Nowadays we are used to the concept that PC’s can dwarf our consoles; however, it has not always been that way. After the 1983 video game crash PC’s picked up some of the slack until consoles would later pick the industry up leaving PC’s in the shadow again. In the early 90’s, while Sega and Nintendo were in the heat of battle, meaningful progress would be made in computer technology that would allow PC’s to again come out of the shadows into an era where the concept of “multimedia” was blooming.
Firstly, we had the advent of affordable sound cards in the form of Creative Labs’ Sound Blaster. This ushered in a new age of possibilities for video games. The epic tracks that we take for granted today were often non-existent up to this point. A cheesy “pew-pew-pew” could even have been considered a luxury if you weren’t used to sound effects. Now you could create audio on a whole new level. In an audio-visual medium having access to quality audio was necessary to be competitive.
The next step was the invention and implementation of CD-ROMs, whose vastly increased storage size allowed for an increase in games’ scope. Early CD-ROM games often used live-action video footage to make up for the lack of power to emulate quality graphics. Sadly, these live-action bits were often of poor-quality, utilizing little to none of the filming techniques or high-end recording equipment seen in Hollywood, but rather coming across as an indie film. In spite of a somewhat rough start it became the technology of the future going on to power games, music albums and movies.
The last step is the answer to the equation: how do you penetrate a market that is locked down by the consoles? The answer is found at id software who used shareware, like many companies, to sell their games. id software released Wolfenstein 3D with the shareware model that gave away a part of the game for free allowing you to purchase the full product by mail-in. The subsequent release of Doom, which just turned 20, not only unveiled the potential of the First-Person shooter genre, but also proved the viability of using shareware to sell your game.
Taken together these 3 inventions added audio to the audio-visual equation. Increased the storage capacity to help fulfill the extra space needed for the audio and overall increased the potential for what a game could constitute. And expanded the PC sector through the proven success of Doom’s shareware business model, which was only possible because of the spread of the internet.