There are currently 8 generations of home consoles, starting with the Magnavox Oddessey in 1972 through to the recently released Xbox One in the fall of 2013.
First Generation 1
The first generation of video game consoles began in 1972 with the Magnavox Odyssey (which began development in 1968 by Ralph Baer under the code name “The Brown Box”). This generation lasted until 1977, when “pong”-style console manufacturers left the market en masse (due to the video game crash of 1977) – and when microprocessor-based consoles were introduced.
The first generation of game systems consists of:
Some defining characteristics of first generation consoles include:
- Discrete transistor-based digital game logic
- Entire game playfield occupies only one screen
- Players and objects consist of very basic lines or dots
- Two-colour (1-bit) graphics (usually black and white)
- Either single-channel or no audio
- Lacked the features of second-generation consoles such as microprocessor logic, flip-screen playfields, sprite-based graphics, and multi color graphics
Television engineer, Ralph Baer,created “The Brown Box” in 1968, conceived the idea of an interactive television while building a television set from scratch for Loral in 1951 in the Bronx, New York. He explored these ideas further in 1966 when he was the Chief Engineer and manager of the Equipment Design Division at Sanders Associates. Baer created a simple two-player video game that could be displayed on a standard television set called Chase, where two dots chased each other around the screen. After a demonstration to the company’s director of R&D Herbert Campman, some funding was allotted and the project was made “official”. In 1967 Bill Harrison was brought on board, and a light gun was constructed from a toy rifle that was aimed at a target moved by another player.
Bill Rusch joined the project to speed up development and soon a third machine-controlled dot was used to create a ping-pong game. With more funding additional games were created, and Baer had the idea of selling the product to cable TV companies, who could transmit static images as game backgrounds. A prototype was demonstrated in February 1968 to TelePrompTer Vice President Hubert Schlafly, who signed an agreement with Sanders. The Cable TV industry was in a slump during the late ’60s and early ’70s and a lack of funding meant other avenues had to be pursued.
Development continued on the hardware and games resulting in the final “Brown Box” prototype, which had two controllers, a light gun and sixteen switches on the console that selected the game to be played. Baer approached various U.S. Television manufacturers and an agreement was eventually signed with Magnavox in late 1969. Magnavox’s main alterations to the Brown Box were to use plug-in circuits to change the games, and to remove the color graphics capabilities in favor of color overlays in order to reduce manufacturing costs. It was released in May 1972 as the Magnavox Odyssey.
The Magnavox Odyssey is a digital console, the same as all other game consoles. However, like all video game consoles up until the sixth generation, it uses analog circuitry for the output to match the televisions of its era, which were analog; also, like all later consoles from the Nintendo 64 onwards, it features analog game controllers. Due to these two facts, many collectors have mistakenly considered the Odyssey to be an analog console, with the misunderstanding becoming so widespread that Baer was eventually led to clarify that the Odyssey is indeed a digital console: All of the electronic signals exchanged between the various parts responsible for gameplay (ball and players generators, sync generators, diode matrix, etc.) are binary. The type of digital components used feature DTL, a common pre-TTL digital design component using discrete transistors and diodes.
It was not a large success due to restrictive marketing, although other companies with similar products (including Atari) had to pay a licensing fee for some time. For a time it was Sanders’ most profitable line, even though many in the company had been unsupportive of game development.
Many of the earliest games utilizing digital electronics ran on university mainframe computers in the United States, developed by individual users who programmed them in their spare time. In 1962, a group of students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology programmed a game called Spacewar! on a DEC PDP-1. In 1970 Nolan Bushnell saw Spacewar! for the first time at the University of Utah. Deciding there was commercial potential in an arcade version, he hand-wired a custom computer capable of playing it on a black and white television. The resulting game, Computer Space, did not fare well commercially and Bushnell started looking for new ideas. In 1971 he saw a demonstration of the Magnavox Odyssey, and hired Al Alcorn to produce an arcade version of the Odyssey’s ping-pong game (using Transistor-transistor logic), called Pong.
Home video games achieved widespread popularity with the release of a home version of Pong in the Christmas of 1975. Its success sparked hundreds of clones, including the Coleco Telstar, which went on to be a success in its own right, with over a dozen models.
The first generation of video games did not feature a microprocessor, and were based on custom codeless state machine computers consisting of discrete logic circuits comprising each element of the game itself. Later consoles of this generation moved the bulk of the circuitry to custom “pong on a chip” IC’s such as Atari’s custom Pong chips and General Instruments’ AY-3-8500 series.
Second Generation 2
The second generation of computer and video games (sometimes referred to as the early 8-bit era and the “Golden Age of Video Games”) began in 1976 with the release of the Fairchild Channel F and Radofin Electronics’ 1292 Advanced Programmable Video System. It coincided with and was partly fueled by the golden age of arcade video games, a peak era of popularity and innovation for the medium.
The early period saw the launch of several consoles as various companies decided to enter the market; later releases were in direct response to the earlier consoles. The Atari 2600 was the dominant console for much of the second generation, with other consoles such as Intellivision, the Odyssey 2, and ColecoVision also enjoying market share.
The second generation had a mixed legacy affected by the video game crash of 1983 two years before the arrival of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in the United States. The Atari 2600 was discontinued on January 1, 1992, ending the second generation. The duration between the start of the 2nd generation in 1976 and the start of the 3rd generation in 1983 was seven years.
The second generation of game systems consists of:
- Fairchild Channel F
- Atari 2600
- Magnavox Odyssey 2
- Atari 5200
- Emerson Arcadia 2001
- Bally Astrocade
Some features that distinguished second generation consoles from first generation consoles include:
- Microprocessor-based game logic.
- AI simulation of computer-based opponents, allowing for single-player gaming.
- ROM cartridges for storing games, allowing any number of different games to be played on one console.
- Game playfields can span multiple flip-screen areas.
- Resolution of around 160 × 192 pixels, and basic blocky sprites.
- Generally between two-colour (1-bit) and eight-colour (3-bit) graphics.
- Up to three channel audio.
Lacked the features of third-generation consoles such as scrolling playfields and tile-based backgrounds.
Early 8-bit home consoles (1976-1983):
The earliest console, the Magnavox Odyssey, uses removable cartridges that are merely jumpers housed in cartridges, that activate the games already wired into the console. This method was soon replaced during the move to Pong consoles, where the logic for one or more games was hard-coded into microchips using discrete logic, and no additional games could be added. By the mid-1970s, cartridges returned with the move to CPU-based consoles. With games now consisting of microprocessor-based code, these games were burned onto ROM chips mounted inside plastic cartridge casings that could be plugged into slots on the console. When the cartridges were plugged in, the general-purpose microprocessors in the consoles read the cartridge memory and ran whatever program was stored there. Rather than being confined to a small selection of games included in the box, consumers could now amass libraries of game cartridges.
The Fairchild VES was the world’s first CPU-based video game console, introducing the cartridge-based game code storage format.
It was released by Fairchild Semiconductor in August 1976. When Atari released their VCS the next year, Fairchild quickly renamed it to the Fairchild Channel F.
The RCA Studio II is a video game console made by RCA that debuted in January 1977. The graphics of Studio II games were black and white and resembled those of earlier Pong consoles and their clones. The Studio II also did not have joysticks or similar game controllers but instead used two ten button keypads that were built into the console itself. The console was capable of making simple beep sounds with slight variations in tone and length.
In 1977, Atari released its CPU-based console called the Video Computer System (VCS), later called the Atari 2600. Nine games were designed and released for the holiday season. It would quickly become—by far—the most popular of the early consoles.
The Bally Astrocade was originally referred to as the Bally Home Library Computer, and was released in 1977, but was available only through mail order. Delays in the production meant that none of the units actually shipped until 1978; by this time, the machine had been renamed the Bally Professional Arcade. In this form, it sold mostly at computer stores and had little retail exposure (unlike the Atari VCS). In 1979, Bally grew less interested in the arcade market and decided to sell off their Consumer Products Division, including development and production of the game console. In 1980, they re-released the unit with the BASIC cartridge included for free; this system was known as the Bally Computer System, but was changed to Astrocade in 1982. It sold under this name until the video game crash of 1983, and then disappeared around 1984.
In 1978, Magnavox released its microprocessor based console, the Odyssey 2, in the United States and Canada. Philips Electronics released this same game console as the Philips G7000 for the European market. Although the Odyssey 2 never became as popular as the Atari consoles, it managed to sell several million units through 1983.
Philips had also designed the more powerful Interton VC 4000 console family (e.g. 1292 Advanced Programmable Video System) before this.
In 1979, Activision was created by disgruntled former Atari programmers. It was the first third-party developer of video games. In succeeding years, many new developers would follow their lead.
The next major entry was Intellivision, which was introduced by Mattel in 1980. Though chronologically coming long before the “16-bit era”, the Intellivision console contains a unique processor with instructions that were 10 bits wide (allowing more instruction variety and potential speed), and registers 16 bits wide. It also features an advanced sound chip which can deliver output through three distinct sound channels. The system’s initial production run sold out shortly after its national launch in 1980.
Intellivision was the first system to pose a serious threat to Atari’s dominance. A series of TV advertisements featuring George Plimpton demonstrated the superiority of Intellivision’s graphics and sound to those of the Atari 2600 using side-by-side game comparisons.
