The Atari , which sold 30 million units, still ranks among the best-selling consoles. No other console of that generation came close. But overconfidence overcame the industry. Console makers, believing that gamers would buy any game, regardless of quality, flooded the market with a series of terrible games.
It is widely regarded as the worst game of all time, and it is considered the game that killed Atari and triggered the video game crash of In , Nintendo revived the industry. Nintendo eventually persuaded skeptical American retailers to sell the new system as a toy no one wanted to try selling video games. Nintendo cared about quality, and this attention to what customers wanted made it the master of the 8-bit generation.
But a serious new competitor had emerged. Competition between the two rival companies became bitter; both fought for the attention of game developers and raced towards the introduction of CD ROM games as PC computers began to encroach on the games market. The competition, however, was close, and both companies nearly exhausted their resources preparing for the next generation. In the fifth generation of consoles, computer technology improved enough to allow truly 3D games. Originally intended to be a collaboration between Nintendo and Sony, Nintendo arrogantly overplayed its hand, believing that it could win any console war by default.
Insulted by Nintendo, Sony decided to develop the Playstation on its own. It focused heavily on attracting developers to its new system, and encouraged a large library of good games to be developed quickly. Sony and Sega used disks for their console systems, while Nintendo used a much more expensive cartridge. The Playstation, which stayed in production for more than ten years and had a game library of almost 9, games, sold over million units.
In the sixth generation of consoles, Sony did even better. Sony followed the success of the Playstation with the Playstation 2 PS2 , which it released in This meant that anyone who bought a PS2 would be able to play all of their older Playstation games and any new games that were developed for the PS2.
The backwards compatible strategy had been used by other companies before, but it was uncommon because cartridge design would change with every generation; with a CD ROM system, the CD could be made the same size for the next generation, allowing newer consoles to play older games. The PS2 sold more than million units in its year lifetime, and remains the best-selling console of all time. In second place, however, was an entirely new competitor. Sega had become irrelevant in the console market, and changed course to only developing games.
In the seventh generation, the console market continued to consolidate, and it emphasized online multiplayer more than any generation before it. Microsoft and Sony competed directly for the hardcore gamer market, focusing on high-end visually stunning games. The Xbox released in and Playstation 3 each sold about 80 million units although these final numbers are misleading, because the Xbox outsold the Playstation 3 for seven years. But it was Nintendo, focusing on the casual gamer, emphasizing family-friendly games, that won the market.
The Nintendo Wii , with a unique easy-to-use motion controller, sold over million units. Nintendo avoided the competition and went for a larger market, similar to the strategy that Sony employed for the Playstation in the fifth generation. We are currently at the very end of the eighth generation console market. This generation is marked by an increasing reliance on digitally-downloaded games. Rather than storing games on a disk that gamers buy at the store, almost all games are now available as a download.
The gamers revolted, and Microsoft reluctantly reversed the decision, but reputational damage was done. Sony also went back to its roots and made a big push for encouraging independent developers. It was quickly discontinued and replaced with the Nintendo Switch, which has sold more than 50 million consoles. The Switch, however, is a hybrid design; it can be used as a console or carried around and used as a handheld gaming device.
It is not as powerful as other consoles, and not as much of a direct competitor. At the time of this writing, the ninth generation of video game consoles has just been announced. Computer technology is reaching the limits of what can be improved. Speed and capacity are as high as they can be without becoming excessively expensive. The next generation will require an impressive amount of imagination to move forward. The hybrid design of the Nintendo Switch matches the spirit of this idea, and it is often considered part of the ninth generation, but it is appropriate to wait for the other consoles to reach the market before marking the beginning of the next generation.
It will start in One company has already unexpectedly brought their entry to the next generation of console gaming—Google. Games are streamed, much like Netflix movies are streamed, and gamers can play them on any screen that connects to the internet.
My assessment of this console, so far, is negative. It has many problems; some of these are the nature of the industry, and some are specific to Google. It is helpful to remember that no one is investing in Google for access to the video game market. Not enough games. Google should have waited longer to build a better library. Too expensive. Stadia requires buying the controller, paying a monthly fee for access to the Stadia system for the full set of features , and still buying the games most of which are better suited for a traditional console.
This would be fine if the console was already accepted as a legitimate long-term product. An ideal product launch for such a console requires at least one of those factors to be free—preferably at least two. Gamers are willing to pay for something that is proven, but the new offer has to be much better to convince them to try it.
Internet connections are inadequate. Streaming games has been a dream of console makers since the mids, but the technology has never been good enough. If you ask the game developers the ones actually making the games , this is the most difficult challenge to overcome. Stadia is definitely suffering from this viewpoint. The competition is better. Google has very little experience in this market. Sony and Microsoft were able to get in from the outside, but those two companies nurtured an attractive video game library.
Google as it usually does is solving technical problems without addressing customer needs and desires. Stadia is not compelling enough. At the time of this writing, Sony and Microsoft have both announced plans to release their next generation of consoles near the Christmas holiday season, officially starting the ninth generation of console gaming.
