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Console Wars
"Gamers like to fight each other over this admittedly trivial division because a) they're too young to care about politics, or b) they're old enough to understand politics, but giving a crap severely cuts into gaming time."
El Santo, The Webcomic Overlook

Broadly speaking, the competition between electronics companies to increase their video game market share. Since new consoles are usually released within a year or so of each other, the systems are in direct competition with each other for the gamer's cash.

More specifically, though, the console wars refer to arguments (usually online) between gamers themselves as to the superiority of the various systems and companies. The console wars for each generation usually begin a year or more before the systems in question are even released. Expect much flaming and quoting of sales figures, but don't hold your breath awaiting an explanation of why these battles are so fierce in the first place. Could you imagine if people got this worked up about toothpaste brands? note 

These debates can get very stupid. If you don't care about the matter, then just buy the system(s) whose games intrigue you the most, and don't worry about what anybody else thinks (the Computer Wars were arguably worse — the ZX Spectrum vs. Commodore 64 punch-up still rages in some quarters of the Internet, with the victor depending almost entirely on who you ask — but they faded out in the early 1990s, when geeks made far less noise than today). If you're looking for any upcoming gaming deals, try reading a dedicated console blog or the websites of the companies who make the consoles, just stay away from any console "debates" — your sanity will thank you for it.

There is a certain degree of reason in rooting for a particular console that isn't merely fanboyism. The greater the install base of your chosen console, the more likely it is to receive exclusives and technically superior originals rather than platform ports. There is also the psychological phenomenon called "post-purchase rationalization", where people who have sunk a large amount of money into a gaming machine want to feel as if their purchase was worth it (see also the Sunk Cost Fallacy). Particularly in earlier generations, consoles were expensive enough that a middle-class income couldn't support two or three consoles and a library of games for each, so a gamer had to choose a machine and stick with it. By convincing others and reading supportive viewpoints, they reduce cognitive dissonance and avoid "buyer's remorse". This is why the Phantom is obviously the best next-gen system and one belongs in your entertainment center today.

And if you really want to rile people up, you can throw in the bickering between PC and console owners. You're sure to get enough noise to drown out a jet engine.

See also Computer Wars. For a game series that has fun with the concept and runs on drugs with it, see Neptunia. See Aoi Sekai No Chuushin De for a fantasy manga parody of the Nintendo vs. Sega era.


    open/close all folders 

The Home Console Wars

     The First Generation: Pong, et al. 
See here for more information.

  • Duration: 1972-76.
  • Sides: Pong and glorified board games.
  • Winner: Odyssey

The infancy of the home video-gaming industry began with the Magnavox Odyssey. This era is most famous for the arcade game "Pong" and its clones (both on and off of home consoles). What is not well known is that many other games also existed, such as Computer Space, Breakout, and even some Light Gun games for the Odyssey. Granted, many of the games which existed in this era didn't make it to the consoles just yet, but there was indeed more than just Pong.

What console games did exist were rudimentary, mostly because, until the end, the Odyssey was the only console. While revolutionary for its time, the console pretty much just used variable screen lights with one or two white squares on screen, and colored sheets to cover the screen and simulate board games. A pong clone was possible with one of the cartridges and a couple made use of the Light Gun.

Towards the end, more advanced consoles started to show up, such as a failed sequel to the Odyssey (hint: it wasn't Odyssey 2). However, these are mostly forgotten.

    The Second Generation: Early 8-Bits 
See here for more information.

This generation was actually kicked off by Fairchild's Channel F console, the earliest example of what most of us would recognise as a console. While it enjoyed initial success, it suffered from a generally unimpressive games library, poor build quality and awkwardly designed controllers, ensuring that it was blown away the following year when Atari arrived on the scene. Fairchild later released a redesigned version of the system, but in a case of spectacularly poor timing released it a few weeks after the Intellivision hit the market, and so nobody noticed.

The console that virtually everyone associates with this generation is the Atari 2600. Initially developers just produced more Pong-esque games for the system, meaning that it had a slow start, but Atari really got things going when they started porting their arcade hits to the 2600. The ports weren't perfect (in fact, a lot of them were flat out awful), but it showed what the system could do. Soon, other companies such as Activision started developing for the console, and it rapidly became a smash hit. Atari released a second console, the 5200, later in the generation, but got a lot of things (most notably the controller design) wrong, meaning that it never took off.

The first major competitor to Atari's dominance was the Intellivision by Mattel. Although it was somewhat more advanced than the 2600, it wasn't enough of an improvement for developers to abandon the more successful 2600. As a result, the Intellivision maintained generally solid sales, but never came close to challenging the 2600 for the market lead. A bigger challenge to the 2600's dominance came later with the Colecovision, which was technically far superior to any other system on the market and could boast near-perfect arcade conversions, an advantage exemplified when Atari shot themselves in the foot with the 2600's disastrous Pac-Man port. As this generation drew to a close Atari was getting its backside handed to it by the Colecovision, although the 2600's head start kept it well ahead in terms of the installed base.

Magnavox tried their hand again by releasing the Odyssey 2, a console that combined gaming with some rudimentary home computer functions. Unfortunately the system wasn't significantly better than the 2600 on the gaming side, and its computing features were badly underdeveloped. As a result, the system never took off, and Magnavox left the market. Another early competitor was the Bally Astrocade, which was one of the first and most advanced systems from this generation, but it was expensive and not backed properly by Bally, meaning that it remained a niche product. Probably the weakest of the major competitors was Emerson Radio's Arcadia 2001, which boasted abilities similar to the Intellivision, but suffered an awful game library and being released near the end of the generation, ensuring that it was blown into the stratosphere by the Colecovision.

The oddball from this generation's console lineup was the Vectrex, which featured a built-in screen and used monochrome vector graphics rather than the traditional bitmap graphics used by the other systems. While it boasted some great titles and was the most technologically advanced system from this generation (with the possible exception of the Colecovision), consumers were generally unwilling to look past its monochrome graphics, and it launched too near the end of this generation to have had any real chance of success.

Ultimately, this war culminated in The Great Video Game Crash of 1983, where the bottom fell out of the market. Atari ended up being the only company to fully survive the crash, once a takeover by Jack Tramiel had secured them financially; Mattel switched to handling distribution in Europe and South America for other console manufacturers, and the others either went out of business or left the market. Somehow, the 2600 managed to survive the decade, outlasting the more technologically advanced consoles of its generation. Ironically enough, the Crash actually helped the video game industry — post-Crash, Nintendo dropped their line of arcade-machine boards in favor of the Nintendo Entertainment System, which made its debut several years later and single-handedly revived the market.

Speaking of which...

     The Third Generation: 8-Bits 
See here for more information.

Probably the most lopsided console "war" in history. Nintendo took full advantage of being the company who restarted the American market, and locked all the major developers into exclusivity deals. This was later ruled illegal and Nintendo forced to stop the practice, but by that point the industry was moving onto the following generation. As it was, though, Nintendo's two main competitors launched too late to have any real chance of dethroning the juggernaut they had become, and even if the Big N had been better-behaved, it would likely have made very little difference as to the outcome of this war.

Sega's first console, the SG-1000, debuted in Japan the same day as the Famicom, but less than 100 games were released for the SG-1000 Mark I and Mark II. Sega upgraded and redesigned the SG-1000 Mark III, and branded it the Master System internationally. The Master System managed to cultivate a following of die-hard gamers who eschewed Nintendo, and was quite successful in smaller markets (most notably Brazil and some European countries), but the NES utterly dominated the most important markets of the time (the U.S. and Japan).

Atari attempted a comeback with their 7800 — a souped-up, backward-compatible version of the 2600; while the 7800 secured a decent third-place finish in this war, the damage Atari's reputation had taken ensured it never had much chance of challenging Nintendo or Sega, though one small consolation was that the 7800 at least outsold the Master System in North America.

     The Fourth Generation: The True 16-Bits (The Classic Battle) 
See here for more inforamtion.

