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"Gamers like to fight each other over this admittedly trivial division because a) they're too young to care about politics, or b) they're old enough to understand politics, but giving a crap severely cuts into gaming time."
—El Santo, The Webcomic Overlook
Broadly speaking, the competition between electronics companies to increase their video game market share. Since new consoles are usually released within a year or so of each other, the systems are in direct competition with each other for the gamer's cash.
More specifically, though, the Console Wars refer to arguments (usually online) between gamers themselves as to the superiority of the various systems and companies. The Console Wars for each generation usually begin a year or more before the systems in question are even released. Expect much flaming and quoting of sales figures, but don't hold your breath awaiting an explanation of why these battles are so fierce in the first place. Could you imagine if people got this worked up about toothpaste brands? 
They can get very stupid. Avoid at all costs. Just buy the system(s) whose games intrigue you the most, and don't worry about what anybody else thinks. (The Computer Wars were arguably worse — the ZX Spectrum vs. Commodore 64 punch-up still rages in some quarters of the Internet, with the victor depending almost entirely on who you ask — but they faded out in the early 1990s with the focus shifting to firmware rather than hardware, when geeks made far less noise than today.)
There is a certain degree of reason in rooting for a particular console that isn't merely fanboyism. The greater the install base of your chosen console, the more likely it is to receive exclusives and technically superior originals rather than platform ports. There is also the psychological phenomenon called "post-purchase rationalization", where people who have sunk a large amount of money into a gaming machine want to feel as if their purchase was worth it (see also the Sunk Cost Fallacy). Particularly in earlier generations, consoles were expensive enough that a middle-class income couldn't support two or three consoles and a library of games for each, so a gamer had to choose a machine and stick with it. By convincing others and reading supportive viewpoints, they reduce cognitive dissonance and avoid "buyer's remorse". This is why the
PlayStation 3 Wii Xbox 360 Hyperscan Zeebo Phantom is obviously the best next-gen system and one belongs in your entertainment center today.
Not to be confused with Core War.
The Home Console Wars
The First Generation: Pong, et al.
- Duration: 1972-76.
- Sides:Odyssey VS Others
- Winner: Odyssey
The infancy of the home video-gaming industry began with the Magnavox Odyssey. This era is most famous for the arcade game "Pong" and its clones (both on and off of home consoles). What is not well known is that many other games also existed, such as Computer Space, Breakout, and even some Light Gun games for the Odyssey. Granted, many of the games which existed in this era didn't make it to the consoles just yet, but there was indeed more than just Pong.
What console games did exist were rudimentary, mostly because, until the end, the Odyssey was the only console. While revolutionary for its time, the console pretty much just used variable screen lights with one or two white squares on screen, and colored sheets to cover the screen and simulate board games. A pong clone was possible with one of the cartridges and a couple made use of the Light Gun.
Towards the end, more advanced consoles started to show up, such as a failed sequel to the Odyssey (hint: it wasn't Odyssey 2). However, these are mostly forgotten.
The Second Generation: Early 8-Bits, Before the Crash
- Duration: 1976-84.
- Sides: Atari 2600/5200 vs. all comers, mainly Colecovision, Intellivision, Fairchild Channel F, Odyssey 2, Bally Astrocade and Vectrex.
- Winner: A Pyrrhic Victory for the Atari 2600, due to the bottom falling out of the market.
This generation was actually kicked off by Fairchild's Channel F console, the earliest example of what most of us would recognise as a console. While it enjoyed initial success, it suffered from a generally unimpressive games library, poor build quality and awkwardly designed controllers, ensuring that it was blown away the following year when Atari arrived on the scene. Fairchild later released a redesigned version of the system, but in a case of spectacularly poor timing released it a few weeks after the Intellivision hit the market, and so nobody noticed.
The console that virtually everyone associates with this generation is the Atari 2600. Initially developers just produced more Pong-esque games for the system, meaning that it had a slow start, but Atari really got things going when they started porting their arcade hits to the 2600. The ports weren't perfect (in fact, a lot of them were flat out awful), but it showed what the system could do. Soon, other companies such as Activision started developing for the console, and it rapidly became a smash hit. Atari also made a variety of experimental games for the platform, such as Swordquest, pushing the envelope. Atari released a second console, the 5200, later in the generation, but got a lot of things (most notably the controller design) wrong, meaning that it never took off.
The first major competitor to Atari's dominance was the Intellivision by Mattel. Although it was somewhat more advanced than the 2600, it wasn't enough of an improvement for developers to abandon the more successful 2600. As a result, the Intellivision maintained generally solid sales, but never came close to challenging the 2600 for the market lead. A bigger challenge to the 2600's dominance came later with the Colecovision, which was technically far superior to any other system on the market and could boast near-perfect arcade conversions, an advantage exemplified when Atari shot themselves in the foot with the 2600's disastrous Pac-Man port. As this generation drew to a close Atari was getting its backside handed to it by the Colecovision, although the 2600's head start kept it well ahead in terms of the installed base.
Magnavox tried their hand again by releasing the Odyssey 2, a console that combined gaming with some rudimentary home computer functions. Unfortunately the system wasn't significantly better than the 2600 on the gaming side, and its computing features were badly underdeveloped. As a result, the system never took off, and Magnavox left the market. Another early competitor was the Bally Astrocade, which was one of the first and most advanced systems from this generation, but it was expensive and not backed properly by Bally, meaning that it remained a niche product. Probably the weakest of the major competitors was Emerson Radio's Arcadia 2001, which boasted abilities similar to the Intellivision, but suffered an awful game library and being released near the end of the generation, ensuring that it was blown into the stratosphere by the Colecovision.
The oddball from this generation's console lineup was the Vectrex, which featured a built-in screen and used monochrome vector graphics rather than the traditional bitmap graphics used by the other systems. While it boasted some great titles and was the most technologically advanced system from this generation (with the possible exception of the Colecovision), consumers were generally unwilling to look past its monochrome graphics, and it launched too near the end of this generation to have had any real chance of success.
Ultimately, this war culminated in The Great Video Game Crash of 1983, where the bottom fell out of the market. Somehow, the Atari 2600 managed to survive the decade, outlasting the more technologically advanced consoles of its generation. Ironically enough, the Crash actually helped the video game industry — post-Crash, Nintendo dropped their line of arcade-machine boards in favor of the Nintendo Entertainment System, which made its debut almost immediately after in Japan, and several years later overseas and single-handedly revived the market. On the other hand, the Crash had a bigger impact in Europe, killing consoles for over a decade in favor of inferior but cheaper microcomputers. The NES met a frosty reception there, not helped by Mattel.
Speaking of which...
The Third Generation: 8-Bits
- Duration: 1983-92.
- Sides: Nintendo Entertainment System (NES, aka Famicom) vs. Sega SG-1000 & Sega Master System vs. Atari 7800, plus the MSX in Japan and the Commodore 64 elsewhere
- Minor Sides: LJN Video Art vs. Action Max vs. VideoSmarts & ComputerSmarts & ComputerPhone vs. ViewMaster Interactive Vision vs. Commodore 64 GS
- Winner: NES by a wide margin.
