History of video game consoles (fifth generation)

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The fifth-generation era (also known as the 32-bit era, the 64-bit era or the 3D era) refers to the computer and video games, video game consoles, and video game handhelds from approximately 1993 to 2001[1] For handhelds, this era was characterized by significant fragmentation, because the first handheld of the generation, the Sega Nomad, had a lifespan of just two years, and the Virtual Boy for less than one year only, with both of them being discontinued before the other handhelds made their debut. Nintendo's Game Boy Color was the winner in handhelds by a large margin. There were also two updated versions of the original Game Boy: Game Boy Light (Japan only) and Game Boy Pocket.

The development of the Internet made it possible to store and download tape and ROM images of older games, eventually leading 7th generation consoles (such as the Xbox 360, Wii, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Portable, and Nintendo DSi) to make many older games available for purchase or download.

Some features that distinguished fifth generation consoles from fourth generation consoles include:


Transition to 3D[edit]

The 32-bit/64-bit era is most noted for the rise of fully 3D games. While there were games prior that had used three-dimensional environments, such as Virtua Racing and Star Fox, it was in this era that many game designers began to move traditionally 2D and pseudo-3D genres into 3D on traditional gaming consoles. Early efforts from then-industry leaders Nintendo and Sega saw the introduction of the Super FX and Sega 32X which provided rudimentary 3D capabilities to the 16-bit SNES and Sega Genesis. Super Mario 64 on the N64, Crash Bandicoot on the PlayStation, and Tomb Raider on the Saturn (later released on the PlayStation as well), are prime examples of this trend. Their 3D environments were widely marketed and they steered the industry's focus away from side-scrolling and rail-style titles, as well as opening doors to more complex games and genres. 3D became the main focus in this era as well as a slow decline of cartridges in favor of CDs, due to the ability to produce games less expensively and the media's high storage capabilities.

CD vs cartridge[edit]

See also: ROM cartridge

After allowing Sony to develop a CD-based prototype console for them and a similar failed partnership with Philips,[2] Nintendo decided to make the Nintendo 64 a cartridge-based system like its predecessors. Publicly, Nintendo defended this decision on the grounds that it would give games shorter load times than a compact disc (and would decrease piracy).[citation needed] However, it also had the dubious benefit of allowing Nintendo to charge higher licensing fees, as cartridge production was considerably more expensive than CD production. Many third-party developers like EA Sports viewed this as an underhanded attempt to raise more money for Nintendo and many of them became more reluctant to release games on the N64.[citation needed]

Nintendo's decision to use a cartridge based system sparked a small scale war amongst gamers as to which was better. The chief advantages of the CD-ROM format were (1)larger storage capacity, allowing for a much greater amount of game content, and (2)considerably lower manufacturing costs, making them considerably more profitable for game publishers. Its disadvantages compared to cartridge were (1)considerable load times, (2)their inability to load data "on the fly", making them reliant on the console RAM, and (3)the greater manufacturing costs of CD-ROM drives compared to cartridge slots, resulting in generally higher retail prices for CD-based consoles.[3] A Nintendo magazine ad placed a Space Shuttle (cartridge) next to a snail (a CD) and dared consumers to decide "which one was better".[citation needed]

Almost every other contemporary system used the new CD-ROM technology (the Nintendo 64 was the last major home video game console to use cartridges). Consequent to the storage and cost advantages of the CD-ROM format, many game developers shifted their support away from the Nintendo 64 to the PlayStation. One of the most influential game franchises to change consoles during this era was the Final Fantasy series, beginning with Final Fantasy VII, which was originally being developed for the N64 but due to storage capacity issues was shifted to and released on the PlayStation;[citation needed] prior Final Fantasy games had all been published on Nintendo consoles – either the Nintendo Entertainment System or Super Nintendo, with the only other entries being on computers like the MSX.

Overview of the fifth generation consoles[edit]

There was much confusion over which console was superior to the others.[citation needed] Adding to the uncertainty was the fact that there were more competing consoles in this era than at any other time since the North American video game crash of 1983, with video game magazines frequently performing side-by-side hardware-specification comparisons of the systems using dubious statistics.[citation needed] Also, console makers routinely boasted theoretical maximum limits of each system's 3D polygon rendering without accounting for real world in-game performance.[citation needed]

The FM Towns Marty is sometimes claimed to be the world's first 32-bit console (as opposed to the Amiga CD32 and 3DO), being released in 1991 by Japanese electronic company Fujitsu. However, the Intel 80386SX CPU is not a fully 32-bit processor as it only supports 16-bit bus addressing (similar to the Motorola 68000 in 1985's Amiga 1000). Furthermore, the 386SX supports a maximum of 24-bit RAM addressing. Never released outside of Japan, it was largely marketed as a console version of the FM Towns home computer, being compatible with games developed for the FM Towns. It failed to make an impact in the marketplace due to its expense relative to other consoles and inability to compete with home computers.[4]

Despite massive third party support and an unprecedented amount of hype for a first-time entrant into the industry, the 3DO Interactive Multiplayer's $700 price tag hindered its success,[5] selling 2 million units world wide.

