Steve Jobs: The Unlikely Videogame Innovator
The accomplishments of Apple founder Steve Jobs, who died on the 5 October, are many and encompass an incredible range of media industries. And in the past 35 years, the man’s work has had a profoundly influential effect on videogames despite Apple never intentionally entering the business.
Steve Jobs, co-founder and chairman of Apple Inc, Disney board member, former chief executive of Pixar Animation, husband and father of four, died 5 October 2011 aged 56, after several years battling pancreatic cancer. Passing away just one day after the unveiling of iPhone 4S, iOS 5 and the scarily intelligent voice recognition/life management/robo-butler software Siri, Steve Jobs left the world amid the sound of typically excitable chatter about Apple’s continuing impact on technology, entertainment and communication. Jobs, and the company he co-founded, has had a profound effect on the world, particularly in the past decade following the creation of the iPod, but games™ would like to celebrate the man’s life by acknowledging his often overlooked influence on the world of videogames.
On the surface, Jobs and Apple have always operated on the periphery of the games industry, more associated with music and productivity software than our pastime of choice, but look a little closer and it’s clear to see that the history of games would be very different indeed without Steve Jobs.
Jobs’ on-and-off relationship with videogames began at the age of 21 when Atari, looking to create a sequel to Pong, came up with the idea for Breakout and commissioned one of its technicians, Jobs, to design the arcade hardware. Ever conscious of hardware manufacturing costs, Atari founder Nolan Bushnell told Jobs that he would receive a $100 bonus for every chip he was able to eliminate from the circuit board’s design. A shrewd businessman even then, Jobs sub-contracted the task to his friend and colleague Steve Wozniak, who was able to reduce the number of chips by 50 in just four days.
Breakout went on to be one of Atari’s earliest and greatest success stories, is now one of the most copied videogames of all time, and was a direct influence on Space Invaders – the game that kick-started the Japanese games industry. Without Jobs, Breakout may never have been made, and without Breakout the entire history of videogames would be unrecognisable today.
That same year, Jobs, Wozniak and fellow Atari employee Ronald Wayne left to form Apple and began work on their first Apple computer under the promise of an order for 50 units from a local computer shop. Only 200 units of the Apple I were produced in the end, but it was the Apple II that catapulted Job’s company toward the towering success it would become. Released in 1977 and iterated on for five years, it was one of the most popular home computers of its time. And though purely a money-making exercise for Jobs, it did have a considerable impact on the games industry, helping to establish the bedroom programming phenomenon that would see individual hobbyists build up their own business empires within the field of videogames. Long-running and important series like Wizardry, Ultima and Lode Runner all got their start on the Apple II, as did less important but equally brilliant productions like games™ favourite Shufflepuck Café.
This indirect, but not inconsequential, influence on the games industry is a running theme throughout Apple history, and is perhaps best exemplified by the success of Bungie. Founded in 1991, Bungie cut its teeth on Apple’s Macintosh computer and produced cult hits like Marathon and Myth for the system before moving on to its magnum opus, Halo. Originally intended as a Mac release, Halo was so good that it caught the attention of Microsoft, which, eager for a killer launch title for its forthcoming Xbox games console, snapped up the game and its studio. A landmark FPS, Halo made the Xbox a must-have console from day one and turned yet another home computer company into a games industry power player.