This one marked down boundaries that are still followed to this day (boundaries that were arguably drawn by one of the actual companies — "Genesis does what Nintendon't"). Fifteen years on, you'll still encounter long-time gamers who identify themselves as "SNES people" or "Genesis people".

The Genesis initially competed against the NES and, as is often forgotten, did so rather poorly — the better graphics meant little against the juggernaut that was Nintendo at the time, and flawed arcade adaptations like Altered Beast (the Genesis' original pack-in game) didn't compare well with the then-recent Super Mario Bros. 3, often considered one of the (if not the) greatest games of all time. It wouldn't be until the Genesis found its Killer App Sonic the Hedgehog, released the same Summer as the SNES with its (comparatively) boring-looking Super Mario World, that Sega would give Nintendo a tenacious run for their money.

Though the Genesis would be extremely well-received in the UK, in the US and generally, in the long-term the later-released, powerful SNES won out, although it should be noted that the Genesis was out-selling the SNES for quite a while. The Genesis had a faster CPU ("Blast Processing" was what its commercials touted), but the SNES had the more advanced graphics hardware, even without the expansion chips which cartridges could provide. Sega struggled to remedy this through releasing a number of add-ons (the 32X, the Sega CD/Mega CD), which did little for gamers that the Genesis didn't already do.

Another important factor in the SNES' victory over the long term was its tremendous library of games — especially in its native Japan, where the console released anime licensed games at bargain prices. Whereas Sega catered mainly to a "hardcore" gamer market of young males, especially with sports or fighting games (with the SNES derided as the bloodless Mortal Kombat system), the SNES could simply saturate the market with games targeting every demographic, including the casual gamer that would make Nintendo such a success a decade later. The differences between these strategies began the first-ever Casual-Competitive Conflict in the home market — while the SNES did become more successful in the end, it wasn't uncommon to be bullied for admitting that you owned one, especially if it was instead of the "cooler" Genesis. Much like the NES before them, and later the PS2, games were being released for the systems long after the next-generation systems like the PlayStation or N64 had condemned the systems to eventual obsolescence, with some still releasing new games as late as 2000.

Nintendo also got a huge boost late in the game when they tasked British developer Rare with reviving the then-dormant Donkey Kong franchise. The result was Donkey Kong Country, which pioneered the use of pre-rendered 3D graphics in video games. It immediately became the fastest-selling game of its time, becoming the Killer App of the SNES' later years and helping Nintendo win the war once and for all.

Another contender was the NEC TurboGrafx-16 (aka PC-Engine). The system was very popular in Japan (outselling the NES and consistently ahead of the Mega Drive) but poor marketing, a bad pack-in game, and a lack of exports of some of the more popular titles condemned it to obscurity in North America.

Unlike the Genesis and the TurboGrafx-16, the SNES had no CD drive peripheral, though one was planned. To make a long story short, Nintendo broke deals with Sony and Philips. As part of the settlement, Philips won the right to make several Mario and Zelda games for its CD-i system. The CD-i had been originally sold as a multimedia system until Philips realized that only the games were actually selling. But the CD-i turned out to be poorly situated as a game console, since game developers had to deal with a slow, buggy interface and a controller that lagged badly and could only support two "functions", no matter the number of buttons. Nevertheless, the CD-i's limited success in kiosk and interactive-multimedia markets allowed it to stay in production until 1998. As for the CD-i's Mario and Zelda games, the less said about them here the better. As for Sony, it turned its half of the CD peripheral into an independent console, something called a "PlayStation." We'll get to that in a bit...

The real loser was the Amstrad GX4000, a console based on the Amstrad CPC computer line which had a library consisting mostly of overpriced ports of CPC games; it was only released in Europe, and lasted less than a year.

The oddball was the Neo Geo. Released in 1990 (the same year as the SNES), it was way more expensive than the other 16-bit consoles and was there so that fans with lots of money could play the exact same arcade game at home. Since SNK used the very same hardware in their arcade machines it made porting cheap, and thus new Neo Geo games continued to trickle out as late as 2004. The only true competitor for the Neo Geo, Capcom's CPS Changer, had no third-party support and less than a dozen releases.

Another footnote could be added for the Super A'Can. It's games were largely ripoffs of other games and it was never released in the USA.

    The Four-And-A-Halfth Generation: The False Start 
  • Duration: 1993-96.
  • Sides: 3DO vs. Atari Jaguar vs. Pioneer LaserActive vs. Amiga CD32 vs. FM Towns Marty vs. Memorex VIS vs. Nintendo Virtual Boy.
  • Winner: Arguable; the 3DO sold the best, but the Virtual Boy was the only one whose parent company wasn't bankrupted or driven out of the market.

Several companies got the big idea to jump-start the next generation early...and failed due to the incredibly-high prices the new consoles commanded and/or boneheaded management ruining any chance of success. The SNES and Genesis thoroughly trounced all of them.

This stalled generation is the first one based on CD-ROM technology, and this isn't a coincidence. Optical disc technology had been around for a while, but it wasn't until the early 1990s that such discs were introduced for use in home computers. CD-ROMs worked fine for multimedia encyclopedias and such, but since most games of the day were 8 megabytes or less, developers had trouble imagining what to do with all that extra space. Computer manufacturers had pushed CD-ROM drives heavily, but the format didn't take off until the debut of a point-and-click adventure game called Myst. Myst's lush graphics and free-roaming gameplay were a big hit, and players bought CD-ROM drives just so they could play it, just as Doom boosted sales of video cards several years before. Naturally, disc-based consoles followed shortly after. Early games were often uninspired clones of existing hits, layered heavily with Full Motion Video and digitized actors to show off the new technology.

The 3DO was an attempt by Trip Hawkins (Electronic Arts' founder) to create a standardized console format. Despite a great deal of hype, some pretty good games and decent support by third-party companies (most notably Electronic Arts), it was hindered by full-motion shovelware and a launch price of $700 which 3DO refused to reduce up until the superior 32-bit systems came out and killed the interest in it. The system did at least end up as the best selling console from this pseudo-generation, though with overall sales of only around two million that isn't really saying much. 3DO eventually retooled itself as a software company that despite some successes (namely the Army Men series) was just as troubled as the system and eventually shuttered in 2003.

The LaserActive was a system based on the laserdisc format. It was arguably way ahead of its time, with Full Motion Video capabilities far outstripping the Sega CD and Philips CD-i, and with graphics that at times even surpassed many fifth-generation offerings. It also had the capability of playing Genesis, Sega CD, and TurboGrafx games with optional (and expensive) add-ons. However, it ran into the same problems the 3DO did — a limited software selection and a staggering price of $1,300 (and this was before the Sega/TurboGrafx add-ons).

The Atari Jaguar was an infamous case of mismanagement and general corporate stupidity. Atari's claim of 64-bit power and an initial huge list of third-party support impressed the public, but any hopes of Atari taking back the industry were crushed by the Jaguar's infamously-complicated and buggy coding structure, and an initial wave of games that sucked and only looked slightly better than comparable 3D SNES games using the Super-FX chip. As a result, most of the third-party bailed out and sales were lackluster. Atari tried to counter the arrival of the newer 32-bit systems with an ill-thought-out CD add-on, but that didn't do anything and the Jaguar fell — taking Atari with it.

The Amiga CD32 was a similar story: it was released a month before any third-party games came out for it, had a gaming selection that largely consisted of ports of Amiga 1200 games, and continued Commodore's proud tradition of being unable to sell water to a dying man in a desert. It actually sold respectably well in Europe for a while, but even that soon dried up, and Commodore were soon defunct themselves. The only thing saving the CD32 from bottom spot in this generation was the existence of the Memorex VIS, another multimedia system that barely had any games and sold a wimpy 10,000 units during its short lifetime.