Probably the most lopsided console "war" in history. Nintendo took full advantage of being the company who restarted the American market, and locked all the major developers into exclusivity deals. This was later ruled illegal and Nintendo forced to stop the practice, but by that point the industry was moving onto the following generation. As it was, though, Nintendo's two main competitors launched too late to have any real chance of dethroning the juggernaut they had become, and even if the Big N had been better-behaved, it would likely have made very little difference as to the outcome of this war.
Sega's first console, the SG-1000, debuted in Japan the same
year day as the Famicom, but less than 100 games were released for the SG-1000 Mark I and Mark II. Sega upgraded and redesigned the SG-1000 Mark III, and branded it the Master System internationally. The Master System managed to cultivate a following of die-hard gamers who eschewed Nintendo, and was quite successful in smaller markets (most notably Brazil and some European countries), but the NES utterly dominated the most important markets of the time (the U.S. and Japan). Not helping was that inferior, cheap microcomputers were very popular as a gaming method in Europe, and Mattel handled the NES very badly. While the Commodore 64 was the best enemy for the NES amongst them, it was succeeded by the Amiga, which could compare to 16-bit platforms or beyond if treated well.
Atari attempted a comeback with their 7800 — a souped-up, backward-compatible version of the 2600; while the 7800 secured a decent third-place finish in this war, the damage Atari's reputation had taken ensured it never had much chance of challenging Nintendo or Sega.
The real loser was the LJN Video Art, a system that had all the potential of a coloring book... for 80 dollars.
An odd trend was the attempts to make VHS-based consoles. The Action Max is the best known, and the only one that wasn't educational. Obviously, VHS consoles fell flat due to being based on VHS with little interactivity. Another experiment was the attempt to convert microcomputers into game consoles, as microcomputers were already competing with consoles in several markets. Examples of this include the Commodore 64 GS and the XEGS.
The Fourth Generation: The True 16-Bits (The Classic Battle)
- Duration: 1987-96.
- Major Sides: Super Nintendo Entertainment System (aka Super NES/SNES/Super Nintendo/Super Famicom) vs. Sega Genesis (aka MegaDrive) vs. NEC Turbo Grafx 16 (aka TurboDuo/PC Engine)
- Minor Sides Philips CD-i vs. Amstrad GX4000 vs. Neo Geo Vs Super A'Can vs. Capcom CPS Changer vs. Commodore CDTV & Amiga CD32
- Winner: Eventually, the SNES.
This one marked down boundaries that are still followed to this day (boundaries that were arguably drawn by one of the actual companies — "Genesis does what Nintendon't"). Fifteen+ years on, you'll still encounter long-time gamers who identify themselves as "SNES people" or "Genesis people".
The Genesis initially competed against the NES and, as is often forgotten, did so rather poorly — the better graphics meant little against the juggernaut that was Nintendo at the time, and flawed arcade adaptations like Altered Beast (the Genesis' original pack-in game) didn't compare well with the then-recent Super Mario Bros 3, often considered one of the (if not the) greatest games of all time. It wouldn't be until the Genesis found its Killer App Sonic the Hedgehog, released the same Summer as the SNES with its (comparatively) boring-looking Super Mario World, that Sega would give Nintendo a tenacious run for their money.
Though the Genesis would be extremely well-received in the UK, in the US and generally, in the long-term the later-released, powerful SNES won out. The Genesis had a faster CPU ("Blast Processing" was what its commercials touted), but the SNES had the more advanced graphics hardware, even without the expansion chips which cartridges could provide. Sega struggled to remedy this through releasing a number of add-ons (the 32X, the Sega CD/Mega CD), which did little for gamers that the Genesis didn't already do, and at one point even creating their own chip.
Another important factor in the SNES' victory over the long term was its tremendous library of games — especially in its native Japan, where the console released anime licensed games at bargain prices. Whereas Sega catered mainly to a "hardcore" gamer market of young males, especially with sports or fighting games (with the SNES derided as the bloodless Mortal Kombat system), the SNES could simply saturate the market with games targeting every demographic, including the casual gamer that would make Nintendo such a success a decade later. Much like the NES before them, and later the Play Station 2, games were being released for the systems long after the next-generation systems like the Play Station or N64 had condemned the systems to eventual obsolescence, with some still releasing new games as late as 2000. SEGA did make some attempts at appealing to other markets, such as the SEGA Club for pre-school audiences. Guess why nobody talks about SEGA Club anymore.
Another contender was the NEC Turbo Grafx 16 (aka PC-Engine). The system was very popular in Japan (outselling the NES and consistently ahead of the Megadrive) but poor marketing, a bad pack-in game, and a lack of exports of some of the more popular titles condemned it to obscurity in North America. This system featured add-ons, before the Mega Drive did.
Unlike the Genesis and the TurboGrafx-16, the SNES had no CD drive peripheral, though one was planned. To make a long story short, Nintendo broke deals with Sony and Philips. As part of the settlement, Philips won the right to make several Mario and Zelda games for its CD-i system. The CD-i had been originally sold as a multimedia system until Philips realized that only the games were actually selling. But the CD-i turned out to be poorly situated as a game console, since game developers had to deal with a slow and buggy interface, and the fact that the controller that lagged badly and could only support two "functions", no matter the number of buttons. Nevertheless, the CD-i's limited success in kiosk and interactive-multimedia markets allowed it to stay in production until 1998. As for the CD-i's Mario and Zelda games, the less said about them here the better. As for Sony, it turned its half of the CD peripheral into an independent console, something called a "PlayStation." We'll get to that in a bit...
The oddball was the Neo Geo. Released in 1990 (the same year as the SNES), it didn't really compete with any current system and was there so that fans with lots of money could play the exact same arcade game at home. Since SNK used the very same hardware (known as the MVS in their arcade version) in their arcade machines it made porting cheap, and thus new Neo Geo games continued to trickle out as late as 2004.
The real loser was the Amstrad GX4000, a console based on the Amstrad CPC computer line which had a library consisting mostly of overpriced ports of CPC games; it was only released in Europe, and lasted less than a year.
Another footnote could be added for the Super A'Can. It's games were largely ripoffs of other games and it was never released in the USA.
Also, the Capcom CPS Changer was basically a glorified official JAMMA Supergun, but got at least one title the real CPS-1 never got. 
The Four-And-A-Halfth Generation: The False Start
- Duration: 1993-96.
- Sides: 3DO vs. Atari Jaguar vs. Pioneer LaserActive vs. Amiga CD-32 vs. Fujitsu FM Towns Marty vs. Memorex VIS vs. Nintendo Virtual Boy vs. Bandai Playdia vs. Casio Loopy
- Winner: Arguable; the 3DO sold the best, but the Virtual Boy was the only one whose parent company wasn't bankrupted or driven out of the market. 
Several companies got the big idea to jump-start the next generation early...and failed due to the incredibly-high prices the new consoles commanded and/or boneheaded management ruining any chance of success. The SNES and Genesis thoroughly trounced all of them.
This stalled generation is the first one based on CD-ROM technology, and this isn't a coincidence. Optical disc technology had been around for a while, but it wasn't until the early 1990's that such discs were introduced for use in home computers, after having been used in consoles shortly prior. CD-ROM's worked fine for multimedia encyclopedias and such, but since most games of the day were 8 megabytes or less, developers had trouble imagining what to do with all that extra space. Computer manufacturers had pushed CD-ROM drives heavily, but the format didn't take off until the debut of a point-and-click adventure game called Myst. Myst's lush graphics and free-roaming gameplay were a big hit, and players bought CD-ROM drives just so they could play it, just as Doom boosted sales of video cards several years before. Naturally, disc-based consoles followed shortly after. Early games were often uninspired clones of existing hits, layered heavily with Full Motion Video and digitized actors to show off the new technology.
