The gaming world is a dog-eat-dog arena where only the strong survive. That might seem a little harsh, considering the fact that for the most part we have several viable consoles on the market right now and that doesn't look to change any time soon. Yet, that wasn't always the case; there was a time, several as a matter of fact, when it seemed as though you might find a studio executive suddenly vanished without a trace and everyone pointing in every possible direction.
Gaming is a multibillion-dollar industry, and it's not going anywhere. Video games will forever be a part of the world culture. Michael D. Gallagher, president and CEO of Entertainment Software Association, said it best:
"Video games are ingrained in our culture. Driven by some of the most innovative minds in the tech sector,our industry’s unprecedented leaps in software and hardware engages and inspires our diverse global audience. Our artists and creators continue to push the entertainment envelope, ensuring that our industry will maintain its upward trajectory for years to come."
In 2014 alone, consumers (that's us) spent $22.4 billion on hardware, accessories and content. For reference, that is a 213 percent increase from 2009 when we spent just over $10.5 billion. Part of why the gaming industry has grown so rapidly is because of demand for ever-advancing technology. Ralph Baer, inventor of the Brown Box and pioneer of the home video game console, said:
"If it weren’t for video game enthusiasts and the absolute commercial need to keep them happy with ever-better graphics requiring ever-higher processor speeds, complex computer graphics would still be found only in the high-priced domains of the business and science world."
So considering that we're talking about so much money, it's easy to understand why there have been a few rivalries created over the years to gain the edge on the market and take home an extra percentage of that revenue. In the nearly 50 year history of gaming consoles we've seen several wars between the brands, but here are the five biggest.
Late '70s And Early '80s
Atari was the first company to jump into the home console market with its single-game system PONG in 1975, and then followed up two years later with the Atari 2600. The 2600 introduced the gamer to some true classics in the home game world like Space Invaders, Pitfall!, Breakout, Missile Command and Centipede. Several games in the Atari lineup came from its arcade systems and it's easy to see why Atari would be as popular on a home television screen.
After the success in the late '70s, Mattel stepped into the console game ring with the Intellivision. And while it boasted slightly improved graphics, where it actually stood out was in its processing chip that included a synthesized voice rather than the singular audio tone. Yet Mattel's marketing caused the company to slowly fade into oblivion and eventually (although it tried to reinvent the console over the years) lose this war before the gaming market crash in 1983-85.
WINNER: ATARI 2600
After the crash ended in '85, Nintendo was the first company to truly try to revitalize the market when it introduced the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) to North America. It did exactly what it was supposed to do and was a smash hit across the board. Because of the success of the 8-bit system, Sega (another Japanese company) decided to step into gaming and upgrade our experience with the Sega Genesis, a 16-bit that introduced a slew of apparent graphical upgrades compares to the NES.
Yet Nintendo wasn't about to be outdone that easily. The next year, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) was released and it matched the Genesis in nearly every aspect of technological achievement. So the competition arose when comparing the game library, and Nintendo had a wealth of franchises to draw from and improve on. The leading Nintendo franchises were obviously Super Mario and Zelda and the games that were released for the SNES are considered some of the best games released to date. But just those games wouldn't be enough to topple the Sega Genesis. It had several games that ran circles around Nintendo; one example being everyone's favorite blue protagonist, Sonic the Hedgehog. Add to that the landslide victory in the world of sports games and it's easy to see why the debate between Genesis and the Super Nintendo was so heated at kids' lunch tables in the '90s.
Mid And Late '90s
In the mid '90s we were introduced to a newcomer in the gaming market: Sony. Up to this point, Sony had mainly been a name associated with items like televisions, cassette players, video camcorders and several other pieces of electronic equipment. So when it entered the video game market, everyone was pleasantly surprised. Sony unveiled the PlayStation, which was originally developed through a partnership with Nintendo back to 1986. The Play Station (later removing the space between the words) was intended to be a peripheral addition to the SNES that would allow for new CD-ROM-based games to be played, but Nintendo cancelled the partnership and Sony decided to continue on with its development. In '94-'95 the PlayStation was released, and was met with rave reviews and quick sales.
