Unveiling Facts About the Most Popular Video Game Genre: The Evolution of First-Person Shooters

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It’s impossible to dispute the appeal of first-person shooters (FPS) video games. In 2020, a Statista study revealed that shooter games were the second most popular genre, with 50.5% of participants saying they had played at least one of these titles in the previous year. Shooter games rose to the top two years later. According to GWI data, the most popular gaming genre in the third quarter of 2022 was shooters, with 57% of consumers reporting that they had played no fewer than one shooter title in the previous 12 months.

In the past ten years, the market for first-person shooter games has likewise consistently grown.

Let’s Describe FPS Games?

A subgenre of action-packed shooter game titles known as first-person shooters is usually focused on first-person point-of-view warfare using guns and other weaponry. These days, video games like Counter-Strike 2, which has maintained its enormous fanbase and popularity over the past ten years and thrived as an eSports (thanks to the huge viewership and money prizes at CS2’s eSports tournaments), or the Call of Duty and Halo franchises, which are massive hits for console and PC, are frequently used as entry points into the world of video games. But why are these games so well-liked?

First-person shooters are the best if you like the rush of firing guns and losing yourself on a virtual battlefield. But FPS games aren’t only for gun freaks; they also test your “gaming instincts”. To win, you’ll need to excel at all three of the following skills: reaction quickness, environmental awareness, and team coordination.

First-Person Shooter Games’ History

FPS games have remained in existence for about half a century. Despite their ups and downs, they’ve virtually always been well-liked.

1970s

When Maze War was built at the NASA Ames Research Center in 1973, it was the first serious effort at a first-person shooter game. Gamers could shoot other players who were popping up while slowly navigating a 3D maze.

Although it didn’t have a particularly impressive appearance, the idea was novel and fresh.

1980s

Arcades were the hub for gaming in the 1980s when FPS games first appeared. Battlezone by Atari was the first of these. In this game, players controlled a deadly assault tank as it traversed a (boring) enemy-filled environment. As a tank, you could rotate, travel in any direction, and blast the nasty guys away! With a first-person perspective and pixelated 3D graphics, Battlezone was the inaugural effective mass-market game (selling about 15,000 copies at the time, which was a lot!). A home computer version was later produced in 1983.

Other titles that bore similarities to first-person shooter games included Gun Buster by Taito and Wizard of Wor by Midway. The former was particularly fascinating since it required you to aim and shoot with a light gun while moving with a joystick. You could even set up a multiplayer deathmatch by networking many cabinets together.

With the introduction of home PCs and consoles, “home gaming” became more popular during this time. There was more freedom to build games for the private gaming market because players no longer had to worry about keeping track of time in their games. Even in the constrained world of FPS games, more creative and immersive methods began to gain traction. The release of Atari’s ST, STE, TT, and Falcon series of personal computers and the growing number of games developed for them served as the catalyst for this.

Hybrid Arts’ 1987 release of MIDI Maze, designed for the Atari SD, was the first real PC first-person shooter. In the game, players transformed into a ball that resembled Pac-Man and were launched into a labyrinth where they could go in any direction and shoot deadly bubbles at other foes that looked similar.

Two aspects were the main components of MIDI Maze that contributed to its fun:

  • Its networking feature allowed up to 16 players to participate in the same maze, but with rather sluggish gameplay most of the time.
  • Users might use a simple text editor to design their own mazes.

The 80s FPS trends:

  • Players were limited to moving from one surface to another and turning in 90-degree intervals in the early first-person shooter games.
  • The majority of these early games were either grid-based or ray-casted; titles such as Wayout rendered the surroundings and wall segments based on the player’s position and facing angles.
  • MIDI Maze was one of the first LAN games ever, but despite the fact its multiplayer mode had a cult following, it would require some time to solidify the concept.

However, the 1990s saw the first-person shooter subgenre undergo a true metamorphosis.

Early 1990s

Id Software is a company that you may be familiar with. They are credited with many of the essential elements of the FPS subgenre. Their resident genius, John Carmack, created inventions that revolutionized the whole game business. In addition to developing the idea of ray casting, which allows the PC to produce only the visible portion of the game world rather than the full one, he worked out how to process 3D graphics just as quickly as 2D ones. This resulted in far faster rendering times.