The 3DO was an attempt by Trip Hawkins (Electronic Arts' founder) to create a standardized console format. Despite a great deal of hype, some pretty good games and decent support by third-party companies (most notably Electronic Arts), it was hindered by full-motion shovelware and a launch price of $700 which 3DO refused to reduce up until the superior 32-bit systems came out and killed the interest in it. 3DO eventually retooled itself as a software company that despite some successes (namely the Army Men series) was just as troubled as the system and eventually shuttered in 2003.
The LaserActive was a system based on the laserdisc format. It was arguably way ahead of its time, with Full Motion Video capabilities far outstripping the Sega CD and Philips CD-i, and with graphics that at times even surpassed many fifth-generation offerings. It also had the capability of playing Genesis, Sega CD, and TurboGrafx games with optional (and expensive) add-ons. However, it ran into the same problems the 3DO did — a limited software selection and a staggering price of $1,300 (and this was before the Sega/TurboGrafx add-ons).
The Atari Jaguar was an infamous case of mismanagement and general corporate stupidity. Atari's claim of 64-bit power and an initial huge list of third-party support impressed the public, but any hopes of Atari taking back the industry were crushed by the Jaguar's infamously-complicated and buggy coding structure, and an initial wave of games that sucked and only looked slightly better than comparable 3D SNES games using the Super-FX chip. As a result, most of the third-party bailed out and sales were lackluster. Atari tried to counter the arrival of the newer 32-bit systems with an ill-thought CD add-on, but that didn't do anything and the Jaguar fell — taking Atari with it.
The Amiga CD-32 was easily the lamest duck, being released a month before any third-party games came out for it, had a gaming selection that largely consisted of ports of Amiga 1200 games and continued Commodore's proud tradition of being unable to sell water to a dying man in a desert... Or it would be if it wasn't for the existence of the Memorex VIS, another multimedia system that barely had any games and sold a wimpy 10,000 units during its short lifetime.
Sega actually considered competing against this generation with the Neptune, which ultimately saw release only in the form of the 32X. Though the 32X was a Genesis add-on rather than a console, it failed like the rest. Sega also released a CD addon to the Genesis/Mega Drive; like the 3DO, it had quite a few good games, but wasn't enough to justify the cost, especially with the Saturn's release date approaching. SEGA did attempt duo systems for the Genesis and CD.  There was also their educational system known as the Pico, which, whilist suffering a massive case of Americans Hate Tingle, was successful in Japan. NEC and SNK also tried their hand at the concept of a CD add-on, which came close to cajoling Nintendo into making one as well. The PC Engine also got a SuperGrafx add-on, which while not as drastic a boost as the 32X, was still a flop. The concept of console add-ons died with the failures of these systems, especially the Atari Jaguar CD .
On the other side of the Pacific was an odd thing called the FM Towns Marty, which arguably was the first 32-bit CD-ROM-based console...but in a shining example of No Export for You, nobody outside of Japan ever heard of it. It was a console variant of the respectable FM Towns, an early Fujitsu attempt to create a multimedia-centered PC, and predating X Box by a full seven years it used a custom PC hardware centered around an AMD 386 variant. But unlike the desktop FM Towns machines it wasn't able to run DOS software, was plagued with compatibility problems, and was very expensive (72,000 Yen at release, about $700)...and proceeded to bomb.
Finally, let's take a moment to acknowledge a console that has gotten a lot of flak from All of the Other Reindeer, partially for being a Black Sheep: the Virtual Boy. The first console to use 3D graphics as its gimmick, the Virtual Boy was not a handheld console despite its name — it needed support from a flat surface to use correctly. It's also a classic example of Goggles that Do Something Unusual, in that they blocked your peripheral vision and displayed graphics primarily in monochrome red. According to its creator, Gunpei Yokoi, it was an Obvious Beta and should never be released, but Executive Meddlers shoved it out the door early so that the N64 could take center stage with R&D. The Virtual Boy was released in 1995 and discontinued within a year, with only 22 games ever released (one of which was a Waterworld tie-in that, appropriately, is widely considered the console's worst title).
The Fifth Generation: The 32/64-bit era (aka The Leap To 3D)
- Duration: 1994-2002.
- Major Sides: Nintendo 64 vs. Sega Saturn vs. Sony Play Station
- Minor Sides: Apple Pippin vs. NEC PC-FX.
- Winner: PlayStation by a country mile and Nintendo shooting themselves in the foot.
Despite quality games such as Super Mario 64, The Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time, and Super Smash Bros, Nintendo dropped out of the lead for the first time ever. This was partially because of their adherence to the old ROM cartridge format — the limitations of which caused it to lose much of its third-party support, particularly Square and Final Fantasy VII — and partly because their bright and shiny family games didn't fit the new 3D, next-gen aesthetic. However, shrewd business decisions and pricing on Nintendo's part meant that while they lost market share, the company may have ended up comparably profitable to their competitors. The fact that their best-selling games were first/second-party also helped.
Sony, meanwhile, recognized the increasing age bracket of console gamers and tapped into the influential twentysomething "big kid" market, legitimizing console gaming in the eyes of many and laying the foundation for the newcomer's market dominance. It should be worth noting that one of (if not the) greatest asset of the PlayStation's victory was due to the fact that their games were released on CDs. Since at that time, CDs were widely available to the mass market as writable media containers, the PlayStation became the first console with a large-scale piracy problem. People would buy PlayStations because they could pirate the games for it at less than one-tenth the games' retail price, whereas there was hardly any piracy on the other disk-based systems (and it goes without saying that it was way harder to copy an N64 cartridge).
You might expect that the developers shifting their focus away from Nintendo would choose its then-primary competitor Sega as a new platform, rather than new-kid-on-the-block Sony. However, the Saturn was a complex multi-processor design that was harder to program for, and it was less powerful than PlayStation when rendering in 3D. It was also crippled by a botched surprise launch in the US that caught third parties flat-footed and enraged retailers that weren't in on the secret, including Wal-Mart. Although it managed to grab some good market share in Japan, the dearth of game releases eventually led to its failure in other territories, where it was discontinued in 1998.
The Apple Pippin, released in conjunction with Bandai, was a weird mesh of computer and console sensibilities with all of the worst attributes of both — too expensive for a console, too underpowered for a computer, and a software library that barely cracked two digits. The fact that it probably wasn't even the worst Apple product of the 1990s is saying something.
The NEC PC-FX was NEC's attempt to enter the 32-bits early by rushing an old, outdated design out the door before its competitors in an attempt to keep the PC-Engine's fanbase. The result was completely underpowered in every respects except for decoding videos, and thus many releases for it were anime-themed FMV games, making it pretty much the Japanese equivalent of the CD-i. It sold less than 100.000 units and ended NEC's run as a console maker.
The Sixth Generation: 3D Evolution
- Duration: 1998-2006.
- Major Sides: Sega Dreamcast vs Sony Play Station 2 vs. Nintendo Game Cube vs. Microsoft X Box vs.
