1981 in video games
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Fueled by the previous year's release of the colorful and appealing Pac-Man, the audience for arcade games in 1981 became much wider. Pac-Man influenced maze games began appearing in arcades and on home systems. Nintendo broke from their mediocre early releases with Donkey Kong which defined the platform genre.
- January - Atari computer magazine ANALOG Computing begins 9 years of publication. Most issues include at least one BASIC game and one machine language game.
- November - The British video game magazine Computer and Video Games (C&VG) starts.
- Winter - Arnie Katz and Bill Kunkel found Electronic Games, the first magazine on video games and generally recognized as the beginning of video game journalism.
- New companies: DK'Tronics, Games by Apollo, Gebelli Software, Imagic, Spectravision, Starpath, Synapse Software
- Defunct: APF Electronics
- The arcade game market in the US generates $4.8 billion in revenue (equivalent to $13.5 billion in 2020).
- The home video game market in the US generates $1 billion in sales revenue (equivalent to $2.81 billion in 2020).
- The home video game market in Europe is worth $200 million (equivalent to $562 million in 2020).
- February, Konami releases Scramble, the first side-scrolling shooter with forced scrolling and multiple distinct levels.
- February, Williams Electronics releases influential scrolling shooter Defender.
- July 9, Nintendo releases Donkey Kong, which introduces the characters of Donkey Kong and Mario, and sets the template for the platformer genre. It is also one of the first video games with an integral storyline.
- September, Namco releases Galaga, the sequel to Galaxian which becomes more popular than the original.
- June, Konami releases Frogger.
- October, Frogger is distributed in North America by Sega-Gremlin.
- October 21, Williams Electronics releases Stargate, the sequel to Defender.
- October, Sega releases Turbo, a racing video game that features a third-person perspective, rear-view racer format.
- October, Rock-Ola's Fantasy is the first game with a continue feature.
- October, Atari Inc. releases Tempest, one of the first games to use Atari's Color-QuadraScan vector display technology. It was also the first game to allow the player to choose their starting level (a system Atari dubbed "SkillStep").
- November, Namco releases Bosconian, a multidirectional shooter with voice.
- December, Jump Bug, the first scrolling platformer, developed by Hoei/Coreland and Alpha Denshi, is distributed in North America by Rock-Ola under license from Sega.
- Midway releases fixed-shooter Gorf with multiple distinct stages.
- Taito releases abstract, twin-stick shooter Space Dungeon.
- Data East releases the vertically-scrolling isometric maze game Treasure Island.
- Atari, Inc.'s port of Asteroids is a major release for the Atari VCS, and is the first game for the system to use bank-switching.
- Mattel releases Utopia for Intellivision, one of the first city construction games and possibly the first sim game for a console.
- June, Ultima is released, beginning a successful computer role-playing game series.
- September, Wizardry for the Apple II is the first in a computer role-playing franchise that eventually spans eight games.
- IBM and Microsoft include the game DONKEY.BAS with the IBM PC, arguably the first IBM PC compatible game.
- Muse Software releases the stealth action adventure Castle Wolfenstein for the Apple II.
- The Atari Program Exchange publishes Caverns of Mars, a vertically scrolling shooter for the Atari 8-bit family, and wargame Eastern Front (1941). APX also sells the source code to Eastern Front.
- Epyx releases turn-based monster game Crush, Crumble and Chomp!.
- BudgeCo's Raster Blaster sparks interest in more realistic Apple II pinball simulations and is the precursor to Pinball Construction Set.
- Infocom releases Zork II: The Wizard of Frobozz.
- July, the Namco Warp & Warp arcade system board is released.
- October, the Sega VCO Object, the first arcade system board dedicated to pseudo-3D, sprite-scaling graphics, is released.
- March 5, Timex releases the Sinclair Research ZX81 in the UK, which is significantly less expensive than other computers on the market.
- June, Texas Instruments releases the TI-99/4A, an update to 1979's TI-99/4.
- August 12, the IBM Personal Computer is released for USD$1,565, with 16K RAM, no disk drives, and 4-color CGA graphics.
- Astrovision distributes the Bally Computer System after buying the rights from Bally/Midway.
- Acorn Computers Ltd releases the BBC Micro home computer.
- Commodore Business Machines releases the Commodore VIC-20 home computer.
- NEC releases the PC-8801 home computer in Japan.
- Coleco Industries releases the Total Control 4 home console.
- Sega test markets the SG-1000 home console in Japan.
- Video Game Myth Busters - Did the "Crash" of 1983/84 Affect Arcades?, The Golden Age Arcade Historian (December 27, 2013)
- George Lucas and the Digital Revolution Archived January 29, 2015, at the Wayback Machine, p. 296, 2006
- http://2600connection.com/library/magazines/spectrum/spectrum_dec82.pdf#page=7 Archived November 7, 2014, at the Wayback Machine
- Game Genres: Shmups[permanent dead link], Professor Jim Whitehead, January 29, 2007, Accessed June 17, 2008
- "donkey kong [coin-op] arcade video game, nintendo co., ltd. (1981)". Arcade-history.com. Retrieved February 28, 2013.