In the years of our fathers (or grandfathers, for the particularly young ones), electronic gaming was pretty much a niche interest reserved for the more socially awkward and unpopular kids and kids at heart. The industry was small, comprising of a handful of companies like Atari, and a few ragtag programmers who made games for computers that weren’t primarily game stations (PCs and Apple computers).
We look at things now, and it’s a multi-billion dollar global industry, with production and marketing budgets reaching levels that used to be reserved only for TV, movie or musical entertainment. Within this all-encompassing realm, there are many ecosystems of gaming, revolving mainly around the hardware and operating system platform that these games exist on.
This little article should serve as a very rudimentary guide to the previously uninitiated in this multi-faceted realm: folks from pre-information age generations, those who were previously uninterested but now driven to know more, and people who just woke up from a deep coma or were freshly thawed out from a centuries-old iceberg.
Arguably the mother of all electronic gaming, this in itself is a very multi-aspected ecosystem that involves playing games in what is known as a personal computer. It spans platforms like the Apple Computer and its descendents, the Commodore/Amiga computers, and the most proliferate of all, the Windows-based PC space.
Once a guilty diversion from what computers are supposed to be made for (the serious, non-fun stuff), more developmental energies are focused on gaming than it ever was, with literally hundreds of thousands of artists and engineers of all stripes employed in this industry. As mentioned before, it is one of the foremost forms of electronic gaming, giving birth to consoles and other more advanced electronic gaming devices available today.
Games on the personal computer are perhaps the most varied, with single-player, local area network based multiplayer, and massively multiplayer online models of gaming, all still well-represented today. Genres as just as varied, and it is safe to say that the PC market is the primary test bed of most paradigms of gameplay (with a few notable exceptions, and those were initiated in the console space).
This is the “TV game” ecosystem of electronic gaming, with legendary names such as Atari, Sega, Nintendo, and Sony dominate alongside the somewhat less-successful brands (PC Engine, 3DO, etc.). It mainly comprises of the paradigm of plugging a console unit to a television set or monitor, pop the cartridge/disc into the console, and playing the game with controllers that are connected to the console (in more advanced models, wirelessly).
These gaming consoles are essentially closed and proprietary computer systems, with hardware and software companies who wish to create a product for the respective console getting into an arrangement with the console’s manufacturer. In contrast to personal computer gaming, it requires little or no knowledge in the other aspects of computer operation (software installation, complexed hardware configuration, etc.), so it’s easy to get started in console gaming.
While it could be considered a subset of the appliance consoles, portables are often all-in-one packages with the screen, controller, and the console itself are all integrated, and that in itself justifies having its own category. The Nintendo Game Boy and Playstation Portable series of portable consoles have been leading brands in this branch of electronic gaming for many years now.
There are games made especially for these portables, and since electronics are always becoming more compact, it is very common to see that games that were made and released for older, larger consoles are made to work in their more compact descendents.
Smartphone and Tablet
Games have already been included even in the most basic digital cellular phones in the past, but smartphone and tablet gaming has taken off quite nicely, enjoying a large user base and revolving primarily around the two large smartphone and tablet operating systems that are dominant in today’s market, Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS.
This is probably the fastest-growing of all gaming realms, which is no surprise given that smartphones are tablets are dominating the computing and communication space, poised to replace the personal computer form factor as the most dominant consumer computer platform in our modern world.
The Hybrids and Convergent Technologies
In essence, all of these platforms are computers, and there is a continuous trend of having multiple hardware platforms operating with common operating systems, increasing compatibility between these different ecosystems. In recent years, for example, most gaming appliance consoles were basically spun off the basic design of the personal computer, usually utilizing very compact form factors like Mini ITX (which are also used in other appliance-type electronic devices like network-attached storage, broadband routers, and others).
New products like Valve’s Steambox, and even the most recent iterations of Sony and Microsoft’s consoles, are becoming much more than appliance consoles, and have incorporated the functionality of personal computers as well. Gaming systems based on smartphone technologies like the Ouya, Shield, and MOJO are also coming out, blurring the barriers between consoles and the smartphones.
Given these trends, it won’t take long before just about every piece of software, game or not, can run off one or two operating system platforms that can run off more than one hardware base. For now, the best bet for any gamer is to just stick to one to three platforms, depending on their disposable income, and enjoy electronic gaming in its many forms. Happy gaming!
Stacey Thompson is a professional writer, marketer, entrepreneur, and a lover of weird little animals. She is based in San Diego, California, and is a gamer in the PC, Playstation, and Android spheres of electronic gaming. Stacey and her friends keep a blog, Word Baristas.