Nevertheless, Atari held exclusive rights to most of the popular arcade game conversions of the day, and used this key segment to support their older hardware in the market. This game advantage and the difference in price between the machines meant that each year, Atari sold more units than Intellivision, lengthening its lead despite inferior graphics. This need for price parity has influenced every console war since.
1982 saw the introduction of four new consoles: the Emerson Arcadia 2001, the Vectrex, ColecoVision, and the Atari 5200. The Vectrex was unique among home systems of the time in featuring vector graphics and its own self-contained display. The Arcadia and ColecoVision were even more powerful machines.
The popularity of early consoles was strongly influenced by the ports of arcade games. The Atari 2600 was the first, with Space Invaders, and ColecoVision bundled in Nintendo’s Donkey Kong.
Early cartridges were 2 KB ROMs for the Atari 2600 and 4 KB for Intellivision. This upper limit grew steadily from 1978 to 1983: up to 16 KB for Atari 5200 and Intellivision, 32 KB for ColecoVision. Bank switching, a technique that allowed two different parts of the program to use the same memory addresses, was required for the larger cartridges to work. Atari 2600 carts got as large as 32k (Final Run) through bank switching. In contrast, some Arcadia family members (e.g. Palladium VCG) supported up to 31 KB without any need for bank switching. In the game consoles, high RAM prices, especially during the early period of the second generation, limited the RAM (memory) capacity of the systems to a tiny amount, often less than 1 KB. Although the cartridge ROM size limit grew steadily, the RAM limit was part of the console itself, and all games had to work within its constraints. In the case of the especially constrained Atari 2600, which had only 128 Bytes of RAM available in the console, a few late game cartridges contained a special combined RAM/ROM chip, thus adding another 256 bytes of RAM inside the cartridge itself.
By 1982, a glut of consoles, over-hyped game releases, and low-quality games from new third-party developers less well-prepared than Activision began to appear, overflowing the shelf capacity of toy stores. Partly due to this surplus, the video game industry crashed, beginning in December 1982 and stretching through all of 1984. Almost no new games were released in 198
The first handheld game console with interchangeable cartridges was the Microvision designed by Smith Engineering, and distributed and sold by Milton-Bradley in 1979. Crippled by a small, fragile LCD display and a very narrow selection of games, it was discontinued two years later.
The Epoch Game Pocket Computer was released in Japan in 1984. The Game Pocket Computer featured an LCD screen with 75 X 64 resolution, and could produce graphics at about the same level as early Atari 2600 games. The system sold poorly, and as a result only 5 games were made for it.
Nintendo’s Game & Watch series of dedicated game systems proved more successful. It helped to establish handheld gaming as popular and lasted until 1991. Many Game & Watch games would later be re-released on Nintendo’s subsequent handheld systems.
Third Generation 3
In the history of computer and video games, the third generation (sometimes referred to as the 8-bit era) began on July 15, 1983, with the Japanese release of both the Family Computer (later known as the Nintendo Entertainment System, or NES, in the rest of the world) and SG-1000. This generation marked the end of the North American video game crash of 1983, a shift in the dominance of home video games from the United States to Japan, and the transition from block-based graphics to tile and sprite based graphics, which was a pivotal leap in game design.
The best-selling console of this generation was the Famicom in Japan and the NES in other regions (which remained the best-selling home console up until the PlayStation), followed by the Master System (which dominated the European and South American markets) and then the Atari 7800. Although the previous generation of consoles had also used 8-bit processors, it was at the end of this generation that home consoles were first labeled by their “bits”. This also came into fashion as 16-bit systems like the Mega Drive/Genesis were marketed to differentiate between the generations of consoles. In the United States, this generation in gaming was primarily dominated by the NES. The end of the 3rd generation of video games comes as 8-bit consoles become obsolete in graphics and processing power compared to 16-bit consoles.
The thrid generation of game systems consists of:
- Nintendo Entertainment System
- Sega Mark III/Master System
- Atari 7800
Some features that distinguished third generation consoles from second generation consoles include:
- D-pad game controllers.
- Hardware scrolling, enabling large multi-directionally scrolling tile-based game playfields.
- Resolution of up to 256 × 240.
- Generally between eight-colour (3-bit) and 32-colour (5-bit) graphics.
- Up to five channel primarily square wave mono audio.
The Family Computer (commonly abbreviated the Famicom) became very popular in Japan during this era, crowding out the other consoles in this generation. The Famicom’s Western counterpart, the Nintendo Entertainment System, dominated the gaming market in Japan and North America, thanks in part to its restrictive licensing agreements with developers. This marked a shift in the dominance of home video games from the United States to Japan, to the point that Computer Gaming World described the “Nintendo craze” as a “non-event” for American video game designers as “virtually all the work to date has been done in Japan.” The company had an estimated 65% of 1987 hardware sales in the console market; Atari Corporation had 24%, Sega had 8%, and other companies had 3%. Consoles’ popularity grew so quickly that in 1988 Epyx stated that, beginning from a video game hardware industry in 1984 that they described as “dead”, by 1988 the market for Nintendo cartridges was larger than for all home-computer software.
Nintendo sold seven million NES in 1988, almost as many as the number of Commodore 64s sold in its first five years. Compute! reported that Nintendo’s popularity caused most computer-game companies to have poor sales during Christmas that year, resulting in serious financial problems for some, and after more than a decade making computer games, Epyx in 1989 converted completely to console cartridges. By 1990 30% of American households owned the NES, compared to 23% for all personal computers.
Nintendo’s market domination, while overwhelming in sheer number of units sold, was not global. Although the NES dominated the market in Japan and North America, Sega’s Master System made large inroads in Europe, Oceania and Brazil, where the NES was never able to break its grip. The Atari 7800 also had a fairly successful life in the United States.
Sega was Nintendo’s main competitor during the era in terms of market share for console units sold. Unlike the NES, Sega’s SG-1000 (which preceded Sega’s more commercially successful Master System) initially had very little to differentiate itself from earlier consoles such as the ColecoVision and contemporary computers such as the MSX, although, despite the lack of hardware scrolling, the SG-1000 was able to pull off advanced scrolling effects, including parallax scrolling in Orguss and sprite-scaling in Zoom 909. In 1985, Sega’s Master System incorporated hardware scrolling, alongside an increased colour palette, greater memory, pseudo-3D effects, and stereoscopic 3-D, gaining a clear hardware advantage over the NES. However, the NES would still continue to dominate the important North American and Japanese markets, while the Master System would gain more dominance in the emerging European and South American markets.
In the later part of the third generation, Nintendo also introduced the Game Boy, which almost single-handedly solidified and then proceeded to dominate the previously scattered handheld market for 15 years. While the Game Boy product line was incrementally updated every few years, until the Game Boy Micro and Nintendo DS, and partially the Game Boy Color, all Game Boy products were backwards compatible with the original released in 1989. Since the Game Boy’s release, Nintendo had dominated the handheld market. Additionally two popular 8-bit computers, the Commodore 64 and Amstrad CPC, were repackaged as the Commodore 64 Games System and Amstrad GX4000 respectively, for entry into the console market.
This era contributed many influential aspects to the history of the development of video games. The third generation saw the release of many of the first console role-playing video games (RPGs). Editing and censorship of video games was often used in localizing Japanese games to North America. During this era, many of the most famous video game franchises of all time were founded that outlived the third generation and continued through releases on later consoles. Some examples are Super Mario Bros., Final Fantasy, The Legend of Zelda, Dragon Quest, Metroid, Mega Man, Metal Gear, Castlevania, Phantasy Star, Megami Tensei, Ninja Gaiden, and Bomberman.
The third generation also saw the dawn of the children’s educational console market. Although consoles such as the VideoSmarts and ComputerSmarts systems were stripped down to very primitive input systems designed for children, their use of ROM cartridges would establish this as the standard for later such consoles. Due to their reduced capacities, these systems typically were not labeled by their “bits” and were not marketed in competition with traditional video game consoles.
Nintendo versus Sega
The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) / Family Computer (Famicom) sold by far the most units of any third generation console in North America and Asia. This was due to its earlier release, its strong lineup of first-party titles (such as Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros. 3, The Legend of Zelda, and Metroid), and Nintendo’s strict licensing rules that required NES titles to be exclusive to the console for two years after release. This put a damper on third party support for the other, less popular consoles. However, Sega’s Master System was more popular than the NES in Europe, South America, and Oceania, with the latter two markets being first reached by Sega. Many more games for the Master System were released in Europe and Brazil than in North America, and the console had a very long shelf-life in Brazil and New Zealand. In Europe, competition was tough for the NES, which was not as successful as the Master System in those other regions despite the hegemony that it had in the North American and Japanese markets. The industry also started to grow in places west of the Soviet Union, including Lithuania via new programmers trained in that area. The Master System was finally discontinued in the late 1990s but has continued to sell in Brazil through to the present day, while Nintendo of Japan continued to repair Famicom systems until October 31, 2007.
