With the Sony PlayStation 5 and Microsoft’s Xbox Series X slated to be released sometime within the year and Nintendo being rather coy about their plans for their next generation system, you can bet there is going to be a lot of hurt feelings and a lot of spilled blood within the gaming community. This is just the way thing are as their launch will herald the beginning of the ninth video game console wars.
Hardcore console gamers are going to be placing their bets on their favorites. This is a story that’s old as time as, even since Atari popularized the home video game console, competitors have popped up and tried to take a chunk over the market share. There have been many legendary console wars in the past and the most memorable would probably be the Nintendo vs. Sega rivalry during the 16-bit wars. This was definitely the big one as the scrappy and brash Sega tried to directly attack Nintendo with their “Genesis does what Nintendon’t” marketing strategy.
While I will admit that is the most heated console war, I can’t say it was the best one. No, for my money, the best console war happened just recently with the Sony’s PlayStation 3, Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and Nintendo’s Wii systems battling for supremacy. In my opinion, the best console war was the seventh generation video game console war.
The biggest reason why it was the best of the console wars is because you can actually make an argument regarding who won it and no one came in last place. This isn’t the case for the previous ones. During the 16-bit era, NEC’s TurboGrafx-16 was the clear loser. Gamers living during the period may remember it but it’s more like a footnote to the rest of the world. Sure, the Mini version looks cool and all but, even though I’m familiar with the system, I can’t say I’m all that eager to get one.
The fifth generation console wars was actually the worst one as Sony’s PlayStation simply dominated the market. Even though Nintendo and Sega dominated the previous generation, both the Nintendo 64 and Sega Saturn didn’t even come close to half of how much the PlayStation sold. In fact, if you combine the sales of the 33 million Nintendo 64s and the 9 million Sega Saturns, it doesn’t even amount to half of the 102 million PlayStation units sold! Not a very interesting console war in the least.
Things didn’t improve all that much during the sixth generation as, once again, Sony dominated with the PlayStation 2, trouncing Sega’s Dreamcast and Nintendo’s GameCube. This was even the generation that killed off Sega’s hardware division! The only interesting bit about the sixth generation console war was Microsoft throwing their hat in the ring with the Xbox. Like the PlayStation when it launched, the Xbox came out like gangbusters, at least in Western markets. But I have a feeling that Sony’s dominance during the fifth and sixth console wars led to Nintendo and Microsoft re-evaluating their strategies on what to do for the seventh generation.
This had Microsoft throwing money into development of the Xbox 360. Basically, it was a better and more powerful version of their original Xbox. However, they did take some feedback to heart. The original Xbox was a huge block of black which did look very unappealing. So Microsoft designed the Xbox 360 to look much sleeker and decidedly whiter. The original Xbox controller, The Duke, felt too large in a lot of consumer’s hands. They went back to the drawing board and created what most gamers say is the most comfortable controller ever, even today. They also managed to get more 3rd party developers onboard, mostly thanks to the original Xbox’s success in Western areas.
Nintendo went to the drawing board completely. They figured out they didn’t have the same reservoir of money Sony and Nintendo had so they decided to innovate instead of compete directly. They decided to target the more casual audience instead of the hardcore. This led to the creation of the Wii, probably the most creative console ever and also the most risky. The Wii didn’t have your standard controller. It had the motion controlled Wii Remote. It wasn’t a powerhouse when it came to processing power but, thanks to the unique control interface, it didn’t need to be. The interface made it easy for even non-gamers to have fun with their gaming brethren.
Succeed does breed complacency and this is certainly the case with Sony when they planned out the PlayStation 3. I can’t say what happened behind closed doors in Sony HQ but they made some really bad decisions! They made a super powerful “Cell” CPU, yes. But it was so difficult to program for. This led to ports of 3rd party games looking and, well, playing ever so slightly better on Microsoft’s Xbox 360. This did get better after developers got used to the complexity of the Cell architecture but there was a time when the Xbox 360 simply had the better ports.
Sony also overestimated how many people were going to be willing to pay the premium price of just shy of $600 for their “low end” PlayStation 3. I’m not sure what prompted them to really inflate the price of the system but, man, that was a lot of money! This is a far cry from the original PlayStation’s shockingly low price tag way back in 1995!
Sony did recover and made drastic redesigns to the PlayStation 3, eventually making it cheaper and, well, just look better. In fact, everyone did the same thing. Both the Xbox 360 and Wii got new designs as the years passed and the systems also became much cheaper than before. All of these did help all three systems keep moving units all throughout their life cycle.
And that’s the thing. All three systems, the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Wii, sold remarkably well! There was an argument to be made regarding which was the best console and even which was the worst. You could say the worst was Xbox 360 thanks to earlier models getting the Red Ring of Death. You could say the PlayStation 3 because of how expensive it was and some games looking better on the Xbox 360. You could say it was the Wii because it was an underpowered system that relied on a gimmick-y controller. The thing is, these are all valid points. Yet none of them really disqualify them for being a “bad” system. This also makes it difficult to argue which is the best system among the three because they’re just really good video game consoles!
While the seventh generation didn’t have the epicness of the 16-bit wars, I still believe it was the best one because it was the one where everyone won. Microsoft proved it was a force to be reckoned with in the video game console market. Nintendo reinvented themselves with their creativity and pluck. Sony snapped out of their hubris and went back to trying to stay ahead of the pack instead of assuming they’ll never be beat. It was the highest of the high points in video game console wars.
What is your favorite video game console war? Let me know what it is in the comments section below!