With the UK release of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 now just one and two weeks away respectively, the video game console wars are poised to rage anew. The past generation of consoles has lasted a relatively long eight years, so it's been a while since gamers practiced the time-honoured tradition of defending their new console of choice to the death.
Controversies have been erupting over everything from the Xbox One’s slightly lower resolution on some games to the PS4’s slightly reduced media capabilities, and everyone seems to be arguing over which big black box is better. So we thought it might be an interesting idea to take a look back at the console wars of generations past.
Peacetime (1977 – 1981, 1983 – 1988)
As video game consoles came into their own during the late 70s and early 80s, hardware was basically dominated by a single superpower at a time. The Atari 2600 flourished earlier on – though it did get some competition in the form of Mattel’s Intellivision, with its odd flat controller that featured a number keypad and disc, and looked more like it was something you could use to phone ET’s home world rather than control a game with.
Then the industry crashed in 1982, and Nintendo came in with the NES to pick up the pieces. Sure, there were other consoles around in this period, like the fledgling Sega Master System, but none could even come close to breaking Nintendo's stranglehold on the market. With only one console worth buying, there really couldn't be any console wars.
Sega does what Nintendon't (1989 – 1994)
Determined to make a name for itself in the 16-bit era, Sega went on the offensive, starting the next-generation early with its second and most popular console, the Sega Mega Drive (or Genesis as it was known in the US). This console war, filled with attacking ads, catchy slogans, and made-up features like "blast processing," is still the war by which all others are judged. Schoolyards became battlefields of Sega kids arguing with Nintendo kids over who'd win in a fight: Mario or Sonic. And off to the side there was a TurboGrafx (also known as the PC Engine) kid hyping up Bonk.
The infamous "Genesis does what Nintendon't" campaign over in the States came about when the Genesis/Mega Drive was still going up against the outdated NES.
With the launch of the more technically capable Super Nintendo, Sega played up how hip and edgy its console was. Its mascot was faster and cooler, its sports games were better, and its version of Mortal Kombat still had blood.
While it never became more than the number two company, it was the number two company that never missed a chance to take potshots at number one. It was the Pepsi to Nintendo's Coke, or to use a contemporary analogy, the Samsung to Nintendo's Apple.
A new challenger (1995 – 1999)
The coming of 3D allowed a new challenger to enter and shake up the status quo. After being burned by Nintendo during a failed deal for a SNES CD-Rom add-on, Japanese tech giant Sony decided to go ahead and create a new console of its own: The PlayStation.
With its polygonal graphics and then-revolutionary disc-based format, the PlayStation became the first console to sell more than 100 million units. Sony ended these console wars before they even got started. Like Sega, it promoted the coolness of its console, but in a more mature way. With a PlayStation, it was okay to game even if you weren't a kid. Meanwhile, the Sega Saturn's failure marked the beginning of the end for the company, and even though some of the most influential and beloved games of all time are on the Nintendo 64, even it couldn't halt Sony's rise to the top.
Microsoft makes its move (2000 – 2004)
Sony once again swept a generation with the even more successful PS2 launching right in the middle of the DVD boom. The GameCube offered the Nintendo faithful some great titles but ultimately fared worse than its predecessors. The final Sega console, the Dreamcast, would eventually find a devoted audience, but only after its life was cut short.
However, this generation saw a new fighter step into the ring: Microsoft's Xbox. Initially short for DirectX Box, the Xbox sought to combine the PC power Microsoft was known for with the simplicity of a video game console. While the first Xbox did only slightly better than the GameCube, it gave Microsoft a foothold in the industry, and it was a beachhead that Remond would soon make greater use of.
Red waters and blue oceans (2005 – 2012)
Riding high on the success of its first two consoles, Sony had plans for the PS3 that were arguably a little arrogant. Even its pioneering use of Blu-ray couldn't make up for the console’s high asking price, complicated processor infrastructure, and bafflingly condescending quotes from executives telling cash-strapped consumers to work a second job.
While Sony and Microsoft battled in the red waters of competition, Nintendo chose a new path: A blue ocean strategy for its next console. Although the Wii was dismissed by hardcore gamers due to its motion controls, underpowered non-HD graphics, and more casual appeal, it was a massive success, joining the PlayStation in the 100 million-units-sold club. The PS3 and Xbox 360 were ultimately both pretty big successes in their own right, but it's hard to argue that Nintendo didn't reclaim its crown in this generation.
The frontline (2013 – Present)
All that brings us back to the present and the frontline of a new console war which is anyone's game. The Wii U has struggled for half the success that the Wii enjoyed, but will its price cut and steadily expanding library of quality games put it back in the race?
The PS4 gained a lot of goodwill at this year's E3, and Sony even brought back ads that attack competitors almost by name, but will players turn on it when the console is released? The Xbox One took a lot of flak for its stance on used games and always-online play, but now most of those issues have been cleared up will its tarnished image improve?
Or maybe other devices like smartphones, tablets, Android consoles, and Steam Machines will disrupt everything and eat everyone's lunch.
Meanwhile, above it all, PC gamers and their pricey, high-powered machines are just laughing.