The original 3D shooter, Wolfenstein 3D, was their debut release. In it, you take on the role of William “B.J.” Blazkowicz, a stern, shotgun-wielding Jewish-American spy who has a taste for murdering Nazis. He was the video game version of John Rambo, the archetypal one-man army that continues to be used today. The game’s faster tempo than any other at the time required players to be on the lookout for opponents at all times. It was a huge smash and, in a sense, brought in a new era of fast-paced first-person shooter games. It also laid the foundation for later industry standards such as complex-level design and weaponry.

Following Wolfenstein’s enormous commercial success, id Software wanted to create something even more amazing—faster, bloodier, and more terrifying. They possessed the technology: they could generate variable-altitude floors and ceilings, render surface textures, and have varying degrees of light and illumination thanks to John Carmack’s ground-breaking engine. Doom, the game that single-handedly revolutionized FPS gaming, was born. There had never before been such excitement for the game. The original FTP server that id Software intended to upload the game to was being accessed by so many users that it was becoming impossible for them to connect, so the administrators had to log out of the system in order to let id Software continue uploading the game. Thirty minutes later, the upload was complete, and 10,000 simultaneous attempts to download the game crashed the network.

In Doom, you take on the role of a space marine engaged in ceaseless combat with demonic foes, each of whom has distinct traits and skills. The soundtrack was visceral, loud, and rapid, which added to the game’s strong atmosphere. Doom was an experience as much as a game. There had never been anything like it, and “Doom addiction” became so severe that, within hours of the game’s debut, university and workplace networks were prohibiting Doom multiplayer games due to the enormous player base overloading their systems.

Since id Software was pleased to license its engine to other businesses, a number of Doom clones, including Heretic from Raven Software, Strife from Rogue, and most famously, Pathways into Darkness from Bungie, started to appear. In the latter, an inventory system was combined with Wolfenstein’s fast-paced shooting and maze running. With the next version from the corporation, you could engage in voice chat over LAN with other Marathoners and utilize two weapons. Another noteworthy aspect of System Shock was its combination of enhanced immersion and a more gripping story.

The early 90s first-person shooter trends:

  • The first FPS games are credited to Wolfenstein 3D, which also established a model for shooter game design that has been used in subsequent games.
  • Doom’s fast-paced gameplay and soundtrack made it one of the most engrossing games ever made at the time, inspiring the creation of other Doom clones.
  • Building on the work done in previous releases like MIDI Maze, the notion of deathmatches—competitive battles between many players—was further expanded in Doom and was the first major multiplayer achievement.
  • In addition, Doom’s graphics were very impressive for the time, featuring adjustable ceiling and floor heights as well as simple lighting effects that were later included in other games.

Late 1990s

Duke Nukem 3D is worth mentioning before we move on to id Software’s upcoming groundbreaking release. It was the maiden first-person shooter to win praise for its intense gameplay, incredibly engaging environments, and way of elevating the protagonist—Duke—by having him speak wisecracks while facing off against aliens.

But John Carmack was working hard. At the time, 3D gaming environments and players couldn’t be rendered simultaneously by computers. Carmack’s game engine, found in their next creation, Quake, was nothing short of groundbreaking. It allowed for the rendering of fully 3D terrain, adversaries, and power-ups with no restrictions on angles, or surface heights, or lengths. Additionally, id Software had recruited Trent Reznor, of Nine Inch Nails, to write the soundtrack for Quake.

Bunny hopping and strafe jumping, which allowed players to move more quickly, in addition to the new “rocket jumping” mechanic, which, on its side, allowed players to exploit the force of reaction from exploding weapons to blast themselves higher, were two of the game’s most inventive and unusual mobility options. It was a huge success. After the QuakeWorld upgrade, Quake also had online multiplayer capabilities. Multiplayer Quake could be deemed one of the first large competitive games and a predecessor to modern-day eSports.

Competitive multiplayer gaming took off: as Internet infrastructure improved, online gaming gained popularity. Unreal Tournament, released by Epic in 1999, was among the earliest FPS games in a multiplayer mode. The main features of the game were LAN and online multiplayer, albeit there was a standalone mode where users could practice versus bots. A few months later in the same year, id Software launched Quake III: Arena. It was a multiplayer first-person shooter as well, with the main gameplay being swift movement and wide arenas.

