At century's end, videogames are the next big deal--right now

By EW Staff
Updated November 12, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST

Twenty-five years ago, the words ”multiplayer gaming” meant a heated round of Monopoly played on a broken bridge table, complete with a pitcher of Tang, wood paneling on the rec room walls, and Kiss’ ”Rock and Roll All Nite” on the eight-track. Fast-forward to today: The same phrase means over a thousand players battling one another simultaneously from all corners of the world via the Internet, with photo-realist graphics, Dolby Digital music, and over-the-microphone taunting. Oh, and Monopoly? That’s online too.

Advancements in technology aside, the videogame industry has progressed to the point where it now takes up major acreage in the mainstream pop landscape. We’re living in an age when Tomb Raider‘s certifiably non-real Lara Croft graces the front cover of Playboy, where David Bowie and Yes write original material for game soundtracks (for Eidos’ Omikron and Sierra Studios’ Homeworld, respectively), and where Michael Jordan comes out of retirement to play not on real basketball courts but in EA Sports’ NBA Live 2000.

And the money being made is simply astounding. In a year in which the issue of digital violence attracted massive media and parental concern, the videogame industry was more profitable than ever. According to market research firm the NPD Group, U.S. revenues from the sale of computer and console games, gaming hardware, and ”edutainment” software topped a whopping $7.4 billion in 1998—and are projected to hit $8.6 billion this year. By comparison, the combined box office total for all movies released in the U.S. in 1998 was $6.9 billion. That’s right, folks: Videogames rival Hollywood.

Gaming’s growing dominance can be attributed to a wealth of reasons. On Sept. 9, Sega released the Internet-ready Dreamcast player—which, with $98 million in sales in its first 24 hours, managed to bump The Phantom Menace‘s $28 million May 19 theatrical take way out of the record books. The Nintendo Game Boy has also enjoyed a renaissance this year, thanks to the success of the new Color Game Boy and the ongoing Pokemon phenomenon. Other notable gaming trends have included a wave of inexpensive PC games kicked off by 1998’s Deer Hunter, more creative controllers (pool cues and fishing rods), and massively multiplayer computer role-playing games on the Net (where players have even sold their EverQuest or Ultima Online characters on eBay for real cash).

Expect more frenzy in the next millennium. Huge buzz surrounds the upcoming entrants in the console wars, Sony’s PlayStation2 and Nintendo’s Dolphin project, both scheduled to ship in the fall of 2000. While details on the Dolphin are sketchy, the PS2 will be backward-compatible (you’ll be able to play your old PlayStation games on it)—plus it’ll play DVD movies and offer the ability to download games straight off the Internet. To make matters more interesting, Microsoft is rumored to be getting into the console biz with its as-yet-unannounced X-Box—reportedly slated for fall 2000 as well.

In the meantime, some great new titles are hitting stores in time for the holiday season. Want to see how creative this medium is getting? Turn the page—and let the games begin.