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"Console wars", also known as "System wars" is a term used to refer to periods of intense competition for market share between video game console manufacturers. The winners of these "wars" may be debated based on different standards: market penetration and financial success, or the fierce loyalty and numbers of the fans of the system's games. The term itself does not strictly denote a clear winner in each case, though. The outcome of a console war may however determine whether or not a manufacturer remains a part of the video games industry.
Due to different manufacturers releasing consoles at different times, the wars described below are not exact definitions and do not necessarily have firm beginning and ending dates. The console manufacturers had varied times of release and the companies are based on different continents, since traditionally the four main markets—Europe, Japan, Australia and North America—have been treated as separate entities, with machines and games released at different times or even completely different games being released. This situation is not as apparent as it was in the past, but remains in some respects, particularly with regards to Japan when compared to the other three markets.
In the mid-1980s, home computers from various manufacturers were used primarily for gaming purposes by consumers worldwide (in the absence of comparable consoles following the video game crash) and are included here as well.
Home computer wars 
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (September 2008)|
Although these wars are grouped under one category here, there were many different minor wars between Home computer brands that ran from the mid 80s until the mid 90s. All of the computers involved had many upgraded versions released over their lifetimes, which usually included increased RAM and improved CPUs, but rarely a reduction in size due to their integrated keyboards. These wars mainly took place in the United Kingdom, which during the late 80s was the centre of the world computer game industry, having been unaffected by the crash that took place in Japan and the US. This period is also renowned for being the time of the 'bedroom programmer', and many companies formed by such people have lasted until the current day.
Spectrum & C64 vs. Acorn(BBC): Games Vs Education 
A parallel micro war raged in the UK, between the perceived games oriented Spectrum & C64 micros with the educationally marketed and more expensive Acorn (BBC micro) offering. On unit sales the more competitively priced Spectrum and Commodore won, and Acorn lost - though Acorn's tie in with the BBC's "The Computer Programme" and the associated "Government Computer Literacy" and "Computer for schools" programs ensured steady sales post the bursting of the home micro bubble. A fair proportion of the 1.5m 8-bit BBC micros were still in regular use in UK schools well into the 90’s.
This fight for market dominance was portrayed in the BBC 4 drama Micro Men.
Amiga vs. Atari ST 
The Amiga vs. Atari ST wars took place in the late 1980s. In Britain and France where ST was relatively stronger compared to other areas the war lasted well into the early 1990s. Eventually Amiga clearly outsold ST in Britain. The Amiga had the better graphics and sound, and a built-in double-sided floppy disk drive. The ST was cheaper and had built-in MIDI ports. Many early games were developed for the ST and simply ported to the Amiga, using the same code and graphics but remaking the music and sound.
8-bit era 
In what is known as the "8-bit era", the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) came out on top in North America and Japan (where it was known as the Nintendo Famicom), partially due to its earlier release, but mostly because Nintendo banned developers from releasing their games on other systems if their games were released on the NES. This put a damper on third party support for the Master System and the rest of Nintendo's competition. In Europe and Brazil, however, the Master System sold much better than the NES in those territories. Australia had similar success with the Master System in its early days, though when the NES was released there by Mattel, Master System sales started to slow down.
Worldwide sales figures 
- Nintendo Entertainment System – 61.91 million (Japan: 19.35 million, Americas: 34.00 million, Other: 8.56 million)
- Sega Master System – 11.8 million (Japan: 1 million, United States: 2 million, Western Europe: 6.8 million, Brazil: 2 million)
- Atari 7800 – 3.77 million (United States: 2 million Other: 1.77 million )
First handheld war 
||This section needs additional citations for verification. (February 2011)|
In the handheld wars, Nintendo's Game Boy came out well on top and far outlived the Sega Game Gear and Atari Lynx, becoming one of the most successful consoles of all time. The Game Boy's victory is generally attributed to its greater battery life, cheaper price tag, smaller size, and wider third party support over the Sega Game Gear and Atari Lynx, despite the Game Gear and Lynx's having color screens. However, Nintendo continued to research into improving the screen and first released the Game Boy Pocket, with a true black-and-white screen. Later, Nintendo created the Game Boy Color, with near-total backward compatibility.
