An Edge ten

Look­ing across 300 is­sues’ worth of videogame evo­lu­tion, what are the ten most im­por­tant in­no­va­tions of our time?


Min­ing 23 years for the most im­por­tant in­no­va­tions of our time

The thou­sands of pages that have been printed in Edge’s first 300 is­sues have doc­u­mented great change. Screen­shots show game worlds and char­ac­ters steadily evolv­ing from an­gu­lar planes of colour to nu­anced places and peo­ple, while ti­tles and edi­to­ri­als de­pict the rise and fall of trends, gen­res and com­pa­nies. These in­cre­men­tal pro­cesses are con­stant, but it’s also pos­si­ble to iden­tify in­di­vid­ual mo­ments dur­ing Edge’s life­time that have lead to last­ing steps for­ward.

It’s of­ten hard to judge these mo­ments at the time they hap­pen. Take Wii. For a few brief years it was the bright­est light in the in­dus­try, a piece of hard­ware that seemed to have rewrit­ten the rules of con­trol and have fi­nally opened videogames into the true main­stream. Pro­duc­ing su­perla­tive soft­ware and mar­ket­ing it with laser vi­sion, Nin­tendo grew grat­i­fy­ingly fat and rich on Wii’s for­tunes, but look­ing back at it to­day, did Wii re­ally change any­thing? Watch­ing their pur­chases gather dust un­der the TV, a lot of those new play­ers likely didn’t buy another con­sole, and mo­tion con­trols have been gen­tly for­got­ten out­side of VR. And un­der all that thun­der, qui­eter, more sig­nif­i­cant things were hap­pen­ing.

Here is our take on the ten things in Edge’s 300-issue story to date that have done most to shape the present – and pos­si­ble fu­ture – of videogames.

PlayS­ta­tion (De­cem­ber 1994) It was in­spired by a de­sire for re­venge on Nin­tendo and de­vel­oped inside a cor­po­ra­tion that broadly de­spised the idea of stoop­ing to make some­thing as base as videogames. And yet Sony’s PlayS­ta­tion rein­vented the in­dus­try with a per­fect com­bi­na­tion of hard­ware, soft­ware, busi­ness strat­egy and mar­ket­ing. Sony’s en­try to the in­dus­try was Ken Ku­turagi’s tri­umph, equipped with a CD-ROM drive and 3D ca­pa­bil­i­ties that beat prac­ti­cal ex­pec­ta­tions when they were be­ing de­signed and kept the con­sole rel­e­vant for years to come. Sony Com­puter En­ter­tain­ment pitched videogames to an older, more so­phis­ti­cated au­di­ence than ever, a gen­er­a­tion that had grown up with Nin­tendo and Sega and was ready for more. It ditched mas­cots in favour of strong life­style state­ments through music and graphic de­sign, while be­hind the scenes it opened up the con­sole mar­ket to de­vel­op­ers, pav­ing the way for a vast and var­ied li­brary of soft­ware by ditch­ing pro­hib­i­tive de­vel­op­ment li­cences and glacial car­tridge pro­duc­tion. PlayS­ta­tion rein­vented the con­sole, en­cour­ag­ing risk-tak­ing and am­bi­tion that car­ried videogames into a new era.

Su­per Mario 64 (June 1996) Su­per Mario 64 stole the at­ten­tion of a gen­er­a­tion when it emerged in 1996. Not just be­cause it was a launch game for a con­sole but also be­cause it was the mo­ment games fully grasped a new di­men­sion of play. Su­per Mario 64 trans­fixed the world with vi­brant pre­sen­ta­tion and imag­i­na­tive worlds filled with sur­prises and di­verse chal­lenges, and which re­sponded to play­ers’ ev­ery in­ter­ac­tion. Un­til then, 3D games hadn’t man­aged to fully con­nect play­ers with vir­tual worlds to ex­plore, labour­ing un­der awk­ward con­trols and re­stric­tive move­ment. But Su­per Mario 64 solved them with de­signs that have been cribbed from and reused ever since. It mapped 360 de­grees of move­ment to the N64 con­troller’s ana­logue stick, giv­ing Mario un­par­al­leled ex­pres­sion through move­ment; it un­der­stood the sig­nif­i­cance of the cam­era, as­sign­ing it a char­ac­ter, and the player con­trol over it. And yet, de­spite be­ing un­der­pinned by pro­found in­ven­tion, Mario 64 is trea­sured for its invit­ing pol­ish and colour. It was the mo­ment the third di­men­sion be­came a play­ground.