Sega actually considered competing against this generation with the Neptune, which ultimately saw release in the form of the 32X. Though the 32X was a Genesis add-on rather than a console, it failed like the rest. Sega also released a CD addon to the Genesis/Mega Drive; like the 3DO, the Sega CD and 32X both had a few good games (but not much), but they weren't enough to justify the cost, especially with the Saturn's release date approaching.

On the other side of the Pacific was an odd thing called the FM Towns Marty, which arguably was the first 32-bit CD-ROM-based console...but in a shining example of No Export for You, nobody outside of Japan ever heard of it. It was a console variant of the respectable FM Towns, an early Fujitsu attempt to create a multimedia-centered PC, and predating Xbox by a full seven years it used a custom PC hardware centered around an AMD 386 variant. But unlike the desktop FM Towns machines it wasn't able to run DOS software, was plagued with compatibility problems, and was very expensive (72,000 Yen at release, about $700)...and proceeded to bomb.

Finally, let's take a moment to acknowledge a console that has gotten a lot of flak from All of the Other Reindeer, partially for being a Black Sheep: the Virtual Boy. The first console to use 3D graphics as its gimmick, the Virtual Boy was not a handheld console despite its name — it needed support from a flat surface to use correctly. It's also a classic example of Goggles Doing Something Unusual, in that they blocked your peripheral vision and displayed graphics in monochrome black and red. Its 3D effects were quite good, but everything else about it...not so much. According to its creator, Gunpei Yokoi, it was an Obvious Beta and should never have been released, but Executive Meddlers shoved it out the door early so that the N64 could take center stage with R&D. The Virtual Boy was released in 1995 and discontinued within a year, with only 22 games ever released (one of which was a Waterworld tie-in that, appropriately, is widely considered the console's worst title).

     The Fifth Generation: The 32/64-bit era (aka The Leap To 3 D) 

See here for more information.

Despite quality games such as Super Mario 64, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and Super Smash Bros., Nintendo dropped out of the lead for the first time ever. This was partially because of their adherence to the old ROM cartridge format — the limitations of which caused it to lose much of its third-party support, particularly Square and Final Fantasy VII — and partly because their bright and shiny family games didn't fit the new 3D, next-gen aesthetic. However, shrewd business decisions and pricing on Nintendo's part meant that while they lost market share, the company may have ended up comparably profitable to their competitors. The fact that their best-selling games were first/second-party also helped. The N64 did come in second during the war, but its sales didn't even come close to the PlayStation's.

Sony, meanwhile, recognized the increasing age bracket of console gamers and tapped into the influential twentysomething "big kid" market, legitimizing console gaming in the eyes of many and laying the foundation for the newcomer's market dominance. It should be worth noting that one of (if not the) greatest asset of the PlayStation's victory was due to the fact that their games were released on CDs. Since at that time, CDs were widely available to the mass market as writable media containers, the PlayStation became the first console with a large-scale piracy problem. People would buy PlayStations because they could pirate the games for it at less than one-tenth the games' retail price, whereas there was hardly any piracy on the other disk-based systems (and it goes without saying that it was way harder to copy an N64 cartridge).

You might expect that the developers shifting their focus away from Nintendo would choose its then-primary competitor Sega as a new platform, rather than new-kid-on-the-block Sony. However, the Saturn was a complex multi-processor design that was harder to program for, and it was less powerful than PlayStation when rendering in 3D. It was also crippled by creepy-as-fuck American television advertising, and a botched surprise launch in the US that caught third parties flat-footed and enraged retailers that weren't in on the secret, including Wal-Mart. Although it managed to grab some good market share in Japan, the dearth of game releases eventually led to its failure in other territories, where it was discontinued in 1998.

The Apple Pippin, released in conjunction with Bandai, was a weird mesh of computer and console sensibilities with all of the worst attributes of both — too expensive for a console, too underpowered for a computer, and a software library that barely cracked two digits. It's mostly useful for filling out every tech site list of "Ten Worst Consoles" or "Five Apple Flops."

The NEC PC-FX was NEC's attempt to enter the 32-bit era early by rushing an old, outdated design out the door before its competitors in an attempt to keep the PC-Engine's fanbase. The result was completely underpowered in every respect except for decoding videos, and thus many releases for it were anime-themed FMV games, making it pretty much the Japanese equivalent of the CD-i. It sold less than 100,000 units and ended NEC's run as a console maker.

     The Sixth Generation: The Online Era 
See here for more information.

Sega tried to get a head start, releasing its console in 1998 in Japan and 1999 in the US and Europe, but despite a number of fun peripherals, a free modem, four-player support built in, and a (theoretically) exclusive Resident Evil game, Sony's customer loyalty saw most gamers holding their cash for the PS2. While the Dreamcast did do better than widely given credit for (outselling the Saturn and managing sales that on average were roughly on par with the first Xbox), it wasn't enough to pull Sega out of the financial hole created by their blunders in the previous decade, resulting in them pulling out of the hardware market altogether before Nintendo and Microsoft's offerings were even released.

The PS2, meanwhile, proceeded to grab up the majority of the market early on and hold it, despite being less powerful than the later GameCube and Xbox consoles. Once again, a factor outside of its game library helped the PS2 achieve victory — at the time of its launch, it was the cheapest DVD player on the market. The system has shown rather outrageous longevity as well, being manufactured and having titles released for it in 2013, whereas the Xbox and GameCube had largely faded out by 2007. With nearly 4000 games, it has the largest library in console history. In the end, the PS2 has sold nearly three times the combined sales total of its two main rivals, making this easily the biggest Curb-Stomp Battle since the NES took on the Master System and Atari 7800. At 153.6 million sales, it is the most successful console of all time.

Despite a whole set of (theoretically) exclusive M-rated games from Capcom — killer7, Resident Evil 4, a remake of the original RE (followed by eventually the entire main series to that point), and a prequel to it — along with a few mature non-Capcom games such as Eternal Darkness and a Metal Gear Solid remake, Nintendo was unable to shake off its uncool "kiddie" reputation. The GameCube also didn't play DVDs (unlike the PS2 and Xbox) thanks to using smaller discs in an attempt to ward off piracy (which didn't work), and barely even put out an attempt to do something about online play (a lame adapter was only compatible with two Phantasy Star Online games released by Sega, and Mario Kart: Double Dash! could only be played online via a local area network). Although it took second in Japan, the GameCube was third in Western markets and Australia. In fact, after a relatively strong first eighteen months, once it became obvious that Nintendo had released all their major franchise games for the system and had no plans for further ones (outside of the endless Mario Party games, and an occasional one such as The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess and Metroid Prime 2) sales of the GameCube utterly imploded, meaning that for much of its life the console was humiliated to the point of being outsold by the original PlayStation in several markets. It wasn't a total loss, however, since Nintendo ended up the most profitable company of the Sixth Generation due to never treating the GameCube as a loss leader.

The Xbox entered the fray last and, despite initial skepticism, carved out a niche for itself thanks largely to Killer App Halo and the Xbox Live online system. In Japan, however, it barely made a dent and relied on Microsoft to back it up financially, as the company treated it as a loss-leader rather than a source of revenue in its own right. One place where it became oddly popular was in the Linux community, who exploited its PC roots to create an early version of the modern-day Home Theatre PC.

A footnote should be made for a kiddie console known as the V-Smile. While barely making a mark in the war due to it's niche target demographic, it was popular enough to get the backing of various popular children franchises and spun off not only handheld versions meant to compete with Leap Frog's Leapster, but also later gained a version with motion control to be marketed as a more child-friendly alternative to the Wii.

     The Seventh Generation: The HD/Motion Control era 
See here for more information.

  • Duration: 2005 - November 22, 2013.
  • Sides: Sony's PlayStation 3 vs. Nintendo Wii vs. Microsoft Xbox 360 vs. Zeebo vs. Hyperscan
  • Winner: The Wii, by a few waggles.