Many other companies attempted to get in on the handheld market and they could also be added into this category. These included the Neo Geo Pocket and the WonderSwan (though the latter was in Japan only).
Worldwide sales figures 
- Game Boy and Game Boy Color combined – 118.69 million (Japan: 32.47 million, the Americas: 44.06 million, other: 42.16 million)
- Sega Game Gear – 11 million
16-bit era 
The "16-bit era" is mostly known for the rivalry between the Mega Drive (known as the Sega Genesis in North America due to trademark reasons) and the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (often abbreviated to SNES or Super NES; known as the Super Famicom in Japan). The Mega Drive/Genesis came out about two years earlier than the SNES; however, it did not perform well at retail until the release of Sonic the Hedgehog, which drove sales. A Sony focus group found that teenage boys would not admit to owning a SNES rather than a Genesis, supporting the idea that the Genesis was more popular among older gamers. The late November 1994 release of Donkey Kong Country changed the pace for Nintendo. After three holiday seasons of coming in second to Sega in the American 16-bit console market, Nintendo had the biggest game of the year. Sega still outperformed Nintendo in overall holiday sales, but 500,000 copies of Donkey Kong Country that Nintendo sent out in its initial shipment were mostly sold in pre order, and the rest sold out in less than one week. Donkey Kong Country paved the way for Nintendo to win the waning years of the 16-bit generation, and for a time, hold its own against the PlayStation and Saturn. In 1998, Sega licensed the Genesis to Majesco in North America so that it could re-release the console. Majesco began re-selling millions of formerly unsold cartridges at a budget price together with 150,000 units of the second model of the Genesis, until it later released the Sega Genesis 3. Majesco released the Genesis 3 at $50, Nintendo matched its price with their new model of the Super NES. Majesco then dropped the price of the Genesis 3 to US $40 and again to US $30, with Nintendo matching them dollar-for-dollar every step of the way. Software prices for both systems remained stagnant, ranging anywhere from US $10 to US $25 per title. By this time 16-bit sales only accounted for 10% of the total U.S. console market, but it was a brisk and fiercely fought share. Majesco would wind up selling between 1 and 2 million Genesis 3 consoles, along with 10 million or so Genesis cartridges for fiscal year 1998. In comparison, Nintendo would only sell 1 million SNES consoles and 6 million SNES carts. According to a 2004 study of NPD sales data, the Sega Genesis was able to maintain its lead over the Super NES in the American 16-bit console market.
In early 1991, Sega revealed the Sega Mega-CD add-on, and announced its release in Japan in late 1991 and in North America (as the Sega-CD) in 1992. While this add-on did contain a faster CPU, more memory and some enhanced graphics capabilities over the Mega Drive/Genesis itself, the main focus of the device was to expand the size of games; cartridges of the day typically contained 8-16 megabits of data, while a CD-ROM would hold 640 megabytes (5120 megabits). While it became known for several games, including Sonic CD and Night Trap, the expansion sold 6 million units worldwide.
At June 1994's Consumer Electronics Show, Sega showed off the 32X as the "poor man's entry into 'next generation' games." The 32X was originally conceived as an entirely new console by Sega of Japan. Sega of America R&D head Joe Miller convinced Sega of Japan to strengthen the console and convert it into an add-on to the existing Genesis, but they would not make it a competitor to the forthcoming Sega Saturn. Although this add-on contained two 32-bit CPU chips and a 3D graphics processor, it failed to attract either developers or consumers as the superior Saturn had already been announced for release the next year. Originally released at US$159, Sega dropped the price to $99 in only a few months and ultimately cleared the remaining inventory at $19.95; at least 600,000 units were sold.
