Gamers have been enraptured by console wars ever since Sega launched an audacious bid to knock Nintendo off its perch back in the early 1990s. Every subsequent generation has yielded a gripping console war and that intense level of competition has always driven the gaming sector to glorious new heights.
It has pitted rival tribes of gamers against one another and sparked furious arguments among friends, family members and critics. With both Sony and Microsoft preparing to launch next-gen consoles in the near future, the trend shows no sign of abating. Here we explore the various console wars and who prevailed:
Super Nintendo vs Sega Genesis
The first and arguably the bloodiest console war developed when Sega emerged as a serious rival to Nintendo in the early 1990s. Nintendo had dominated the scene for years, but that all changed with the arrival of plucky underdog Tom Kalinske. He used unconventional tactics and some extremely bullish marketing to turn Sega from a gaming industry punchline into a market leader, and sparked a fierce battle that raged across the world.
“Genesis does what Nintendon’t,” roared its aggressive TV ad campaign. In 1991, Sega launched Sonic the Hedgehog and it pushed the gaming sector into an exciting new direction. This blue blur soared through visually arresting levels at a breakneck pace, stomping on enemies and scooping up rings. It provided the perfect showcase for the Genesis’ “blast processing” technology. Sonic became the face of Sega and he was a huge rival to Mario, the much-loved mascot of Nintendo. Fans of each console loathed one another, and it began to mirror sports teams in terms of tribalism.
At one point, Sega edged ahead of Nintendo in America. It received a huge boost by permitting blood in Mortal Kombat, which its great rival vetoed. Yet Nintendo fought back, enjoying huge sales of cult titles like Super Mario Kart, Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past and Donkey Kong Country. In the end, Nintendo prevailed, shifting slightly more copies around the world, but it was a close fought battle. Sega confused the market by introducing the Sega CD, and then it abandoned the Genesis – known as the Mega Drive in Europe – to pursue the Sega Saturn, allowing Nintendo to clinch a narrow victory in the first gaming war.
Sony PlayStation vs N64
Sony entered the market with the PlayStation in the mid-1990s and it blew its rivals out of the water. The Sega Saturn was an utter disaster and sold a mere 9.5 million units, marking the beginning of the company’s downfall in the console manufacturing business. Nintendo fought back by launching the N64, which launched with Super Mario 64 and Pilotwings 64 in 1996. It sold a respectable 33 million units, but it came nowhere near the 102.5 million PlayStation units that Sony shifted.
The first PlayStation boasted revolutionary 3D graphics, a trailblazing controller and a number of beloved games, including Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2, Tekken 3 and Gran Turismo. It revolutionized the industry by introducing CD-ROM and heralding the demise of cartridge-based home gaming. Gamers across the world went crazy for it, and it remains the second bestselling console of all-time. The previous generation of console wars was a close affair, but this one was a total massacre.
PS2 vs Xbox vs Gamecube
Sony’s domination continued into the new century when it released the PlayStation 2 in the year 2000. It went on to become the bestselling console of all time, with 159 million sales, and nothing has ever beaten it since. It enjoyed a raft of amazing exclusive titles, including Grand Theft Auto, Tony Hawks, Resident Evil, Metal Gear Solid and Gran Turismo. Sony rose from obscurity to become the undisputed industry king and it looked set to enjoy a total monopoly on the market.
The Sega Dreamcast and the Nintendo Gamecube offered scant competition. The Dreamcast was another flop and it marked Sega’s last foray into console releases, relegating it to a third party game developer. The Gamecube was also underwhelming, and it pushed Nintendo to focus on more innovative ideas like the Wii, DS and Switch in future. But then an intriguing contender emerged, as software powerhouse Microsoft unveiled the Xbox.
It boasted richer graphics than its rivals, thanks to its 733 MHz Intel Pentium III Processor, but its greatest strength was launch title Halo, which proved to be outrageously popular. The Xbox went on to sell 24 million, outstripping the Gamecube and the Genesis, although it lost Microsoft a significant amount of money. Yet it marked the arrival of a new contender in the console wars.
PS3 vs Xbox 360 vs Wii
The Xbox 360 was launched to great fanfare in 2005 and it proved to be a remarkable success. Its refined controller design, multimedia features, and voice navigation, and it became the console of choice for hardcore gamers that loved Microsoft exclusive titles like Halo and Gears of War. It engaged in a furious battle with the PS3, which hit shelves in 2006, replete with Blu-Ray technology and a new, thin design. However, it was expensive, it lacked quality games and initial reviews were underwhelming, allowing the Xbox 360 to seize the initiative. It is hard to establish a consensus, and both consoles are estimated to have sold between 80 million and 90 million units, but the general feeling is that Microsoft shaded this battle.
Yet they were so concerned with fighting one another that they ignored the threat of the Wii. It was a delightful, simple and extremely fun console and it targeted a wider demographic than any previous console to hit the market. At the time, Nintendo was dead on its feet, clinging onto past glories but totally irrelevant in the console world. The Wii totally transformed its fortunes, appealing to girls as well as boys, young as well as old, pioneering its innovative, motion-based Wiimote controller and turning the industry on its head. It sold more than 100 million units and returned Nintendo to the summit of the gaming world.
PS4 vs Xbox One
Sony roared back to form in the most recent round of console wars as its PS4 wiped the floor with the Xbox One. It became the fastest home console to smash through the 100 million units sales barrier and it has been a fantastic success. Nintendo’s Wii U was a total flop, and it has instead focused on successful handheld devices, leaving the Xbox One as the sole competitor to the PS4. It was an extremely one-sided battle.
The Xbox One was $100 more expensive than its rival, despite offering little to justify that price premium. It delivered a PR disaster with the launch of the Kinect, as it inflated the price of the bundle and was riddled with allegations of allowing the NSA to spy on gamers. Digital Rights Management also damaged the brand, as it felt like another invasion of privacy. It has failed to secure exciting exclusives, while PS4 has boasted God of War, Marvel’s Spider-Man, Unchartered 4, Horizon Zero Dawn and more.
As we approach the next-gen of console wars, Microsoft knows it must nurture a stronger community, tie up more exclusives, be more price competitive and improve its marketing. It is bidding to bring the PC experience into the living room, and this could see it muscle into the field of competitive gaming. The scene is thriving, as you can see from the esports betting at Unikrn, and this represents a strong avenue of potential growth.
The Xbox Scarlett project looks intriguing, but Sony will be the favourite to triumph yet again with the PS5. Nintendo continues to thrive thanks to the Switch, and it will be interesting to see how it fares over the next five years too.