The console wars

Nintendo, Sega and Sony are all synonymous with video games, however none of them got their start in that industry. Nintendo started out making playing cards in 1889, Sony with electric rice cookers in 1946, and Sega with photo booths in 1954. However, it would be the gaming industry where they would face off against each other to vie for consumer interest.

In the 1970s, both Nintendo and Sega began making coin-op games. Both had some success, but nothing to make them household names. Sega began making games for home consoles, but only produced about one per year.

In the early ’80s, Nintendo and Sega each released their first arcade hits with Donkey Kong and Zaxxon, respectively.

In 1983, Nintendo released the Family Computer console in Japan, Sega followed with the Mark III. The Famicom was huge hit with the Japanese and the Mark III, although not as popular, sold reasonably well. With its success in Japan, Nintendo decided to bring its Famicom console to America, changing the name to the Nintendo Entertainment System.

The NES was first test marketed in New York in 1985, and then released across North America in 1986. The NES, along with its pack-in game Super Mario Bros., was an instant hit, revitalizing the video game industry. Sega, following the success of the NES, released its Mark III in North America as the Sega Master System.

In the following years, Nintendo would dominate the home video game industry, possessing about 90 per cent of the market share. Nintendo had such a stronghold on the industry because they forced the third-party NES game developers to sign deals preventing them from making games for other systems. It wasn’t until 1988, and the dawn of the 16-bit era, that this practice was stopped by the American government.

In 1989, Sega released its Genesis system, promoting its ability to provide a true arcade experience. Although the system struggled at first, it became increasingly popular with Electronic Arts’ Madden NFL and arcade ports of games such as Out Run, Golden Axe and Strider.

It wasn’t until 1991 that Nintendo would release its answer to the Genesis, the Super Nintendo. Faced with stiffer competition, Sega released Sonic the Hedgehog for the Genesis. The game proved to be a massive success and allowed Sega to steal significant market share from Nintendo.

Feeling pressure from the Genesis and the soon to be released Sega CD, Nintendo decided it needed a CD peripheral of its own. Nintendo announced its partnership with Sony to develop the SNES CD player, codename: PlayStation.

In 1992, the Sega CD was released. Unfortunately, it was difficult to develop for, and few good games were released at launch. Later that year, Nintendo defaulted on its contract with Sony to work with Phillips instead.

Sony, furious over what Nintendo had done, began work on enhancing the PlayStation to be released as a standalone 32-bit console. Nintendo’s deal with Phillips also fell through and no SNES CD add-on was ever released.

In 1994, both the Sega Saturn and Sony PlayStation were released in Japan where most critics hailed the PlayStation as the superior console. In 1995, both systems were released in North America and Nintendo’s new system, the Nintendo 64, was released in Japan.

PlayStation sales were much stronger than those of the Saturn, boasting much better launch titles while the N64 was a hit in Japan with the system and games selling-out across the nation. However, following the initial batch of software, N64 releases were sparse, and system sales dropped.

In 1996, the N64 was released in North America and the results were similar–high initial sales that quickly dropped-off. Over the next three years, the N64 and its games would sell well, but it was not as popular as Nintendo’s previous efforts. The Sega Saturn was nearly a flop, and was supported by few developers. The PlayStation would become the most popular console, mainly due to the significant support from third-party developers.

Sega released its Dreamcast in 1999. Although the N64 and PlayStation were still successful, the Saturn had been forgotten by many gamers. The system sold well, but many people were not ready to adopt a new system just yet. Early in 2000, Sony released the PlayStation 2 in Japan and later that year in North America. Demand was so high that Sony couldn’t release new shipments fast enough.

In late 2001, Nintendo finally released its newest console, the GameCube. Sales were strong, but poor marketing, Sony’s established PS2 and the near-simultaneous release of Microsoft’s X-box proved to be thorns in Nintendo’s side. Also in 2001, Sega announced that it would no longer make hardware, and would focus on software for competing consoles instead.

Bringing us to today.

Sony is still number one while Nintendo and Microsoft continue to battle for second place. Although the future is not certain, Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft all plan to release new consoles in 2005 or 2006. Who will come out on top is anyone’s guess.

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