Rainbow Six and Counter-Strike are two additional games that altered the genre of FPSs. Although they may not be considered the first in their field, they are among the many highly esteemed and well-accepted examples. The former is noteworthy since it was among the first titles of the genre to concentrate on techniques like those of SWAT and Special Forces officers in the real world. It placed the player in these experts’ shoes and mentality, requiring them to strategize their attack, manage their resources, and eliminate opponents with precision (or face an abrupt end).

It avoided the quick run-and-gun gameplay found in Quake and Doom. Originally launched in 1999 as a patch for Half-Life (which we’ll discuss next), Counter-Strike was one of the first widely played multiplayer first-person shooter games with an objective focus that didn’t use a mid-round re-spawn system. This implied that every play you made and every choice you and your fellow players made had greater significance. Its emphasis on efficiency and teamwork made it one of the first mainstream FPS tactical eSports games and is a worthy addition to the canon of all-time greatest video games.

As of right now, the majority of the fundamental elements of the first-person shooter genre have been defined. Upcoming titles will concentrate on refining these elements, increasing immersion, and creating more customized gaming experiences. A 1998 game by Valve called Half-Life serves as an illustration of this. You took on the role of Gordon Freeman, a modest physicist who needs to get out of a lab full of hostile aliens. The game immerses you in a fluid and seamless universe, foregoing cutscenes in favor of telling the tale through the people and the surroundings. It gave players a deep, linear, yet carefully crafted experience that gave FPS games a new market.

Then followed System Shock 2, wherein you had to examine the identity of your foes in a world with dubious morals in addition to using weapons and abilities to gun them down. Ultimately, the current Bioshock series was influenced by the System Shock series. A further significant game from this era is GoldenEye 007, which Rare released in 1997. It was among the greatest titles created especially for Nintendo systems. It demonstrated that first-person shooter games could be played on consoles, and many elements of the game’s design, including its modes and controls, are now seen as essential components of console and PC FPS games to come.

The late 90s first-person shooter trends:

  • With the lead character having the capacity to fly with a jetpack, Duke Nukem and its follow-ups received praise for their dynamic settings and significant improvements to player freedom of movement. It was also well known for the title character, who was designed to be humorous and appealing to gamers.
  • The first FPS game to have fully 3D maps, opponents, and powerups without regard to surface length or angle restrictions was Quake.
  • Along with its emphasis on online play, Quake invented a number of modes for playing that are still in use today in first-person shooter games.
  • LAN parties have become a staple of the gaming community, and Quake was the inspiration behind gatherings like QuakeCon, where gamers compete to prove they are the best.
    With their lack of player re-spawns and cerebral nature compared to Quake, tactical FPS games began to gain traction; e.g. Counter-Strike.
  • A new subgenre of narrative-based first-person shooter games was established by Half-Life, a game that used surroundings and a meticulously planned linear player experience to pioneer several innovations in video game storytelling.

2000s

The success of FPS games with an emphasis on both gameplay mechanics and a rich story was solidified by Half-Life. These kinds of games were widely available in the early 2000s and were typically powered by the Unreal Engine or Quake III engine. Call of Duty and Medal of Honor: Allied Assault are just a couple of these. Following its 2003 release, the latter game was highly praised by critics and took home multiple Action Game of the Year Awards. It was a pioneer because it placed more of a focus on cooperative gameplay than just single-player action. Specifically, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, released in 2007, was a huge hit.

This was the consequence of its compelling plot, which gave the gaming community an accurate and taken-from-the-headlines depiction of battle. Its graphics were far superior to those of its competitors, it featured contemporary weapons—not just firearms, mind you—in realistic settings, and it effectively evoked the appropriate feelings in the viewer. While the more recent iterations of the game emphasize soldiers’ futuristic movement capabilities, the earlier editions were renowned for their realism. Still, the series is equally as well-liked, if not more so.

