CBC Digital Archives

Video games: Making millions, 25 cents at a time

In October 1958, physicist William Higinbotham developed Tennis for Two, a basic, monochromatic game played on an oscilloscope. It took almost 20 years before computer games could be produced for consumers. Pac-Man, Space Invaders, Donkey Kong and others captured imaginations, gobbled up quarters and offered an exciting and accessible new pastime. The CBC Digital Archives looks back on the early days of video games in North America and the birth of a cultural phenomenon.

media clip
Escapism has rarely been cheaper or easier than in 1982, thanks to a booming arcade game industry. But is it really so enthralling to pretend to save the world from space invaders or rescue your girlfriend from the clutches of a giant, barrel-chucking ape? Just ask millions of North Americans whose eyes are glued to the screens in video arcades all over the continent. CBC-TV's The Fifth Estate looks at the appeal of these games and the huge profits rolling in from the fanatical following of arcade escapism.
• The smash hit arcade game Space Invaders was first released in Japan in 1978 where the machines ran on 100-Yen coins. According to the book High Score! The Illustrated History of Electronic Games, the game was such an instant and huge hit that the country experienced a temporary shortage of 100-Yen coins as the public stuffed them into machines. The Japanese government quadrupled its production of the coins in order to allay the shortage.
  • In its theatrical run in 1977, Star Wars grossed approximately US $460.9 million, with an average ticket price of US $2.25. Space Invaders made approximately $2 billion dollars in its arcade release, with each game costing 25 cents.

• There are several rumors about the origin of the name Donkey Kong, usually based in a mistranslation from Japanese to English. One version has it that the game's designer Shigeru Miyamoto was trying to find the English word for "dumb" or "stubborn." A Japanese-English dictionary supplied the word "donkey," which he combined with King Kong to create his dumb/stubborn ape Donkey Kong.

Medium: Television
Program: The Fifth Estate
Broadcast Date: Nov. 23, 1982
Guest(s): Ed Bosso, Craig Hubey, Eugene Jarvis
Reporter: Hana Gartner
Duration: 14:22

Last updated: September 18, 2013

Page consulted on July 28, 2014

All Clips from this Topic

Related Content

The Arcade Age

In October 1958, physicist William Higinbotham developed Tennis for Two, a basic, monochromati...

Pornographic game taking heat

A controversial new video game draws fire for its violent sexual content.