Also, NEC and Hudson Software entered the market with their PC Engine/Turbografx-16, another 16-bit system. The PC Engine actually predated the Mega Drive in Japan. However, the Genesis came just before the TurboGrafx-16 in America. Hudson, attempting to reach the same level of popularity as the Super Famicom/SNES and Mega Drive/Genesis, designed their own mascot to stand beside Mario and Sonic, named Bonk. While NEC did not have as big an impact in the market as Nintendo or Sega, they still sold more copies than expected for an all-new hardware system. The PC Engine further weakened Sega's position in Japan, with the Mega Drive remaining in third place in Japan behind the Super Famicom and PC Engine throughout the 16-bit era.
SNK would later release their Neo Geo CD in 1994. Like the TurboGrafx 16/PC Engine, it was not able to compete with Sega and Nintendo despite having superior graphics.
The Panasonic 3DO, released in 1993 would also fail to compete with Sega and Nintendo despite its advanced 3D graphics. The extremely high price of $699.99 would also lead to its failure.
Worldwide sales figures 
- Super Nintendo Entertainment System/Super Famicom – 49.10 million (Japan: 17.17 million, the Americas: 23.35 million, Other: 8.58 million)
- Genesis/Mega Drive – 40 million (United States: 20 million, Rest of the world: 15 million, Tec Toy: 2 million, Majesco: 2 million, Sega Nomad: 1 million)
- TurboGrafx-16/PC Engine – 10 million (US: 2.5 million)
32/64-bit era 
||This section needs additional citations for verification. (February 2011)|
In the "32-bit era," the Sega Saturn was released first and despite success in Japanese markets, it ultimately lacked in sufficient third party support. Sega's decision to use dual processors has been roundly criticized, and some believe the second CPU was added as a knee-jerk reaction to the PlayStation's specifications. It has been said that only Sega's first-party developers were ever able to utilize the second CPU effectively. The Sega Saturn was the more difficult console to program for with some titles being dropped during the development process (STI's Sonic X-treme for example), and therefore the 3-D graphics on its third party games often lacked the luster of the PlayStation or Nintendo 64 (N64), a severe disadvantage at the dawn of 3-D games on home consoles.
Sega was also hurt by the plan to have a surprise four-month early US launch of their console. This head start failed for several reasons. One of the major reasons being there were few software titles ready. The Sega Saturn was also US$100 more expensive than the PlayStation at its launch, and only available at four retailers.
Sony took an early advantage by initiating an expensive ad campaign and appealing to an older demographic who had grown up playing video games. The PlayStation was positioned as a necessity alongside the TV and VCR. The securing of this demographic is widely credited as the key to the system's success. Sega and particularly Nintendo's offerings were characterized as appealing more to children (both companies, for instance, featured mascots that appeared in Saturday morning cartoons). With Sony's greater hardware sales came greater third party support; ultimately the PlayStation won the era virtually unopposed. Sony carried this momentum over into the release of the PlayStation 2. The Saturn was discontinued in 1998, as Sega again tried to gain a head start over Sony with the Dreamcast.
Although this era is known as the "32-bit era," the 64-bit Nintendo 64 was released later than the other two consoles with which it was originally meant to compete directly. By the time of its release, Sony had already established their dominance and the Saturn was struggling to keep momentum. Its use of cartridge media rather than compact discs alienated developers and publishers due to the space limits and the relatively high cost involved (compare US$3.50 for an N64 cartridge to 35¢ for a PS1 disc), though the Nintendo 64 had much faster load times because of its cartridge media. Despite this, Nintendo managed to carve out a profitable niche in this era selling over 30 million consoles.
