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The history of computer games and videogames has always been the history of the same phenomenon, even if in some periods this phenomenon was more clearly divided into two separate industries. Probably the two worlds will never be as separated as in the NES era (many will argue that SEGA was producing a better system at the same time, but Nintendo, thanks to one of the most aggressive - many said unfair - and powerful marketing campaigns ever and to high quality software became synonymous of videogames and made Mario as popular as Mickey Mouse) and in the following 16-bit era, in which consoles, after the crisis in the mid Eighties, earned their place as THE easy way to play games in your house.

The Commodore 64 The Atari 2600
The legendary C64.
The video console Atari 2600.

But the two realms, even when separated, have always influenced each other in many ways. In 1984, the success of the first truly affordable home computers like the legendary Commodore 64 was one of the causes of the infamous fall of the newborn videogame industry. Actually, there were other causes, including poor marketing strategies coupled with the amazingly low quality of the software developed for the video consoles. But as a matter of fact, home computers became in United States and Europe - until the release of the Nintendo Entertainment System - the best choice for all those willing to play at home. The Commodore 64 was affordable, more powerful than any console, and used disks and cassette tapes instead of the ROM cartridges of the consoles. Cassette tapes (used more in Europe than in United States) and floppy disks, coupled with the more powerful hardware, let developers create better and more complex games than those available for video consoles. Software piracy (still considered the first enemy of the games industry) became possible - copying disks on a Commodore 64 was as easy as entering a command, while ROM cartridges could not be copied easily. It's undeniable that piracy is a cancer, but a less partisan interpretation of the phenomenon could surprisingly reveal that piracy has often been one of the forces that caused the growth of the computer games industry, a cancer that probably unsurprisingly seems to work in synergy with the other organs of the industry. The possibility to easily copy games that came on disk or on tape was one of the elements that marked the success of home computers over obsolete consoles. Expanding a bit on this concept (and forgetting for a second the criminal side of things) the possibility to copy a game and share it with your friends was one of those things that started to create the aura of 'freedom' surrounding computer gaming that was absent in consoles.

SCEI has learnt also from the personal computer industry the importance of the medium when developing a multimedia system. It's well known that the success of the PlayStation over other consoles has to be found also in the CD-ROM medium used by the system, which made Nintendo's cartridges obsolete and let developers create bigger and better games. The PlayStation CD drive (which was compatible also with Audio and Video CDs) was originally developed by Sony for Nintendo, and ended up becoming one of Sony's strongest weapons against the N64. But SCEI's representatives would probably never confirm that the fact PlayStation games could be easily copied was one of the reasons of the enormous success of the console, especially in certain areas of the world. I've strong doubts this affected software sales at all, and I've strong doubts SCEI, despite all the efforts to stop piracy, didn't take this into consideration when launching their first console.

The N64 The original PlayStation
The N64.
The PlayStation.

And this is just an example of how the same mechanisms influenced the computer games and the video games industry. Nowadays, the two industries coincide more than ever - but it's unlikely that consoles will replace computers or vice versa anytime soon. Computers offer a range of services and a level of customization that consoles, that must be sold at relatively low prices, don't need: a personal computer is always more than a gaming or multimedia machine, but a computer optimized for gaming is a machine able to offer great performance on all kinds of applications. Consoles, on the other hand, need to keep their prices low to have a chance to enter the houses of millions of people around the world - so they will keep on offering only what is necessary to bring entertainment into everybody' s house.



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