Fourth Generation 4
In the history of computer and video games, the fourth generation (more commonly referred to as the 16-bit era) of games consoles began on October 30, 1987 with the Japanese release of Nippon Electric Company’s (NEC) PC Engine (known as the TurboGrafx-16 in North America). Although NEC released the first fourth generation console, this era was dominated by the rivalry between Nintendo and Sega’s consoles: the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (the Super Famicom in Japan) and the Mega Drive (named the Sega Genesis in North America due to trademark issues). Nintendo was able to capitalize on its previous success in the third generation and managed to win the largest worldwide market share in the fourth generation as well. Sega was extremely successful in this generation and began a new franchise, Sonic the Hedgehog, to compete with Nintendo’s Mario series of games. Several other companies released consoles in this generation, but, with the exception of the Neo Geo from SNK, none of them were widely successful. Nevertheless, several other companies started to take notice of the maturing video game industry and began making plans to release consoles of their own in the future.
The fourth generation of game systems consists of:
- Mega Drive/Sega Genesis
- Super Famicom/Super Nintendo Entertainment System
- Neo Geo AES
- Commodore CDTV
- Pioneer LaserActive
- Neo Geo CD
The PC Engine was the result of a collaboration between Hudson Soft and NEC and launched in Japan on October 30, 1987. It launched in North America during August 1989, under the name TurboGrafx-16.
Initially, the PC Engine was quite successful in Japan, partly due to titles available on the then-new CD-ROM format. NEC released a CD add-on in 1990 and by 1992 had released a combination TurboGrafx and CD-ROM system known as the Turbo Duo.
In the USA, NEC used Bonk, a head-banging caveman, as their mascot and featured him in most of the TurboGrafx advertising from 1990 to 1994. The platform was well received initially, especially in larger markets, but failed to make inroads into the smaller metropolitan areas where NEC did not have as many store representatives or as focused in-store promotion.
The TurboGrafx-16 failed to maintain its sales momentum or to make a strong impact in North America. The TurboGrafx-16 and its CD combination system, the Turbo Duo, ceased manufacturing in North America by 1994, though a small amount of software continued to trickle out for the platform.
In Japan, a number of more adult titles were also available for the PC-Engine, such as a variety of strip mahjong games (such as the Super Real Mahjong series), which set it apart from its competitors.
Mega Drive/Sega Genesis
The Mega Drive was released in Japan on October 29, 1988. The console was released in New York City and Los Angeles on August 14, 1989 under the name Sega Genesis, and in the rest of North America later that year. It was launched in Europe and Australia on November 30, 1990 under its original name.
Sega initially had a hard time overcoming Nintendo’s ubiquitous presence in the American consumer’s home. That changed in late 1991, as Sega built their marketing campaign around their new mascot Sonic the Hedgehog, pushing the Genesis as the “cooler” alternative to Nintendo’s console and inventing the term “Blast Processing” to suggest that the Genesis was capable of handling games with faster motion than the SNES. Their advertising was often directly adversarial, leading to commercials such as “Genesis does what Nintendon’t” and the “‘SEGA!’ scream”.
When the arcade game Mortal Kombat was ported for home release on the Mega Drive and Super Nintendo Entertainment System, Nintendo decided to censor the game’s gore, but Sega kept the content in the game, via a code entered at the start screen (A,B,A,C,A,B,B). Sega’s gamble paid off, as its version of Mortal Kombat received generally higher and more favorable reviews in the gaming press and outsold the SNES version three to one. This violence also led to Congressional hearings to investigate the marketing of violent video games to children, and to the creation of the Interactive Digital Software Association and the Entertainment Software Rating Board. With the new ESRB rating system in place, Nintendo reconsidered its position for the release of Mortal Kombat II, and this time became the preferred version among reviewers. Sega, however, ran into a minor roadblock with the popularity of fighting games with advanced controls, because its controller only featured three action buttons. In response to the upcoming Street Fighter 2 Special Champion Edition and Mortal Kombat, Sega introduced a 6-button controller. Most new games could still be played with the original 3-button controller however, but the company suggested its gamers buy and adopt the new 6-button model.
Despite the Genesis’ and Mega Drive’s success in North America and Europe, the console was never popular in Japan (being regularly outsold by the PC Engine), but it still managed to sell 40 million units worldwide. By late 1995, Sega was supporting five different consoles and two add-ons, and Sega of Japan chose to discontinue the Mega Drive in Japan to concentrate on the new Sega Saturn. While this made perfect sense for the Japanese market, it was disastrous in North America: the market for Genesis games was much larger than for the Saturn, but Sega was left without the inventory or software to meet demand.
Super Famicom/Super Nintendo Entertainment System
Nintendo executives were initially reluctant to design a new system, but as the market transitioned to the newer hardware, Nintendo saw the erosion of the commanding market share it had built up with the Famicom (called Nintendo Entertainment System outside Japan).
Nintendo’s fourth-generation console, the Super Famicom, was released in Japan on November 21, 1990; Nintendo’s initial shipment of 300,000 units sold out within hours. The machine reached North America as the Super Nintendo Entertainment System on August 23, 1991, and Europe and Australia in April 1992.
Despite stiff competition from the Mega Drive/Sega Genesis console, the Super Famicom/SNES eventually took the top selling position, selling 49.10 million units worldwide, and would even remain popular well into the 32-bit generation. Nintendo’s market position was defined by their machine’s increased video and sound capabilities, as well as exclusive first-party franchise titles such as Super Mario World, The Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past and Super Metroid. Later titles such as Star Fox and Donkey Kong Country would keep the Super Famicom/SNES relevant well into the “fifth generation” era of 32- and 64-bit consoles.
Released by SNK in 1990, the Neo Geo was a home console version of the major arcade platform. Compared to its console competition, the Neo Geo had much better graphics and sound, but the prohibitively expensive launch price of $649.99 USD made the console only accessible to a niche market. A less expensive version, retailing for $399.99, did not include a memory card, pack-in game or extra joystick.
Nintendo, NEC and Sega also competed with hardware peripherals for their consoles in this generation. NEC was the first with the release of the TurboGrafx CD system in 1990. Retailing for $499.99 at release, the CD add-on was not a popular purchase, but was largely responsible for the platform’s success in Japan. Sega made two attempts: the Sega-CD (renamed Sega-CD in North America) and the Sega 32X. The Sega CD was plagued by a high price tag ($300 at its release) and a limited library of games. The 32X faced a number of problems, primarily technical and commercial: the peripheral would occasionally not work with some consoles, and some retailers were not able to meet the initial demand for the add-on, leading to shortages. A unique add-on for the Sega console was Sega Channel, a subscription based service hosted by local television providers. It required hardware that plugged into a cable line and the Genesis.
Nintendo made an attempt with their successful Satellaview and Super Game Boy. The former was a satellite service released only on the Japanese market and the latter an adapter for the Super Famicom and SNES that allowed Game Boy games to be displayed on a TV in color. Nintendo, working along with Sony, also had plans to create a CD-ROM drive for the SNES (plans that resulted in a prototype called the “Play Station”), but eventually decided not to go through with that project, opting to team up with Philips in the development of the add-on instead (contrary to popular belief, the CD-i was largely unrelated to the project). Sony decided to go ahead with the CD-ROM development and used the name “PlayStation” for their own standalone CD-based console, overseen by former Super Famicom sound-chip engineer, Ken Kutaragi.
The first handheld game console released in the fourth generation was the Game Boy, on April 21, 1989. It went on to dominate handheld sales by an extremely large margin, despite featuring a low-contrast, unlit monochrome screen while all three of its leading competitors had color. Three major franchises made their debut on the Game Boy: Tetris, the Game Boy’s killer application; Pokémon; and Kirby. With some design (Game Boy Pocket, Game Boy Light) and hardware (Game Boy Color) changes, it continued in production in some form until 2008, enjoying a better than 18-year run.
The Atari Lynx included hardware-accelerated color graphics, a backlight, and the ability to link upto sixteen units together in an early example of network play when its competitors could only link 2 or 4 consoles (or none at all), but its comparatively short battery life (approximately 4.5 hours on a set of alkaline cells, versus at least 10–11 hours for the Game Boy), high price, and weak games library made it one of the worst-selling handheld game systems of all time, with less than 500,000 units sold.
The third major handheld of the fourth generation was the Sega Game Gear. It featured graphics capabilities roughly comparable to the Master System (better colours, but lower resolution), a ready made games library by using the “Master-Gear” adaptor to play cartridges from the older console, and the opportunity to be converted into a portable TV using a cheap tuner adaptor, but it also suffered some of the same shortcomings as the Lynx. While it sold more than twenty times as many units as the Lynx, its bulky design – slightly larger than even the original Game Boy; relatively poor battery life – only a little better than the Lynx; and later arrival in the marketplace – competing for sales amongst the remaining buyers who didn’t already have a Game Boy – hampered its overall popularity despite being more closely competitive to the Nintendo in terms of price and breadth of software library. Sega eventually retired the Game Gear in 1997, a year before Nintendo released the first examples of the Game Boy Color, to focus on the Nomad and non-portable console products.
Other handheld consoles released during the fourth generation included the TurboExpress, a handheld version of the TurboGrafx-16 released by NEC in 1990, and the Game Boy Pocket, an improved model of the Game Boy released about two years before the debut of the Game Boy Color. While the TurboExpress was another early pioneer of color handheld gaming technology and had the added benefit of using the same game cartridges or ‘HuCards’ as the TurboGrafx16, it had even worse battery life than the Lynx and Game Gear – about three hours on six contemporary AA batteries – selling only 1.5 million units.