- Minor Sides: V-Smile vs. Nuon vs. Xavix Port vs. Advanced Pico Beena
- Cancelled Systems: The Phantom
- Winner: PlayStation 2 by two country miles.
Sega tried to get a head start, releasing its console in 1998 in Japan and 1999 in the US and Europe, but despite a number of fun peripherals, a free modem, four-player support built in, and a (theoretically) exclusive Resident Evil game, Sony's customer loyalty saw most gamers holding their cash for the PS2. The result was the Dreamcast sinking fast and Sega pulling out of the hardware market altogether before Nintendo and Microsoft's offerings were even released.
The PS2, meanwhile, proceeded to grab up the majority of the market early on and hold it, despite being less powerful than the later GameCube and Xbox consoles. Once again, a factor outside of its game library helped the PS2 achieve victory — at the time of its launch, it was the cheapest DVD player on the market. The system continued to release new games and sell at retailers for a long time; while the Xbox and GameCube had largely faded out by 2006, the PS2 will still be supported until the final game, MLB 2K12, releases on March 6, 2012--at which time an eighth-generation console had already been announced. In the end, the PS2 sold nearly three times the combined sales total of its two main rivals, making this easily the biggest Curb Stomp Battle since the NES took on the Master System and Atari 7800.
Despite a whole set of (theoretically) exclusive M-rated games from Capcom — Killer 7, Resident Evil 4, a remake of the original RE (followed by eventually the entire main series to that point), and a prequel to it — along with a few mature first/second-party games such as Eternal Darkness, Nintendo was completely unable to shake off its uncool "kiddie" reputation. The GameCube also didn't play DVDs (unlike the PS2 and Xbox) thanks to using smaller discs in an attempt to ward off piracy (which didn't work), and barely even put out an attempt to do something about online play (a lame adapter was only compatible with two Phantasy Star Online games released by Sega). Although it took second in Japan, the GameCube was third in Western markets and Australia. In fact, after a relatively strong first eighteen months, once it became obvious that Nintendo had released all their major franchise games for the system and had no plans for further ones (outside of the endless Mario Party games, and an occasional one such as The Legend of Zelda Twilight Princess and Metroid Prime 2) sales of the GameCube utterly imploded, meaning that for much of its life the console was humiliated to the point of being outsold by the original Play Station in several markets. In addition, the use of discs was unable to win back previous developers, perhaps because they were so small, and even more companies started to gradually leave them behind, something that would continue all the way up until the Switch.
The Xbox entered the fray last and, despite initial skepticism, carved out a niche for itself thanks largely to Killer App Halo and the Xbox Live online system. In Japan, however, it barely made a dent and relied on Microsoft to back it up financially, as the company treated it as a loss-leader rather than a source of revenue in its own right. One place where it became oddly popular was in the Linux community, who exploited its PC roots to create an early version of the modern-day Home Theatre PC.
A footnote can be put in for the V.Smile, a kiddie console from V.Tech. given it's software are mostly tie-ins of educational franchises or merchandises like Dora the Explorer or Care Bears, it went largely ignored by the gaming market.
The Seventh Generation : The HD/Motion Control era
- Duration: 2005-2012/2013
- Major Sides: Sony's PlayStation 3 vs. Nintendo Wii vs. Microsoft Xbox 360.
- Minor Sides: Zeebo vs. Hyperscan vs. V.Smile Motion
- Winner: In the end, the Wii by three waggles... all across the living room of the Queen.
Microsoft was last in, first out with the Xbox 360, gaining a comfortable head start thanks to an even more advanced version of the Xbox Live system (with a point-comparing gimmick which catches on fast) and HDTV compatibility. However a hefty price tag, limited backwards compatibility with original Xbox games, and complaints about machine malfunctions plagued the console's early days (and, in the case of the malfunctions, continue to hurt it). Surprisingly, however, Microsoft did gain traction as a console developer after negative publicity in the run-up to the PS3 launch (specifically about Sony's hardware bottlenecks, poor viral marketing via fake blogs, and what is seen as the mistreatment of Sony's European customers) causes some waverers to jump to the 360. This is not helped by what is perceived to be Sony's decision to copy its competitors' unique selling points and the whopping five-hundred and ninety-nine US dollars price tag of the PS3. However, Sony's die-hard supporters, gathered through the PS1 and PS2 days, remained in droves, and reported excellent stock take-up in the first weekend of sales, through sales really didn't pick up until the eventual and inevitable price cut.
However, both the 360 and PS3 are now lagging behind Nintendo's offering — the Wii. Instead of trying to compete with cutting-edge hardware, Nintendo debuted a unique two-part controller setup fitted with motion sensors and IR (pointer) input. Bolstered with games appealing to both traditional gamers (The Legend of Zelda Twilight Princess, Fire Emblem) and the new "casual" market (Wii Sports), the Wii catapulted to record-breaking success. This didn't go over too well with many of the "Hard Core", who were upset at no longer being the center of attention. Their most notable complaint was Nintendo's decision to focus on easy-profit games tailored for casuals — the most glaring example being Wii Play, a minigame collection which sold 26 million units because it came with a free controller.
The Wii is unique amongst the competing players in that the console hardware is not a loss-leader; Nintendo makes a profit for every console sold, whereas Microsoft and Sony rely on revenue from software to plug the gap. This is actually a return to prior trends, as the idea of selling console hardware for a loss originated with the PS1. Many developers were won back, though A: they developed separate games than those for the other two systems and B: this didn't work with North American developers like Midway.
Whether the three systems are in competition with each other is a point of debate. Some dismiss the notion, claiming that the Wii targets a different demographic to the 360 and PS3, while others point out that they're all competing in the broader arena of "recreation time" with other forms of entertainment. One undisputed fact, however, is that Microsoft and Sony have lost hundreds of millions on their consoles and Nintendo is the only company to have profited throughout this generation (for instance, Sony's losses on the PS3 have already eliminated all the profits from the PS1 and PS2) and only in Summer 2010 have begun to turn a modest profit. This is seen as the main reason why Microsoft and Sony have released their own motion-control schemes, in an attempt to grab some of the Wii market. (This made their "It Will Never Catch On" claims about the Wii Hilarious in Hindsight.) The actual structure of this generation is a matter about which analysts will debate and argue (and, given the increasing size of the gaming market, it actually now has analysts!).
The latest convolution in all these events happened in April 2011, when Sony suffered a major breach of digital privacy and someone was able to make off with the financial records of millions of consumers, both on their Playstation Network which serves the PlayStation 3 and PSP, and from their Sony Online Entertainment division which handles various MMORPGs. The exact impact on Sony, and their consoles' ranking, has (as of this writing) yet to be played out, but this is the largest security breach in gaming history, so it seems unlikely that there will be no fallout.
Meanwhile, far away from all this mess, a Brazilian company known as Tectoy has released the Zeebo, their first original entry to the console market (they had previously been highly successful distributing Sega consoles in Brazil), which is specifically targeted at emerging markets such as Brazil, China, Russia, and India (except that no one has really heard about it outside of Brazil, which has import laws so ludicrous that having a local console seems to be the only realistic outcome) with its less powerful architecture and lower price point, but a wide variety of classic games from past console generations delivered through online downloads. The system also boasts infrared technology, similar to the Wii, on some games and has a very user-friendly controller. However, it failed horrendously in the markets it was launched in (India, Brazil and Mexico) and ceased production in September 30 2011.
