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Useful Notes / The Seventh Generation of Console Video Games

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The Seventh Generation of Console Video Games was a time of both revolution in new areas and an evolution of old elements.

Ahead of the competition by a year, the first major console launch of the generation was Microsoft's Xbox 360 in 2005. While it wasn't the first console with the ability to output in HD resolution,note  it was the first to implement it as a standard for games. It eschewed the PC-based architecture of its predecessor, but still used development tools very similar to those used for PC games, retaining the ease of development the original Xbox was famous for. Unfortunately, the early launch was plagued with hardware issues, most infamously the "red ring of death".

The next year, Sony's PlayStation 3 saw a release. The PlayStation 3 was marketed more or less as a household supercomputer (in Britain, there was a bizarre and weirdly durable urban legend pre-release that it was to feature a toastie-machine), as it was manufactured with cutting-edge technology like the Cell processor and the very high-capacity Blu-ray format. The latter was actually put in as a push for the Blu-ray format (to the point where Sony's executives said outright that the success of the PS3 and Blu-ray were interdependent), since there was still competition as to what the standard high-capacity optical disc would be. However, said cutting-edge technology came with a hefty cost, as the console was released with the infamously high price of $600, and many studios found the hardware very difficult and expensive to make games for, due the console's general architecture, and the the Cell processor in particular, being challenging to program for. It has since been argued that these factors put somewhat of a dent in what exactly had been Sony's main edges in the previous two generations, namely a relatively affordable console which was very accessible for developers to make games for.

But overall, despite early launch issues, both HD consoles did drum up excitement for what could be done on these powerful machines.

The company that had much different attention going for it than Microsoft and Sony was Nintendo. In the sixth generation, the Nintendo GameCube fell behind the PS2 and Xbox in the Console Wars. Their reputation at this point was such that gaming audiences were fully convinced that Nintendo would quit the console business and go third party like Sega, Hudson Soft, and Atari did before them. Even professional analysts were certain that Nintendo attempting another home console entry into the Console Wars would be dead-on-arrival, and that they would be far better served to focusing solely on their dedicated handheld business, where they were still seeing success. Instead, Nintendo did something completely different.

Released within about a week of the PS3, the Wii seemed to be completely indifferent to its "competitors." Its hardware wasn't a significant leap in power; it was largely an update of the GameCube's and it couldn't even output in HD resolution. Instead, the real selling point for the system was its very unconventional controller, shaped like a television remote, eschewing the tried-and-true standard gamepad layout reiterated through the years in favor of motion-sensing capabilities. Early detractors cited its inferior hardware as proof that it would fail. As irony would have it, the Wii went on to outsell both the 360 and PS3 combined within the first couple years of its life. Crazy Enough to Work indeed.

The Wii's success led to a new era in the realm of Casual Video Games. Before then, casual games were confined to the PC, with PopCap Games controlling that department, and the mobile phone, where the games were very simplistic. The Wii's low price and low learning curve towards its games led to it becoming commercially successful towards people who don't regularly play video games, which turned out to be a large percentage of the world's population. The motion control was revolutionary in that moving the controller around was much easier to learn than knowing where all of the controller's buttons were and using each of them for a specific function. Because of this, the competition followed its lead. Microsoft introduced the Kinect add-on to the 360, which allowed a no-hands approach to motion control (similar to the EyeToy for the PS2), and it became very successful for its even greater simplicity to control. Sony introduced the PlayStation Move to the PS3, which garnered much critical acclaim for its greater depth of control than either of the competition, but didn't quite capture the attention of consumers as much, because its appearance was suspiciously similar to that of the Wii Remote and Nunchuck, and on top of that the majority of its library was dedicated to upscaled remakes of Wii titles rather than the more unique releases on the Kinect.

Thanks to the success of motion controls allowing for sports, dancing, and aerobics to force players to experience a workout in order to play, the Wii, Kinect, and PlayStation Move have been applauded by many for their fitness potential. In a time when people were becoming more fitness oriented, games using motion control have become one the largest markets in the video game industry. They have also brought in a substantial female audience, who were mostly ignored by the male-dominated market, and with clearly-defined "girl games" having the stigma of either being overly easy, overly feminist, or overly girly, very rarely did these games achieve anything resembling critical or commercial success. Most non-gamer women were drawn towards the casual games, especially since many were marketed towards women concerned with their fitness or towards women with no prior gaming experience. It is thanks to this newly-created genre of games that women would become a major part in video games, and their presence now affects not only the the way companies make decisions when creating their games, but it also led to the tearing down of many prejudices that were held toward women and their relationship to video games.