Fifth Generation 5
The fifth-generation era (also known as the 32-bit era, the 64-bit era or the 3D era) refers to the computer and video games, video game consoles, and video game handhelds from approximately 1993 to 2001 and was dominated by three consoles, the Sega Saturn (1994), the PlayStation (1994), and the Nintendo 64 (1996). Demographics in console sales varied widely, but these three consoles, especially the PlayStation, defined the system wars of this era. The 3DO, Atari Jaguar, Amiga CD32, PC-FX and several others were also part of this era, but their sales were poor and they failed to make a significant impact on the market. For handhelds, this era was characterized by significant fragmentation, because the first handheld, Sega Nomad had a lifespan of just two years, and the Virtual Boy for less than one year only, with both of them being discontinued before the other handhelds made their debut. Nintendo’s Game Boy Color was the winner in handhelds by a large margin. There were also two updated versions of the original Game Boy: Game Boy Light (Japan only) and Game Boy Pocket.
Bit ratings for consoles largely fell by the wayside during this era, with the notable exceptions of the Nintendo 64 and the heavy usage of references to the 64-bit processing power of the Atari Jaguar in advertisements. The number of “bits” cited in console names referred to the CPU word size and had been used by hardware marketers as a “show of power” for many years. However, there was little to be gained from increasing the word size much beyond 32 or 64 bits because once this level was reached, performance depended on more varied factors, such as processor clock speed, bandwidth, and memory size.
The fifth generation also saw the rise of emulation. During this period, commonly available personal computers became powerful enough to emulate the 8- and 16-bit systems of the previous generation. Also, the development of the Internet made it possible to store and download tape and ROM images of older games, eventually leading 7th generation consoles (such as the Xbox 360, Wii, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Portable, and Nintendo DSi) to make many older games available for purchase or download.
The fifth generation of game systems consists of:
- 3DO Interactive Multiplayer
- Atari Jaguar
- Sega Saturn
- Nintendo 64
- NEC PC-FX
- Apple Bandai Pippin
- Casio Loopy
Transition to 3D
The 32-bit/64-bit era is most noted for the rise of fully 3D games. While there were games prior that had used three dimensional environments, such as Virtua Racing and Star Fox, it was in this era that many game designers began to move traditionally 2D and pseudo-3D genres into 3D. Early efforts from then-industry leaders Nintendo and Sega saw the introduction of the Super FX and Sega 32X which provided rudimentary 3D capabilities to the 16-bit SNES and Sega Genesis. Super Mario 64 on the N64, Crash Bandicoot on the PlayStation, and Tomb Raider on the Saturn (later released on the PlayStation as well), are prime examples of this trend. Their 3D environments were widely marketed and they steered the industry’s focus away from side-scrolling and rail-style titles, as well as opening doors to more complex games and genres. 3D became the main focus in this era as well as a slow decline of Cartridges in favor of CDs, due to the ability to produce games less expensively. The game also included more dramatic cut scenes with symphonic music – the term “interactive movie” became less associated with games that made heavy use of full-motion video and more with games with an action movie feel to them, such as Metal Gear Solid.
CD vs cartridge
After allowing Sony to develop a CD-based prototype console for them and a similar failed partnership with Philips, Nintendo decided to make the Nintendo 64 a cartridge-based system like its predecessors. Publicly, Nintendo defended this decision on the grounds that it would give games shorter load times than a compact disc (and would decrease piracy). However, it also had the dubious benefit of allowing Nintendo to charge higher licensing fees, as cartridge production was considerably more expensive than CD production. Many third-party developers like EA Sports viewed this as an underhanded attempt to raise more money for Nintendo and many of them became more reluctant to release games on the N64.
Nintendo’s decision to use a cartridge based system sparked a small scale war amongst gamers as to which was better. The “media war” was spurred on no less by statements from top company executives themselves; one Nintendo magazine ad placed a Space Shuttle (cartridge) next to a snail (a CD) and dared consumers to decide “which one was better”. At the time, CD-ROMs did suffer from long load times (some games, like Tekken, even featured “mini” games that players could play while the real game was loading).
Despite these and other moves by Nintendo, almost every other contemporary system used the new CD-ROM technology (the Nintendo 64 was the last major home video game console to use cartridges). Also appealing to publishers was the fact that CDs could be produced at significantly less expense and with more flexibility (it was easy to change production to meet demand), and they were able to pass the lower costs onto consumers. In particular, the fifth generation marked a turning point for optical-based storage media. As games grew more complex in content, sound, and graphics, the CD proved more than capable of providing enough space for the extra data. The cartridge format, however, was pushed beyond the limits of its storage capacity. Consequently, many game developers shifted their support away from the Nintendo 64 to the PlayStation. One of the most influential game franchises to change consoles during this era was the Final Fantasy series, beginning with Final Fantasy VII, which was originally developed for the N64 but due to storage capacity issues was developed for and released on the PlayStation; prior Final Fantasy games had all been published on Nintendo consoles – either the Nintendo Entertainment System or Super Nintendo.
Many events transpired to mislead gamers during this era, causing much confusion over which console was superior to the others. Adding to the uncertainty was the fact that there were more competing consoles in this era than at any other time since the North American video game crash of 1983, with video game magazines frequently performing side-by-side hardware-specification comparisons of the systems using dubious statistics. Also, console makers routinely boasted theoretical maximum limits of each system’s 3D polygon rendering without accounting for real world in-game performance.
The FM Towns Marty is sometimes claimed to be the world’s first 32-bit console (as opposed to the Amiga CD32 and 3DO), being released in 1991 by Japanese electronic company Fujitsu. However, the Intel 80386SX CPU is not a fully 32-bit processor as it only supports 16-bit bus addressing (similar to the Motorola 68000 in 1985’s Amiga 1000). Furthermore, the 386SX supports a maximum of 24-bit RAM addressing. Never released outside of Japan, it was largely marketed as a console version of the FM Towns home computer, being compatible with games developed for the FM Towns. It failed to make an impact in the marketplace due to its expense relative to other consoles and inability to compete with home computers.
Despite massive third party support and an unprecedented amount of hype for a first-time entrant into the industry, the 3DO Interactive Multiplayer’s $700 price tag hindered its success.
The Amiga CD32 was sold in Europe, Australia and Canada, but never in the United States due to Commodore’s bankruptcy. A large stock of NTSC CD-32s remained at the factory in the Philippines, which were later sold off by creditors and continued to appear on the second hand market for many years.
The Sega 32X, an add-on console for the Mega Drive/Genesis and Sega CD, was released almost simultaneously with the Sega Saturn. The Sega Neptune was also announced as a standalone version of the 32X, but ultimately canceled. Sega failed to deliver a steady flow of games for the 32X platform. More importantly, with the Saturn and PlayStation already on the horizon, most gamers preferred to save up their money rather than spend it on a console that was doomed to become obsolete in just a few months.
The Sega Saturn was released as Sega’s entry into the 32-bit console market. It was moderately successful, selling 9.5 million units worldwide. However, it was not the commercial success that the Master System and Mega Drive had been and lagged in third place (behind the (by then) less expensive PlayStation and N64 consoles) until it was discontinued.
The Atari Jaguar was released in 1993 as the world’s first 64-bit system. However, sales at launch were well below the incumbent fourth generation consoles, and a small games library rooted in a shortage of third party support made it impossible for the Jaguar to catch up. The system’s 64-bit nature was also questioned by many. The 32-bit Atari Panther was set to be released in 1991, but was canceled due to unexpectedly rapid progress in developing the Jaguar.
The Atari Jaguar CD, an add-on console for the Jaguar, was released in 1995. Due to the extremely low installed base of the Jaguar itself, the Jaguar CD was only produced in very limited quantities, and so had no chance to make any impact in the market.
The PlayStation was the most successful console of this generation, with attention given by 1st and 3rd party developers enabling it to achieve market dominance, becoming the first console to ship 100 million units worldwide.
Because of many delays to the release of the Nintendo 64, in 1995 Nintendo released the Virtual Boy, a supposedly portable system capable of displaying true 3D graphics, albeit in monochromatic red and black. Because of its graphical capabilities, the system could cause headaches and eye strain, and was not functionally portable, though it was marketed as such. It was discontinued within a year, with less than 25 games ever released for it.
The Nintendo 64, originally announced as the “Ultra 64”, was released in 1996. The system’s use of the cartridge format while all of its competitors used CDs made it an unpopular platform among third party developers. However, a number of wildly popular 1st party titles allowed the Nintendo 64 to maintain solid sales, though it would never match the success of the PlayStation.
NEC, creator of the TurboGrafx-16, TurboDuo, Coregrafx, and SuperGrafx, also entered the market with the PC-FX in 1994. The system had a 32-bit processor, 16-bit stereo sound, a 16,777,000 color palette and featured the highest quality full motion video of any console on the market at the time. The PC-FX broke away from traditional console design by being a tower system that allowed for numerous expansion points including a connection for NEC’s PC-9800 series of computers. Despite the impressive specs it was marketed as the ultimate side-scrolling console and could not match the sales of the 3D systems currently on the market.
