The input device normally used to manipulate video games is called a game controller, which varies across platforms. For instance, a dedicated console controller might consist of only a button and a joystick, or feature a dozen buttons and one or more joysticks. Early personal computer based games historically relied on the availability of a keyboard for gameplay, or more commonly, required the user to purchase a separate joystick with at least one button to play. Many modern computer games allow the player to use a keyboard and mouse simultaneously.
Beyond the common element of visual feedback, video games have utilized other systems to provide interaction and information to the player. Chief examples of these are sound reproduction devices, such as speakers and headphones, and an array of haptic peripherals, such as vibration or force feedback.
The formative years of video games consist of basic games that made use of interactive electronic devices with various display formats. The earliest example was in 1947, where the idea for a "Cathode Ray Tube Amusement Device" was conceived by Thomas T. Goldsmith Jr. and Estle Ray Mann. The two filed for a patent on January 25, 1947, which was issued on December 14, 1948 as U.S. Patent 2455992. Inspired by radar displays, it consisted of an analog device that allowed a user to control a vector drawn dot on the screen to simulate a missile being fired at targets represented by drawings fixed to the screen. Other examples included the NIMROD computer at the 1951 Festival of Britain, Alexander S. Douglas's OXO for the EDSAC in 1952, William Higinbotham's interactive game called Tennis for Two in 1958, and MIT students Martin Graetz, Steve Russell, and Wayne Wiitanen's Spacewar! on a DEC PDP-1 computer in 1961. Each game used different means of display: NIMROD used a panel of lights to play the game of Nim, OXO used a graphical display to play tic-tac-toe, Tennis for Two used an oscilloscope to display a side view of a tennis court, and Spacewar! used the DEC PDP-1's vector display to have two spaceships battle each other.
In 1971, Computer Space, created by Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney, was the first commercially sold, coin-operated video game. For its display it used a black-and-white television and the computer system was a state machine made of 74 series TTL chips. The game was featured in the 1973 science fiction film Soylent Green. Computer Space was followed in 1972 by the Magnavox Odyssey, the first home console. Modeled after a late 1960s prototype console developed by Ralph H. Baer called the "Brown Box", it also used a standard television and game generated video signal. These systems were followed by two versions of Atari's Pong; an arcade version in 1972 and a home version in 1975. The commercial success of Pong led other companies to develop numerous Pong-clones and their own systems, spawning the video game industry.
In common use a "PC game" refers to a form of media that involves a player interacting with a personal computer connected to a high-resolution video monitor. A "console game" is played on a specialized electronic device that connects to a standard television set or composite video monitor. A "handheld" gaming device is a self contained electronic device that is portable and can be held in a user's hands. "Arcade game" generally refers to a game played on an even more specialized type of electronic device that is typically designed to play only one game and is encased in a special cabinet. These distinctions are not always clear and there may be games that bridge one or more platforms. There are also platforms that have non video game variations such as in the case of electro-mechanically based arcade machines. There are also devices with screens which have the ability to play games but are not dedicated video game machines. Examples are mobile phones, PDAs, graphing calculators, GPS receivers, MP3 players, digital cameras, and watches.
In the early days of the industry, it was more common for a single person to manage all of the roles needed to create a video game. As platforms have become more complex and powerful in the type of material they can present, larger teams have been needed to generate all of the art, programming, cinematography, and more. This is not to say that the age of the "one-man shop" is gone as this still occurs in the casual gaming and handheld markets where single screen games are more prevalent due to technical limitations of the target platform (such as cellphones and PDAs).
With the growth of the size of development teams in the industry the problem of cost has become more critical then ever. Development studios need to be able to pay their staff a competitive wage in order to attract and retain the best talent, while publishers are constantly on the look to keep costs down in order to maintain profitability on their investment. Typically, a video game console development team can range in sizes of anywhere from 5 to 50 people, with some teams exceeding 100. The growth of team size combined with greater pressures to get completed projects into the market to begin recouping production costs has led to a greater occurrence of missed deadlines and unfinished products; Duke Nukem Forever is the quintessential example of these problems.
Ludologists break sharply and radically from this. They argue that a video game is first and foremost a game, which must be understood in terms of its rules, interface, and the concept of play that it deploys. Espen J. Aarseth argues that, although games certainly have plots, characters, and aspects of traditional narratives, these aspects are incidental to gameplay. For example, Aarseth is critical of the widespread attention that narrativists have given to the curvaceous heroine of the game Tomb Raider, saying that "the dimensions of Lara Croft's body, already analyzed to death by film theorists, are irrelevant to me as a player, because a different-looking body would not make me play differently... When I play, I don't even see her body, but see through it and past it. Simply put, ludologists reject traditional theories of art because they claim that the artistic and socially relevant qualities of a video game are primarily determined by the underlying set of rules, demands, and expectations imposed on the player.