Sony, following its long commitment to keeping a large video game library, insisted that the Playstation 5 will be backwards compatible with many older Playstation games. Microsoft has made a similar promise. If this generation follows the same cycle as the previous ones, we will see a big boom in the video game industry starting at the end of It is dominated by Nintendo. The first successful handheld console was the Nintendo Game Boy, released in Several other handhelds, or consoles that could be carried and played without a TV, were attempted in the 70s and 80s, but the technology was not ready.
The Game Boy was not as advanced as the other handhelds available at the time, but it was much cheaper and had a much longer battery life, two of the most important features for handheld popularity. Since then, Nintendo has never been seriously challenged in the handheld console market.
Nintendo continued producing more advanced variations of the Game Boy handheld system for 20 years. The combination of the Game Boy and the Game Boy Advance sold a total of over million units during their lifetimes. The Game Boy family of handhelds was gradually replaced by the Nintendo DS after , a handheld that sold over million units. These were phased out after the release of the Nintendo 3DS in , a handheld that has sold about 75 million units so far. A version of the 3DS is still produced as an entry-level handheld console, but the spiritual successor is the Nintendo Switch, which can be used as a TV console or a handheld console.
The only company to offer a real alternative is Sony. It was the most powerful handheld console of its time, and was designed to work with Playstation 2 and Playstation 3. It sold 80 million units in its lifetime; impressive, but nowhere near Nintendo. Nothing could dislodge Nintendo from its ownership of this market. But the handheld market is changing. Now there is a serious new threat—mobile phones. Mobile phones are functionally similar to handheld consoles, and they can do almost all of the same things.
They also have continuously growing game libraries supported by millions of small game developers. There will always be demand for high quality handheld consoles meaning there will always be demand for Nintendo products , but casual gamers have accepted mobile phones as an adequate replacement. Part of getting comfortable with an investment means understanding the rules and cycles that define an industry.
The rule behind the market for consoles is what economists call a two-sided market. On one side is the content the number and quality of games available for the console , and on the other side is the consumers the people choosing which games to play —and the console with the best content is usually the most successful. What matters for investment timing is the industry cycle, which resets with every new console generation.
There is always a big boom in business at the start of a generation. From a really long-term view, the technology for consoles has followed the same pattern as the rest of the computer industry: devices continue to become smaller, more powerful, and more interactive. The only difference is that consoles are used primarily for games. The market for consoles has also followed a familiar pattern—it opened with many small competitors, exploded, and re-formed into a small number of major companies.
To compete in this market today requires a massive investment in technology and more importantly another massive investment in a large video game library, something that the established players have taken decades to build. There will be no small startups here. The market for the actual games, however, is an entirely different story. That story is coming next quarter. The controller was the first to introduce the control pad, which became standard for all manufacturers.
With its rounded corners and large buttons, the drab grey console was a robust toy for children that easily survived a tumble from a shelf without damage. Sony's success story on the console market began with the Playstation. The sleek device was inspired by the SNES. Sony built its own console and became a major competitor.
The name says it all. The standard edition was a purple cube, the shape a reference to an object that is an inherent part of many games, the dice. The color purple was intentional, as Nintendo mainly produced video games suitable for children, selling them exclusively for Nintendo consoles.
The Xbox was the first console created by Microsoft. The company was keen to establish the Xbox brand as quickly as possible, which might explain the decision to cover the console with a large letter "X. The Xbox is an example of poor design. It is not necessarily ugly, but the ventilation didn't work well.
When the console overheated, the LEDs surrounding the power button turned red. Often enough, that meant the console needed to be taken to a repairshop. The infamous "Ring of Death" went down in gaming history.
Nintendo's Wii was a slim, white console with a slant. At the time, the color white was the hottest color for cool, technical devices. The iPod, which had been around for several years, was also white. Controllers with motion sensors and a wrist strap were innovative features that gave people a new gaming experience. The Playstation 4 came along with a simple-looking, reserved design, but it wasn't without appeal.
The glossy piano varnish surface gave it an elegant touch. Buttons, connections and drive were cleverly concealed. This console was no longer a child's toy. While Sony and Microsoft continued to develop their tried and tested models, Nintendo turned to something new: enter the Switch.
The device was a hybrid, half handheld, half stationary console — basically a display with connected controllers.
Many social media critics felt it looked uninspired, and the console was ridiculed for resembling a computer tower or even a mini-fridge, which is why it earned the nickname "Xbox Fridge. With its playful curves, the PS5 looks futuristic. It also breaks with the PlayStation tradition, as it is for the first time in two colors.
The reactions on social media are divided: For some, the design is a revelation, for others, the look is reminiscent of a wireless router. The following pictures in this gallery take a look back at how games consoles have developed since the late s. The design was based on the wood veneer look popular with the era's TV sets. The unremarkable grey box still has fans to this day. Manufacturer Nintendo laid the foundation for famous game series like Super Mario Bros.