When the PlayStation first hit the market, it faced the newest console developed by Nintendo: the N64. Like its predecessors, the N64 relied on a cartridge to play games. Nintendo, at the time, was quick to balk at the concept of disc-based consoles due to skepticism of durability, longer load times and the ease of piracy. The N64 introduced similar 3D gameplay as the PlayStation, but had a bolstered 64-bit processor versus Sony's 32-bit processor in the original PlayStation (the PSone released in 2000 would match the N64's processor). The N64 was met with praise for its processing and graphics, but criticized for its lack of games.
WINNER: Nintendo 64
2000 — 2001
As we entered into the 2000s, we were afraid of the Y2K bug, and with that fear came the assumption that all electronics would go batshit crazy. Thankfully, that didn't happen and the first few years of the new millennium would be associated with one of the biggest console wars of several generations of gamers. In 2000 Sony upped the ante by introducing both a revamped PlayStation, dubbed the PSOne, as well as releasing the highly anticipated PlayStation 2. The PS2, as it was commonly referred, was released and quickly became the best-selling video game console ever, selling a staggering 150 million units through 2011. The PS2 introduced the first 128-bit processor as well as the online capability that only required an internet connection, as the servers were handled on third-party servers by each unique game publisher.
Then the unheard of happened — a new company entered the competition, and an American company for that matter. In 2001, Microsoft challenged the status-quo and introduced the Microsoft Xbox, a console system that carried the hardware of a PC system and allowed for crisper graphics. In addition to the graphic processing, the Xbox also boasted the first internal hard drive for game storage, so it did not require the external storage drives that the PlayStation used. Although its sales were overshadowed by the PS2, the Xbox was the superior console.
The same year saw Nintendo attempt to challenge Sony and Microsoft's sudden rise to prominence, with its addition to the console war: the Nintendo GameCube. The GameCube utilized Nintendo's first attempt at an optical disc rather than the standard cartridge system of previous Nintendo consoles. The GameCube introduced a disc smaller than a standard CD/DVD as the company was still hesitant to employ this format due to fear of piracy, and thus the system was unable to play standard DVDs or audio CDs. Yet even with this lack playability, the GameCube was met with fairly positive reviews thanks to its extensive game library, high-quality games and the ability to connect a Game Boy Advance via link cable. But ultimately it wasn't in contention with the other systems.
WINNER: PlayStation 2
2013 To Present
Fast forward a dozen years and we find ourselves in a near stalemate between the big two, Microsoft and Sony, for console domination. Now into the eighth generation of home gaming consoles, we've seen Sony introduce the PS3 in 2006 and then follow it up with the PS4 in 2013. The PS4 is Sony's most advanced console in several years as it features a theoretical performance that AMD boasts as the most powerful APU that it has ever created. The PS4 follows in the footsteps of the previous iterations and expands on the social features implemented with the PS3 as well as continues to offer the completely free online play. The PS4 has turned into Sony's flagship entity and is described having significant performance capabilities above its main competition.
Microsoft has also entered the eighth generation of consoles after releasing the Xbox 360, which was superior to Sony's counterpart the PS3, in 2005. Then following the success of the Xbox 360, Microsoft introduced the Xbox One, which was toted as the cloud-integrated full entertainment console. Microsoft faltered prior to even releasing the console by having several policies that caused a great deal of controversy including an always-on digital rights management and the Kinect system be used at all times. Because of the gamer outcry, Microsoft retracted the changes prior to its launch but never seemed to gain traction after several thousand gamers jumped ship and chose to pursue Sony as their console of choice.
WINNER: PlayStation 4
Ultimately, we've seen countless battles between consoles over the years, and in general the wars have only helped to advance the gaming industry overall.