A Look Back on the Console Wars

From the dawn of the Sega Master System gamers have chosen their sides in one console war after another. Like the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States, every generation of video game technology sees gaming companies racing to put out the faster, more powerful, sleeker and fancier new model. Here’s a brief look back at the history of console wars:

The Atari 2600 Dominates

All In the 1970’s and early 1980’s, if you were a gamer you either played at the arcades or on an Atari 2600. The Atari’s appeal in large part was simply playing video games at home, something that wasn’t really a possibility before.

The Atari 5200 and the ColecoVision

There would eventually be other consoles, like the ColecoVision released in 1982, but when you consider that you could play ColecoVision games on an Atari, but not vice-versa without a special hardware add-on, the winner was clear. The Atari 5200 dominated the market well up until the pre-Nintendo video game crash. The 1982 release of the Commodore 64 played more to the first generation of PC gamers than to the actual console gaming crowd, so that’s a discussion for another day.

The NES: King of Consoles

In the mid-eighties, video games saw a resurgence of interest thanks entirely to the Nintendo Entertainment System and Super Mario Brothers. The Sega Master System would eventually provide some competition, but while that console had a cult following of its own and better hardware in many areas, the NES set the standard for all console wars to follow: it’s not the hardware, it’s the games. The Sega Master System had faster processing and better graphics and better sound and more options for controllers and plug-ins, but the NES had Super Mario Brothers, Double Dragon, Dragon Quest, Mega Man and Punch-Out! This is a lesson that would come back to bite slow-learning console makers time and again in the future.

Super Nintendo vs. Sega Genesis

The first real, full on console war was that staged between the Super Nintendo and the Genesis. Both consoles were comparable in terms of power, many of the most popular games could be bought on either system, and yet this generation found gamers most aggressively favoring one or the other. It was largely a matter of marketing. Super Mario was seen as passé, goofy and childish to many gamers who were then growing into their teens and pre-teens. Sonic the Hedgehog had attitude, though, and starred in a game featuring incredibly fast play. Sega featured bloody action games while Nintendo largely sold family friendly titles. Both consoles went toe to toe on sales for the most part with Super Nintendo gaining the lead in some markets, and many gamers still debate who won this one. Sony Dominates Sony set a new precedent with the PlayStation 1 by bringing full 3D polygonal graphics and CD quality sound to gaming.

The SNES and Genesis couldn’t compete with Final Fantasy 7, Tomb Raider and Resident Evil. The N64 eventually found a foothold as a family friendly alternative while the Sega Saturn’s niche game selection faltered. This trend would be repeated into the PlayStation 2 era, where Sony again dominated the Dreamcast, Xbox and GameCube. The Xbox 360 and Beyond The Xbox was something of a niche console while the Xbox 360 is currently found in more homes than its competition combined although those sales have slowed recently as gamers split off to iPhones and other gaming options. Leaks within the industry have pointed to an upcoming Xbox 720 and a PlayStation 4, but the days of direct competition seem to be all but over with Microsoft looking into tablet based gaming while the PS4 hopes to crunch bigger numbers for hardcore gamers. Rather than console wars, we may be looking at a series of niches in the future with every console looking to dominate a small portion rather than the whole of gaming culture.

 

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