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Console wars: who won, who lost, & the 2020 resurgence

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Recently, the gaming world has heard whispers of something truly exciting: the return of the console wars.

After a seeming detente, or dare we say truce, between giants Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony, the looming launch of the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 has cast old rivals in a new light. 

Like a curse in an RPG game, an ancient conflict stirs. Not only that, November 2020, release month of the latest consoles, will redefine what’s possible for video games. The PS5 and Xbox X debut 11/12 and 11/10 respectively, and we can hardly wait. 

After all, the new features of the PS5 and Xbox X alone are enough to shake the gaming industry as we know it. 

For instance, the PS5 actually allows players to pick and choose which aspects of the game they want to utilize - without having to boot up the full game - providing for lightning-speed load times and transitions among games. It also is backward-compatible with PS4 games, so there’s no need to worry about replacing game libraries.

On the other hand, Microsoft claims the Xbox Series X features, “four times the processing power of the Xbox One,” plus backward compatibility as well. Take a moment to let that sink in. 

But I digress...We’ll get back to all that in a minute, but let’s back up a step to understand why this is such a big deal.

Why are console wars a thing in the first place? 

To truly understand the epic nature of a return of console wars, we must first travel to where it all began: nine generations of gaming consoles ago, in a galaxy (somewhat) far far away: the 1990s.

We’ve got the “SparkNotes” on the fascinating history of console wars, told in five parts, Star Wars style because it’s a truly epic tale and, well, we couldn’t resist. 

Console Wars: Episode I

The Console Awakens

The year is 1989, and Nintendo has more or less established global domination of the gaming industry. Their power solidified by the first Game Boy release and bolstered by household names like Donkey Kong and beloved Super Mario Bros, it seemed no one could challenge Nintendo’s throne. 

Enter Sega Games. A scrappy newcomer, Sega had struggled for years to produce a viable challenger to Nintendo, but the tables turned with the Sega Genesis. Suddenly, Nintendo had to compete to stay at the top of the market. 

Furious competition ensued: for years, Nintendo and Sega duked it out over the best gaming console, the best video games, and the most loyal fan bases. Though Sega fought valiantly, in the end it could not keep up with Nintendo, which sold a whopping 49.1 million units worldwide. 

Console War Winner: Nintendo 

Console Wars: Episode II

The Rise of PlayStation & The Doom of Sega 

By the mid 1990s, the console wars were just picking up steam. The addition of CD games into the mix raised the stakes of production, and a still more mighty opponent arrived on the scene: Sony. 

Armed with lessons of Sega’s mistakes, Sony released the first PlayStation, a formidable foe to Nintendo. Sega had just released its Saturn console, but with a $100 cheaper price point and sophisticated 3D graphics, the PlayStation quickly gained popularity and made a name for Sony in the console wars. 

Not one to stand idly by, Nintendo parried with the release of its Nintendo 64, the first four-player console. (Now that’s a fun fact, right? Check out our list of even more video game factoids) . 

This move essentially knocked Sega out of contention in the console market, but was not enough to quash the rise of PlayStation. 

Console War Winner: Sony 

Console Wars: Episode III

Attack of the Millennium PS2 

This is where the plot thickens, and at last, the third most recognizable name in gaming enters the mix. 

Microsoft entered the arena with an instant classic, the Xbox. Boasting the most powerful processing  and largest memory capacity of the three major consoles, Xbox made a strong debut and was swift to establish brand identity. 

Meanwhile, Nintendo held its own with its release of the GameCube in 2001. Its smaller size, paired with the Mario and Donkey Kong franchises made GameCube popular with younger players, and the addition of a partnership with Pokémon only increased its appeal to this market. 

However, the year 2000 heralded the dawn of the new millennium and a true legend in the annals of the console wars: the PlayStation 2. This development eclipsed everything Microsoft and Nintendo brought to the table. 

Sony was the first to incorporate DVD compatibility into its console hardware, and with unparalleled partnerships with game developers, it maintained a strong lead over Nintendo. To this day, the PS2 wears the crown of the best-selling console of all time with 157.6 million units sold

Console War Winner: Sony 

Console Wars: Episode IV

Nintendo Strikes Back 

Let’s fast forward to 2007, the next landmark era of the console wars. While Sony and Microsoft battled for market share with better and better iterations of their products, at this point the PS3 and Xbox 360, Nintendo made the ultimate power move. 

It created the Wii, a gaming experience unlike anything the world had ever seen. Its two nemeses distracted and fighting amongst themselves, Nintendo redefined the gaming industry by appealing to a wider audience. Wii outsold both the PS3 and the Xbox 360 combined the year of its release, giving Nintendo a solid win in this round of console wars. 

Console War Winner: Nintendo

Console Wars: Episode V

The Rogue Three: Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo 

Of course, that was a light-speed journey up to more or less the present day. There’s a lot more to know about this battle within the gaming industry; CBS recently released a Console Wars documentary.

After years of competition, the three heroes of our story, Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo seem to have each found their slice of the market.  

Over the years, the name of Nintendo’s game seems to be breadth of brand expansion. It’s impressive array of partnerships Pokémon, Animal Crossing, and LEGO give it traction and widespread appeal. Gamers enjoy its latest release, the Nintendo Switch for its versatility and truly gorgeous graphics. 

If Nintendo is focusing on breadth, Microsoft is definitely going to depth within the Xbox brand. By expanding the console to include Game Pass subscribers, PC, and xCloud, the Xbox provides a seamless, immersive gaming experience. The Xbox X promises to be an incredible product; check out this guide for more specifics

In Sony’s court, the next iteration of PlayStation seems to focus on what it does best: wicked fast loading times, customization of play, and impressive resolutions. To measure the PS5 against its predecessor, consult this side by side comparison. 

Via DIgitalTrends.com

We don’t know how November will pan out with the newest releases. One thing is for sure though, the global pandemic has dramatically increased demand. 2.7 billion people are projected to play video games this year.  We at iD Tech are on the edge of our seats to see what comes next! 

Console War Winner:  You decide! Tell us all about your console of choice in the comments below!

A photo of Virginia

Virginia started with iD Tech at the University of Denver in 2015 and has loved every minute since then! A former teacher by trade, she has a master's in education and loves working to embolden the next generation through STEM. Outside the office, you can usually find her reading a good book, struggling on a yoga mat, or exploring the Rocky Mountains.