And then there was the Hyperscan, a Mattel-made kid system with cards to use with the games. A grand total of five games were released for it, and barely anyone even heard of it, let alone bought one. As you can tell, it was a massive success.
Another footnote could be added for the V.Smile Motion: It's basically a V.Smile console, but with slightly upgraded hardware- namely, it now has an integrated wireless controller receiver and the controllers now come with a built-in accelerometer. Again, due to the educational franchise tie-in, it's largely ignored by the mainstream.
The Current Standings: For the first time since the 5th generation, Nintendo is once again the first place for consoles sold with around 95 million consoles sold as of December 2011 (according to sources from The Other Wiki). The PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360 seem to be pretty dead even for second at the moment at around 60 million as of December 2011, with the PS3's recent resurgence and affordability has helped catch up to the Xbox's one-year headstart, while the Xbox has strong user base in America making up for its lack of popularity in Europe (aside from the UK) and Japan (although those regions seem to be improving in Xbox's favor compared to last generation). Fourth place goes to Zeebo, and in fifth place is the long-discontinued Hyperscan.
More recently, the Wii's sales lead has started to trail off, while the Xbox 360 has received a boost from the massively successful Kinect add-on. However, the net result of this has (so far) only been to equalize the current sales of the two consoles, meaning that there remains little realistic chance of the 360 overhauling the Wii in overall sales. While Sony's Playstation Move has been more critically acclaimed in terms of games, it hasn't captured the public imagination as much as the others due to being seen (rightly or wrongly) as being just a more advanced version of the Wii's control scheme.
At the moment, the only thing really capable of driving down sales of a Nintendo console is... a Nintendo handheld. The DS' wild popularity (currently outselling the Wii by 2-to-1) stems from a lower price tag (for both console and games), its own unique touchscreen interface combined with a classic Game Boy / SNES control scheme, and generally-wider range of games. For many casual gamers, the only thing better than a Nintendog at home is a Nintendog you can play with while waiting for the bus.
The Eighth Generation: The Future Is One?
- Duration: 2012-2017.
- Major Sides: Nintendo Wii U vs. Sony Playstation 4 vs. Microsoft Xbox One
- Minor Sides: On Live vs. Ouya
- Winner: PS4, buy 2 country miles and Nintendo shooting themselves in the other foot...
While generations have typically refreshed every 5-6 years, this does not seem to be the case for the current systems, necessitating new predictions of when new consoles will finally be released. None of the three console makers are in a rush to launch new systems — the Nintendo Wii maintains its lead, and it's in Microsoft and Sony's best interests to keep selling their current systems and recoup the millions they've lost already. Another factor prolonging the life of seventh-generation consoles is widespread broadband access in American, Asian, and European homes; rather than roll out a new console to support better graphics or, in Sony's case, 3D games, the manufacturers can simply provide a firmware update for their customers to download. Digital Distribution has also expanded the retrogaming and Expansion Pack market, providing all three consoles with enormous libraries of not only games and add-ons, but also movies, music, game trailers, and other fresh content. The late-2000's recession hasn't helped matters either; it's far easier for consumers to justify buying a $60 game than a $500 console.
This generation will be met with a fair amount of competition from tangent industries. Cellular phones and handheld computers have advanced to the point of being able to play simple but graphically appealing games; this could cut into the casual market, as such games are cheap, can be played for a few minutes at a time, and assuming the player already has a cell phone, don't require additional hardware. As consoles become more full-featured and offer non-gaming services, while PC services like Steam standardize the buying, installation, and customer support processes, the two camps will find themselves in closer competition for consumer dollars.
A number of rumors in 2009 about Microsoft kick-starting the 8th generation ended up being Sony and Microsoft jumping late onto the motion-control wagon with PlayStation Move and Kinect, respectively — and most analysts are bullish on their chances of success. Microsoft has apparently reported that the Xbox 360 (which came out first in the 7th generation, mind) is only halfway through its lifespan, expecting it to last until 2015. Similarly, Sony has claimed that the PlayStation 3 will have a 10-year life cycle, lasting until somewhere around 2016.
So it was up to Nintendo to upset the applecart. They did, announcing the Wii U at E3 2011, with a release planned for sometime in 2012. It is back-compatible with all Wii games, controllers and accessories, but not Gamecube ones. The console itself looks like a downsized X360, but that's because all the excitement's in the controller, which is the lovechild of a Wiimote and an iPad — in addition to rumble, motion control, and all the buttons and thumbsticks you'd expect, it's got a touch-screen (single-touch only), camera with videochat support, and can display both secondary outputs (non-important information) or be used to play the game directly while someone else uses the TV to, say, watch TV. However, it is not a portable; without a set-top box to think for it, the controller accomplishes little on its own. So far, response has been mixed; Nintendo stocks went down 10% in the days following the announcement over doubts about the (relatively) astronomical cost of controllers, the revised market strategy (going high-tech in comparison to the Wii's Every Man approach; initially focusing on games that will only support one uPad at a time, with others required to use Wiimotes), and the lack of innovation in comparison to the Wii.
(Interestingly, during the '11 holiday season, the Wii's last as Nintendo's premiere console, its sales took a nosedive. The question is whether this makes Nintendo prescient, releasing the Wii U just as the Wii achieved market saturation, or stupid for crashing sales of a perfectly good product by announcing a perfectly-gooder one. Given the market's current antipathy towards the U, it seems safe to assume the former, but only time--and the console, you know, actually going on sale--will tell.)
The Wii U's woes were only solidified when its competitors came along with their own Killer App entries such as Killer Instinct (though the two were often criticized as being too similar to each other and PCs), while the third-party exclusives to the Wii U were lacklustre at best and abominable at worst. Games like Super Mario Maker, Hyrule Warriors, and Splatoon attempted to regain ground, but Nintendo deep down knew it was too late, and discontinued the console in 2017, keeping it in mind as a necessary failure.
In this generation, we saw the downfall and resurgence of Japanese gaming, While it was on the decline starting near the end of the Sixth Generation; North American developers and especially publishers became increasingly corrupt in their methods, gradually driving gamers back to Japanese games by the end of this generation.
The Eighth-and-a-Half-Gen: Upgradepalooza
- Duration: 2017-2019
- Major Sides: Nintendo Switch vs. PS4 Pro vs. Xbox One X
- Minor Sides: Intellivision Amico vs. Google Stadia
- Cancelled Systems: Coleco Chameleon
- Winner: Nintendo Switch, replacing their feet with cybernetics.
This generation is notable for most of the participants upgrading their last generation's console, while Nintendo, knowing how its last console was a bomb, started from scratch with the Nintendo Switch. Thanks to that, the 8.5 Gen Console War started but, Switch was a really good method put a end to this war in just 3 years. But actually Switch swiftly beat PS4 PrO and XBOX One already from the gate: via a large library of games and some Killer Apps: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Oddysey. The Google Stadia never had a chance; seen as the pinnacle of Western corruption that had started halfway through Generation 7 and intensified thanks to the proliferation of Mobile. Microsoft stated that new competitors are Amazon and Google, rather than conventional gaming companies. This is supported by Microsoft allowing for Banjo-Kazooie to make their long awaited debut as Smashers in Super Smash Bros.