Microsoft was last in, first out with the Xbox 360, gaining a comfortable head start thanks to an even more advanced version of the Xbox Live system (with a point-comparing gimmick which catches on fast) and HDTV compatibility. However a hefty price tag, limited backwards compatibility with original Xbox games, and complaints about machine malfunctions plagued the console's early days (and, in the case of the malfunctions, continued to hurt it). Surprisingly, however, Microsoft did gain traction as a console developer after negative publicity in the run-up to the PS3 launch (specifically about Sony's hardware bottlenecks, poor viral marketing via fake blogs, and what was seen as the mistreatment of Sony's European customers) caused some waverers to jump to the 360. This was not helped by what was perceived to be Sony's decision to copy its competitors' unique selling points and the whopping five-hundred and ninety-nine US dollars price tag of the PS3, twice the starting prices of its predecessors. However, Sony's die-hard supporters, gathered through the PS1 and PS2 days, remained in droves, and reported excellent stock take-up in the first weekend of sales, through sales really didn't pick up until the eventual and inevitable price cut.

However, both the 360 and PS3 lagged behind Nintendo's offering — the Wii. Instead of trying to compete with cutting-edge hardwarenote , Nintendo debuted a unique two-part controller setup fitted with motion sensors and IR (pointer) input. Bolstered with games appealing to both traditional gamers (The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, Fire Emblem) and the new "casual" market (Wii Sports), the Wii catapulted to record-breaking success. This didn't go over too well with many of the "hardcore", who were upset at no longer being the center of attention. Their most notable complaint was Nintendo's decision to focus on easy-profit games tailored for casuals — the most glaring example being Wii Play, a minigame collection which sold 26 million units because it came with a free controller.

The Wii was unique amongst the competing players in that the console hardware was not a loss-leader; Nintendo made a profit for every console sold, whereas Microsoft and Sony relied on revenue from software to plug the gap. This is actually a return to prior trends, as the idea of selling console hardware for a loss originated with the PS1.

Whether the three systems were in competition with each other was a point of debate. Some dismissed the notion, claiming that the Wii targeted a different demographic than the 360 and PS3, while others pointed out that they were all competing in the broader arena of "recreation time" with other forms of entertainment. One undisputed fact, however, is that Microsoft and Sony had lost hundreds of millions on their consoles and Nintendo is the only company to have profited throughout the generation (for instance, Sony's losses on the PS3 had eliminated all the profits from the PS1 and PS2) and only in Summer 2010 had begun to turn a modest profit. This is seen as the main reason why Microsoft and Sony have released their own motion-control schemes, in an attempt to grab some of the Wii market. (This made their "It Will Never Catch On" claims about the Wii Hilarious in Hindsight.) The actual structure of this generation is a matter about which analysts will debate and argue (and, given the increasing size of the gaming market, it actually now has analysts!).

Meanwhile, far away from all this mess, a Brazilian company known as Tectoy released the Zeebo, their first original entry to the console market (they had previously been highly successful distributing Sega consoles in Brazil), which was specifically targeted at emerging markets such as Brazil, China, Russia, and India (except that no one had really heard about it outside of Brazil, which has import laws so ludicrous that having a local console seems to be the only realistic outcome) with its less powerful architecture and lower price point, but a wide variety of classic games from past console generations delivered through online downloads. The system also boasted infrared technology, similar to the Wii, on some games and has a very user-friendly controller. However, it failed horrendously in the markets it was launched in (India, Brazil and Mexico) and ceased production on September 30, 2011.

And then there was the Hyperscan, a kid system with cards to use with the games. A grand total of five games were released for it, and barely anyone even heard of it, let alone bought one.

The Standings: For the first time since the 5th generation, Nintendo took first place for consoles sold, with just over 100 million as of June 2013 (according to Nintendo reports). The PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360 seem to be pretty dead even for second at around 76-78 million as of January 2013, with the PS3's late resurgence and affordability helping to catch up to the Xbox's one-year headstart, while the Xbox has a strong user base in America making up for its lack of popularity in Europe (aside from the UK) and Japan (although those regions seem to be improving in Xbox's favor compared to last generation). Fourth place goes to Zeebo, and in fifth place is the discontinued Hyperscan.

The Wii was outselling both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 combined for about the first four years of its lifespan. Eventually by 2011, the Wii's sales lead started to trail off, while the Xbox 360 received a boost from the massively successful Kinect add-on. While Sony's PlayStation Move has been more critically acclaimed in terms of games, it hasn't captured the public imagination as much as the others due to being seen (rightly or wrongly) as being just a more advanced version of the Wii's control scheme. This trend continued in 2012, with the Wii often outsold by its competition at a ratio of 4-1; as the Wii U approached, Nintendo's only major releases of the year were Rhythm Heaven Fever and Epic Mickey 2. As of October 2013, the Wii officially ceased production in Japan (though not elsewhere) as Nintendo drove most of its focus on its next-gen console.

Microsoft and Sony, with the seventh generation all to themselves, were able to make up some lost ground. Halo 4, a Killer App if ever there was one, came out just before Black Friday and Sony finished strong with titles like God of War: Ascension and The Last of Us. And consumer interest in the consoles did not diminish: the week of Black Friday, the X360 sold 750,000 units, outselling the Wii U and Wii combinednote , while the PS3 turned a respectable 525,000, beating both of them individually as well. As of the "official" end of this generation (IE, the launches of their successors, the PS4 and XB1), the PS3 and X360 had managed almost 82 and 81 million sales respectively, with the Wii standing at over 100 million. The PS3 in particular sold very well in 2012 and 2013, causing some to predict that it might be able to snatch victory away from the Wii after all, though a major drop-off in sales following the release of its successor seems to have eliminated any realistic chance of that.

Despite Nintendo's changed priorities regarding the Wii's continued production, it's fairly unlikely that either console will be able to top Nintendo's sales figures, even with overtime technicalities on their side, and even less likely to top Nintendo's profits. Sony in particular is in deep trouble: journalists have begun to note that Sony's missteps over the PS3's life have left them in a bad position, though it remains to be seen how this will affect things in the next generation.

     The Eighth Generation (current) 
See here for more information.

While generations have typically refreshed every 5-6 years, this does not seem to be the case for the current systems, necessitating new predictions of when new consoles will finally be released. None of the three console makers are in a rush to launch new systems — the Nintendo Wii maintains its lead, and it's in Microsoft and Sony's best interests to keep selling their current systems and recoup the millions they've lost already. Another factor prolonging the life of seventh-generation consoles is widespread broadband access in American, Asian, and European homes; rather than roll out a new console to support better graphics or, in Sony's case, 3D games, the manufacturers can simply provide a firmware update for their customers to download. Digital Distribution has also expanded the retrogaming and Expansion Pack market, providing all three consoles with enormous libraries of not only games and add-ons, but also movies, music, game trailers, and other fresh content. The late-2000's recession hasn't helped matters either; with little money consumers have to spend in the current economy, its far easier to buy (or in the case of developers, sell) more games for their current console(s) than start investing in a new console in addition to buying the games for it.

This generation will be met with a fair amount of competition from tangent industries. Cellular phones and handheld computers have advanced to the point of being able to play simple but graphically appealing games; this could cut into the casual market, as such games are cheap, can be played for a few minutes at a time, and—assuming the player already has a cell phone (which in this day and age is like assuming the player needs oxygen)—don't require additional hardware. Meanwhile, as consoles become more full-featured and offer non-gaming services, while PC services like Steam standardize the buying, installation, and customer support processes, the two camps will find themselves in closer competition for consumer dollars.

A number of rumors in 2009 about Microsoft kick-starting the 8th generation ended up being Sony and Microsoft jumping late onto the motion-control wagon with PlayStation Move and Kinect, respectively — and most analysts are bullish on their chances of success. Microsoft has apparently reported that the Xbox 360 is only halfway through its lifespan, expecting it to last until 2015. Similarly, Sony has claimed that the PS3 will have a 10-year life cycle, lasting until somewhere around 2016.