It un­der­stood the sig­nif­i­cance of the cam­era, as­sign­ing it a char­ac­ter, and the player con­trol over it

Dual Ana­log (April 1997) The mod­ern game con­troller mono­lithic: four face but­tons on the right, D-pad, shoul­der but­tons, and two joy­sticks. Its stan­dard­i­s­a­tion is such that to­day it’s hard to think that it could be any­thing dif­fer­ent, but the ’90s was a pe­riod of many ex­per­i­ments into ana­logue con­trol, from Namco’s NeG­con to Nin­tendo’s N64 con­troller. Then, in 1997, Sony re­leased a de­sign fea­tur­ing two iden­ti­cal joy­sticks, first in the form of the Dual Ana­log, with its con­cave-tipped sticks, and six months later, the DualShock, which re­fined the de­sign and added rum­ble. Games didn’t im­me­di­ately ex­ploit Dual Ana­log’s flex­i­bil­ity, but over time,

across FPS, plat­form­ers, driv­ing games and many other gen­res, they learned its strengths and weak­nesses, and con­sis­tent con­trol schemes emerged that be­came the way you play to­day. From Wii Re­mote to Steam Con­troller, at­tempts have been made to counter is­sues with Dual Ana­log’s com­plex­ity of but­tons and pre­ci­sion, but none have dis­lodged its fun­da­men­tal de­sign. The stan­dards and stric­tures of Dual Ana­log’s in­puts con­tinue to shape game de­sign. What would play be like with­out it?

Xbox Live (Novem­ber 2002)

It took a cor­po­ra­tion of Mi­crosoft’s struc­ture – sys­tems-led, re­source-rich, strat­egy-heavy – to build the model for a uni­fied on­line gam­ing net­work. With Xbox Live came a sys­tem­a­tised ap­proach to on­line play: a sin­gle user­name across all games, friends lists, voice chat and down­load­able con­tent. It took some pluck on Mi­crosoft’s part, re­quir­ing that users had ac­cess to broad­band, which lacked pen­e­tra­tion at the time, and de­mand­ing that the Xbox hard­ware came equipped with a then-vast 8GB hard drive to en­sure there was space to store data. But this risk en­sured Live had value from the off, value on which Mi­crosoft has built ever since. Live be­gan to truly find its stride with Halo 2, which built an in­ter­face to on­line play that all would fol­low: a lobby sys­tem, an easy way to in­vite your friends to play, and most im­por­tantly match­mak­ing. No longer would play­ers have to set up and host games and hope other play­ers could find them. Xbox Live had brought on­line play to the masses.

World Of War­craft (Novem­ber 2004)

EverQuest had paved the way for the mas­sively mul­ti­player on­line game, but for all its pop­u­lar­ity it didn’t cre­ate a cul­ture in the way that World Of War­craft did.

WOW was the mo­ment the MMORPG broke from cu­rio to phe­nom­e­non, a shift that led to sto­ries of young Hol­ly­wood ex­ecs con­duct­ing busi­ness meet­ings not on the golf course but in the Hills­brad Foothills, and ma­jor news fea­tures about Chi­nese gold farm­ers. Even its memes – re­mem­ber 2005’s Leeroy Jenk­ins? – broke the con­scious­ness of the wider world.