The Ninth Generation
- Duration: 2020-?
- Major Sides: Sony PlayStation 5 vs. Microsoft Xbox Series X
The Portable Wars
The Original (Third and Fourth Genenerations)
- Major Sides: Nintendo Game Boy vs. Atari Lynx vs. Sega Game Gear vs. NEC TurboExpress (aka PC Engine) vs. Sega Nomad.
- Minor Sides: Mega Duck vs. Watara Supervision vs. Gamate vs. Systema 2000 vs. Game Wizard
- Winner: Game Boy by four lines.
Even when it came out, the Game Boy's chunky design and simple monochrome display made it look old-fashioned; at the same time, the Atari Lynx was wowing people with its "turn it upside down if you're left-handed" gimmick and full-colour display. But Nintendo's wide range of third-party developers and stranglehold on game shops saw it getting more shelf space. The Game Boy's greatest weakness was also its greatest strength; while the other handheld devices boasted color screens and more sophisticated graphics, Nintendo's device offered far better battery life, making it more easily portable. The Game Boy's Killer App, Tetris, was enormously popular among the adult market, becoming a frequent sight on busses and subways. Sega's Game Gear put up a better fight and also offered a colour screen and the option to watch TV on-the-go through a TV tuner with aerial, but it ate batteries for breakfast and, like its bigger brother the Genesis, fell before the might of Nintendo's juggernaut.
The TurboExpress also failed, despite being the most powerful handheld at that time, largely because it cost $299 on release. A late entry by Sega in the form of the Nomad, a handheld console that could play Genesis games, was a flop — it came out the year after the first Play Station console.
There were also a large number of Game Boy ripoff systems, largely from Europe. The Systema 2000 is generally agreed to be the worst of them all.
The Intermediary Skirmish (Fifth Generation)
- Sides: Nintendo Game Boy Color vs. SNK Neo Geo Pocket/Pocket Color vs. Tiger Electronics Game.Com/R-Zone vs. Bandai Wonder Swan/Wonderswan Color.
- Winner: The Game Boy variants.
The cultural dominance of the Game Boy was immense, and continued to be bought by thousands for years after its initial release. But as the hardware aged, its competition saw a chance to strike. The Neo Geo Pocket and Game.Com were both attempts to knock the monochrome bleeper off its feet. But Nintendo had another trick up its sleeve; the original Game Boy was swapped out for the streamlined, bigger-screened Game Boy Pocket while a new, colour, backwards-compatible Game Boy was put on the market. Combined with the burgeoning Pokémon phenomenon, which was just beginning to make noise outside of Japan, the Game Boy kept its feet until it was relieved by its successor in 2001.
The Neo Geo Pocket Color was released to compete, and while its library of classic Neo Geo titles saw it gain a mild amount of success, it never managed to make any real headway against Nintendo's established brand name and backwards compatibility. Japan also saw the introduction of the hugely-popular Wonderswan, created by the Game Boy's original designer as what was his final project before his tragic death, but it never made it outside Japan. The Game.com was easily the least successful handheld from this generation, boasting a touch screen and online features, but they were clumsily implemented and the overall hardware was badly underpowered (it actually had a similar CPU to the original Game Boy, but this wasn't especially impressive considering it came out eight years later), consigning it to failure in the marketplace. Tiger Electronics would see a similar failure with the R-Zone, which managed to sell even worse than not only its Game.com, but also the Virtual Boy, which the R-Zone is generally a Shoddy Knockoff Product of, and which had three equally disappointing different versions and graphics that can't even exceed the quality of those of the Virtual Boy.
When all was said and done, the Game Boy and its variants remain the single best-selling pure video game device ever made.
Handheld Proliferation (Sixth Gen)
- Sides: Nintendo Game Boy Advance/Advance SP/Micro vs. Game Park GP32 vs. Tapwave Zodiac vs. Nokia NGage/NGage QD vs. Bandai Wonderswan Crystal vs. Tiger Telematics Gizmondo.
- Winner: The GBA line.
The creation of the Game Boy Color was ultimately an admission that that iteration of the console had gone as far as it could go. In 2001, Nintendo released the Game Boy Advance, effectively a portable Game Boy-compatible SNES. (Compare with humorous intent to the first Portable War's massive casualty — Sega's Nomad, which played the original Genesis cartridges, doing away with porting/repurchasing games. Another instance of Sega's console curse — good ideas, horrific timing.)
The GBA was built upon an idea that would have been seen as terrible if it hadn't worked out: theUpdatedRerelease, more so than any other console before it. If the GBA was essentially a portable SNES, so the logic goes, then there was a generation of children who had never played those games, and another that had would be willing to pay for nostalgia. With a launch line-up that included versions of Super Mario Bros 2, F-Zero, and even Earthworm Jim, and a 2D Castlevania, with Mario Kart, Donkey Kong Country, Kirby and The Legend of Zelda a Link To T He Past soon to follow, a wave of players both old and new gave the device a warm reception. SNES developers found it easy to port their games, and even the best new franchises on the handheld (like Wario Ware, Mario vs. Donkey Kong, and Mario and Luigi Superstar Saga, as well as Mega Man Zero for third-parties) had a good dose of gaming nostalgia behind them.
The GBA was followed up two years later with the improved SP model, which had a smaller size and a clamshell style flip-up screen with sidelight. Later they released the Micro, which was smaller and hipper (at the cost of backward compatibility) and an updated SP, both with true backlighting.
Competition followed in various forms, including the NGage by phone company Nokia, which was capable of graphics approaching that of a PlayStation 1 but suffered from an uncomfortable grip and a vertical screen. Further, the first version not only required players to open it and remove the battery to change a game, but also made them look awkward while using it as an actual phone; these were fixed with the "QD" revision, but one wonders how the original ever made it past practical testing. Despite heavy promotion from Nokia, including NGage-only stores, it failed to capture the public's imagination. But it did better than the Palm OS-based Zodiac, which caused its owner company, Tapwave, to fold.
As for the Gizmondo, the system quietly slipped under everyone's radar, despite being an early 3D-capable handheld, mostly thanks to its ludicrous pricing scheme: The base unit cost just over $200, but the system forced its players to sit through adverts before they could play their games, and the ad-free unit cost twice as much. The fact that the system's launch was overshadowed by the dealings with the Swedish Mafia of Stefan Erikson, the CEO of its manufacturer Tiger Telematics , didn't help much, and the system was quietly discontinued barely a year after its release. Furthermore, because of its failure (the Gizmondo sold only 25,000 units and became the worst-selling video game device ever), Tiger Telematics filed for bankruptcy one year after the Gizmondo was released.
By far the most interesting of this generation, however, was the GP32, a Korean homebrew-friendly handheld console with a 133 Mhz processor that was capable of emulating other consoles and computers and came with a tiny detachable keyboard. Although it was not released in America, it gained cult interest in the UK and Europe. The Bandai Swan Crystal was a follow-up to the Wonderswan Color but was not released outside Japan.
A very 2000s trend was the educational console, the best-known example of which is the Leapster, which has gained another lease on life via hacking. It's library was akin to that of the above V-Smile, but typically skewed a bit older.
But for all intents and purposes, the GBA was virtually unchallenged in the portable market for five years.
