The role of the fan in the video game industry is changing. When video games first emerged, software companies were making all kinds of games hoping that they would find an audience in arcades. Students tried to adapt things they liked into games on college mainframe computers (often doing so unbeknownst the school). Home consoles would try to capture the arcade audience in the home. Home computers would try to get more sales by including games on occasion as well. These audiences quickly caused fandoms to form for varying reasons. The video game industry is booming and the fanbases, some of which were established more than 30 or 40 years ago, are only growing: as fans from the early generations get older, new people keep joining the fandoms as they discover "classic" video games: the games that have stood the test of time and hold standards or establish trends that the industry aims for or repeatedly utilize. Now the industry has reached a point where fan appeal is critical. Does this mean that the fans are able to direct the actions of developers and publishers? Do publishers rely on repeating trends to appeal to their fans? Is the industry lacking innovation or are the fans too disorganized to agree on what they want? These are questions worth asking because their answers determine the direction the industry will move.
A Galaga arcade cabinet.

Arcade Machines

The origin of video gaming itself is not as important in this case as the origins of the franchises that fandoms formed around. With some games it started in the arcades (Pac-Man) and with others it was at home (Super Mario Bros.). Usually the fandoms started with people trying to get better at a game that they liked. There were also competitive roots that allowed fanbases to grow. In those days, fandom appeal was not focused on as heavily as it is now. There were no established franchises to be held as standards or cornerstones of game design. In the arcades people played what looked interesting. The goal of American arcade cabinet design was to make something that looked appealing at first glance, with each game usually getting its own custom cabinet designs (which made them expensive). In the late Seventies, arcade machines were everywhere in the United States. The first generation of consoles came out in 1972 with the Magnavox Odyssey, a year after Pong enjoyed its widespread arcade success.


A notable instance of fandom is in 1971, when students at MIT created the Star Trek arcade game on a mainframe computer. It was eventually ported to arcade hardware by students. Other Star Trek games were also produced on mainframe computers (using characters from the TV show) but did not get ported to arcades.

Another notable instance of fandom is in 1975, when the the first modern text adventure (Adventure) and the first (and second) computer role-playing games (Dungeon and dnd were made at roughly the same time but on different computer systems in different schools), were created on mainframe computers by students. Text adventures are now a niche genre, with a very tight-knit fan following. Dungeon and dnd were a unlicensed adaptations of the new Dungeons & Dragons RPG, and Dungeon was the first game to take the concept of "line of sight" into consideration through top-down maps of an area, taking into account variables like obstacles, light and darkness, and racial differences.

There are many other student contributions to early videogaming, such as the first online multiplayer game (Air Warrior) and titles with cult followings (Zork).


With the move to home consoles came more innovation, as console game design did not revolve around the same principals of arcade game design. However, many arcade games were ported to consoles as a sales tactic. Game ownership allowed for a different cost distribution than the arcades, which proved to be more successful here in the States. This allowed fandom to expand outside of the arcade and become more accessible to other consumers. This also allowed for game rentals to flourish, which increased franchise exposure even more. Gaming went through two crashes by this point. In 1977 there was oversaturation of home systems because of obsolete hardware which was a harsh setback for consoles. The second crash in 1983 killed off the North American console industry (at the second generation of consoles) until the sixth console generation. Publishing houses began to appear in the 1980s in the console market and allowed for lower development and publishing costs, which in turn allowed for more innovation in game design.

The Early Industry

Innovation began to skyrocket in the 1980s with increasing game complexity. New genres such as platformers, racing games, maze games, beat 'em ups and many more started to become widespread. Some gaming computers were also developed, such as the Commodore 64, the Apple Macintosh, and the Atari computers. Online gaming also started to emerge with gaming computers. Handheld games got their start with Nintendo's Game & Watch line. Unfortunately, because of the sudden sharp growth of the videogame industry, the quality of videogames was hit hard after a short period. 1983 ended the second console generation with its video game crash.

Nintendo revived the console market in 1985 with the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), starting the third console generation and Nintendo's dominance of console video games in North America and Japan. The Sega Master System dominated in Europe, South America, and Australia but also had a presence in the U.S. The fourth generation in 1990 was a more even playing field for Nintendo and Sega with the creation of Sega's mascot Sonic the Hedgehog. The time when Nintendo and SEGA directly competed with each other is referred to colloquially by video game fans as the Console Wars (but not because of them being the only presences in the console market), and both of these companies have a lasting impression on the industry to this day both in game design and in their own company fanbases.

This is when many of the modern fandoms were established. Company loyalties, franchise fandoms, and genre fandoms became more prevalent as video games were accepted as a mainstream form of entertainment in the 90s. The companies made games to compete with each other and the fans loved the results of the competition.

The Industry Now

Fanbase appeal has a more vital role in the video game industry now. Fandom activity seems to have recently spiked, and new marketing techniques target specific fans to be more successful. Now, many games are cross-platform titles. This means that a company can develop a game and allow it to run on multiple consoles. This garners more sales but also ends with less competition and thus a reduced quality of games. Additionally, this past year (2012) has not been a good year for video games, with titles that fans have been demanding either not showing up (Mega Man Legends 3) or leaving fans disappointed (Mass Effect 3, The Old Republic, and the PS Vita launch). Company fanbases are still present however and game companies seem less focused on competing with each other directly and opt to attempt to cater to the fans, with varying degrees of success. This brings many questions into the foreground, such as if fans can actually affect game development with this development structure (proven possible by Double Fine's Kickstarter and the Mega Man Legends 3 Project), if they will be ignored, or any number of possibilities. There can be parallels drawn between the video game industry and other media industries, however. Literature is going through several fandom situations similar to this, and film development is also going through a phase in fandom. More study should be directed towards marketing methods utilized, effective ways for fans to communicate with developers, and what actually appeals to different fanbases.

Many Mega Man fans' response to Capcom's recent actions.
The protest to Mass Effect 3's massively disappointing ending was fans sending hundreds of cupcakes to Bioware.