When Halo: Combat Evolved came out on the Xbox in 2001, it won a ton of praise for its in-game dialogue, characters, and story/worldbuilding. This game changed aspects to make the controller experience enjoyable, and it served as a model for later console first-person shooter games. A few of the changes were limiting players to carrying two weapons at a time so that transitioning between them with a single button could be feasible and adding automatic saves at specific narrative points or places (sometimes known as “checkpoints”, as this term became widely used to describe similar concepts).

The addition of “regenerating shields/health”, a game-changing feature that gamers loved and that is now ubiquitous in modern FPS games, allowed players to recover slightly after a fight. Halo was a turning point for console shooters in general and first-person shooters in particular, helping to standardize several features that modern players take for granted.

In addition to traditional gun-based combat, sophisticated multiplayer games such as Call of Duty and Battlefield also featured characteristics like aircraft and tanks that gave players a more realistic experience and better reflected the different facets of warfare and the period of history in which these titles were based.

The next breakthrough came with the 2004 release of Far Cry, which popularized open-world layouts and improved picture quality and environmental detail. With an almost living open world that reacts to player actions, wildfires that spread like they would in the real world, and realistic adversary artificial intelligence, Far Cry 2 elevated realism to a whole new level. A few months later, Doom 3 was released and quickly became popular. To make the make experience of playing the game even more terrifying, it also placed a strong emphasis on cutting-edge lighting and inventive graphic effects. Half-Life 2, which featured comparable excellent lighting, shading, and visuals, was the recipient of 39 Game of the Year honors.

In 2004, Halo 2 was also published, and with advancements in Internet infrastructure, it became the most popular game for online multiplayer on consoles via Xbox Live. Over the following few years, a number of other games were released, all of which drew substantially from Halo’s features and systems. Redesigned menus, streamlined console controls, and innovations like instantaneous weapon switching, checkpoints, and self-healing health were all introduced in Halo. Many new FPS games on consoles have also been produced with these capabilities.

The 2000s first-person shooter trends:

  • Halo popularized FPS games on consoles by developing the functionality and gameplay elements that made these games enjoyable and practical. It streamlined controls and revamped menus. Even now, the Halo mechanics are still in use.
  • The Call of Duty series gave more focus to cooperative gameplay than just single-player action, which greatly expanded the appeal of multiplayer first-person shooters. Its realistic depiction of the conflict contributed greatly to the popularity of its realistic single-player campaign.
  • Co-op shooter games like Left 4 Dead, where you could have fun killing zombies with your friends, were very popular. FPS games with compelling narratives were also popular. Although it wasn’t really a first-person shooter, Portal was an excellent illustration of a game where you had to solve riddles with your non-lethal portal-creating gun—also known as the Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device—in order to escape a facility.

2010s

After the first few years of the millennium, a number of new gaming genres emerged. The first of these was called Looter Shooters, and it gained notoriety for including guns and other loot-like armor or weapon parts that were created randomly and were always evolving and improving. These games made for lightning-fast gunplay and cultivated a grind-focused mentality in their players. They blend violent, high-adrenaline shooter gameplay with long-term character development and the satisfying feeling of improving your gear.

Unlike the classic Halo and Call of Duty titles, players in these games are rewarded with better equipment and abilities in addition to murdering their adversaries. Despite receiving mixed reviews upon its release in 2007, Hellgate: London—a game that allowed players to play in both first and third person—showed the gaming public how satisfying it might be to obtain the quality in-game treasure.

When Borderlands was launched in 2009, they had everything down pat. It was the first truly successful looter shooter and helped to establish the genre, whether it was because of the exceptional cel-shaded art, incredibly entertaining soundtrack, excellent shooter mechanics, or the ridiculously entertaining loot that was available. Then, 2012 saw the debut of Borderlands 2, the game that defined this subgenre and won praise from all quarters for its incredible visual design, humor, and gunplay as well as its loot and shooter gameplay.

Other than the Borderlands series, Warframe is another well-known looter shooter. The game’s initial debut wasn’t all that spectacular, but its ongoing stream of fresh content expansions has helped to sustain its popularity. The same people who built Halo also made Destiny, one of the most played online shooters ever, started with Warframe, one of the first really successful “games as a service”, or GaaS, shooter games. GaaS games give developers the freedom to add new content to the game on a regular basis, enhancing the player experience.