The Big One (Seventh Gen)
- Sides: Nintendo DS/DS Lite/DSi vs. Play Station Portable (aka PSP)/PSP-Go vs. Game Park GP2X vs. iPod touch / iPhone / iPad.
- Winner: Nintendo DS.
This generation saw Nintendo's first serious competition for the handheld spot since Sega launched its Game Gear in 1990. The PSP, Sony's first foray into the handheld market, was marketed with top-of-the-line technical power. The PSP has much more raw power and greater non-gaming functionality. However, the dual-screened DS chose to concentrate on pure gaming, appealing to casual gamers with the intuitive touch-screen and microphone and excellent battery life. This turned out to be a surprise for everyone who thought the odd little device was dead in the water.
Throughout this generation, Nintendo's position seemed unassailable — Nintendo of Japan can't make 'em fast enough to keep up with demand in its home country. Meanwhile, the PSP has around 1/3 the total sales. This doesn't sound like much, until you factor in that it's still much more than the sales of either the 360 or PS3, and has massive popularity in Japan. Having said that, much of the promised non-game functionality of the PSP was a dead end: one of the main selling points of the PSP, the ability for it to play movies from the UMD format, didn't really get anywhere due to a price point for the UMDs that compared unfavorably with DVD versions but lacked any bonus content and did not require squinting at that PSP screen, and unenthusiastic support from non-Sony movie companies. The latest version of the PSP, the PSP Go, removed UMD functionality entirely.
In addition, the PSP and it's easy memory stick compatibility made it a haven for software pirates. Considering how much had been banked on the impressive back catalog of Playstation hits to provide an easy series of releases, emulation definitely made Sony and third-party developers nervous. Eventually the device would lose much of the third party support it had counted on, and presumably Sony's high-profile failed attempt to block piracy only made other developers more nervous.
In Fall 2008, Nintendo announced the DSi, a third model of the DS. It no longer has Game Boy Advance compatibility (and by extension, no support for the portable Guitar Hero games, which use the GBA port for its guitar grip peripheral), but has a (not particularly impressive) built-in camera, and SD card reader to play media. It also has built-in wi-fi and an online shop for games, similar to Wii Ware. Priced the same as the PSP, it was released worldwide as of April 5, 2009, selling over 600,000 units in its first two days.
In October of 2009, the DSi's "sister console" was announced worldwide and released in Japan. Rather than replace the current DSi, the DSi LL/XL at first seems counter-productive — it's larger (actually about the same size as the original DS), comes in subdued colors like dark brown and burgundy, and includes a larger pen-shaped stylus in addition to the typical Nintendo DS styli. The point seems to be an attempt to attract more of the casual market by having larger screens which are easier to see and easier to write with. And for people with big hands.
Sony's announcement (at E3 2009) and launch (on September 29) of the PSP Go stands in stark contrast. The Go does not have a physical slot for UMDs or other media, but instead plays downloaded titles. This resulted in heavy resistance from PSP owners, whose UMDs are not forward-compatible with the new system; and Sony has not yet announced a way for you (personally) to convert your already-purchased games into DLC. Instead, they (Sony) are converting the PSP's back catalog into DLC, for use on PSP Go or PSP (which Sony is not discontinuing). A fair amount was available as of launch day, and more is promised, including every PSP title to be released thereafter. The problem is, this still means you have to re-buy your old games if you want to play them on the new console, which is part of why the resistance to the Go is so fierce; some stores even refused to stock it initially. In the end, the PSP Go ceased production only two years after its release, perhaps the final big blow to end the generation's wars.
As for minor consoles, the GP2X is Game Park's follow-up to the GP32 and offers a Linux-based open-source platform for techier console fans. Like a hacked PSP, it can be used to emulate various consoles and computers, including Genesis, Neo Geo, and Amiga. However, it remains a cult item on the periphery of the war. Think of it as a small, black, plastic Switzerland, if Switzerland's company went bankrupt in 2007 and the former employees got together to make a Switzerland that was even less relevant.
An odd twist of this generation is the invention of smartphones--Apple iProducts, Android phones by Google--which have become competitors in their own right. They provide download-only games and are popular among some gamers — particularly for simple, low-cost games. They're not competing directly with the Nintendo DS or Sony PSP, but they still have a noticeable market share — certainly more visible than the GP2X. Major third-party developers, such as Konami, Capcom, and Square, have all launched classic as well as new/exclusive titles in the App Store, proving that it's being taken seriously. Also, the App Store has brought many other budding companies to the surface, such as Gameloft. But it remains to be seen how big a presence this new market is in the Console Wars, because we can't measure their impact yet.
The first question one might ask is, "Why are we bothering to include these smartphones at all? People don't play games on them." In counter-argument, we offer a simple sales figure: Angry Birds has been downloaded more than 500 million times since December '09. The nearest competitor, Tetris, does not offer any hard-and-fast figures; only Game Boy and mobile phone sales have been tabulated, leaving out shareware, piracy and its gazillion Spinoffs, but they total 135 million over the course of 26 years of sales. So, although Tetris is almost certainly the most well-known video game in history, officially, Angry Birds is the most proliferate video game ever made. And it's on smartphones. And it brings its own complications to the competition.
- One would think the easy way to figure out smartphones' market share is to do what we do for everybody else, which is count how many consoles Apple, Verizon, Google etc has sold. That's kind of the problem: smartphones aren't consoles. When you buy a DS, you're buying it to play games. When you buy an iPhone, or an iPad, or an iPod Touch, you're buying it to do...what? Maybe you want to play games on it. Maybe you don't. Maybe you're a grandma who received it as a Christmas present and you never took it out of the box.
- It's easy to claim that smartphones aren't consoles, and, well, that's kind of true. While gaming consoles don't really have a standardized definition, we learned experts here at TV Tropes are going with, "an electronic device that is designed primarily to play games," which smartphones obviously aren't. The problem is, this sidesteps the real issue. The simple fact is that most people don't want to carry around more than one electronic interactive device at a time, so smartphones compete with consoles in the greater arena of "pocket space" (and, more concretely, "leisure time"), even if they aren't consoles themselves.
- Angry Birds itself introduces complications, because that half-a-billion figure is for all spinoffs of the game across all operating systems... and on Android phones, it's free. The Tetris figures count only transactions where money has changed hands; Rovio, by their own admission, are glossing over that distinction.  Add in the fact that people upgrade their phones much more frequently than they do their consoles, and must re-purchase or re-download their favorite software every time they do, and the figures start looking even more overblown. This early generation saw mobile as largely ignored, but the next generation saw it attract bile from gamers for corrupt practices.
VERDICT: With each major player developing and announcing their plans for the next generation, it seems safe to say that the Nintendo DS took the win for dedicated hand-helds, outselling the PSP nearly 3:1 world-wide and bringing in a much higher profit margin. The various gaming-phones had success in their own fields, and let's... leave it at that.
The Final Clash? (Eighth Gen)
- Sides: Nintendo 3DS vs. Sony Play Station Vita vs. Sony Ericsson Xperia Play vs. ???.
- Winner: Way too early to tell.