After the dust settled in the fifth generation console wars, several companies saw their outlooks change drastically. Atari, which was already on shaky ground after setbacks to Nintendo in the previous generation, ended up being purchased by JT Storage and stopped making game hardware. Sega’s loss of consumer confidence (coupled with its previous console failures) in North America set the company up for a similar fate in the next round of console wars.
The Sega Saturn, although the most technically advanced console of the generation, suffered from poor marketing and comparatively limited third-party support. Sega’s decision to use dual processors was roundly criticized, and some believe the second CPU was added as a “panic” response to the PlayStation’s specifications.
Regardless of their reasons for including it, only Sega’s first-party developers were ever able to use the second CPU effectively. The Saturn was far more difficult than the PlayStation to program for.
Sega was also hurt by a surprise four-month-early U.S. launch of their console. Third party developers, who had been planning for the originally scheduled launch, could not provide launch titles and were angered by the move. Retailers were caught unprepared, resulting in distribution problems. Some retailers, such as KB Toys, were so furious that they refused to stock the Saturn thereafter.
Due to numerous delays, the Nintendo 64 was released one year later than its competitors. By the time it was finally launched in 1996, Sony had already established its dominance, the Sega Saturn was starting to struggle, and the Atari Jaguar and Panasonic 3DO were discontinued and out of the competition. Its use of cartridge media rather than compact discs alienated some developers and publishers due to the space limits and the relatively high cost involved, US$3.50 for an N64 cartridge versus US$0.35 for a PS disc. In addition, the initially high suggested retail price of the console may have driven potential customers away, and some early adopters of the system who had paid the initial cost may have been angered by Nintendo’s decision to reduce the cost of the system US$50 six months after its release. However, the Nintendo 64 was popular in the Americas, selling 20.63 million units there (more than half of its worldwide sales of 32.93 million units), and is home to highly successful games such as The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Super Mario 64, GoldenEye 007, Banjo-Kazooie, and Super Smash Bros.. However, while the Nintendo 64 sold far more units than the Sega Saturn, Atari Jaguar, and Panasonic 3DO, it failed to surpass the PlayStation, which dominated the market.
Sixth Generation 6
In the history of video games, the sixth-generation era (sometimes referred to as the 128-bit era) refers to the computer and video games, video game consoles, and video game handhelds available at the turn of the 21st century which was from 1998 to 2009. Platforms of the sixth generation include the Sega Dreamcast, Sony PlayStation 2, Nintendo GameCube, and Microsoft Xbox. This era began on November 27, 1998 with the Japanese release of the Dreamcast, and it was joined by the PlayStation 2 in March 2000 and the GameCube and Xbox in 2001. The Dreamcast was discontinued in 2001. The GameCube was discontinued in 2007 and the Xbox was discontinued in 2008. The PlayStation 2 was still being produced after the sixth generation ended before it discontinued in early 2013.
The last official Dreamcast games were released in 2002 (North America and Europe) and 2007 (Japan). The last GameCube games were released in 2007 (North America and Japan). The last Xbox games were released in 2007 (Japan) and 2008 (Europe and North America). FIFA 14 is the last game released for PlayStation 2.
The sixth generation of game systems consists of:
- PlayStation 2
The Sony PlayStation 2 achieved sales dominance in this generation, becoming the best-selling console in history, with over 150 million units sold as of February 2011. The Microsoft Xbox had sold over 24 million units as of May 2006, and the Nintendo GameCube had sold 22 million units as of September 2010. The Sega Dreamcast, which arrived prior to all of the others and was discontinued in 2001, came in fourth with 10.6 million sold.
The sixth generation began to end when the Xbox was succeeded by the Xbox 360 in late 2005. GameCube hardware was still being produced when the Wii was released in late 2006, but as of June 2008 has also been ceased. PlayStation 2 sales continued to be strong into November 2010, due to the system’s large software library, continuing software support, and affordable price.
In February 2008, the PlayStation 2 outsold both the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in the United States. Games were still being produced for the PlayStation 2, Xbox, and Nintendo GameCube as of 2008, while Dreamcast games were officially discontinued in 2003. There were still a few games being produced for the Dreamcast in 2004, but they are essentially NAOMI arcade ports released only in Japan, with small print runs. In January 2013, the PS2 was discontinued worldwide, ending the sixth generation.
Sega’s Dreamcast was the first console of the generation and introduced several innovations including Internet gaming as an optional feature through its built-in modem, and a web browser. It was also the first home console to always display full SD resolution.
The console helped to restore Sega’s reputation, which had been damaged by the earlier failures of the Sega Saturn, Sega 32X, and Mega-CD. Despite this, the Dreamcast was discontinued prematurely due to numerous factors. The impending and much-hyped PlayStation 2 slowed Dreamcast sales, mostly due to the fact that the PlayStation 2 had a built-in DVD player and a huge number of PS1 owners looking to upgrade with the same company, Sony. In addition, Sega’s short-lived support/success of its post-Sega Megadrive products the Mega-CD, 32X and Saturn had left developers and customers skeptical, with some holding out to see whether the Dreamcast or PlayStation 2 would come out on top.
Sega’s decision to implement a GD-ROM (though publicly advertised as a CD-ROM) for storage medium did save costs but it did not compare well against the PS2’s much touted DVD capabilities. Sega was either unable or unwilling to spend the advertising money necessary to compete with Sony, which themselves took massive losses on the PlayStation 2 to gain market-share. With the announcements of the Xbox and GameCube in late 2000, Sega’s console was considered by some to be outdated only two years after its release. The previous losses from the Saturn, 32X, and Sega/Mega-CD, stagnation of sales due to the PlayStation 2, and impending competition from Microsoft and Nintendo caused Sega’s revenue to shrink and announce their intention on killing the system in early 2003, dropping the system entirely and leaving the console market in early 2004. Sega also announced it would shut down SegaNet, an online gaming community that supported online-capable Dreamcast titles. Due to user outcry over the decision, Sega delayed the service’s closure by an additional 6 months.
The brand Sony had established with the original PlayStation was a major factor in the PlayStation 2’s dominance, both in terms of securing a consumer base and attracting third party developers, with the gradual increase in one reinforcing the other. The PlayStation 2 was also able to play DVDs and was backwards-compatible with PlayStation games, which many say helped the former’s sales. Sony Computer Entertainment secured licensing for key games such as Final Fantasy X, Grand Theft Auto San Andreas, and Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, enabling the PS2 to outperform its competitors’ launches.
Nintendo struggled with conflicting brand images, particularly the family-friendly one developed during the 1990s. Its arsenal of franchises and history in the industry, though earning it a loyal fan base, failed to give it an advantage against the Xbox and PlayStation 2 which captured audiences seeking ‘Mature’ titles which Nintendo had fewer of. Nintendo also made little headway into online gaming (releasing a small handful of online-capable games, the most popular of which was Phantasy Star Online, which was in fact a port of the Dreamcast game), instead emphasizing Game Boy Advance connectivity. As a result, the Nintendo GameCube failed to match the sales of its predecessor, the Nintendo 64.
Nintendo did however rejuvenate its relationship with many developers, often working in close collaboration with them to produce games based upon its franchises, in contrast to the past where it was frequently seen as bullying developers. As a result, the Nintendo GameCube had more first and second party releases than its competitors, whose most successful titles were mainly products of third party developers.
Although the Xbox had the formidable financial backing of Microsoft, it was unable to significantly threaten the dominance of the PlayStation 2 as market leader; however, the Xbox attracted a large fanbase and strong third-party support in the United States and Europe and became a recognizable brand amongst the mainstream. The Xbox Live online service with its centralized model proved particularly successful, prompting Sony to boost the online capabilities of the PlayStation 2. Xbox Live also gave the Xbox an edge over the GameCube, which had a near total lack of online games. The flagship of Xbox Live was the game Halo 2, which was the best selling Xbox game with over 8 million copies sold worldwide.
In Japan, Xbox sales were very poor, partly due to Microsoft’s inability to attract major Japanese developers and game franchises. The console’s physical size, which did not fit local aesthetic standards, and brand loyalty to Japanese companies such as Sony and Nintendo were considerable factors as well.
Bits and system power
Bit ratings for consoles largely fell by the wayside after the fifth generation (32/64-bit) era. The number of “bits” cited in console names referred to the CPU word size, but there was little to be gained from increasing the word size much beyond 32 bits; performance depended on other factors, such as central processing unit speed, graphics processing unit speed, channel capacity, and data storage size.
The importance of the number of bits in the modern console gaming market has thus decreased due to the use of components that process data in varying word sizes. Previously, console manufacturers advertised the “n-bit talk” to over-emphasize the hardware capabilities of their system. The Dreamcast and the PlayStation 2 were the last systems to use the term “128-bit” in their marketing to describe their capability.
It is not easy to compare the relative “power” of the different systems. Having a larger CPU word size does not necessarily make one console more powerful than another. Likewise the operating frequency (clock rate) of a system’s CPU is not an accurate measure either.
The Microsoft Xbox uses a 32-bit (general purpose) CISC x86 architecture CPU, with an instruction set equal to that of the Coppermine core Mobile Celeron, though it has less cache memory (128 kB) than the PC equivalent. It has 64 MB RAM (shared) and runs at 733 MHz. Its NV2A GPU, which is very similar to the GeForce 4 Series Ti4000 for desktop computers, makes it the only console in its time with traditional vertex and pixel shaders. Many of sixth generation’s late PC ports, for example Far Cry Instincts, Doom 3 and Half-Life 2, which were meant to be released for all consoles managed to make it only to the Xbox due to its similarity to the PC the originals were built on.