Another realm where casual games became massively successful turned out to be the handheld market. The Nintendo DS, which was released in 2004, was named the "Developer's System"note  in hope that it would inspire innovative design from developers. It managed to gain widespread popularity among casual gamers for the simplicity of games controlled by simply using the touchscreen, as well as earning the appeal of traditional gamers for its traditional controller setup. The DS's success foreshadowed the success of games in the smartphone and tablet market. Not only was the iOS easy to develop for, but is was powerful enough that it could support a variety of games. The success of iOS Games led to many other smartphones getting their own libraries of games and the rise of smartphones as a viable gaming device.

On the other side of the handheld arena, Sony released the PlayStation Portable a.k.a. the PSP handheld device in 2004 as well. They attempted to use the device as not only a powerful gaming machine but a complete multimedia device capable of playing not only Sony's new heavily invested UMD format, but also MP3, digital video, etc. The device had healthy hardware sales early on, but was outpaced by the DS; the UMD format failed to expand as digital downloads for movie media also began to rise. It achieved strong success, primarily in Japan, however, thanks in no small part to the new phenomenon that was the Monster Hunter series and various other Japanese developers and publishers finding the device the perfect home for several titles. While the PSP never beat the DS worldwide, toward the end of the DS's life cycle, it began to match and beat the Nintendo handheld within the Japanese market. The success of the Sony PSP and Nintendo DS also proved to be a turning point in the Japanese market, as most of Japan's smaller publishers and developers began focusing on the handheld market rather than the main consoles.

The success of casual and indie games on mobile devices, and mobile devices themselves growing in power, has also led to a wave of change in the video game industry. For the first time, games of nearly any bit quality can be played on portable consoles, and the quality of portable games have begun to close a gameplay and graphical gap that has long existed and prevented console games from having authentic handheld release.

Another phenomenon was the arrival of casual video games now becoming family game night events, much in the same way card games and other family games were for earlier generations. This represented a true turning point in the history of video games and entertainment as a whole; a ghetto had begun being torn down, and videogames — once seen as toy-like novelties for children or Murder Simulators — were finally gaining mainstream acceptance.

Despite pulling in a larger crowd than video games ever had before, "hardcore" gamers, as they came to be called in this era, have eschewed these casual games and the systems have largely been panned by this audience, believing the increased focus on casual games to have allowed the industry to decay. However, developers of "hardcore" games carried on with their traditional work, mostly unaffected by the success of the casual market. These developers, who felt that more power would better showcase the evolution of their work, tended to prefer the HD duo to the Wii, so most big-name third-party games ended up on the PS3 and Xbox 360. Many trends set during sixth generation would be taken to higher levels in this generation. This generation marked a visible "merging" between the console and the PC mediums. Prior, the history of PC gaming was mostly separate from the history of console gaming due to power and capability differences. In this generation, Multi-Platform games shared between the PS3, 360, and PC became very common.

Related to this, most of the third-party libraries of the PS3 and 360 were shared, whereas there were a good number of third-party exclusives in previous generations, mostly due to the rapidly increasing production and marketing costs making developing for just one platform financially un-viable. Also, continuing the trend of darker games, M-rated games dominated the core market outside of Nintendo's platforms, with rare T-rated and even rarer E-rated games only occasionally coming through. This has further become an example of the divide between 'casual' and 'hardcore' gamers = "E" rated games — at one point in its history the only type of game video games were associated with — were now associated only with "casual", "family", or "kiddy" games. "M" rated games defines "hardcore" gamers or generally very bloody and corrupting games. In fact, this newly born "videogame rating ghetto" is largely propagated by the media. For example, games such as Call of Duty have become so widely popular and played as to rival and even exceed that of casual games, while other franchises, such as Sonic the Hedgehog, remain steadfast to E/E10 but have a large hardcore gamer base. In fact, the most profitable video game rating is "T", and is the rating most games received during this generation. However, because T rated games have neither the safer, 'casual' nature of E and E10 games nor the flashy ultraviolence and controversy of M or Ao games, they were rarely publicized and many consider the rating suffering because it's too mature for 'casual' games but not mature enough for 'hardcore' games. Again, despite these dire predictions, T rated games remain the largest market.