So it was up to Nintendo to upset the applecart. They did, announcing the Wii U at E3 2011, with a release in Nov 18 (NA) and Dec 6 (JPN). It is back-compatible with all Wii games, controllers and accessories, but not Gamecube ones. The console itself looks like a downsized X360, but that's because all the excitement's in the controller, which is the lovechild of a Wiimote and an iPad — in addition to rumble, motion control, and all the buttons and thumbsticks you'd expect, it's got a touch-screen (single-touch only), camera with video chat support, and can display both secondary outputs (non-important information) or be used to play the game directly while someone else uses the TV to, say, watch TV. However, it is not a portable; without a set-top box to think for it, the controller accomplishes little on its own. So far, response has been mixed; Nintendo stocks went down noticeably in the days following the announcement over doubts about the (relatively) astronomical cost of controllers, the revised market strategy (going high-tech in comparison to the Wii's everyman approach; initially focusing on games that will only support one uPad at a time, with others required to use Wiimotes), and the lack of innovation in comparison to the Wii. Just like the Wii, the Wii U caters heavily to families and "casuals", thanks to games such as Nintendo Land.

The U has had a mixed response from third-party developers. A number of them who had shunned Nintendo for the past couple of generations signed on in droves for the Wii U, and early reports indicated that the U's Development Kit was very user-friendly. However, several others have very publicly announced that they have no interest in developing for the console, turned off by the combination of lower specs and the "GamePad" controller.

For the longest time, information on future Sony and Microsoft consoles were limited to rumors from Kotaku, who reported on the "XBox 720" in January '12 and the PS4, also called "Orbis," in March. Both sets of rumors suggested those systems would debut at E3 2013 and be released the following holiday season. Unexpectedly, however, both systems had earlier reveals: Sony held a press event on February 20 and Microsoft on May 21.

The PlayStation 4 conference showcased some very promising footage: the next Killzone game; a new intellectual property "Knack" that looks to merge the gameplay styles of Mega Man Legends and Katamari Damacy; the astounding news that Bungie Studios' new MMO-FPS, Destiny, will be available on the console; the somewhat-less-exciting news that Diablo III will as well; and the non-surprise that Square Enix is working on a new Final Fantasy game (though they did manage to drop a few jaws by announcing that it was the infamously borderline-Vaporware Final Fantasy Versus XIII, now re-branded as Final Fantasy XV). It confirmed that the PS4 controller will have a touch interface. It also confirmed a Wild Mass Guess concerning the PS4's nickname, "Orbis": when placed alongside the PlayStation Vita, you get the Pretentious Latin Motto for "circle of life", which was Sony's way of teasing that the Vita will be to the PS4 what the Wii U's GamePad is to the U: a fully-functioning private screen. What did not make an appearance was the console itself, any hard technical specs about it (aside from 8 GB of RAM), its price or its release date. That information was delayed until E3 - the price point was established at $399, $100 cheaper than the XB1; the specs were released; and the console itself was put on display, free of any kind of DRM. It was released on November 15, 2013 in the US and November 29th 2013 for Europe.

Microsoft, rather upstaged, nonetheless went public with the details of its Xbox One. The presentation featured the console, a slightly redesigned controller, new Kinect functions and details about launch games and some exclusives. One of the more interesting exclusives was an announcement that Steven Spielberg is helping them present a Halo television series exclusively for the device, which is being positioned as an all-in-one entertainment center (hence the name), something that can do TV, movies, music, apps in addition to games. Open-minded analysts had suggested that Microsoft is actually hoping to compete with Apple and their promise to simplify your entertainment clutter with its (as-yet-unreleased) iTV system. In this way, Microsoft can change their target demographic. Instead of marketing to "hardcore gamers", the XB1 can be shown to "anyone who does multiple things—cable, Netflix, DVD, Blu-ray, Skype or FaceTime, and... oh yeah!: video games—on their television," a number that is much bigger. It was released a week after the PS4, on November 22, marking the official beginning of The Eighth Generation of Console Video Games.

While Microsoft's E3 press conference had an impressive line-up of games, in addition to Call of Duty, EA Sports titles and Forza Motorsport, includes the likes of Dead Rising3, Quantum Break, and Titanfall, its very controversial DRM features had garnered much criticisms: the system would need to be connected to the internet once every 24 hours, and numerous restrictions regarding used games (though Microsoft is mostly leaving those restrictions up to the publishers). Additionally, the DRM would make sure that the system will not function if the system is moved to a country where the console isn't launched at all though the use of IP geofencing, effectively making import gaming impossible. Ultimately the enormous backlash led Microsoft to backpedal, with them announcing a removal of the policies.

And then before either of those two consoles launched, Valve Software announced that they were going to take their Steam Digital Distribution service and try to expand it from PCs to the living room. They'd do it in three parts: SteamOS, an operating system optimized for use with TV screens; Steam Machines, a range of PC hardware optimized for gaming; and their own controller. Gamers can adopt any of the three if they so choose, and mod it all to their hearts' content.

Finally, we have Google's Android operating system, which is being used to run several new consoles. The Ouya and GameStick are both funded by Kickstarter. Of the two, the Ouya is older and has more announced features: it's mod- and root-friendly (some pre-orders will come pre-rooted), it functions off the free-to-play models pioneered by League of Legends and Team Fortress 2 (i.e. Bribing Your Way to Victory), and as of December 28 has started to ship its first consoles to developers. Both consoles are dirt-cheap at $99 and $79 respectively. All this seems too good to be true, and maybe it is: the Ouya, though it sold pretty well, has been hindered by slow third-party support and a controller that is plagued with issues; while the GameStick has been affected by similar problems and on top of that had suffered several launch delays throughout the year.

The Current Standings:
The Wii U established an early lead, since it had the generation all to itself for a year. But unlike the Wii, the U is being sold at a loss, and a non-negligible one at that: Nintendo originally claimed that they would need to sell just one game to break even on the console, but later retracted that statement and have yet to offer an alternative. It has also, unlike the Wii, started to falter in its post-holiday sales, with Nintendo posting its first-ever quarterly losses. In fact, the U's early monthly sales in 2013 were so dismal that the X360 and PS3 have still outsold it until their sales picked up pace after the launch of the PS 4 and Xbox One. The console posted a somewhat decent performance over the 2013 holidays, which was largely credited to Super Mario 3D World along with the launch of a new, cheaper bundle that included New Super Mario Bros. U and New Super Luigi U, only for numbers to fall right back down again after Christmas, albeit to levels still higher than in the previous year. The launch of Mario Kart 8 in May 2014 still saw the console's sales improve again by a reasonable amount, though barring a miracle it's safe to say that Nintendo has little realistic chance of winning this generation. Beating the Xbox One to second place may be more achievable, though it's still early days for both consoles yet.

Microsoft, for their part, strongly divided games and non-gamers alike when they announced the Xbox One's DRM restrictions - some argued it was necessary to prevent piracy, while others said it was far too draconian and made the system look unattractive. The 500-dollar price tag, most expensive in the current generation by $100, didn't help either. Sony went the opposite route, promising not to use DRM or restricting sales of used games for the PS4, which won them a lot of fans and even convinced some Microsoft fans to switch sides. Sony's press conference, which lampooned the XB1's unpopular features in unsubtle fashion, didn't hurt either. A little over a week later, Microsoft bit the bullet and repealed the DRM plans, at the same time also promising to rid the console of Region Coding. While the move was welcomed and no doubt helped ensure decent launch sales, the Xbox One has generally lagged behind the PS4 by quite a distance, often posting sales nearer those of the Wii U than those of what most would consider to be its primary competitor. Titanfall provided a brief respite, but with sales dropping again Microsoft announced in May 2014 that they would be removing the Kinect from the standard bundle, which would now occupy the same price spot as the PS4. Early sales figures suggest that this has at least stemmed the console's sales drop-off, though it's still well behind the PS4, and many critics have noted that Microsoft are now in the awkward position of having an equally priced, less powerful console, with little to distinguish it apart from a wider range of media functionality.

