Home video games consoles have been around since Magnavox first released the Odyssey console in 1972. Since that time, the video game console has overcome its share of adversity, surviving two periods of uncertainty and market crashes in 1977 and 1983, which cast doubts over the future of the industry.
In recent years however, the video games console industry has gone from strength to strength, and the competition between developers is fierce. New technologies have driven games consoles away from the game cartridge format, as used by such consoles as the Nintendo SNES and Sega Megadrive towards a compact-disc format as used by today’s generation of consoles – a technology pioneered by Sega’s Saturn system. However, it was the launch of Sony’s PlayStation console in Japan in 1994, and Europe a year later which really made home video gaming popular.
Since then, there have been three major developers in the games console market. Nintendo are perhaps the most well-known of the three, having been designing and developing games consoles since the 1980s. From their SNES and N64 systems through to the Gamecube and today’s Wii console, Nintendo have earned a hardcore following among video gamers and are perhaps the dominant entity in the handheld console market since the launch of their Game Boy system and more recently the Nintendo DS.
Having seen phenomenal success with their PlayStation console, Sony has become almost synonymous within the video game consoles market. Their PlayStation 2 console was released in 2000 and has been the most commercially successful and fastest selling home console in video game history, with over 120 million units shipped worldwide by May 2007. Following a delay, Sony released their latest console – the Playstation 3 – in March 2007, and it became the fastest-selling home games console in the UK, selling around 165,000 consoles in its first two days of availability.
The third company, Microsoft, are seen as the newcomers in the video games console market, having launched their Xbox console in 2002 as a competitor to Sony’s PlayStation 2. The Xbox was seen by many to bring desktop computing and games consoles together, with the console being the first to employ an internal hard-drive for storage instead of removable memory cards, as well as other similarities with its hardware specifications when compared with a personal computer. Although it proved popular, it was unable to make much of an impact against the PlayStation 2’s market share. In late 2005, Microsoft launched the new Xbox 360 into the marketplace.
For many, the latest ‘Console War’ has only just begun and it is not yet possible to determine which, if any, of the three major consoles – Sony’s PlayStation 3, Nintendo’s Wii and Microsoft’s Xbox 360 – will come to dominate this new generation. The Xbox 360 has gained an early lead in terms of market share, but this is due in no small part to having being launched a year before its rivals. Sony’s PlayStation 3 has Blu-ray capabilities, which allow it to show high-definition video, and both consoles appear to have been aimed towards the hardcore gamer.
At the expense of cutting edge graphics, Nintendo’s Wii console utilises a wireless, interactive controller which can detect motion and rotation in three dimensions. The controller also plays sound and includes force feedback, allowing the user to experience vibrations that mimic feelings experienced during the game. Despite some quarters dismissing the Wii as ‘gimmicky’, Nintendo have found themselves being unable to make consoles fast enough to satisfy demand. Since January, it has outsold both the Sony and Microsoft consoles due to its mass appeal among casual gamers, as well as its ease of use.
The audience for games is bigger than ever, with the game industry enjoying a record year. In the U.S, revenues during 2006 increased by 20 per cent to $12.5 billion, with predictions for 2007 rumoured to outstrip that figure. Even so, it’s too soon to tell how the latest ‘console war’ will fan out.