Nintendo announced this week that their newest handheld console, the Nintendo 3DS, would debut to a price of $249 dollars when it arrives in late March. It's certainly not cheap, and with it primarily being aimed at younger gamers, it's made us reflect on the historical prices for video game consoles. But is it actually that expensive? Not when you compare it at the cost of different systems throughout history, especially after they've been adjusted for inflation.
In Part One of our look at the Price of a Console, we've gone back to the dawn of video console gaming with the Magnavox Odyssey, and adjusted prices all the way up to the ColecoVision, which was released shortly before the Video Game Crash of 1983 (which should be made into a Michael Bay film). Check back soon for Part Two, where we start with the Nintendo Entertainment System, and work our way up to the Nintendo 3DS.
The one that started it all. Ralph Baer (who also created the Simon electronic game) invented this back in 1968, and it went on sale in 1972 as the first home video game console. It even had a light gun available, although the planned golf peripheral never came out. It used television overlays (yes, you had to actually stick stuff on your television screen) and plug-in circuit cards for games, meaning that everything was already built into the unit.
Cost in 1972: $75
Cost in 2011 dollars: $391
Pong was a video game sensation in bars, and Atari was eager to market a home version. Sears placed an order for 150,000 machines for the 1975 holiday season, and they delivered. Thus was born the first Atari home game system, which looked suspiciously like the Tennis game on the Magnavox Odyssey. In fact, that became the subject of the first video game lawsuit, with Magnavox winning.
Cost in 1975: $98.95
Cost in 2011 dollars: $401
Coleco introduced the moderately successful Telstar in 1976, and over the next two years they would release 14 (!) different versions of the console, including the pictured Coleco Telstar Arcade edition. It came with an embedded driving wheel, a holstered light gun, and used a quickly abandoned triangular cartridge format that popped into the top of the unit.
Cost in 1976: $50
Cost in 2011 dollars: $191
Fairchild Channel F
Also known as the Video Entertainment System or VES, the Fairchild Channel F was the first video game system to use programmable ROM cartridges. With a "hold" switch (which was probably the first ever pause button) and a strange triangularly-capped joystick, the Fairchild sold fairly well and saw 26 huge yellow game carts produced during its lifespan. In 1979 they released the Fairchild Channel F II to compete with the Atari 2600, but it crashed and burned into obscurity.
Cost in 1976: $169.95
Cost in 2011 dollars: $651
The Atari 2600 has had a very colorful history since first being worked on at a think tank as early as 1973. It would go on to become one of the most popular video game consoles of the early gaming generation, with Atari netting $2 billion dollars in 1980. When the game first game out, it wasn't an immediate success, due to the game market already being flooded with Pong clones, but once they licensed Space Invaders from Taito they had an enormous hit on their hands. Although Nolan Bushnell left the company in 1978 (going on to found Chuck E. Cheese's Pizza Time Theaters), Atari continued to great success, and great failure in the video game crash of 1983. The company has had several owners, and is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Infogrames.
Cost in 1976: $199.99
Cost in 2011 dollars: $766
Because every console needs a new version, Magnavox/Philips was released in 1978, and actually used cartridges this time around. Like the original Odyssey, they again tried to fuse board game elements with this machine, particularly with games that came with their own gameboards and playing pieces. The most memorable of these was probably the Tolkien-esque Quest for the Rings!
Cost in 1978: $199
Cost in 2011 dollars: $665
Long before there was the Game Boy, Milton Bradley introduced the first true handheld unit that used interchangeable cartridges. While initially a success, the unit suffered from some production problems, and only eleven titles (including Star Trek: Phaser striker to coincide with Star Trek: The Motion Picture) were released for it. It died a quiet death back in 1981, but not before establishing that there was a market that could sustain a handheld console.
Price in 1979: $49.99
Cost in 2011 dollars: $150
A year after Atari's 2600 console was released, Mattel began working on a competitor. In 1980 they debuted the Intellivision. It was never as big a hit as the 2600, but it did sell very impressive numbers, and was vastly superior to the 2600 in terms of graphics and sound. The unique controllers had overlays that would slide in on top of the buttons, and the Intellivision II eventually even came with a "System Changer" that allowed you to play Atari 2600 games on the unit. Inexplicably, Sears rebadged and sold the unit as the Sears Super Video Arcade, right next to the rebadged Atari 2600 which was the Sears Video Arcade.
Cost in 1980: $299
Cost in 2011 dollars: $791
With the introduction of more video game consoles, Atari faced the most competition from Intellivision for their Atari 2600. So they introduced the more powerful 5200 in 1982, which ended up going head to head with the ColecoVision. It was baed on the existing Atari 400 and 800 computers, but did not have direct software compatibility with those units. It also was not initially backwards compatible with existing Atari 2600 games, which hurt sales. An adapter was released a year later, but it couldn't save this console which only sold a million units over its lifetime.
Cost in 1982: $299
Cost in 2011 dollars: $610
Jay Smith, who also designed the Microvision, was behind Milton Bradley's Vectrex system, which came out in 1982. It used vector-based graphics and screen overlays, and looks fairly awesome every today. The system featured an innovative controller design and an impressive, albeit small, library of games. However, it was doomed as it came out just before before the video game crash of 1983.
Cost in 1982: $199
Cost in 2011 dollars: $450
The followup to Coleco's Telstar unit, ColecoVision was a graphically superior console that offered up a near-perfect replication of the Donkey Kong arcade game that came with the system. In fact, the selling point of the unit was that it could nearly recreate the arcade experience in your home, much to the chagrin of my friend who owned one. I must have played Popeye on that thing a bajillion times. While it initially sold well, the Crash of 1983 affected sales, and the console was discontinued in 1985.
Cost in 1982: $175
Cost in 2011 dollars: $395