This generation cemented online connectivity as an integral feature of gaming on all platforms. In the previous generation, only the Dreamcast and Xbox were designed with online connectivity in mind; the PlayStation 2 only implemented Internet support after the success of Xbox Live, and Nintendo pretty much gave up on online support for the GameCube after just a handful of titles. This time, however, all 3 consoles launched with online services. This included not only support for online multiplayer, but Digital Distribution as well. At first, digital offerings were limited to smaller and/or indie games, Downloadable Content for retail games, and re-releases of older titles, but by the end of the generation most if not all major Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 gamesnote  were being made available digitally at the same time they launched in retail stores, a trend that would continue into the next generation.

In previous generations after The Great Video Game Crash of 1983, Eastern-developed games made the bulk of the market and generally outsold Western games worldwide. This generation is notable in that Western developers dominated the worldwide video game market. Because of this, Western-oriented genres like the First-Person Shooter and Western RPG gained much popularity in this generation, while Eastern-oriented genres like the Collect-a-Thon Platformer and Eastern RPG fell out of the spotlight. In the previous generation, the Halo franchise popularized the FPS genre and led to an influx of developers wanting to capitalize on its success. This FPS craze became very apparent in this generation, but the Call of Duty series made the genre even more popular and outshone Halo, particularly after Modern Warfare hit the scene. The Western RPG genre, mainly represented on the PC before then, made a few successful forays into the console territory during the sixth generation (Morrowind and KotOR being the chief trailblazers), but really became a phenomenon on the consoles in this one. BioWare in particular spearheaded the increased popularity of WRPGs, especially with the Mass Effect franchise, which reconstructed the Space Opera in the vein of Star Wars for a new generation. The popularity of both genres contributed to the rise of western developers in this generation. Another common Western development that became increasingly popular during this generation was the combination of first- and third-person shooter mechanics with those of other genres; the Western RPG was a common second-half for this sort of arrangement, as in the aforementioned Mass Effect and the return of the Fallout series, though another common combination was FPS with Wide-Open Sandbox, as done with games like S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and the Far Cry series from Far Cry 2 onwards (though distinction between the two can be somewhat difficult, considering the wide-open worlds of several of the FPS-RPG hybrids and the RPG Elements present in several of the FPS-sandbox ones). Meanwhile, Eastern developers declined in this generation due to game development costs rising beyond what many of them were able to afford, lack of experience with HD game development, many of the genres they made and which were popular in the previous generations no longer having mainstream appeal, games with colorful cartoony artstyles which appealed to them and they specialized in being dismissed by the mainstream as "kiddy", attempts at Westernizing their games which alienated fans, and the Eastern market shifting to prefer handhelds and later mobile games over consoles.

Another interesting genre development in this era was the surprising resurgence of the 2D Platform Game. It was a genre that went by the wayside by the time of the fifth generation due to the more open polygonal worlds and the success of Super Mario 64. However, Nintendo revived the genre's popularity with the release of New Super Mario Bros., which overjoyed fans who wanted a new 2D Mario game last generation. This sparked a movement of classic franchises returning to their roots, especially but not exclusive to those who were met with poorly-handled Video Game 3D Leaps, such as Sonic the Hedgehog with Sonic 4 and Mega Man with Mega Man 9 and 10. NSMB's influence also lead to a good number of original IPs of 2D platformers such as LittleBigPlanet.

Also, the presence of Street Fighter IV as well as the new IP, BlazBlue, caused a resurgence in the 2D Fighting Game genre's popularity. Like 2D platformers, it was thought to have been fallen by the wayside due to the presence of more "modern" 3D fighters such as Virtua Fighter and Tekken. Many other games followed this resurgence like Mortal Kombat 9, which restored credibility to a franchise that had had its reputation hit by a poorly-handled Video Game 3D Leap, Tatsunoko vs. Capcom, and Marvel vs. Capcom 3.

Somewhat related to both the casual and hardcore market was the rise of indie games. Big-name publishers have started to support games made by very small development teams. These games included Braid, Minecraft, Bastion, and Geometry Wars, among countless others. These games were mainly released on the Play Station Network, Xbox Live Arcade, and Steam, with occasional WiiWare releases for games less than 40 MB. With indie games' massive success returns the notion that individuals or small groups of developers can create quality hit games, something that, ever since the 8-bit era, had become all but impossible.

