The videogame industry has come a long way in a relatively short amount of time. When the first videogame console – the Magnavox Odyssey – was released in 1972, its designers never expected to sell more than 10,000 units. With primitive graphics and a difficult to use paddle controller, the Magnavox was far from impressive. Still, gamers flocked to the console, with lifetime sales coming in at over 330,000 units sold worldwide. Since then, the videogame industry has continued to outperform expectations, breaking record after record while challenging the giants of the entertainment industry.
Game consoles nowadays are more high-tech than ever. Many of them come with high-caliber graphics, surround sounds, and large display among others. Simply put, these commodities have gone a very long way since the time they were introduced. To have an idea of the changes that they have undergone, it would be best to read an overview of the history of video game consoles.
Video game consoles also belonged exclusively to computer enthusiasts. The mainstream market simply didn’t care for videogame consoles.
The Nintendo Entertainment System, released in 1985, changed things, however. The console featured graphics better than any other console, and its controller was simple, intuitive, and easy to use. Its flagship game – Super Mario Brothers – was utterly engrossing, and perfectly showcased the capabilities of the machine. The NES, as it was more commonly known, eventually went on to sell nearly 62 million units worldwide.
In 1992, Nintendo released its follow up to the NES, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, or SNES for short. It boasted better graphics, better sound, and an improved controller.
Fellow Japanese video game console manufacturer Sega also released the Genesis (or the Megadrive, as it was known in Europe) to compete with the SNES. To combat Nintendo’s mascot Mario, Sega created one of their own, a blue hedgehog called ‘Sonic’.
These two consoles made up the fourth videogame generation. The SNES went on to sell 49 million units worldwide, while the Genesis/Megadrive sold 38 million.
In 1994, Japanese electronics giant Sony decided to enter the videogame market, releasing the Playstation, the first videogame console to run CD based games. Doing battle with the Nintendo N64 and the Sega Saturn, the Playstation was a more grown up machine compared its competitors, and it captured the hearts and minds of gamers worldwide. The Playstation went on to sell 100 million units worldwide, easily trouncing its rivals.
In 2000, Sony released its follow up to the Playstation, dubbed the Playstation 2. With a DVD Drive and a new graphics chip called the ‘Emotion Engine’ powering the console, Sony continued its dominance over the videogame market. The PS2 massively outsold its primary rivals – the Nintendo GameCube and the Sega Dreamcast – selling more than 170 million units worldwide.
Shortly following the release of the Playstation, software giant Microsoft decided to make a play for the videogame market, releasing their first console, the Microsoft Xbox. Headed up by Halo, an FPS game developed by Bungie Studios, the Xbox featured a robust online multiplayer infrastructure called ‘Xbox Live’, a first for videogame consoles. The console eventually went on to sell 24 million units worldwide, before Microsoft killed it off too replace it with its successor.
Following the poor performance of the Dreamcast, Sega dropped out of the console market, instead becoming a third party software developer for the other major console manufacturers.
Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo remained in the console market, however, releasing a console each.
Sony released the Playstation 3, a new, more powerful console featuring an innovative graphics chip called the ‘Cell’. They also fitted the Playstation 3 with a blu-ray drive, allowing it to play next generation HD blu-ray discs.
Microsoft released the Xbox 360, an upgraded version of the Xbox. Featuring a new and improved controller, a sleeker, faster, better version of Xbox Live, and a number of new IPs, the Xbox 360 was an improvement over its predecessor in virtually every way.
Nintendo took a different path to the other two console manufacturers, instead releasing the Nintendo Wii, a graphically inferior console that featured a new and innovative motion based control method.
All three consoles went on to be successful. As of 2013, the Wii has sold 100 million units worldwide, the Xbox 360 has sold 78 million units worldwide, and the Playstation 3 has sold 75 million units worldwide.
In November 2012, Nintendo kicked off the eighth videogame console generation with the release of the Nintendo Wii U, its followup to the Nintendo Wii. Featuring an innovative tablet controller, the Wii U provides unique asymmetric gameplay possibilities that are not possible on any other console. It’s also the home of Mario, Zelda, Metroid, and many other Nintendo greats, making it a must buy for all Nintendo fans.
In the fourth quarter of this year, Sony and Microsoft are slated to enter the eighth videogame generation with the release of the Playstation 4 and the Xbox One, the latest members of the Playstation and Xbox families.
The two consoles are more alike than they are different. They both feature upgraded CPUs and GPUs designed by AMD Technology, a prominent PC hardware manufacturer; they both feature blu-ray drives and a number of different multimedia functions; and they both boast significantly improved graphics and audio over their predecessors.
There are slight differences between the two consoles, however. While Sony has focused more on delivering for gamers, Microsoft has focused more on making the Xbox One a ‘jack of all trades’ media device, with its innovative Kinect camera acting as a voice activated remote control.
All three consoles are attractive in their own ways. Nintendo’s stable of IPs is hard to beat, while Microsoft’s Kinect promises to change the way we interact with our televisions and our media. The Playstation 4, on the other hand, promises to be the best videogame console ever made, with best in class graphics and audio capabilities.
At this point, nobody knows which consoles will emerge victorious claiming the title of ‘best selling eighth generation videogame console’.
One thing is for sure, though – it’s a good time to be a gamer.