The PS4, meanwhile, continued to enjoy overwhelming popularity before its launch, with Sony recently saying they already have over two million units sold via preorder. Mixed with news that, according to devs, the system is 50% more powerful than the the Xbox One, all information about the PS4 has been met extremely positively. Upon release, it completely shattered all records for day-one sales, selling over a million units in 24 hours despite launching only in North America, and adding another million within two-and-a-half weeks. Additionally, Sony is very aggressive with the launch of the PS 4, launching it in as many countries as supplies would permit within a short period, compared to Microsoft's slower launch timetable (in which it launched first in the first world countries in Europe, Australia, New Zealand and in North America in 2013, but the first world countries of Asia will only be getting the console in 2014, and second and third world countries' launch dates around the world are still up in the air). The XB 1 did about as well, and by the turn of 2014, Microsoft claimed to have sold 3 million consoles... though that's a bit of a slowdown next to Sony's 4 million. The Wii U officially slid into second place in March of 2014, when Sony announced they had sold 6 million consoles in 5 months, compared to the Wii U's 5.86 in 17. According to Sony, the PS4 officially crossed the 10 million mark in early August 2014, with the Xbox One having managed a little over half that number, and the Wii U being just shy of 7 million units. This announcement caused many analysts to already call this generation in Sony's favour, barring an RRoD-level disaster and/or one of the other two consoles getting the mother of all Killer Apps, and while it's obviously way too early to make any definite conclusions about this generation, the momentum is currently very much in Sony's favor.

Who knows what the mavericks will do to the battlefield. The Ouya has some pretty serious support behind it, being marketed as a dev- and indie-friendly console; but since beta and more recently official release, has only really been seen as mediocre at best by all accounts. Many believe that Sony's reveal of the similarly priced PS Vita TV, which can play certain Vita, PSP and PS1 titles, makes the Ouya completely irrelevant. The GameStick has no exclusive games announced at present, but there is a large market of casual gamers, brought into the hobby by the Wii, who might be excited for the chance to get the Android library on their TV at such low price.


The Portable Wars

     The Original (Third and Fourth Generations) 

Even when it came out, the Game Boy's chunky design and simple monochrome display made it look old-fashioned; at the same time, the Atari Lynx was wowing people with its "turn it upside down if you're left-handed" gimmick and full-colour display. But Nintendo's wide range of third-party developers and stranglehold on game shops saw it getting more shelf space. The Game Boy's greatest weakness was also its greatest strength; while the other handheld devices boasted color screens and more sophisticated graphics, Nintendo's device offered far better battery life, making it more easily portable. The Game Boy's Killer App, Tetris, was enormously popular among the adult market, becoming a frequent sight on busses and subways. Sega's Game Gear put up a better fight and also offered a colour screen and the option to watch TV on-the-go through a TV tuner with aerial, but it ate batteries for breakfast and, like its bigger brother the Genesis, fell before the might of Nintendo's juggernaut.

The TurboExpress also failed, despite being the most powerful handheld at that time, largely because it cost $299 on release. A late entry by Sega in the form of the Nomad, a handheld console that could play Genesis games, was a flop — it came out the year after the first PlayStation console.

    The Intermediary Skirmish (Fifth Generation) 

The cultural dominance of the Game Boy was immense, and continued to be bought by thousands for years after its initial release. But as the hardware aged, its competition saw a chance to strike. The Neo Geo Pocket and Game.Com were both attempts to knock the monochrome bleeper off its feet. But Nintendo had another trick up its sleeve; the original Game Boy was swapped out for the streamlined, bigger-screened Game Boy Pocket while a new, colour, backwards-compatible Game Boy was put on the market. Combined with the burgeoning Pokιmon phenomenon, which was just beginning to make noise outside of Japan, the Game Boy kept its feet until it was relieved by its successor in 2001.

The Neo Geo Pocket Color was released to compete, and while its library of classic Neo Geo titles saw it gain a mild amount of success, it never managed to make any real headway against Nintendo's established brand name and backwards compatibility. Japan also saw the introduction of the hugely-popular Wonderswan, created by the Game Boy's original designer as what was his final project before his tragic death, but it never made it outside Japan. The Game.com was easily the least successful handheld from this generation, boasting a touch screen and online features, but they were clumsily implemented and the overall hardware was badly underpowered (it actually had a similar CPU to the original Game Boy, but this wasn't especially impressive considering it came out eight years later), consigning it to failure in the marketplace. Tiger Electronics would see a similar failure with the R-Zone, which managed to sell even worse than not only its Game.com, but also the Virtual Boy, which the R-Zone is generally a Shoddy Knockoff Product of, and which had three equally disappointing different versions and graphics that can't even exceed the quality of those of the Virtual Boy.

When all was said and done, the Game Boy and its variants remain the single best-selling pure video game device ever made.

    Handheld Proliferation (Sixth Gen) 

The creation of the Game Boy Color was ultimately an admission that that iteration of the console had gone as far as it could go. In 2001, Nintendo released the Game Boy Advance, effectively a portable Game Boy-compatible SNES. (Compare with humorous intent to the first Portable War's massive casualty — Sega's Nomad, which played the original Genesis cartridges, doing away with porting/repurchasing games. Another instance of Sega's console curse — good ideas, horrific timing.)

The GBA was built upon an idea that would have been seen as terrible if it hadn't worked out: the Updated Re-release, more so than any other console before it. If the GBA was essentially a portable SNES, so the logic goes, then there was a generation of children who had never played those games, and another that had would be willing to pay for nostalgia. With a launch line-up that included versions of Super Mario Bros. 2, F-Zero, Earthworm Jim, and a 2D Castlevania, with Mario Kart, Donkey Kong Country, Kirby and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past soon to follow, a wave of players both old and new gave the device a warm reception. SNES developers found it easy to port their games, and even the best new franchises on the handheld (like WarioWare, Mario vs. Donkey Kong and Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga) had a good dose of gaming nostalgia behind them.

The GBA was followed up two years later with the improved SP model, which had a smaller size and a clamshell style flip-up screen with sidelight. Later they released the Micro, which was smaller and hipper (at the cost of backward compatibility) and an updated SP, both with true backlighting.

Competition followed in various forms, including the N-Gage by phone company Nokia, which was capable of graphics approaching that of a PlayStation 1 but suffered from an uncomfortable grip and a vertical screen. Further, the first version not only required players to open it and remove the battery to change a game, but also made them look awkward while using it as an actual phone; these were fixed with the "QD" revision, but one wonders how the original ever made it past practical testing. Despite heavy promotion from Nokia, including N-Gage-only stores, it failed to capture the public's imagination. But it did better than the Palm OS-based Zodiac, which caused its owner company, Tapwave, to fold.

As for the Gizmondo, the system quietly slipped under everyone's radar, despite being an early 3D-capable handheld, mostly thanks to its ludicrous pricing scheme: The base unit cost just over $200, but the system forced its players to sit through adverts before they could play their games, and the ad-free unit cost twice as much. The fact that the system's launch was overshadowed by the dealings with the Swedish Mafia of Stefan Erikson, the CEO of its manufacturer Tiger Telematics note , didn't help much, and the system was quietly discontinued barely a year after its release. Furthermore, because of its failure (the Gizmondo sold only 25,000 units and became the worst-selling video game device ever), Tiger Telematics filed for bankruptcy one year after the Gizmondo was released.

By far the most interesting of this generation, however, was the GP32, a Korean homebrew-friendly handheld console with a 133 Mhz processor that was capable of emulating other consoles and computers and came with a tiny detachable keyboard. Although it was not released in America, it gained cult interest in the UK and Europe. The Bandai Swan Crystal was a follow-up to the Wonderswan Color but was not released outside Japan.

But for all intents and purposes, the GBA was virtually unchallenged in the portable market for five years.