The way consoles were marketed changed in this generation. The 360 and PS3 were not marketed as game consoles, because they did more than just play games. They were instead marketed as multimedia entertainment centers that could play music, play movies, browse the web, and do much more than just play video games.note  The Wii seemed to be the only console marketed for the ability to play games, but even it adopted some multimedia capabilities with its web browser and Netflix integration.

It is during this generation of games that video games transcended a niche or 'geek' market for teenage boys and young men and became a mainstream, global phenomenon bringing whole families together, bringing in a massive female audience, and tearing down many pre-assumed stereotypes about games and gamer culture, especially as gamer culture itself became pop culture. Video games, for the first time, were now a media that could be discussed in common conversation, or seriously debated, with fans and followers in as much earnest as any movie or TV phenomenon.

Controversies continue to rage, with Moral Guardians continuing an argument that has persisted since the 2nd generation of games, but with added ammo from the sheer realism — and very realistic violence — of many titles such as Call of Duty and Gears of War, claiming that they were prominent causes of major acts of violence, such as the 2007 Virginia Tech and 2012 Colorado movie theatre and Newtown shootings. Despite this, casual games have exploded in popularity so massively that game developers have yet to fully understand the market themselves and how they can truly affect the subconscious of their audiences. Whether video games cause violence and apathy or not is still a hot-button issue, though well-known, outspoken activists suggesting they do in the vein of Joe Lieberman and Jack Thompson have generally not been acknowledged as much as they were in the fifth and especially early sixth generations, with Thompson himself ultimately dropping the subject partway through the generation due to his disbarment in 2009.

Also during this generation was the arrival of video game releases becoming major events on par with major album and movie blockbusters. Although the concept of camping out to wait for a game release had already begun in previous generations, it reached major levels during these years, with some releases, such as Halo 3, Halo 4, and Call of Duty: Black Ops II even being reminiscent of a Beatles release. 1st day and 1st week game sales became so great that even movies and albums were being affected by game releases — the Call of Duty series annually set sales records for the entirety of entertainment for the majority of its releases across this and the next generation. Video game companies have moved to take advantage of these blockbuster events by spending more and more money into making and marketing games. However, this "Hollywood" approach to developing and marketing games has come with a hefty cost on the part of the companies that make the games. This blockbuster approach to video games has lead to increased budgets in money and manpower being put into video games, and an increasing number of games that attempt this approach like Resident Evil 6 and Dead Space 3 have been deemed to not meet expectations or be outright commercial failures for their creators despite still selling multiple millions of copies, calling into question whether the industry can survive having these inflated budgets. Added to this, much like trends in music, the glamorous decadence of these "Triple A" or "AAA" titles resulted in a backlash that fueled the boom of the tremendously successful indie market and this has, within the casual and hardcore divide, split video gamers between followers of AAA developers and games and those who are loyal to indie games.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the question of videogames as an art form reached a new apex. Alongside animation (which is overcoming its own ghetto this generation), the quality of story, characterization, and voice direction in videogames has gained a new realism previously unique only to live-action media. By the end of the generation, games such as The Last of Us have become cultural phenomena for their believable characters and strong writing, while Hollywood actors now regularly appear in titles. All of this ties in with and becomes much more feasible because of the power of the consoles. With the ability to render hundreds of thousands of polygons at once, graphics are capable of near photo-realism which draws in people to the far more human-like characters presented to them. Avant-garde video games also came to the forefront thanks to the indie game market's power. Video games made for the sake of art appeared, and some major titles with and without the aforementioned Hollywood approach also carried a very strong vibe of emotional realism and vibrant character development unseen in video games before. Thanks to graphical advancements rendering photorealism a near standard, this helped supporters of videogames as art gain support. As we move into the The Eighth Generation of Console Video Games, the debate continues and supporters continue to make gains especially through story-heavy games. Story-heavy games, however, also picked up their detractors from several camps: one being those who felt that the over-reliance on shallowly "deep" plots, inflated budgets, and ultra-realistic voice action and direction led to video games losing their "surrealistic" value; and others being for less noble reasons, such as those who felt that since video games "can't" be art and are for either kids, immature teenagers, or for the family at large, they shouldn't waste time and money on high quality storylines. These became minority viewpoints shrinking with time, however. As video games as a medium mature, they are now being seriously considered as a true form of artistic entertainment.

Consoles of this generation

  • PlayStation 3 (2006-2017)
  • Wii (2006-2013)note 
  • Xbox 360 (2005-2016)

Handhelds of this generation

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    New IPs of this era 

    Games of older IPs 
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