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Useful Notes / The Sixth Generation of Console Video Games

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The Sixth Generation of Console Video Games was a time of the maturing of the video game industry. It was a time when many trends were started that would reach their height in the Seventh Generation.

The first out of the gate this time was Sega. Things had been looking very grim indeed for Sega after the disastrous launch of the Saturn and its subsequent failure, so the company decided on going for a gamble. Sega Dreamcast was released in the fall of 1998 and was touted for its online features, with online play and downloadable games, as well as reviving the Sonic the Hedgehog series that was strangely on hiatus during the fifth generation.note 

Knowing that their new console more than anything needed a Killer App to stay afloat, Sega decided to bank on another gamble, and gave designer legend Yu Suzuki free range to put an auteur project of his own together. The result was the very ambitious and ground-breaking Shenmue, which with its release in 1999 stood out as one of the earliest entries into the Wide-Open Sandbox genre. But Shenmue, while celeberated for its very impressive graphics and the scope of its ambition, also failed to become the ace in the hole that Sega had hoped for. While ending up as the fourth best-selling title for the console, its development had been very priceynote , and despite the good sales, the game ultimately failed to break even against its very high budget, and therefore it only ended up adding to Sega's financial woes.

Meanwhile, Sony, who hadn't even broken a sweat in last generation's Console Wars, was gearing up to release the PlayStation 2. The hype surrounding this console, as well as many dubious or bad decisions on Sega's part in previous generations leaving them with a shaky public opinion, only made sales worse, and eventually Sega had to concede defeat. And as such came the sad and swift end for the Dreamcast as it was discontinued in early 2001† , and the former console maker, which a mere decade before had gone toe to toe with Nintendo, had to drastically downsize and go third-party.

Coming in during 2001 was Nintendo with the GameCube (typically given the acronym "GCN"), their first console to use optical discs, albeit based on mini-DVDs rather than the standard 8-inch/20 cm size used by the other consoles. Software giant Microsoft made the surprising announcement that they were going to enter the video game industry with a console based on PC hardware: The Xbox. It released shortly after the Dreamcast's demise, in November 2001.

It was in this generation that Multi-Platform games started to become much more common. Unlike previous generations, the consoles were much more alike in terms of their basic design philosophies and capabilities, so games could now be more easily produced for the PS2, Xbox, and GCN all at once, though about halfway through the era, this was often reduced to PS2 and Xbox due to Nintendo's "kiddie" reputation and the GameCube's low storage capacity on its discs.note  Multi-platform releases in this generation generally tended to fall into two categories — those which were designed with the PS2 in mind and only slightly upgraded for the other two consoles, and those which were designed with the GCN and/or Xbox in mind and later downsampled for the PS2 (Resident Evil 4 being the biggest example, particularly in how that version had to use pre-rendered cutscenes to keep them at the same quality level as the GameCube original's in-engine cutscenes). Fortunately for Sony, the former type examples of multi-platform games vastly outnumbered the latter types, meaning that the gulf in capabilities between its console and the other two generally wasn't obvious until the generation's end gave people the benefit of hindsight, though the examples of the latter type did lead to the system suffering its share of Porting Disasters.

Online gaming for consoles emerged in this era. Online gaming was already prevalent on PCs, and there were some early experiments with online with the Satellaview for the Super Famicom and the Nintendo 64DD, but this generation saw the rise of online gaming as a standard for consoles. The Sega Dreamcast was noted for its highly detailed online services that were ahead of its time... but, as mentioned above, the Dreamcast's short lifespan meant that few ever got to experience them. The most successful online system of the sixth generation was Xbox Live, which was supported by several games both first- and third-party because of its ease of setup. Its success spurred Sony to boost support for the PS2's online features, which didn't do as well as Xbox Live but still did reasonably well. Nintendo also had the intention of entering the online space with the GameCube, using a broadband and modem adapter for this purpose instead of built-in features. Unfortunately, it was discovered rather quickly that the cable could be used to hack into the GameCube, leading to piracy. Nintendo, having a long-standing fear of piracy, responded by quietly ending support for the peripheral and releasing an Updated Re-release of Phantasy Star Online in order to make hacking impossible. Thus, the GameCube was rendered as the only console of the generation without online features.

In this generation, teenagers and young adults (rather than children) became the majority demographic for video games. The industry as a whole had already been undergoing a steady shift towards Darker and Edgier since the 16-bit era, but it was this generation where demographics really changed. Dark and violent video games like God of War, Resident Evil 4, and Grand Theft Auto redefined the medium as primarily for the older crowd rather than for kids. Nintendo's reputation (particularly with the nascent gaming press) for being the "uncool kid's game company" put them in a bad position because of these trends, which wasn't helped by the GameCube's toy-like appearance. Sony and Microsoft, on the other hand, developed a more "core" reputation (and their subsequent adoration by the press) because of the many darker games released on their consoles.

Genre-wise, this generation is notable in that there was no genre that absolutely "defined" the era. Games from all sorts of genres, from Action Game, to Action-Adventure, to First-Person Shooter (with Counter-Strike, Halo and Call of Duty debuting in this generation to great success and helping to popularize first-person shooters in this gen and especially the next), to Platform Game, to RPG, to Sports games, to Stealth-Based Game, to Third-Person Shooter, and even several that didn't fit any established genre saw equal measure of success. This lead to the Sixth Generation being the most diverse era in terms of game variety.

Lastly, on the handheld front, Nintendo's Game Boy Advance dominated the market, being essentially a portable Super Nintendo. When compared to the non-portable consoles of the era it lagged only behind the PlayStation 2 in terms of sales.note  It would be Nintendo's last 2D system, and the last of the Game Boys (notably backward-compatible to even games for the first Game Boy, at least in its original model), as it would be replaced by the Nintendo DS.

Consoles of this era

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    New IPs of this era 

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