A side note should be made of the Leapster, a handheld console that offers educational games for kids manufactured by Leap Frog, and V-Tech's entry into the handheld market with the V-Smile Pocket, which is essentially a portable V-Smile with a built-in LCD display. It appeared that the Leapster, being the first in the market, enjoyed some popularity while the V-Smile Pocket fought but failed to impress parents.

    The Big One (Seventh Gen) 

This generation saw Nintendo's first serious competition for the handheld spot since Sega launched its Game Gear in 1990. The PSP, Sony's first foray into the handheld market, was marketed with top-of-the-line technical power. The PSP has much more raw power and greater non-gaming functionality. However, the dual-screened DS chose to concentrate on pure gaming, appealing to casual gamers with the intuitive touch-screen, microphone, excellent battery life, and lots of games targeted toward really young children. This turned out to be a surprise for everyone who thought the odd little device was dead in the water.

Throughout this generation, Nintendo's position seemed unassailable — Nintendo of Japan can't make 'em fast enough to keep up with demand in its home country. Meanwhile, the PSP has around 1/3 the total sales. This doesn't sound like much, until you factor in that it's still much more than the sales of either the 360 or PS3, and has massive popularity in Japan. Having said that, much of the promised non-game functionality of the PSP was a dead end: one of the main selling points of the PSP, the ability for it to play movies from the UMD format, didn't really get anywhere due to a price point for the UMDs that compared unfavorably with DVD versions but lacked any bonus content and did not require squinting at that PSP screen, and unenthusiastic support from non-Sony movie companies. The latest version of the PSP, the PSP Go, removed UMD functionality entirely.

In addition, the PSP and its easy memory stick compatibility made it a haven for software pirates. Considering how much had been banked on the impressive back catalog of PlayStation hits to provide an easy series of releases, emulation definitely made Sony and third-party developers nervous. Eventually the device would lose much of the third party support it had counted on, and presumably Sony's high-profile failed attempt to block piracy only made other developers more nervous.

In Fall 2008, Nintendo announced the DSi, a third model of the DS. It no longer has Game Boy Advance compatibility (and by extension, no support for the portable Guitar Hero games, which use the GBA port for their guitar grip peripheral), but has a (not particularly impressive) built-in camera, and SD card reader to play media. It also has built-in wi-fi and an online shop for games, similar to WiiWare. Priced the same as the PSP, it was released worldwide as of April 5, 2009, selling over 600,000 units in its first two days.

In October of 2009, a fourth revision of the DS, the DSi XL (essentially the DSi's "sister console") was announced worldwide and released in Japan. Rather than replace the current DSi, the DSi LL/XL at first seems counter-productive — it's larger (actually about the same size as the original DS), comes in subdued colors like dark brown and burgundy, and includes a larger pen-shaped stylus in addition to the typical Nintendo DS styli. The point seems to be an attempt to attract more of the casual market by having larger screens which are easier to see and easier to write with. And for people with big hands.

Sony's announcement (at E3 2009) and launch (on September 29) of the PSP Go stands in stark contrast. The Go does not have a physical slot for UMDs or other media, but instead plays downloaded titles. This resulted in heavy resistance from PSP owners, whose UMDs are not forward-compatible with the new system; and Sony never announced a way for you (personally) to convert your already-purchased games into DLC. Instead, they (Sony) are converting the PSP's back catalog into DLC, for use on PSP Go or PSP (which Sony is not discontinuing). A fair amount was available as of launch day, and every PSP title released thereafter was released in both physical and digital formats. But this didn't solve the problem of PSP adopters having to re-buy their old games if they want to play them on the new console. This is part of why the resistance to the Go is so fierce; some stores even refused to stock it initially. In the end, the PSP Go ceased production only two years after its release, perhaps the final big blow to end the generation's wars.

As for minor consoles, the GP2X is Game Park's follow-up to the GP32 and offers a Linux-based open-source platform for techier console fans. Like a hacked PSP, it can be used to emulate various consoles and computers, including Genesis, Neo Geo, and Amiga. However, it remains a cult item on the periphery of the war. Think of it as a small, black, plastic Switzerland, if Switzerland's company went bankrupt in 2007 and the former employees got together to make a Switzerland that was even less relevant.

An odd twist of this generation is the invention of smartphones—Apple iProducts, Android phones by Google—which have become competitors in their own right. iOS Games and Android Games are download-only games and are popular among some gamers — particularly for simple, low-cost games. Major third-party developers, such as Konami, Capcom, and Square, have all launched classic as well as new/exclusive titles in the App Store, proving that it's being taken seriously. Also, the App Store has brought many other budding companies to the surface, such as Game Loft. But it remains to be seen how big a presence this new market is in the Console Wars, because we can't measure their impact yet.

The first question one might ask is, "Why are we bothering to include these smartphones at all? People don't play games on them." In counter-argument, we offer a simple sales figure: Angry Birds has been downloaded a staggering two billion times between its launch in December '09 and the quoted press release in January '14. The nearest competitor, Tetris, does not offer any hard-and-fast figures, as only Game Boy and mobile phone sales have been tabulated; shareware, piracy and its gazillion Spinoffs are all unaccounted for. But the known sales total 135 million over the course of 26 years of sales. So, although Tetris is almost certainly the most well-known video game in history, officially, Angry Birds is the most proliferate. And it's on smartphones. And it brings its own complications to the competition.
  • One would think the easy way to figure out smartphones' market share is to do what we do for everybody else, which is count how many consoles Apple, Verizon, Google etc. have sold. That's kind of the problem: smartphones aren't consoles. When you buy a DS, you're buying it to play games. When you buy an iPhone, or an iPad, or an iPod Touch, you're buying it to do... what? Maybe you want to play games on it. Maybe you don't. Maybe you're a Serious Businessman who'd never think of your 4G lifeline as something you could have fun with.
  • It's easy to claim that smartphones aren't consoles, and, well, that's kind of true. While gaming consoles don't really have a standardized definition, we learned experts here at TV Tropes are going with, "an electronic device that is designed primarily to play games," which smartphones obviously aren't. The problem is, this sidesteps the real issue. The simple fact is that most people don't want to carry around more than one electronic interactive device at a time, so smartphones compete with portable consoles in the greater arena of "pocket space" (and, more concretely, "leisure time"), even if they aren't consoles themselves.
  • Angry Birds itself introduces complications, because that two-billion (!!!) figure is for all spinoffs of the game (six or seven, by now) across all operating systems. On iOS, you pay money for it... but on Android phones, it's free. The Tetris figures count only transactions where money has changed hands; Rovio, by their own admission, are glossing over that distinction. Add in the fact that people upgrade their phones much more frequently than they do their consoles, and must re-purchase or re-download their favorite software every time they do, and the figures start looking even more overblown.

VERDICT: The DS sold 155 million consoles, becoming the second-best-selling console of all time (less than a million behind the PS2). It also brought in a much higher profit margin. However, the PSP has kept up with the PS3 and X360, selling over 80 million consoles, making it the best-selling handheld console aside from the DS and possibly the original non-color Game Boy. Nintendo may have won, but Sony can scarcely be said to have lost.

    The Here and Now (Eighth Gen) 
  • Sides: Nintendo 3DS vs. Sony PlayStation Vita vs. Android/iOS/Windows Phone (i.e., mobile devices)
  • Winner: Ongoing, though the best-selling device overall so far is the iPhone 5, while the 3DS is the best-selling dedicated gaming handheld.

In March 2010, Nintendo announced plans to release the Nintendo 3DS. More details about the system were made available at the 2010 E3 trade show; features included a wider upper screen, which is capable of full, scalable, glasses-free 3D effects (similar to those seen in films like Avatar), an analog nub in place of the D-Pad (which is still present, but placed lower on the left side of the unit), and has graphics capabilities on par with the Wii, and sometimes the X360 and PS3. (Let's put it this way: a new Kid Icarus game with graphical fidelity surpassing Super Smash Bros. Brawl with a higher polygon count then Brawl — 60 million polygons at E3-2010 and 96 million polygons in its final version compare to Brawl's 48 million polygons — was highlighted at the event, while freaking Metal Gear Solid 3's Demo at E3-2010 was looking as good as ever, but now in 3D — was both used as a tech demo and promised by Hideo Kojima to be ported to the new console.) Other features include an expanded "sleep mode" which can accept communications between other 3DS units, regardless of what the 3DS was doing when it was put in sleep mode, and showcasing trailers for movies like How to Train Your Dragon or Tangled in full 3D, just like the theaters. It was released at the end of February 2011 in Japan and in March for the rest of the world, kick-starting the next generation of handhelds in the process. A 3DS XL saw release in 2012, quelling some complaints over a small screen and hand cramps.