Another GaaS title, Destiny was an online multiplayer FPS. It included features like central hubs where you could interact with other players and form friendships, and clans where you could take part in timed events like strikes, raids, and other events. First-person shooters effectively integrated all of these trademarks from MMO/MMORPG games. GaaS and exclusively online multiplayer FPS games were first introduced by Destiny. They also produced content that fans adored and often launched expansions in response to player input. However, until the release of Destiny 2 in 2017, it didn’t receive any notable updates. It was reputed for reacting fast to community comments on combat, game balance, and other elements.

Hero shooters, a type of multiplayer shooter where players select from pre-designed “hero” characters with special abilities, weapons, and other triggered features to form more than two teams, were another popular subgenre of first-person shooters during this time. This concept was borrowed from MOBAs. In addition, this kind of game greatly promotes cooperation amongst team members, from choosing the best combos for hero characters to planning the use of hero skills during a battle. Heroes are emphasized as unique characters in this kind of game, therefore it’s common for them to have unique character designs and to include backstories for both the characters and the world(s) in which they are set.

Players frequently decide to take on the role of a particular hero only because they like the way that character and design seem. Although Team Fortress 2 by Valve is frequently cited as the first excellent example of a bridge between role-based shooters and true hero shooters, the subgenre didn’t become widely recognized until the 2014 release of Overwatch.

Overwatch was a huge hit, but the former was the first game to identify itself as a hero shooter. Players are divided into two groups of six, and each group gets to choose from a wide range of heroes, each of whom has special powers. Teams collaborate to finish time-limited tasks related to a map.

Other highly well-liked hero shooters that adhere to the fundamental principles of the subgenre are Valorant, Rainbow Six: Siege, and Apex Legends. Along with focusing on franchising, these games also aimed to advance their respective eSports scenes by hosting regional and worldwide competitions, which sports bettors could place wagers on at the best Bitcoin bookmakers here. To make sure that users’ objections were being taken care of, they also frequently delivered patch updates, new maps and agents, and game-balancing patches.

Social media played a major role in the notable increase in communication between the game’s producers and players. Hero shooters also have casual play, competitive ranked play, and several game modes for practice, among other important aspects. Many of these games are also frequently free to play, with the money made from the sales of in-game accessories like weaponry and hero skins. While they have no effect on gameplay, these could give the game a more customized feel.

Here, the battle royale subgenre is also worthy of discussion. It incorporates online multiplayer games with a last-person-standing gaming mechanic. These games contain dozens or even hundreds of players who must scavenge for goods while taking out rivals. They begin with little to no equipment. The play area is always getting smaller to make sure players keep running into each other. The final individual or group still standing wins. The subgenre first appeared in Minecraft mods, but it became more well-known thanks to titles like DayZ and H1Z1. After PUBG: Battlegrounds was released, it became a phenomenon. It was quite popular for a number of reasons.

There were multiple ways to win in these fast-paced, engrossing games. Either try to murder everyone, or sneak up on people who are engaged in combat and take them out. Part of PUBG’s appeal was the excitement of discovering and pilfering items. Those who have a strong competitive spirit were also drawn to it since it seemed exciting to them to be the last person standing in a crowd of one hundred. Since all players start with the same equipment, the fairness factor is also taken into consideration. However, it’s genuinely egalitarian due to the unpredictability involved in looting. Successful battle royale FPS games include Apex Legends from 2017 and Call of Duty: Warzone from 2020.

In the realm of online gaming and eSports competition, first-person shooter games enjoy immense popularity. When multiplayer gaming became available through LAN networks and eventually the Internet, they experienced a surge in popularity and became a social phenomenon. The Internet’s capabilities have skyrocketed since the early 2000s, and computer processing technology has advanced incredibly quickly. Around the world, 5.3 billion individuals have access to the Internet, and at least three billion of those users can access and play video games.

The 2010s FPS trends:

  • When it comes to the first-person shooter subgenre, games got more and more diverse. Games like battle royale, hero shooters, and looter shooters attracted large audiences.
    As a growing number of games became free to play and made money via in-game products, the GaaS model of revenue gained popularity.
  • When it involves eSports, online multiplayer FPS games have seen enormous investments, with game publishers frequently hosting both regional and national competitions.
  • Online gaming culture has grown even further as a result of the legitimacy of streaming first-person shooter action and live competitions.
  • A few more well-known FPSs that should be brought up due to their success and/or notoriety are Day-Z, the cult classic Titanfall 2, Bioshock Infinite, which revolutionized narrative first-person shooters, Portal 2, which is among the best-selling puzzle first-person shooters, Superhot, and Bulletstorm.
  • Destiny was effective in releasing new content, balancing game mechanics, and cultivating a vibrant community; other games are now doing the same.