The Nintendo GameCube’s IBM Gekko PowerPC CPU runs at 485 MHz, while its “Flipper” graphics processor is comparable to the ATI Radeon 7200, and it has 43 MB of non-unified memory (24 MB of 1T-SRAM, 3 MB embedded 1T-SRAM, and 16 MB DRAM). The GameCube supports Dolby Pro Logic II.
The PlayStation 2’s CPU (known as the “128-bit Emotion Engine”) has a 64-bit double precision core based on MIPS architecture. It includes three separate execution units inside the one processor and each one is capable of executing two instructions per cycle. The PlayStation 2’s Graphics Synthesizer has fast dedicated video memory, though it is limited in the amount of data it can hold. Consequently, many of the PS2’s games have reduced textures compared with versions for other consoles. It also does not have a transform and lighting unit like the ones found in the Xbox and GameCube GPUs.
The Dreamcast has a 64-bit double-precision superscalar SuperH-4 RISC Central processing unit core with a 32-bit integer unit using 16-bit fixed-length instructions, a 64-bit data bus allowing a variable width of either 8, 16, 32 or 64-bits, and a 128-bit floating-point bus. The PowerVR 2DC CLX2 chipset uses a unique method of rendering a 3D scene called Tile Based Deferred Rendering (TBDR): While storing polygons in triangle strip format in memory, the display is split into tiles associated with a list of visibly overlapping triangles onto which, using a process similar to ray tracing, rays are cast and a pixel is rendered from the triangle closest to the camera. After calculating the depths associated with each polygon for one tile row in 1 cycle, the whole tile is flushed to video memory before passing on to render the next tile. Once all information has been collated for the current frame, the tiles are rendered in turn to produce the final image.
During the sixth generation era, the handheld game console market expanded with the introduction of new devices from many different manufacturers. Nintendo maintained its dominant share of the handheld market with the release in 2001 of the Game Boy Advance, which featured many upgrades and new features over the Game Boy. Two redesigns of this system followed, the Game Boy Advance SP in 2003 and the Game Boy Micro in 2005. Also introduced were the Neo Geo Pocket Color in 1998 and Bandai’s WonderSwan Color, launched in Japan in 1999. South Korean company Game Park introduced its GP32 handheld in 2001, and with it came the dawn of open source handheld consoles. The Game Boy Advance line of handhelds has sold 81.51 million units worldwide as of September 30, 2010.
A major new addition to the market was the trend for corporations to include a large number of “non-gaming” features into their handheld consoles, including cell phones, MP3 players, portable movie players, and PDA-like features. The handheld that started this trend was Nokia’s N-Gage, which was released in 2003 and doubled primarily as a mobile phone. It went through a redesign in 2004 and was renamed the N-Gage QD. A second handheld, the Zodiac from Tapwave, was released in 2004; based on the Palm OS, it offered specialized gaming-oriented video and sound capabilities, but it had an unwieldy development kit due to the underlying PalmOS foundation.
With more and more PDAs arriving during the previous generation, the difference between consumer electronics and traditional computing began to blur and cheap console technology grew as a result. It was said of PDAs that they are “the computers of handheld gaming” because of their multi-purpose capabilities and the increasingly powerful computer hardware that resided within them. This capability existed to move gaming beyond the last generation’s 16-bit limitations; however, PDAs were still geared towards the typical businessman, and lacked new, affordable software franchises to compete with dedicated handheld gaming consoles.
Seventh Generation 7
In the history of video games, the seventh generation includes consoles released since late 2005 by Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony. For home consoles, the seventh generation began on 22 November 2005 with the release of Xbox 360 and continued with the release of PlayStation 3 on 17 November 2006, and Wii on 19 November 2006. Each new console introduced a new type of breakthrough in technology. The Xbox 360 offered games rendered natively at HD resolutions, the PlayStation 3 offered, in addition to FHD gaming, HD movie playback via a built-in 3D Blu-ray Disc player, and the Wii focused on integrating controllers with movement sensors as well as joysticks.
Joining Nintendo in the motion market, Sony released the PlayStation Move in September 2010. The PlayStation Move features motion sensing gaming, similar to that of the Wii. Microsoft also joined Sony and Nintendo, with its Kinect. Unlike the other two systems (PlayStation 3 and Wii), Kinect does not use controllers of any sort and makes the users the “controller.” Having sold 8 million units in its first 60 days on the market, Kinect has claimed the Guinness World Record of being the “fastest selling consumer electronics device”. While the Xbox 360 offers wired controllers as a standalone product, all PlayStation 3 controllers can be used in wired and wireless configurations. Starting with handheld consoles, the seventh generation began on 21 November 2004 with the North American introduction of the Nintendo DS as a “third pillar”, alongside Nintendo’s existing Game Boy Advance and GameCube consoles.
The Nintendo DS (NDS) features a touch screen and built-in microphone, and supports wireless IEEE 802.11 (Wi-Fi) standards. Additionally, the revised version of the NDS, the DSi, features two built in cameras, the ability to download games from the DSi store, and a web browser. The PlayStation Portable, or PSP, released later the same year on 12 December 2004, followed a different pattern. It became the first handheld video game console to use an optical disc format, Universal Media Disc (UMD), as its primary storage media. Sony also gave the PSP robust multi-media capability, connectivity with the PlayStation 3 and other PSPs, and Internet connectivity. The Nintendo DS likewise has connectivity to the internet through the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection and Nintendo DS Browser, as well as wireless connectivity to other DS systems and Wii consoles. Despite high sales numbers for both consoles, PlayStation Portable sales have consistently lagged behind those of the Nintendo DS; nevertheless, the PlayStation Portable has the distinction of being the best-selling non-Nintendo handheld gaming system.
The seventh generation of game systems consists of:
- Xbox 360
- PlayStation 3
- Nintendo Wii
Nintendo entered this generation with a new approach embodied by its Wii. The company planned to attract current hardcore and casual gamers, non-gamers, and lapsed gamers by focusing on new gameplay experiences and new forms of interaction with games rather than cutting edge graphics and expensive technology. This approach was previously implemented in the portable market with the Nintendo DS. Nintendo expressed hope that the new control schemes it had implemented would render conventionally controlled consoles obsolete, leading to Nintendo capturing a large portion of the existing market as well.
This strategy paid off, with demand for the Wii outstripping supply throughout 2007. Since Nintendo profited on each console right from the start unlike its competitors, it has already achieved very positive returns. With only a few exceptions, monthly worldwide sales for the Wii have been higher than the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, eroding Microsoft’s early lead and widening the gap between its market share and Sony’s. On 12 September 2007, it was reported by the British newspaper Financial Times that the Wii’s sales had surpassed the Xbox 360, which had been released one year previously, and became the market leader in worldwide home console sales for the current generation.
As in previous generations, Nintendo has provided strong support for its new console with popular first-party franchises like Mario, The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, and Pokémon, among others. To appeal to casual and non-gamers, Nintendo developed a group of core Wii games, consisting of Wii Sports, Wii Play, Wii Fit, and Wii Music, where players make use of the motion-sensing abilities of the console and its peripherals to simulate real world activities. With the exception of Wii Music, the games and their sequels have all been highly successful.
Publishers such as Ubisoft, Electronic Arts, Capcom, and Majesco continue to release exclusive titles for the console, but the Wii’s strongest titles still remain within its first-party line-up. Analysts speculated that this will change in time as the Wii’s growing popularity persuades third-party publishers to focus on it; however, some third party developers are beginning to express frustration at low software sales. Goichi Suda, developer of No More Heroes for the Wii, noted that “only Nintendo titles are doing well. This isn’t just because of the current situation in Japan, as this is happening outside Japan. I am very surprised about the reality about Wii, because before I was making this game, I wasn’t expecting that Wii would be a console targeted only for non-gamers. I expected more games for hardcore gamers. The reality is different to what I expected.” Conversely, the PAL publisher of No More Heroes Rising Star Games were greatly impressed with the game’s sales. Goichi Suda later retracted his comment, saying his “point was that No More Heroes, unlike a lot of Nintendo Wii titles currently available is the kind of product that will attract a different kind of consumer to the hardware, i.e. gamers who are looking for a different genre to the products that have been successful on this platform thus far.”
In early 2008, the NPD Group revealed sales data showing that, while the Wii’s life-to-date attach rate is low, in December 2007, it reached 8.11—higher than the attach rates for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in that month. The Wii’s low overall attach rate could be explained by reference to its rapidly increasing installed base, as financial analysts have pointed to the Xbox 360’s high attach rates as indicative of an unhealthy lack of installed base growth, and warned that what actually benefits third-party developers is “quicker adoption of hardware and a rapidly growing installed base on which to sell progressively more game units,” which tends to lower the attach rate of a product.
On 23 September 2009, Nintendo announced its first price drops for the console. In the United States, the price was reduced by fifty dollars, resulting in a new Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of $199.99, effective 27 September 2009. For Japan, the price dropped from ¥25,000 to ¥20,000, effective 1 October 2009. In Europe (with the exception of the United Kingdom), the price of a Wii console dropped from €249 to €199. On 3 May 2010, Nintendo announced that Wii consoles sold in the Americas now include Wii Sports Resort and Wii MotionPlus, effective 9 May 2010. Since 15 May 2011, the Wii Console is US$149.99 and comes bundled with Mario Kart Wii.