Sony has now officially released one next-generation hardware platform, the PlayStation Vita. The Vita sports dual analog sticks, a rear-mounted touch panel, a larger screen, 3G internet, and of course more power (rumors claim it's as powerful as the PS3, but with a refined design). Games include new entries in the Uncharted, Monster Hunter, Call of Duty, and LittleBigPlanet franchises. And it's gone back to cartridges. The Vita would be released in Japan in December of 2011, and to most of the rest of the world in February 2012. Every critic that got their hands on it liked it a lot, but few people are buying it, due to its huge price tag and anemic roster of games. The inevitable price drop, and release of a "Slim" version, seems to have finally done Sony some favors, with the Vita actually selling out at some vendors as of the July 4th 2014 weekend—though, given its previous sales rates, and thus its likely manufacture rates, that might not be saying much.

Rumors of a PlayStation Phone have circulated since 2006, but it was five years before Sony's Ericsson subsidiary confirmed that they were trying to revive the N-Gage idea. The Xperia Play is an Android-based phone with a slide-out gamepad, including a central touchpad in place of dual analog sticks. (Note that, while it is associated with the PlayStation brand, it is not a PlayStation console.) It was announced in an ad during the 2011 Super Bowl and finished its worldwide rollout in May of that year, and can not only play any games available to Android (IE Angry Birds) but can access Sony-exclusive games through the "PlayStation Suite". Precisely what games that service offers is a question nobody can seem to answer, possibly because nobody wants to buy the darn thing; as such, claims that Assassin's Creed I, Need for Speed Hot Pursuit, Splinter Cell Conviction and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 are available have gone unsubstantiated. By late July 2011, the American press had written the device off as a dud.

Finally, Nvidia of all people decided that they were going for a bite of the console market, announcing a device codenamed "Project Shield" in the first week of 2013. Running Android architecture, it's not only a functional console in its own right, it plugs into your TV's HDMI port and lets you stream video games from your computer to the Shield, assuming you have a GeForce graphics card and the right software. Nvidia execs have announced that the console might be in consumer hands as soon as spring, though it actually took until the end of July.

As for other possible competitors:
  • Phones, tablets, and smartphone based portable media players running iOS, Android, and Windows Phone OSes are largely considered by mainstream press to be competitors against Nintendo and Sony. With a plethora of free and cheap games on devices you're already going to have, it's fairly easy to see why mainstream press suggested these were going to be the "Nintendo and Sony Killers". But so far neither Nintendo nor Sony has budged or wavered. Probably the biggest reason why dedicated handhelds are still going strong is that their competitors continually rely on touch controls, which isn't always the best control type to play with. (As a very simple example: NES emulators exist for Android, but the D-pad and A & B buttons are simulated using the touchscreen, forcing you to block your own view to play.)
  • The GP2X's latest iteration(s) will also likely stick to the small black plastic Switzerland role like before. A similar fate probably awaits the Pandora — an entirely open-source, homebrew handheld that uses basically the same hardware as iPod/iPhone, but is actually an odd hybrid between the console and full-featured Linux-powered UMPC. It was actually the most powerful handheld on the market when it was first announced, but a series of a development and production delays pushed the production back for more than one year, allowing the release of iPhone 3G, which uses basically the same hardware, and 3DS announcement.
  • Panasonic flirted with plans for a handheld called the Panasonic Jungle, but quickly changed their minds.
  • Meanwhile, it seems that a smaller, separate war has erupted with in the "handheld targeted at kids" market, with V-Tech (the maker of the abovementioned V-Smile kiddie console) introducing the MobiGo after failing to get parents excited with the V-Smile Pocket, to compete with LeapFrog's Leapster handheld consoles (which has just been recently refreshed with the Explorer series- the new Leapster is In Name Only and is totally incompatible with software meant for older Leapster consoles). It appears that LeapFrog is still unshaken, with the Leapster name still being trusted more by parents. However, with tighter Region Coding introduced into their app store recently, time will tell if they'll start slipping.

Current Standings: At the moment, Nintendo has a big lead. The 3DS got off to a rocky start with not much in the way of software its first few months, the high point being an Updated Re-release of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time in June 2011. Soon afterward in August, Nintendo announced that they were slashing the system price by $70 (and offering 20 retro games - 10 from the NES, 10 from the Game Boy Advance - to early adopters as an apology). Many took this to be a giant red flag as to the system's future, but in actuality it seems to have done the trick, as sales shot up to surpass the first-year numbers of the original DS. On top of that, the system is considered to have hit its stride in the holiday season thanks to system updates and true Killer Apps like Super Mario 3D Land, Mario Kart 7, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, and downloadable title Pushmo. In March 2012, Kid Icarus: Uprising was finally released, which managed to please those who were dissatisfied with the Mario titles. Monster Hunter 4, Shin Megami Tensei IV, and Bravely Default Flying Fairy are only some examples of the major third party support the handheld is receiving. And then came Pokιmon X and Y. 2014 so far has seen the console's sales drop off to a large degree thanks to the lack of any major new releases, although it's still comfortably ahead of any dedicated gaming device except the PS4.

The Xperia Play never received much attention, and drifted into obscurity before long. As of 2013, the Play may have been discontinued from the Xperia brand, but no one's sure because of the lack of press—that's how obscure it is. (Having said that, smartphones are typically considered obsolete within two years, sometimes even one, so this may just be a typical-life-cycle thing. Anyone thinking about releasing their own gaming phone might want to take notes.) The Nvidia Shield had a similar reception: it's obviously a cool idea, but at $300, it's not much of a steal. It does have access to the huge library of Android games, but only some of them are optimized for (read: "can use") its controller... and with the open-source Android OS as fragmented as it is, everyone and their mother making tweaks to it left and right, you can never guarantee that any given game will work on any given device.

The PlayStation Vita is also struggling; by the end of 2013, it has sold around 7 million units, which is peanuts compared to the over-41.5 million 3DS system models out at the same time. It was even initially outsold by the PSP, which had continued to ship about 10,000 units a week. Early 2014 has seen the Vita begin posting much stronger and more consistent sales figures (particularly in Japan) due to price cuts, the launch of the Slim model with inbuilt memory (albeit an inferior screen), and a much stronger library of games being assembled. Overall sales are still only around half that of the 3DS, but it at least now has the chance of turning in a respectable performance, and should be able to retain the PSP's crown as a not-first-place, not-Nintendo handheld that still counts as a financial success.

In terms of money however, the traditional devices have been completely eclipsed by the smartphone and tablet gaming markets — Angry Birds for instances is estimated to have earned creators Rovio more money than every Nintendo handheld ever made, and Clash Of Clans is estimated to be raking in $1 million per day on the iOS App Store, plus more on Android. Some are predicting that the success of such apps will rapidly render traditional handhelds Deader Than Disco, though others point to the continuing survival of the 3DS and Vita as proof that the two markets can co-exist; and the reputation of gaming apps hasn't exactly been helped by the near-abusive reliance that many companies have on microtransactions and in-app purchases. Overall, the best-selling "smart" device to date is the iPhone 5 with estimated sales around the 100 million mark. While Android devices have a larger total install base, with Samsung heading up the pack among the various manufacturers, their market is also a great deal more fragmented, to the point that we can't tell you what the most popular Android phone is because nobody has been able to figure it out.


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