The controller was the first to introduce the control pad, which became standard for all manufacturers. With its rounded corners and large buttons, the drab grey console was a robust toy for children that easily survived a tumble from a shelf without damage. Sony's success story on the console market began with the Playstation. The sleek device was inspired by the SNES.
Sony built its own console and became a major competitor. The name says it all. The standard edition was a purple cube, the shape a reference to an object that is an inherent part of many games, the dice. The color purple was intentional, as Nintendo mainly produced video games suitable for children, selling them exclusively for Nintendo consoles. The Xbox was the first console created by Microsoft. The company was keen to establish the Xbox brand as quickly as possible, which might explain the decision to cover the console with a large letter "X.
The Xbox is an example of poor design. It is not necessarily ugly, but the ventilation didn't work well. When the console overheated, the LEDs surrounding the power button turned red. Often enough, that meant the console needed to be taken to a repairshop. The infamous "Ring of Death" went down in gaming history. Nintendo's Wii was a slim, white console with a slant. At the time, the color white was the hottest color for cool, technical devices.
In , developers at Sanders Associates, Inc. Over the next few years, the primitive Odyssey console would commercially fizzle and die out. In , Atari released a home version of Pong , which was as successful as its arcade counterpart. Magnavox, along with Sanders Associates, would eventually sue Atari for copyright infringement. In , Atari released the Atari also known as the Video Computer System , a home console that featured joysticks and interchangeable game cartridges that played multi-colored games, effectively kicking off the second generation of the video game consoles.
The video game industry had a few notable milestones in the late s and early s, including:. Lasting a couple of years, the crash led to the bankruptcy of several home computer and video game console companies. The NES had improved 8-bit graphics, colors, sound and gameplay over previous consoles. Nintendo, a Japanese company that began as a playing card manufacturer in , released a number of important video game franchises still around today, such as Super Mario Bros.
Additionally, Nintendo imposed various regulations on third-party games developed for its system, helping to combat rushed, low-quality software. In , Nintendo made waves again by popularizing handheld gaming with the release of its 8-bit Game Boy video game device and the often-bundled game Tetris.
With its technological superiority to the NES, clever marketing, and the release of the Sonic the Hedgehog game, the Genesis made significant headway against its older rival. The early- to mids saw the release of a wealth of popular games on both consoles, including new franchises such as Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat , a fighting game that depicted blood and gore on the Genesis version of the game.
In response to the violent game as well as congressional hearings about violent video games , Sega created the Videogame Rating Council in to provide descriptive labeling for every game sold on a Sega home console. The council later gives rise to the industry-wide Entertainment Software Rating Board, which is still used today to rate video games based on content.
Numerous movies based on video games have been released since. With a much larger library of games, lower price point, and successful marketing, the Genesis had leapfrogged ahead of the SNES in North America by this time. But Sega was unable to find similar success in Japan.
With a leap in computer technology, the fifth generation of video games ushered in the three-dimensional era of gaming. In , Sega released in North America its Saturn system, the first bit console that played games on CDs rather than cartridges, five months ahead of schedule. The following year, Nintendo released its cartridge-based bit system, the Nintendo Simply put: Sony dominated the video game market and would continue to do so into the next generation.
In fact, the Playstation 2, released in and able to play original Playstation games, would become the best-selling game console of all time. Sega pulled the plug on the system in , becoming a third-party software company henceforth. Though the Playstation 3—the only system at the time to play Blu-rays—was successful in its own right, Sony, for the first time, faced stiff competition from its rivals. The Xbox , which had similar graphics capabilities to the Playstation 3, was lauded for its online gaming ecosystem and won far more Game Critics Awards than the other platforms in ; it also featured the Microsoft Kinect, a state-of-the-art motion capture system that offered a different way to play video games though the Kinect never caught on with core gamers or game developers.
And despite being technologically inferior to the other two systems, the Wii trounced its competition in sales. Its motion-sensitive remotes made gaming more active than ever before, helping it appeal to a much larger slice of the general public, including people in retirement homes.
Towards the end of the decade and beginning of the next, video games spread to social media platforms like Facebook and mobile devices like the iPhone, reaching a more casual gaming audience. The next few years would see several sequels and other toy-video game hybrids, such as Disney Infinity , which features Disney characters. Despite featuring a touch screen remote control that allowed off-TV gaming and being able to play Wii games, the Wii U was a commercial failure—the opposite of its competition—and was discontinued in In , Sony released a more powerful version of its console, called the Playstation 4 Pro, the first console capable of 4K video output.
In early , Nintendo released its Wii U successor, the Nintendo Switch, the only system to allow both television-based and handheld gaming. Microsoft will release its 4K-ready console, the Xbox One X, in late With their new revamped consoles, both Sony and Microsoft currently have their sights set on virtual reality gaming, a technology that has the potential to change the way players experience video games.
The Verge. The First Video Game? The Brown Box, — The Video Game Revolution. Video Game History Timeline. Museum of Play.