World Of War­craft raised a genre into such aware­ness that it of­ten seemed to eclipse the tra­di­tional videogame. And per­haps it re­ally did. It hooked a player­base of so­cial di­ver­sity in terms of age, gen­der, na­tion­al­ity and even eco­nomic back­ground that games have rarely man­aged – at least not as dis­cernibly. The wider in­dus­try, rush­ing to em­u­late its ca­pac­ity to cap­ture play­ers’ time and pas­sion, soon ap­pro­pri­ated its lan­guage of lev­el­ling, quest-givers, raids, cooldowns and ‘de­liver me 7 Plain­strider Feath­ers’, in­fus­ing it into all gen­res – both for bet­ter and worse.

Steam (Novem­ber 2004)

When Steam was launched in 2003, it was as a plat­form for keep­ing Valve’s games up­dated and se­cure against piracy and hack­ing. Then it was one of a num­ber of ser­vices de­signed to tame the in­creas­ingly tan­gled sprawl of mods, patches and ram­pant piracy that was build­ing up around PC games. But Steam al­ways had the am­bi­tion of be­ing PC gam­ing’s store­front. Now it plays a cen­tral role in the in­dus­try, a so­cial and com­mer­cial be­he­moth that writes the rule­book on on­line store­front and com­mu­nity de­sign, with a player­base num­ber­ing in the mil­lions. It was in Novem­ber 2004, with Half-Life 2 mak­ing Steam an oblig­a­tory in­stall, that it fully burst into play­ers’ con­scious­nesses. Ever since, Valve has ap­plied its vi­sion­ary cus­tomer-cen­tric phi­los­o­phy to Steam. Its evolv­ing fea­tures and poli­cies are of­ten con­tro­ver­sial, whether sales, user re­views or Green­light, but they’ve a knack of be­ing copied by other store­fronts, and have led to Steam serv­ing equally play­ers, big games, niche in­ter­ests and bur­geon­ing left­field cre­ativ­ity to make PC the vi­brant plat­form it is to­day.

YouTube (April 2005)

Most first ex­pe­ri­ences of a videogame to­day are from watch­ing video play­ing in a web browser. Whether it’s trail­ers, Let’s Plays or streams, web video has changed the way games are mar­keted, how they’re de­signed and how they’re played, to such a de­gree that shar­ing video of game­play is now built into con­soles and video-card driv­ers. From the first video that was up­loaded to it in 2005, it took YouTube sev­eral years to fully spark its revolution, but it now makes le­git­i­mate stars of its video mak­ers. The way they present games – scream­ing to hor­ror se­quences, tor­tur­ing rag­dolls, show­cas­ing mods, com­men­tat­ing tour­na­ment play – has shaped for­tunes and en­tire gen­res, mak­ing mas­sive suc­cesses of what once would have been deemed niche ti­tles, such as Goat

Live be­gan to truly find its stride with Halo 2, which built an in­ter­face to on­line play that all would fol­low

Sim­u­la­tor, and ram­shackle doo­dles, such as Roblox cre­ations. Video has explicitly en­cour­aged the growth of open-ended videogames which al­low play­ers to ex­press them­selves by shar­ing thou­sands of hours of footage. It might be fac­ing pres­sure from the likes of Twitch, but YouTube re­mains the leader of the form.

Xbox 360 (Novem­ber 2005)

Xbox 360 tran­scended a dis­as­ter that would’ve killed lesser con­soles. The Red Ring Of Death cost Mi­crosoft over a bil­lion dol­lars, a ma­jor hard­ware de­fect in a ma­chine that was oth­er­wise per­fect for its time – as well as the eight years that fol­lowed. Like Xbox, 360’s hard­ware was straight­for­ward for de­vel­op­ers to work with, al­low­ing them to un­lock its power quickly and yet with enough over­head that even at the end of the cy­cle, games for 360 could just about hold a can­dle to their PC coun­ter­parts. 360 in­tro­duced con­soles to HD (well, 720p), as well as free down­load­able firmware up­dates which al­lowed it to be moulded to the needs of its time. Ma­jor fea­tures and ser­vices were added, as well as a dash­board re­design that re­seated it as an on­line mul­ti­me­dia de­vice. Xbox Live Ar­cade and In­die Games, mean­while, opened the con­sole to small and in­die de­vel­op­ers, ar­guably kick­start­ing the in­die revolution. These last­ing achieve­ments – not to men­tion Achieve­ments, and wire­less con­trollers as stan­dard – are why Red Rings are a foot­note in the 360 story, not its head­line.