How and Where Have First-Person Shooter Games Changed Over Time?

With good cause, FPS games have grown into a mainstay in the gaming industry. Playing them can be enjoyable for a variety of reasons, such as the desire to shoot guns, interact with others, or enter a flow state and make your shots. First-person shooter games are becoming more and more popular, and well-known series like Call of Duty, Halo, and even the most recent Quake game, Quake Champions, are always full of players.

Over the years, FPS games have seen a steady evolution, and as more advanced technologies have been available, so too has their complexity. Early first-person shooter games were designed for computers with little processing power and no graphic cards or drives—the idea was still relatively new at the time. The 1970s and 1980s saw a number of advancements in graphics technology, but in 1999 Nvidia unveiled the GeForce 256, the first “real GPU” and the first in an ongoing series of revolutionary GPUs to follow. This could be useful if you’re interested in studying the development of graphics.

FPS games feature more complicated mechanics and graphics due to advancements in both technology and software. One of the first first-person shooter games to make extensive use of 3D visuals was Quake III Arena, which made widespread use of the quick inverse square root method. This speeds up the render time by allowing the computer to calculate shading and lighting angles very quickly.

More developments, such as the incorporation of artificial intelligence (AI) into games, have increased the genre’s adaptability. AI-powered bots are used in a number of games to assist players in honing their aim. In reality, Monolith Production’s 2005 F.E.A.R (First Encounter Assault Recon) is still regarded as one of the first FPS games to employ intelligent AI. The AI against the player, which makes judgments fast and takes into account even the smallest player actions, sets it apart from other first-person shooter games of the era.

When a player hides behind a barricade in the game, for instance, the opponent AI detects this move instantly and launches a grenade to destroy the player. To be fair, a number of FPS games have turned their attention to multiplayer over the past few years (though single-player missions are still going strong). Because of this, AIs are now mostly employed for training purposes and are somewhat basic.

Every few years, there are noticeable advancements in visuals, such as stronger graphic cards or improved coding, which makes first-person shooter games appear more and more professional. The strong quality of the graphics is actually a major selling feature in an increasing number of single-player, narrative-focused FPS games that are being developed. A handful of games that achieved great popularity are the Far Cry series, Metro Exodus, and Halo Infinite, all of which had compelling narratives, well-developed characters, and of course, stunning visuals.

First-person shooters frequently combine mechanics in order to draw in viewers. For example, many of the first games were run-and-gun shooters. Apex Legends is another example of an FPS game with several subgenres. It’s a first-person shooter game first and foremost, but it’s also a hero shooter and battle royale game. In addition to being a first-person shooter, Valorant is also a hero shooter that emphasizes tactical gameplay and teamwork. Both of these games are free to play, a practice that’s becoming more and more common as more and more games are released as free-to-play, choosing instead to rely on in-app purchases and micro-transactions for income.

Regarding FPS games in the future, that will depend on technical advancements. Virtual reality shooting games appear to have a lot of promise. In Half-Life, you get the impression that you’re really holding your guns thanks to Alyx’s immersive weapon handling system, which assigns each gun to a single hand. When you’re engaged in action, you’ll also be diving in and out of cover, which will push you to utilize every part of your body and provide you with a really special and unusual experience. Playing single-player shooters with a narrative focus can be made easier by other advancements like cloud gaming, which renders intricate and gorgeous graphic environments without requiring players to purchase pricey gaming hardware.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, there’s a clear reason why the first-person shooter genre seems to be here to stay.

While gameplay elements and mechanisms have gradually stabilized, there’s now more room to combine them with different genres and mechanics. The modern FPS subgenre is likely the most varied; games can range from tactical hero shooters like Valorant to extremely brutal run-and-gun titles like Doom: Eternal. Still, there are different reasons to like playing them at the core.

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