In March 2010, Nintendo announced plans to release the Nintendo 3DS. More details about the system were made available at the 2010 E3 trade show; features included a wider upper screen, which is capable of full, scalable, glasses-free 3D effects (similar to those seen in recent films like Avatar), an analog nub in place of the D-Pad (which is still present, but placed lower on the left side of the unit), and has graphics capabilities on par with the Wii and some times the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. (Let's put it this way: a new Kid Icarus game with graphical fidelity out passing Super Smash Bros Brawl with a higher polygon count then brawl (60 million polygons at E3, when 96 million polygons in it near final version compare to Brawl's 48 million polygons) was highlighted at the event, while freaking Metal Gear Solid 3 Snake Eater — looking as good as ever, but now in 3D — was both used as a tech demo and promised by Hideo Kojima to be ported to the new console.) Other features include an expanded "sleep mode" which can accept communications between other 3DS units, regardless of what the 3DS was doing when it was put in sleep mode, and the ability to play such movies as How to Train Your Dragon or Tangled in full 3D, just like the theaters. It was released at the end of February 2011 in Japan and in March for the rest of the world, kick-starting the next generation of handhelds in the process.
Sony has now officially announced one next-generation hardware platform, the Play Station Vita. The Playstation Vita will sport dual analog sticks, a rear-mounted touch panel, a larger screen, 3G internet, and of course more power (rumors claim it's as powerful as the PlayStation 3, but easier designed). Announced games include new entries in the Uncharted, Monster Hunter, Call of Duty, and Little Big Planet franchises. And it's gone back to cartridges.
Rumors of a PlayStation Phone have circulated since 2006, but it was five years before Sony's Ericsson subsidiary confirmed that they were trying to revive the NGage idea. The Xperia Play is an Android-based phone with a slide-out gamepad, including a central touchpad in place of dual analog sticks. (Note that, while it is associated with the Play Station brand, it is not a Play Station console.) It was announced in an ad during the 2011 Super Bowl and finished its worldwide rollout in May of that year, and can not only play any games available to Android (IE Angry Birds) but can access Sony-exclusive games through the "Play Station Suite". Precisely what games that service offers is a question nobody can seem to answer, possibly because nobody wants to buy the darn thing; as such, claims that Assassin's Creed, Need for Speed Hot Pursuit, Splinter Cell Conviction and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 are available have gone unsubstantiated. By late July, the American press had written the device off as a dud.
As for other possible competitors:
- Apple's iWhatevers are likely going to stay around, but it's unknown whether they (or their successors) will gain a larger share of the handheld market. Remember, gaming is not and has never been a priority for Apple. (Of course, it also wasn't for Sony. Times change.)
- The GP2X's latest iteration(s) will also likely stick to the small black plastic Switzerland role like before. A similar fate probably awaits the Pandora — an entirely open-source, homebrew handheld that uses basically the same hardware as iPod/iPhone, but is actually an odd hybrid between the console and full-featured Linux-powered UMPC. It was actually the most powerful handheld on the market when it was first announced, but a series of a development and production delays pushed the production back for more than one year, allowing the release of iPhone 3G, which uses basically the same hardware, and 3DS announcement.
- Panasonic flirted with plans for a handheld called the Panasonic Jungle, but quickly changed their minds.
- Many cellphone manufacturers have began a shift towards gaming. Nokia resurrected the N-Gage name to now refer to both a framework and a section in many Nokia phones in which downloaded games are found, Google's Android OS is beginning to become noticed for gaming, Samsung's launch of its Bada store which is primarily to act as an app store that's mostly filled with games, Microsoft's integration of Xbox Live into Windows Phone 7, and Apple ramps up its seriousness in the iDevice-as-a-gaming-system strategy by introducing a Game Center segment in iOS 4.1 and newer. (And of course there's the Xperia Play).
- However, in recent years, Mobile games have garnered a terrible reputation with most gamers, being criticized for exploitative "gacha" tactics, "freemium" offers, awful zombifications of beloved franchises thought to have died such as Dungeon Keeper, repetitive gameplay, seedy business measures, intrusive advertising, glitchy controls, etc. Doesn't hamper their success one bit, but gamers generally no longer consider mobile games "real" gaming. It got worse when these practices spread into "real" gaming, with many games going from DLC to microtransactions even when you pay for the game.
Current Standings: At the moment, Nintendo obviously has the biggest lead. The 3DS got off to a rocky start with not much in the way of software its first few months; the high point being an Updated Rerelease of The Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time in June 2011. Soon afterward in August, Nintendo announced that they were slashing the system price by $70 (and offering 20 retro games - 10 from the NES, 10 from the Game Boy Advance - to early adopters as an apology), which many took to be a giant red flag as to the system's future. However, it seems to have done the trick, as sales shot up to surpass the first-year numbers of the original DS. On top of that, the system is considered to have hit its stride in the holiday season thanks to system updates and true Killer Apps like Super Mario 3D Land, Mario Kart 7, Monster Hunter 3G (Initially only in Japan), and downloadable title Pushmo.
The Xperia Play, on the other hand, has done pretty dismally in its short time of availability (thus far), but the few people who have bought them have tended to pay for more games than other Android users and developers are still adapting their games for it, so Sony Ericsson must be doing something right. The Playstation Vita, while getting more press than the Play, is also struggling with its Japanese release - let's put it this way; the 3DS was considered to have low sales when it launched, and the Vita's numbers aren't even that high. It is also known to have the game that killed Sly Cooper; Thieves in Time.
iOS and Android started strong, but succumbed to developer corruption and scummy practices, driving players away... unless Pokémon Go counts. In fact, these scummy practices were so common, many saw "mobile game" as an insult and an omen, especially as these practices spread to other platforms like a plague.
But the race is young — the Vita has only just been released internationally, the Play's full capabilities were never known, and there's always the smartphone market. At the moment, it's anyone's game.
- ↑ Actually, the reaction of the Youtube Poop community to Colgate censoring Dr. Rabbit YTP may very well be tending towards this.
- ↑ due to the overall homogenization of hardware as IBM compatibles
- ↑ Street Fighter Alpha was back-ported to CPS-1 this way, (oddly not using the added sound capabilities of the CPS-1.5, which were indeed supported on the system) while their versions of Captain Commando, Knights of the Round, and Warriors of Fate each had an alternate mode with exclusive moves that so far remains exclusive to the system.
- ↑ Bandai persisted making handheld platforms, and is the only one of these (not counting the many companies that have assumed the name of "Atari") to remain as a third-party developer, eventually merging with Namco.
- ↑ It is still odd that neither Sega nor Hudson tried a triple system with the console and both add-ons in one
- ↑ though the upgraded consoles of generation 8.5 are somewhat similar, they were entirely separate units rather than attachments to the prior system. There was also the Kinect, which became an exception that proved the rule.
- ↑ the Wii is somewhat more powerful than the Xbox, it has a larger polygon count than the Xbox (Wii's 500 million polygons max and 410 million polygons in game play compare to the Xbox's 120 million polygons max but can only put out 15 million polygons at max in game play) but lacks the modern shaders that the Xbox uses, however when the Xbox only has 4 shader units, the Wii uses 24 TEV units to make up for it
- ↑ not to be confused with Tiger Electronics
- ↑ And maybe they should. The Sims, as a franchise, claims to have sold over 100 million units, ignoring the fact that 95% of their product is Expansion Packs. If they get to posit that kind of Rank Inflation, so does Rovio.