The November 2005 Nielsen Active Gamer Study, taking a survey of 2,000 regular gamers, found that the U.S. games market is diversifying. The age group among male players has expanded significantly into the 25-40 age group. For casual online puzzle-style and simple mobile cell phone games, the gender divide is more or less equal between males and females. Females have been shown to be significantly attracted to playing certain online multi-user video games that offer a more communal experience, and small amount of young females have been shown to play aggressive games that are sometimes thought of as being "traditionally male" games. According to the ESRB almost 41% of PC gamers are women. With such video game social networks as Miss Video Game and Guild Cafe having a large percentages of female gamers, the "traditionally male" games are now considered cross-gendered.
When comparing today’s industry climate with that of 20 years ago, women and many adults are more inclined to be using products in the industry. While the market for teen and young adult men is still a strong market, it’s the other demographics which are posting significant growth. In 2008, the average American gamer has been playing for 12 years, and is now, on average, 35 years of age .
Since then, most consoles have been shipped with two or four controller inputs. Some have had the ability to expand to four, eight or as many as twelve inputs with additional adapters, such as the Multitap. Multiplayer arcade games typically feature play for two to four players.
Many early computer games for non-PC descendant based platforms featured multiplayer support. Personal computer systems from Atari and Commodore both regularly featured at least two game ports. PC-based computer games started with a lower availability of multiplayer options because of technical limitations. PCs typically had either one or no game ports at all. Network games for these early personal computers were generally limited to only text based adventures or MUDs that were played remotely on a dedicated server. This was due both to the slow speed of modems (300-1200-bit/s), and the prohibitive cost involved with putting a computer online in such a way where multiple visitors could make use of it. However, with the advent of widespread local area networking technologies and Internet based online capabilities, the number of players in modern games can be 32 or higher, sometimes featuring integrated text and/or voice chat. MMOs can offer extremely high numbers of simultaneous players; Eve Online set a record with just under 36,000 players on a single server in 2006.
It has been shown that action video game players have better visuomotor skills, such as their resistance to distraction, their sensitivity to information in peripheral vision, and their ability to count briefly presented objects than nonplayers. They found that such enhanced abilities could be acquired by training with an action game, involving challenges to switch attention to different locations, but not with a game requiring concentration on single objects.
As a form of multimedia entertainment, modern video games contain a unique synthesis of 3D art, CG effects, architecture, artificial intelligence, sound effects, dramatic performances, music, storytelling, and, most importantly, interactivity. This interactivity enables the player to explore environments that range from simulated reality to stylized, artistic expressions (something no other form of entertainment can allow) where the actions of the player operating as a single, irreducible variable. In this respect, every game scenario will play out a slightly different way every time. Even if the game is highly scripted, this can still feel like a large amount of freedom to the person who is playing the game.
A related property is that of emergent behavior. While many games including card games and sports rely on emergent principles, video games commonly present simulated story worlds where emergent behavior occurs within the context of the game. This is something that some gamers find appealing as it introduces a certain level of randomness to a game. The term "emergent narrative" has been used to describe how, in a simulated environment, storyline can be created simply by "what happens to the player. Emergent behavior is not limited to sophisticated games, however- generally any place where event driven instructions occur for AI in a game, emergent behavior will inevitably exist. For instance, take a racing game in which cars are programmed to avoid crashing, and they encounter an obstacle in the track: the cars might then maneuver to avoid the obstacle causing the cars behind them to slow and/or maneuver to accommodate the cars in front of them and the obstacle. The programmer never wrote code to specifically create a traffic jam, yet one now exists in the game.
In Steven Johnson's book, Everything Bad Is Good For You, he argues that video games in fact demand far more from a player than traditional games like Monopoly. To experience the game, the player must first determine the objectives, as well as how to complete them. They must then learn the game controls and how the human-machine interface works, including menus and HUDs. Beyond such skills, which after some time become quite fundamental and are taken for granted by many gamers, video games are based upon the player navigating (and eventually mastering) a highly complex system with many variables. This requires a strong analytical ability, as well as flexibility and adaptability. He argues that the process of learning the boundaries, goals, and controls of a given game is often a highly demanding one that calls on many different areas of cognitive function. Indeed, most games require a great deal of patience and focus from the player, and, contrary to the popular perception that games provide instant gratification, games actually delay gratification far longer than other forms of entertainment such as film or even many books. Some research suggests video games may even increase players' attention capacities.
