Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Console Wars

Just after Atari and right before the Xbox was a glorious time in video game history. In fact, some refer tot hem as the glory days and longingly refer to "back in the day" when they reminisce about 8- and 16-bit gaming.

Nintendo seemed to have a firm grasp on the video game market, but it did face some stiff competition. Nothing portrays this better than the console wars of the early 1990s. The Sega Corporation released its Sega Genesis system in 1989 to compete with the NES, and later against the SNES. Its superior graphics eventually caught on in 1991 with games such as Sonic the Hedgehog. A back and forth battle between Sega and Nintendo ensued that involved stiff advertising against each other with slogans such as “Genesis does what Nintendon’t” (note that now that Sega no longer makes its own console, Mario and Sonic have appeared in games side by side). Sega had a hold on the console wars, but due to mismanagement, Nintendo ultimately won out in 1995. Sega had minor success with its Saturn and DreamCast systems, but subsequently left the video game market.

What gave both Nintendo and Sega such dominance was the way the two companies tapped into popular culture. They took main characters Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog, respectively, and marketed them as toys, stickers, clothes, and comics. The characters were so popular, they even had television shows, and Mario and his brother Luigi even had a live action movie. Pokemon was so popular that Nintendo made it into a movie and then a television series. Video games are so mainstream that there are game reviews in major newspapers, games in major retail stores, and entire websites and magazines devoted to them. Nintendo created its own magazine full of tips, tricks, and game related information called Nintendo Power, which was the top selling kids magazine in 1990, and is still published today.

Towards the end of the console wars between Sega and Nintendo, a familiar company decided to get its share in the video game market. Sony, a household name for many years, released its PlayStation in 1995 and Final Fantasy IV. The PlayStation was the first highly successful video game system to use CDs rather than cartridges, which made the manufacture of games much cheaper. To follow up initial success in 2000, Sony introduced its PlayStation2 (PS2) . Sony boasted that gamers could play CDs, DVDs, and games on their system and that they would soon rival computers. 2004’s PlayStation Portable (PSP) plays specially designed games and even movies. The success and backwards compatibility of the PS2 planted Sony firmly in the video game industry and in 2006, just two days before Nintendo released the Wii, Sony released the PS3, which has been extremely successful so far.

With the release of the PS2 and Sony’s claims that it would soon dominate over the PC, computer giant Microsoft decided to throw its hat into the video game market in 2002 with the Xbox. This system could also play CDs, games, and DVDs and featured an interactive online option called Xbox Live. Successful marketing and the Microsoft name helped launch the Xbox and in 2005, the Xbox 360 was unveiled and sold either as a core system or as the more expensive premium system. The appeal of the Xbox comes from titles with realistic 3-D graphics such as Halo and Call of Duty.

The progression of video games in the past 30 years has helped the genre grow and become part of popular culture. The novelty of new technology and exciting adventures draws people of all ages and has become a booming industry. According to the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), in 2006 $7.4 billion dollars were spent on video games, consoles, and accessories. The staying power of video games and loyalty of gamers is also shown on the ESA website, which reports that one-quarter of Americans over 50 play video games, and the average age of a video gamer is 33 – meaning that they’ve probably been playing video games for at least 12 years.

In our game room, we don't discriminate (okay, well the Wii was banished to the living room, but that's another issue in itself).

And that is a brief look at the console wars. But of course, don't take my word for it, take the word of the Angry Video Game Nerd (note there's some bad language):