Worldwide sales figures 
- PlayStation – 102.49 million shipped (Japan: 21.59, US: 40.78, Europe: 40.12)
- Nintendo 64 – 32.93 million (Japan: 5.54 million, the Americas: 20.63 million, other: 6.75 million)
- Sega Saturn – 9.5 million (Japan: 6 million, North America: 2 million, Europe: 1.5 million)
- 3DO - 2 million
Sixth generation 
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (July 2008)|
Sega’s Dreamcast, the first sixth-generation console, debuted in Japan on November 27, 1998. As the first console to feature a built-in modem, the Dreamcast offered players a new console gaming experience; users were able to play games with one another via the Internet. The Dreamcast was the sole sixth-generation console for over a year, until Sony released the PlayStation 2. Despite being a commercial failure in Japan, the Dreamcast would become successful in North America. However, due to the PlayStation 2's built-in DVD player and heavy advertising, the Dreamcast would be largely overshadowed by the PS2. In early 2001 Sega announced its discontinuation of the Dreamcast; it adjusted its company strategy to abandon the console industry and focus on third-party development. Therefore, the Dreamcast left the market as the sixth-generation competition began to increase.
On March 4, 2000, Sony released the PlayStation 2 in Japan. The console featured a 294.912 MHz processor—an improvement over the Dreamcast’s 200 MHz processor—and promoted backward compatibility with PlayStation games. Unlike previous consoles, the PlayStation 2 could play DVDs, creating additional value for consumers interested in purchasing both a DVD player and gaming console. Within two days of the PlayStation 2’s release, Sony set a new record by selling 1 million consoles. The initial supply did not meet the demand; there was a shortage even among those who preordered, which led to inflated reselling and reported thefts. Although the PlayStation 2 did not originally focus on Internet connectivity, Sony developed an external adapter that enabled online gaming for select titles after the Xbox’s release.
Nintendo released the GameCube in Japan on September 14, 2001. Unlike previous Nintendo consoles, which used game cartridges, the GameCube used optical discs similar to MiniDVDs. The size of the discs, however, restricted users from playing regular DVDs and CDs on the console. With an introductory price of $199, the GameCube cost approximately $100 less than the PlayStation 2 and Xbox—a selling point for price-conscious consumers. The console offered signature family-friendly games, such as Luigi’s Mansion, in addition to third-party titles, including the more mature games Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem and Resident Evil 4.
On November 15, 2001, Microsoft entered the console industry by releasing the Xbox in North America. The Xbox featured internal storage capacity, allowing users to save games and download content directly to the console. Like the PlayStation 2, the Xbox also played DVDs; however, it required an external add-on. The release of Xbox Live, a subscription-based online gaming service, allowed users to play compatible titles online. Within two months of Xbox Live’s release, 250,000 users had subscribed, exceeding the company’s projections.
Overall, the sixth generation expanded gaming consoles into a broader entertainment experience, whether through online gaming or the ability to play DVDs. As seventh-generation consoles overtook the market, Nintendo and Microsoft discontinued the GameCube and Xbox. Sony, on the other hand, continued to produce the PlayStation 2 after the PlayStation 3’s release in 2006. In 2009, Sony announced that PlayStation 2 production would continue until demand decreases. Therefore, sustained PlayStation 2 purchases continue to increase the console’s lead in sales.
Worldwide sales figures 
- PlayStation 2 – 150 million as of 31 January 2011[update]
- Xbox – 24 million as of 10 May 2006[update]
- GameCube – 21.74 million as of 31 March 2013[update]
- Dreamcast - 10.6 million as of 6 July 2002[update]
Seventh generation 
Home systems 
All three consoles have had major shortages both at their launches and directly afterwards, with the Xbox 360's continuing for months after release and Wii's still[update] continuing after two holiday seasons; the PlayStation 3 saw high demand for its first week of release, but it did not continue, being in stock at most major retailers shortly after release.
Home Entertainment 
The seventh generation is best known for major consoles branching out into other types of media rather than solely focusing on games. All three consoles offer basic abilities such as photo-viewing, listening to music and browsing the web, as well as the ability to connect to external memory such as USB flash drives and SD cards. The Xbox 360's DVD player was plagued by quality issues but other media options became available later such as an external HD-DVD drive (now a dead standard), Zune downloadable content, Netflix streaming and Last.fm internet radio. PlayStation 3, on the other hand, offered HD movie playback out of the box via Blu-ray in addition to later services like Netflix streaming, and Qriocity music.
