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Plugged In

Steve Jobs: Gaming icon

Plugged In

When the deluge of tributes to beloved tech giant Steve Jobs are over and the world has moved on as it always does, the founder of Apple and Pixar will be remembered as a man who radically altered the computer, music and animation industries.

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But those impressive achievements will overshadow the enormous impact he had on the video game industry.

That's unfortunate, because while Jobs isn't the first person to leap to mind when you're talking video games, his influence is just as significant as some of the industry's luminaries.

It started back in the glory days of Atari, when Jobs was assigned to create a prototype for Breakout. Rather than doing the dirty work himself, he tapped his friend Steve Wozniak, agreeing to split the $750 fee. Because Wozniak was so efficient at eliminating transistors, Atari founder Nolan Bushnell raised the pay to $5,000 — though Jobs only shared $350 with his friend.

Woz's design, as it turned out, was too difficult for Atari to copy, so Jobs' (and Wozniak's) first foray into gaming started as a footnote.

When the Apple II was released, though, Jobs and Apple began to march down the path to gaming greatness. The system became a platform for some of the best games of the early 1980s, including Ultima, Might & Magic and Zork.

His gaming legacy, of course, will be the iDevices. With the iPod, iPhone and iPad, Jobs and Apple changed the way the mass market approached games, upending the dominance of Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony by fundamentally changing the way people played games. Casual gamers, who had previously embraced dedicated handheld systems and the Wii, turned their focus to the new multi-use gadgets. So far, they haven't looked back — probably because they're too busy playing Angry Birds, Fruit Ninja or Doodle Jump.

Earlier this week, Apple announced it has sold some 300 million iPods life to date, with 45 million of those selling in the past year. CEO Tim Cook declared that the iPod Touch was "now … the most popular portable game player in the world."

Low-cost apps have largely unseated $60 games, with users buying more than 1 billion per month these days -- and causing investors to pepper Nintendo with questions about why it refuses to join the app revolution.

As with so many other things he created, competitors are rushing to clone the App store and steal away some of its gaming influence. But so far no one has.

Jobs may not have had a strong personal interest in gaming — or a professional one, for that matter. But his impact on the industry will still be felt for a long, long time.

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