Microsoft Xbox 360 gained an early lead in terms of market share, largely due to its established Xbox Live online gaming system, and its early launch date, which was one year before its rivals. Sales in North America and Europe have continued to be strong, even after the release of the Wii and PlayStation 3. Like its predecessor, the Xbox 360 received a muted reception in Japan, attributed to the lack of content aimed at Japanese gamers.
This early launch did come with some trouble, as technical problems appeared in a portion of Xbox 360 units sold. The most well known problem is the “red ring of death” and Error E74, which received (and still receives) a great deal of attention due to some users’ having to replace their consoles multiple times. Microsoft attempted to address this by offering a three-year warranty on all affected consoles and repairing them free of charge. It also retroactively reimbursed owners of affected systems who paid for repairs. According to The Mercury News, new models of the console featuring 65-nanometer technology will address this and other issues; the new technology is expected to reduce heat production, which will lower the risk of overheating and system failures; although, this has never been officially confirmed by Microsoft.
As they share many cross-platform games and compete for the same audience as their predecessors, frequent comparisons are made between the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. The PS3 uses the Blu-ray format, while the Xbox 360 uses a standard DVD9. The Xbox 360 is less expensive to produce, and analysts expect that a mid-revision will allow Microsoft to break-even on manufacturing costs, while industry consensus is that the Xbox 360’s conventional architecture is easier to develop for.
At the end of first half of 2007, the console stabilized at 11.6 million units shipped as sales dropped 60% while its rival, Wii, gained momentum and Sony announced a competitive price drop on the PlayStation 3. Microsoft’s strategy to boost sales with the release of the highly anticipated Halo 3 in September 2007 paid off, outselling the Wii that month in North America.Microsoft’s Entertainment and Devices Division experienced a huge increase in revenue, largely driven by the release of Halo 3, and posted a quarterly profit for the first time in two years.
The Xbox 360’s advantage over its competitors owes itself to the release of high profile games, such as additions to the Halo franchise. The 2007 Game Critics Awards honored the platform with 38 nominations and 12 wins – more than any other platform. By March 2008, the Xbox 360 had reached a software attach rate of 7.5 games per console in the US; the rate was 7.0 in Europe, while its competitors were 3.8 (PS3) and 3.5 (Wii), according to Microsoft. At the 2008 Game Developers Conference, Microsoft announced that it expected over 1,000 games available for Xbox 360 by the end of the year. The Xbox 360 has managed to gain a simultaneous release of titles that were initially planned to be PS3 exclusives, including Devil May Cry, Ace Combat, Virtua Fighter, Grand Theft Auto IV, Final Fantasy XIII, Tekken 6, Metal Gear Solid : Rising, and L.A. Noire.
In August 2007, the first price drop was announced for all Stock Keeping Units (SKU’s) of the Xbox 360. The Core system’s price was reduced in the United States by $20, the Premium by $50, and the Elite model by $30. Also, the HDMI port, previously exclusive to the Elite system, was added to new models of the Premium and Arcade systems; the Core system was discontinued. Note: the “premium” system is sold in Australia as the “pro”, Arcade and Elite systems retain the same names.
At E3 2010, Microsoft revealed a new US$299.99 Xbox 360 SKU known officially as the Xbox 360 S and referred to as the “Slim” by various media outlets. It replaced the Elite and comes with an integrated 802.11n WLAN adapter, integrated TOSLINK port, 5 USB ports and a 250 GB HDD. It also does not require an additional power supply to make use of Microsoft Kinect motion control accessory. A US$199.99 version was released on 3 August 2010 in the US which replaced the Arcade model. It has 4 GB and a 250 GB model of internal memory, it has a matte or glossy finish and it comes with a headset. At E3 2013 Microsoft revealed the Xbox 360 E, the final iteration of the Xbox 360 series, to be succeeded by Xbox One. The Xbox 360 E was originally priced at US$199.99 for a 4GB model, and US$299.99 for the 250GB model. The 360 E featured a new square design with a simplified exterior akin to the Xbox One
Sony PlayStation 3 was released on 11 November 2006 in Japan and 17 November 2006 in the US and Canada. The system’s reliance on new technologies such as the Cell microprocessor and Blu-ray format caused difficulties in manufacturing, especially the Blu-ray diode, leading to shortages at launch and the delay of the PAL region launches; however, by early December 2006, Sony announced that all production issues had been resolved. Market analysts and Sony executives noted that the success of the PlayStation 3 and the Blu-ray format were dependent on each other; Rich Marty, VP of New Business Development at Sony Pictures Home Entertainment stated that the “PS3 is critical to the success of Blu-ray,” while Phil Harrison stated that the PlayStation 3’s success would be ensured because “the growth of the Blu-ray Disc movie market … is a positive factor which will play more into the consumer psyche … as more consumer electronics firms launch standalone disc players, as more Blu-ray Disc movies become available, and as more shelf space is dedicated to the category at retail.”
Sony would provide support for its console with new titles from acclaimed first-party franchises such as Gran Turismo, Team Ico, and God of War, and secured a number of highly anticipated third-party exclusive titles, including Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, Final Fantasy Versus XIII, Yakuza 3, Agent, and Demon’s Souls. Titles that were originally exclusive or recognized with the platform, such as Devil May Cry, Ace Combat, Virtua Fighter, and Monster Hunter, have been released on other platforms. The previous Grand Theft Auto titles were originally timed exclusives on the PlayStation 2, before making their release on other platforms, such as the Xbox, months later; however, Grand Theft Auto IV, the latest installment, was released simultaneously on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Announced exclusives titles for the PlayStation 3 such as Assassin’s Creed; Bladestorm: The Hundred Years’ War, and Fatal Inertia were released on Xbox 360 as well, with the latter making its release on Xbox 360 before the PlayStation 3 version. The Katamari series, which has long been PlayStation 2 exclusives, found one of the more recent installments, Beautiful Katamari, exclusive to Xbox 360. These releases fueled rumors and fear that Final Fantasy XIII and Tekken 6, two highly anticipated exclusive PlayStation 3 games at the time, would also be available for Xbox 360, the PlayStation 3’s primary competitor and at E3 2008, it was announced that Final Fantasy XIII would be simultaneously released on the Xbox 360 in Europe and North America; later on 8 October 2008, it was announced that Tekken 6 would also be releasing on the Xbox 360; the fifth installment of the Metal Gear series, Metal Gear Solid: Rising, has also been announced for the Xbox 360; L.A. Noire, which was announced as an exclusive since the beginning of its development, has also been released for the Xbox 360; Dark Souls, the spiritual successor to Demon’s Souls, has also been released on Xbox 360; however, Metal Gear Solid 4, Final Fantasy Versus XIII, Yakuza 3, Demon’s Souls, and Agent still remain PlayStation 3 exclusives. Sony has blamed lower-than-expected sales, loss of exclusive titles in the PlayStation 3 software library, its higher price, and stock shortages.
In July 2007, Sony announced a drop in the price of the console by $100. This measure only applied to the 60 GB models and was exclusive to the United States and Canada, where those models are no longer in production. On 18 October 2007, Sony announced a US$100 price drop for the 80 GB model and a new US$399 40 GB model to launch on 2 November 2007 with reduced features such as the removal of backward compatibility with PS2 games. Within weeks, Sony announced that sales of the 40 GB and 80 GB models by major retailers had increased 192%. In November 2008, Sony launched a $499 160 GB model, and on 18 August 2009, Sony announced the PS3 Slim. The PS3 slim sold 1 million in under a month. It was then announced that a 250GB slim model was to be released. It was released on 1 September (or 3 depending on country) and costs $299, £249 and €299. In Australia the console will cost A$499, which is A$200 less than the standard PS3. In September 2009, a $299 120 GB Slim Model was released. A $349 250 GB Model was later released later in 2009. In August 2010, the 160 GB Slim Model was released for $299. The same price for a 120 GB PS3 slim Model. In Japan, the 160GB slim model is also available in white. On 17 September 2010, Sony released the 320 GB Slim Model, but it only sold with the PlayStation Move for US$399.99.
In September 2012, Sony announced a new slimmer PS3 redesign (CECH-4000), commonly referred to as the “Super Slim” PS3. It was released in late 2012 it became available with either a 250 GB or 500 GB hard drive. The “Super Slim” model is currently the only model in production.
For video game handhelds, the seventh generation began with the release of the Nintendo DS on 21 November 2004. This handheld was based on a design fundamentally different from the Game Boy and other handheld video game systems. The Nintendo DS offered new modes of input over previous generations such as a touch screen, the ability to connect wirelessly using IEEE 802.11b, as well as a microphone to speak to in-game NPCs. On 12 December 2004, Sony released its first handheld, PlayStation Portable. The PlayStation Portable was marketed at launch to an above 25-year old or “core gamer” market, while the Nintendo DS proved to be popular with both core gamers and new customers.