This new generation for the first time has all of the major consoles focusing on online integration. All three have their own connection services: Wii's Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection, Xbox Live, and PlayStation Network. Competition has branched now from simply offering the best games to the best online content; smaller games can now be purchased and downloaded from online stores within the consoles, and extra applications such as Netflix streaming and Facebook connectivity are heavily supported. Almost all games sold in retail have online support, including online multiplayer and downloadable content for bug patches and new features, potentially increasing replay value in certain games for even years.
Another notable feature in current-gen gaming is the use of avatar characters. Nintendo first introduced Miis with the Wii console, caricatures of players that could be created and used in flagship titles such as Wii Sports; however they lack the ability to customize that Xbox's avatars have, as clothes and accessories can be purchased online or unlocked in games played. PlayStation 3, instead of an in-game character, offers PlayStation Home, a social simulator where avatars can talk and explore, and customize their homes with elements from games played.
Backwards compatibility 
Initially only the Wii was completely backward compatible (with the exception of the Game Boy Player) with its previous counterpart, the Nintendo GameCube, while the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 only offered partial support. The Wii also offers the Virtual Console service, which provides the ability to emulate various older gaming platforms (NES, SNES, N64, Arcade, Commodore 64, NEOGEO, Sega Mega Drive/Genesis, Sega Master System and PC Engine/TurboGrafx 16); each game can be purchased on the Wii Shop Channel and saved to the console's internal memory or an SD card. A revised version of the Wii known as the Wii Family Edition was released in North America in October 2011 and in Europe in November 2011, which, unlike previous versions, lacks GameCube backwards compatibility, controller ports and memory card slots. The Wii Family Edition has not been released in Japan (as of August 2012).
Original models of the PlayStation 3 contained some hardware from the PlayStation 2 (the Emotion Engine CPU and Graphics Synthesizer GPU) in order to facilitate backwards compatibility, while original PlayStation software was emulated in software. However, complete backwards compatibility was not achieved until the release of the firmware update that first came with Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction. When the PlayStation 3 was released in PAL regions however, the Emotion Engine chip was removed to reduce costs and instead partial software emulation was used. This lowered the level of backwards compatibility with PS2 software, although PS1 software was unaffected. This restriction also applies to early 80 GB NTSC models (released before August 2008). With the release of the 40 GB PS3 model in late 2007, the Graphics Synthesizer was also removed from the system, thus also removing compatibility with PlayStation 2 software. No new model since has contained this hardware and thus PS2 software remains incompatible on all but the earliest consoles. However, in October 2011, Sony began releasing PlayStation 2 software via their PlayStation Store. These titles will function on any PlayStation 3 console as they have been ported to the platform, rather than simply being digitally-distributed copies of the original software.
The Xbox 360 uses software emulation for backwards compatibility via game-specific patches automatically downloaded from Xbox Live or downloaded and burned to a CD or DVD from the Xbox website. Various games have not received such a patch and thus remain incompatible to this day. Some original Xbox titles are available for download via Xbox live, obviating the need for an original Xbox.
Worldwide sales figures 
- Wii – 99.84 million as of 31 March 2013[update]
- Xbox 360 – 74.94 million as of 31 December 2012[update]
- PlayStation 3 – 70 million as of 4 November 2012[update] (IDC January 2013 estimate: "about 77 million")
Japan sales figures 
- Wii – 12.71 million as of 31 March 2013[update]
- PlayStation 3 –6.3 million as of 1 April 2011[update]
- Xbox 360 – 1.6 million
Europe sales figures 
- Xbox 360 – 23.73 million as of December 2010[update]
- Wii – 49.37 million as of 31 March 2013[update]
- PlayStation 3 – 24.23 million as of December 2010[update]
United States sales figures 
- Wii – 47.75 as of 10 August 2010[update]
- Xbox 360 – 39.4 million as of 31 December 2009[update]
- PlayStation 3 - 39.6 as of 14 April 2010[update]
Second handheld war 
|This article's factual accuracy may be compromised due to out-of-date information. (August 2012)|
Although Nintendo and Sony originally denied competing with each other with their handheld products, it was widely believed that a new handheld war had begun with the releases of the Nintendo DS and PlayStation Portable (PSP) in late 2004 and early 2005, respectively (the Nintendo DS Lite, a smaller and sleeker version of the Nintendo DS, was released in late 2006). As of the 2006 E3 press conference, however, Nintendo attacked Sony's handheld console, announcing that the Nintendo DS had been outselling the PSP. This could be taken as recognition of a new handheld war.