Minecraft (May 2009)

It took just five years for Minecraft to grow from tin­ker­ings shared on TIGSource to a global en­ter­prise that was ac­quired by Mi­crosoft for $2.5 bil­lion. Along the way, the game founded the ca­reers of YouTube celebri­ties, started suc­cess­ful mul­ti­player net­works, and opened the eyes of a gen­er­a­tion to the plea­sures of videogames. Its ge­nius is in how it sat­is­fies the mind and synapses at ev­ery level. At first, the raw thrill of sur­viv­ing a night. Then, the dis­cov­ery of di­a­monds that mean build­ing a Nether por­tal is within reach. Later, the painstak­ing cre­ation of a red­stone com­puter or a city with your friends. Still later, the re­lease of a full mod that builds on the core game. Through a lens of open-ended cre­ativ­ity, of find­ing your own way through a prac­ti­cally in­fi­nite world of ad­ven­ture,

Minecraft has forged new ex­pec­ta­tions for what videogames can and should be, as well as helped teach its play­ers how to make games them­selves. We’ve yet to see the true fruits of what this gen­er­a­tion will make, but it’s sure to be in­spi­ra­tional.

iPhone 3GS (June 2009)

Nin­tendo’s DS trail­blazed touch con­trols, but they found their true call­ing on iPhone. Nokia’s Snake is one of the most-played mo­bile games of all time, but it took iPhone to make a cul­tural phe­nom­e­non out of this type of hand­held play. The first iPhone’s in­di­vid­ual com­po­nents weren’t by them­selves rev­o­lu­tion­ary, but the way Ap­ple brought to­gether and re­fined them led to a prod­uct that ab­so­lutely was. With the re­lease of iPhone 3GS in 2009 came the open­ing of the App Store, which al­lowed any de­vel­oper to re­lease games on a plat­form with a bur­geon­ing user­base, a play­ground for in­ter­ac­tion de­sign and ex­cel­lent 70/30 busi­ness terms. IPhone made mo­bile the largest mar­ket for videogames. It’s where all kinds of peo­ple play and where all kinds of games live, in­clud­ing ex­per­i­ments into mo­bile’s unique fea­tures – con­nec­tiv­ity, lo­ca­tion, so­cial in­ter­ac­tion and video imag­ing – as well as mon­eti­sa­tion tech­niques. To­day, only the strong­est could sur­vive on the App Store if it wasn’t for Ap­ple’s taste­ful cu­ra­tion of no­table re­leases. Such are the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties for build­ing some­thing trans­for­ma­tive.

The fea­tures that ex­ist within the Minecraft uni­verse are po­tent in them­selves, but the game’s in­flu­ence on the wider world shouldn’t be un­der­es­ti­mated: to­day, you can’t move on PC for games of­fer­ing DIY el­e­ments

Ap­ple’s iPhone 3GS and Mi­crosoft’s Xbox 360 were both out­stand­ing pieces of hard­ware, but their soft­ware ecosys­tems de­serve much credit, too

YouTube is of­ten be­moaned for giv­ing a plat­form to screech­ing mo­rons, but look harder and you’ll find great game-fo­cused chan­nels such as Mark Brown’s ab­sorb­ing Game Maker’s Tool­kit (above)

Halo 2, Half-Life 2 and WorldOf War­craft all made use of on­line con­nec­tiv­ity in game-chang­ing ways

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