Nokia revived its N-Gage platform in the form of a service for selected S60 devices. This new service launched on 3 April 2008. Other less-popular handheld systems released during this generation include the Gizmondo (launched on 19 March 2005 and discontinued in February 2006) and the GP2X (launched on 10 November 2005 and discontinued in August 2008). The GP2X Wiz, Pandora, and Gizmondo 2 were scheduled for release in 2009.
Another aspect of the seventh generation was the beginning of direct competition between dedicated handheld gaming devices, and increasingly powerful PDA/cell phone devices such as the iPhone and iPod Touch, and the latter being aggressively marketed for gaming purposes. Simple games such as Tetris and Solitaire had existed for PDA devices since their introduction, but by 2009 PDAs and phones had grown sufficiently powerful to where complex graphical games could be implemented, with the advantage of distribution over wireless broadband.
Eighth Generation 8
The eighth generation of video game consoles includes Nintendo’s Wii U, released on November 18, 2012, the PlayStation 4, released on November 15, 2013, and Microsoft’s Xbox One released on November 22, 2013. These video game consoles follow the previous seventh generation: Nintendo’s Wii, Sony’s PlayStation 3, and Microsoft’s Xbox 360. For video game handhelds, the generation began in February 2011 with the release of the Nintendo 3DS, successor to the Nintendo DS, in Japan, followed by a North American and European release in March. The successor of the PlayStation Portable, the PlayStation Vita, was released in December 2011 in Japan, and Western markets in February 2012.
The eighth generation of video game consoles will face competition from smartphones, tablets, and Smart TVs. Due to the proliferation of these devices, some analysts speculate the eighth generation to be the last generation of home consoles. In 2013, gaming revenue on Android overtook portable game console revenue, while remaining a distant second to iOS gaming revenue. In FY 2013 (ending early 2013), Nintendo sold 23.7 million consoles of any type, while Apple sold 58.2 million units of the more expensive iPad alone in FY 2012 (ending late 2012).
The eighth generation has seen the rise of Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) as the major processor vendor. All three of the eighth generation home consoles use AMD GPUs, and two of them use AMD CPUs. Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony were not aware that they were all using AMD processors until all their consoles were announced. Both AMD and Nvidia are optimistic for the PC market, as the unified CPU/GPU processors in the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One use the same x86 programming architecture found in PCs, with AMD planning to introduce similar processors to desktop and laptop PCs in the near future. Nvidia claims that unlike in previous generations, game consoles will no longer be able to compete with PC graphics due to massive R&D funding by Nvidia and AMD, and stricter size and power requirements of consoles.
The multi-million dollar pre-sale success of Ouya through crowdfunding has raised open-source development and the free-to-play model as key issues to be addressed by 8th generation consoles. The GameStick, Nvidia Shield, Razer Switchblade, Ouya, MOJO, GamePop and Steam Machine are attempting to compete in this market; however these are seldom referred to as eighth generation consoles. Rumors have also indicated that Google may be planning to release an Android-based game console in Q4 2013.
The eighth generation of game systems consists of:
- Wii U
- PlayStation 4
- Xbox One
Though prior console generations have normally occurred in five to six-year cycles, the transition from seventh to eighth generation units has lasted more than six years. The transition is also unusual in that the prior generation’s best-selling unit, the Wii, is the first to be replaced in the eighth generation. In 2011, Microsoft had stated they began looking at their next console, but they, along with Sony, considered themselves only halfway through a ten-year lifecycle for their seventh-generation offerings. Sony and Microsoft representatives have stated that the addition of motion controllers and camera-based controllers like Kinect and PlayStation Move have extended these systems’ lifetimes. Nintendo president Satoru Iwata had stated that his company would be releasing the Wii U due to declining sales of seventh generation home consoles and that “the market is now waiting for a new proposal for home consoles”. Sony considered making its next console a digital download only machine, but decided against it due to concerns about the inconsistency of internet speeds available globally, especially in developing countries.
In November 2010, Nintendo of America CEO Reggie Fils-Aime stated that the release of the next generation of Nintendo would be determined by the continued success of the Wii. Nintendo announced their successor to the Wii, the Wii U, at the Electronic Entertainment Expo 2011 on June 7, 2011. After the announcement, several journalists classified the system as the first eighth generation home console. However, prominent sources have brought this into speculation because of its comparative lack of power with respect to the announced specifications for PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One.
The Wii U’s main controller, the Wii U GamePad, features an embedded touchscreen that can work as an auxiliary interactive screen in a fashion similar to the Nintendo DS/3DS, or if compatible with “Off TV Play”, can even act as the main screen itself, enabling games to be played without the need of a television. The Wii U is compatible with its predecessor’s peripherals, such as the Wii Remote Plus, the Nunchuk, and the Wii Balance Board.
The Wii U was released in North America on November 18, 2012, in Europe on November 30, 2012 and in Japan on December 8, 2012. It came in two versions, the Basic Model and the Deluxe/Premium Model, at the price of $300 and $349 US Dollars, respectively. On August 28, 2013, Nintendo announced production of the Basic model was ended and expected supplies to be exhausted by September 20, 2013. On October 4, 2013, the Deluxe/Premium model was price cut from US$ 349 to US$ 300.
On February 20, 2013, Sony announced the PlayStation 4 during a press conference in New York City, and was released on November 15, 2013 in North America. The new console places a heavy emphasis on features surrounding social interaction; gameplay videos can be shared via the PlayStation Network and other services, and users can stream games being played by themselves or others (either through the console, or directly to services like Ustream). The PS4’s DualShock 4 controller is similar to the previous model, but now includes a touchpad and a “Share” button, along with an LED light bar on the front to allow motion tracking. An updated camera accessory will also be offered for the system; it now uses 1280×800px stereo cameras with support for depth sensing similar to Kinect, and remains compatible with the PlayStation Move peripherals. The PS4 will also have second screen capabilities through both mobile apps and the PlayStation Vita, and game streaming through the recently acquired Gaikai service.
The PlayStation 4 was released on November 15, 2013 in North America and November 29, 2013 in Australia and Europe at US$399.99, A$549 and €399 respectively.
On May 21, 2013, Microsoft announced the Xbox One at an event in Redmond, Washington. The console has an increased focus on entertainment, including the ability to pass television programming from a set-top box over HDMI and use a built-in electronic program guide, and the ability to multitask by snapping applications (such as Skype and Internet Explorer) to the side of the screen, similarly to Windows 8. The Xbox One also includes an updated version of Kinect with a 1080p camera and expanded voice controls, a new controller with “Impulse Triggers” that provide force feedback, and the ability to automatically record and save highlights from gameplay.
The Xbox One was released in North America, Europe and Australia on November 22, 2013 at a launch price of US$499.99, €499 and A$599 respectively with Japan and other countries set to be released at some point in 2014.
The Nintendo 3DS is a portable game console produced by Nintendo. It is the successor to the Nintendo DS. The autostereoscopic device is able to project stereoscopic 3D effects without the use of 3D glasses or any additional accessories. The Nintendo 3DS features backward compatibility with Nintendo DS series software, including Nintendo DSi software. Announcing the device in March 2010, Nintendo officially unveiled it at E3 2010, with the company inviting attendees to use demonstration units. The console succeeds the Nintendo DS series of handheld systems, which primarily competes with PlayStation Portable. It competes with Sony’s handheld, the PlayStation Vita.
The Nintendo 3DS was released in Japan on February 26, 2011; in Europe on March 25, 2011; in North America on March 27, 2011; and in Australia on March 31, 2011. On July 28, 2011, Nintendo announced a major price drop starting August 12. In addition, as of September 2011 consumers who bought the system at its original price have access to ten Nintendo Entertainment System games before they are available to the general public, after which the games may be updated to the versions publicly released on the Nintendo eShop. In December 2011, ten Game Boy Advance games were made available to consumers who bought the system at its original price at no charge, with Nintendo stating it has no plans to release to the general public.
On June 21, 2012, Nintendo announced a new, bigger model of the 3DS called the Nintendo 3DS XL. It has 90% larger screens than the 3DS and slightly longer battery life. It was released on July 28, 2012 in Europe and August 19, 2012 in North America.
On August 28, 2013, Nintendo announced a low cost, 2D version of the 3DS called the Nintendo 2DS. This redesign plays all Nintendo DS and Nintendo 3DS games, albeit without a 3D option. Unlike previous machines of the DS family, the Nintendo 2DS uses a slate-like design instead of a clamshell one. The console launched on October 12 in both Europe and North America.
PlayStation Vita is a handheld game console developed by Sony Computer Entertainment. It is the successor to the PlayStation Portable as part of the PlayStation brand of gaming devices. It was released in Japan and parts of Asia on December 17, 2011 and was released in Europe and North America on February 22, 2012.
The handheld includes two analog sticks, a 5-inch (130 mm) OLED multi-touch capacitive touchscreen, and supports Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and optional 3G. Internally, the Vita features a 4 core ARM Cortex-A9 MPCore processor and a 4 core SGX543MP4+ graphics processing unit, as well as LiveArea software as its main user interface, which succeeds the XrossMediaBar.
The device is backward-compatible with a subset of the PlayStation Portable and PS One games digitally released on the PlayStation Network via the PlayStation Store. However, PS One Classics and TurboGrafx-16 titles were not compatible at launch. The Vita’s dual analog sticks are supported on selected PSP games via button mapping. The graphics for PSP releases are up-scaled, with a smoothing filter to reduce pixelation.