Learning principles found in video games have been identified as possible techniques with which to reform the U.S. education system. It has been noticed that gamers adopt an attitude while playing that is of such high concentration, they don't realize they're learning- and that if the same attitude could be adopted at school, education would enjoy significant benefits.
Online multiplayer games provide players with the opportunity to compete in real time with other players from across the globe over the internet. MMORPGs build on this concept with the establishment of vast, online communities existing in persistent virtual worlds. Millions of players around the globe are attracted to video gaming simply because it offers such unprecedented ability to interact with large numbers of people engaged simultaneously in a structured environment where they are all involved in the same activity.
Even simple games offer potential benefits to the player. Games like Tetris and Pac-Man or Galaga are well-designed games that are easy to pick up but difficult to master, much like chess or poker. Despite their simplicity, simple games may also feature online capabilities or powerful AI. Depending on the game, players can develop and test their techniques against an advanced computer player or online against other human players.
According to research discussed at the 2008 Convention of the American Psychological Association, certain types of video games can improve the gamers’ dexterity as well as their ability to problem-solve. A study of 33 laparoscopic surgeons found that those who played video games were 27 percent faster at advanced surgical procedures and made 37 percent fewer errors compared to those who did not play video games. A second study of 303 laparoscopic surgeons (82 percent men; 18 percent women) also showed that surgeons who played video games requiring spatial skills and hand dexterity and then performed a drill testing these skills were significantly faster at their first attempt and across all 10 trials than the surgeons who did not play the video games first.
Historically, this type of controversy and criticism is not unique to video games. The same situation has been applied to comic books, motion pictures, dancing and to some extent music and books. As long ago as the nineteenth century, similar accusations were made about "penny dreadfuls". Moreover, it appears to be a question of age. Since these art forms have been around longer, the backlash against them occurred further in the past, beyond the remembrance of today's youth. In both cases, the attempts at censorship in the United States were struck down as a violation of First Amendment rights, and they have gone on to become fully integrated facets of society. An organization known as the Entertainment Software Ratings Board or ESRB rates software for certain age groups; however, publishers are not required to submit games for ratings, and parents are not always aware of the existence of these ratings.
The three largest producers of and markets for computer and video games (in order) are North America (US and Canada), Japan and the United Kingdom. Other significant markets include Australia, Spain, Germany, South Korea, Mexico, France and Italy. Both India and China are considered emerging markets in the video game industry and sales are expected to rise significantly in the coming years.
Sales of different types of games vary widely between these markets due to local preferences. Japanese consumers tend to purchase console games over computer games, with a strong preference for games catering to local tastes. In South Korea, computer games are preferred, especially MMORPG games and real-time strategy games; there are over 20,000 PC bang Internet cafés where computer games can be played for an hourly charge.
The NPD Group tracks computer and video game sales in the United States. It reported that:
Also note that PC games that are digitally distributed either directly or by distribution networks such as Steam are not tracked by the NPD, and Steam does not list sales numbers for games downloaded through their service. Software piracy is also more rampant on the PC.
These figures are sales in dollars, not units; unit shipments for each category were higher than the dollar sales numbers indicate, as more software and hardware was sold at reduced prices compared to 2003. However, with the release of the next-generation consoles in 2006, these numbers have increased dramatically. The game and film industries are also becoming increasingly intertwined, with companies like Sony having significant stakes in both. A large number of summer blockbuster films spawn a companion game, often launching at the same time to share the marketing costs.
There is also controversy relating video games in Australia and other PAL regions. In general when compared to the US, PAL gamers have to pay up to 40% to 50% more. More of a problem in Australia is where games are constantly delayed for no apparent reason, most notably games released by Nintendo. As English is the main language in the Australian region there is no need for any translation and the complications of differences between the PAL and NTSC video formats are not existent, as the majority of video displays in Australia are fully capable of running at a 60 Hz format. There is also the problem of regional lockout in Australia, with most DVD players release coming region free in order to comply with local laws, but video game consoles are still sold fully region locked. Some efforts to increase awareness of the issue, specifically to Nintendo of Australia, was in the form of a formal report outlining the issues, published by Aaron Rex Davies. The report has gone on to gain a lot of attention in the public media.