the way for more complex and engaging gameplay. 

Sega Master System

Additionally, the introduction of portable gaming with the Game Boy revolutionized gaming, making it a flexible and mobile form of entertainment.

Expanding Gaming Demographics

The 1980s saw an expansion in the gaming demographic. Initially considered a niche hobby or children’s pastime, video gaming began to reach a broader audience. 

With diverse game titles and genres, gaming started to appeal to various age groups and interests, laying the foundation for the diverse gaming community we see today.

Cultural and Societal Influence

Video games in the 1980s transcended beyond being mere entertainment devices. They influenced popular culture and became a significant part of media representation. Arcades, a hallmark of this era, became social gathering spots, influencing urban culture and social interactions. 

Video games also began to feature in movies and television, reflecting their growing importance in everyday life.

Setting the Stage for Future Developments

The advancements and changes in the 1980s set the stage for future developments in the gaming industry. The technological progress, combined with lessons learned from the market crash, guided future console design and game development. 

The era’s emphasis on storytelling, character development, and immersive experiences became a standard for future games.

Final Words

Be it PS5 or Xbox Series S, both have the foundation of gaming consoles that were released in the 1980s. The 1980s were a groundbreaking period for the gaming industry, marked by major technological advancements, the rise of iconic gaming franchises, and a significant cultural shift. This era transformed video gaming from a niche hobby to a mainstream form of entertainment, influencing not just the games themselves but also the societal perception of gaming. The innovations and standards set during the 1980s continue to shape the modern gaming landscape, proving the decade’s lasting impact on the industry​​​​​​​​​​.

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