The Nintendo DS's power is comparable to that of Nintendo 64. It is notable in its use of two screens, one of them being a touch screen. It also sports a microphone input. It showed considerable early success, particularly in branching out from the usual core demographic of video game players due to the intuitiveness of the touch screen control system. The DS is the less expensive of the two systems, and has longer battery life. The DS is backwards compatible with Game Boy Advance (GBA) games, but not with games for prior Game Boy systems. The GBA slot is also used for accessories, such the add-on included with Guitar Hero: On Tour.
Sony's PSP is more powerful than the Nintendo DS, with graphical power roughly in between the original PlayStation and the PlayStation 2. It is advertised as a portable multimedia system, as well as a handheld console (much in the same way as the PS2). Numerous movies have been released on the PSP's UMD format, and the system can play video and audio from the Memory Stick PRO DUO port. The PSP also supports a large relatively high-resolution display, an analog nub, and standard controller buttons. Other features include the ability to make internet phone calls using Skype, and a Global Positioning System (via an add-on).
Both the DS and PSP support Wi-Fi networking, and have free online systems. The PSP has had online games since its launch in December 2004 in Japan, and the DS has had online games since mid-November 2005. Nintendo has also worked with McDonald's and Hilton Hotels to set up Wi-Fi access points across the US, Europe and Australia.
Worldwide sales figures 
- Nintendo DS – 153.87 million, as of 31 March 2013[update] (Japan: 32.99 million, the Americas: 59.87 million, other: 61.01 million)
- including Nintendo DS Lite – 93.85 million, as of 31 March 2013[update] (Japan: 18.20 million, the Americas: 36.44 million, other: 39.21 million)
- including Nintendo DSi – 28.32 million, as of 31 March 2013[update] (Japan: 5.90 million, the Americas: 12.28 million, other: 10.14 million)
- including Nintendo DSi XL – 12.91 million, as of 31 March 2013[update] (Japan: 2.35 million, the Americas: 5.85 million, other: 4.71 million)
- Game Boy Advance – 81.51 million, as of 31 March 2013[update] (Japan: 16.96 million, the Americas: 41.64 million, other: 22.91 million)
- PlayStation Portable – 71.4 million, as of 14 September 2011[update]
Japan sales figures 
- Nintendo DS – 32,598,870
- PlayStation Portable – 16,867,853
United Kingdom sales figures 
- Nintendo DS – 10 million as of 11 December 2009[update]
- PlayStation Portable – 4.9 million as of 3 January 2009[update]
Eighth generation 
Home consoles 
On 18 November 2012, Nintendo released the Wii U, the first home console of the 8th generation. Boxer8 is due to release the OUYA in April 2013. Valve announced the Steam-Box will be released probably sometime in 2013 and Sony officially announced the PlayStation 4 on 20 February 2013. Rumors of Microsoft's next home console, commonly referred to as the "Xbox 720", have been circulating ever since Microsoft came out with the code name "Durango".
The Nintendo Wii U is currently the only 8th generation home console to have been released; as of 31 March 2013, it has sold 3.45 million console units and 13.42 million software units, since its release on 18 November 2012.
Third handheld war 
On 26 February 2011, Nintendo released Nintendo 3DS, the successor of the Nintendo DS and immediately took over the handheld market in Japan and worldwide. As of 31 March 2013, it has sold 31.09 million hardware units and 96.1 software units worldwide. On 17 December 2011, Sony released PlayStation Vita to compete in the handheld market. Nvidia Corporation have also announced that they are joining the portable consoles with their Project Shield.
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