The Amiga CD32 was sold in Europe, Australia and Canada, but never in the United States due to Commodore's bankruptcy.[6]

The Sega 32X, an add-on console for the Mega Drive/Genesis and Sega CD, was launched a short time apart from the Sega Saturn. The Sega Neptune was also announced as a standalone version of the 32X/CD, but ultimately canceled. Sega failed to deliver a steady flow of games for the 32X platform. More importantly, with the Saturn and PlayStation already on the horizon, most gamers preferred to save up their money rather than spend it on a console that was doomed to become obsolete in just a few months.[7]

The Sega Saturn was released as Sega's entry into the 32-bit console market.[2] It sold 9.5 million units worldwide. However, it was not the commercial success that the Master System and Mega Drive had been and lagged in third place.

The Atari Jaguar was released in 1993 as the world's first 64-bit system. However, sales at launch were well below the incumbent fourth generation consoles, and a small games library rooted in a shortage of third party support made it impossible for the Jaguar to catch up, selling below 300,000 units. The system's 64-bit nature was also questioned by many. The 32-bit Atari Panther, set to be released in 1991, was canceled due to unexpectedly rapid progress in developing the Jaguar.[8]

The Atari Jaguar CD, an add-on console for the Jaguar, was released in 1995. It was produced in limited quantities due to the low install base of the system.[citation needed]

The PlayStation was the most successful console of this generation, with attention given by 3rd party developers enabling it to achieve market dominance, becoming the first home console to ship 100 million units worldwide.

Because of many delays in the release of the Nintendo 64, in 1995 Nintendo released the Virtual Boy, a supposedly portable system capable of displaying true 3D graphics, albeit in monochromatic red and black. However, in practice it is not functionally portable, though it was at first marketed as such, and because of the nature of its graphical capabilities, the system can cause headaches and eye strain. It was discontinued within a year, with less than 25 games ever released for it.

The Nintendo 64, originally announced as the "Ultra 64", was released in 1996. The system's delays and use of the cartridge format while all of its competitors used CDs made it an unpopular platform among third party developers. However, a number of wildly popular 1st party titles allowed the Nintendo 64 to maintain strong sales in the United States, though it still remained a distant second to the PlayStation.

NEC, creator of the TurboGrafx-16, TurboDuo, Coregrafx, and SuperGrafx, also entered the market with the PC-FX in 1994. The system had a 32-bit processor, 16-bit stereo sound, a 16,777,000 color palette and featured the highest quality full motion video of any console on the market at the time.[citation needed] The PC-FX broke away from traditional console design by being a tower system that allowed for numerous expansion points including a connection for NEC's PC-9800 series of computers. Despite its impressive specs, it was marketed as the ultimate side-scrolling console and could not match the sales of the 3D systems currently on the market. They had also lost developer support by their past partners, including Hudson Soft, who contributed only one game.

Results of the fifth generation[edit]

After the dust settled in the fifth generation console wars, several companies saw their outlooks change drastically. Atari, which was not able to recover its losses, ended up being purchased by JT Storage and stopped making game hardware until the brand was revived for the Atari Flashback in 2004. Sega's loss of consumer confidence (coupled with its previous console failures) along with their financial difficulties, set the company up for a similar fate in the next round of console wars.

The Sega Saturn, although the most technically advanced console of the generation,[citation needed] ironically suffered from poor marketing and comparatively limited third-party support outside of Japan.[2] Sega's decision to use dual processors was roundly criticized, as this made difficult to efficiently develop for the console.[citation needed] Regardless of their reasons for including it, only Sega's first-party developers were ever able to use the second CPU effectively.[verification needed] The Saturn was far more difficult than the PlayStation to program for.[citation needed]

Sega was also hurt by a surprise four-month-early U.S. launch of their console. Third party developers, who had been planning for the originally scheduled launch, could not provide launch titles and were angered by the move. Retailers were caught unprepared, resulting in distribution problems. Some retailers, such as the now defunct KB Toys, were so furious that they refused to stock the Saturn thereafter.[9]

Due to numerous delays, the Nintendo 64 was released one year later than its competitors. By the time it was finally launched in 1996, Sony had already established its dominance, the Sega Saturn was starting to struggle, and the Atari Jaguar and Panasonic 3DO were about to be discontinued and out of the competition due to financial losses.[citation needed] Its use of cartridge media rather than compact discs alienated some developers and publishers due to the space limits, the relatively high cost involved, and a considerably longer production time.[citation needed] In addition, the initially high suggested retail price of the console may have driven potential customers away, and some early adopters of the system who had paid the initial cost may have been angered by Nintendo's decision to reduce the cost of the system US$50 six months after its release.[citation needed] However, the Nintendo 64 was popular in North America, mostly the U.S, selling 20.63 million units in the region (more than half of its worldwide sales of 32.93 million units), and is home to highly successful games such as The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Super Mario 64, GoldenEye 007, Banjo-Kazooie, and Super Smash Bros.. Still, while the Nintendo 64 sold far more units than the Sega Saturn, Atari Jaguar, and Panasonic/Goldstar/Sanyo 3DO, it failed to surpass the PlayStation, which dominated the market. Later on, Nintendo released an add-on for their console. The add-on, titled Nintendo 64 Disk Drive, or simply 64DD, was announced in 1995, 4 years before the release. Nintendo was nearing the end of its lifespan at the release, so a limited number of games were released, about 9, and it was a failure, mainly for rarely appearing on store shelves. It was never released in America due to the failure, and has since become more of a collector's piece. Prices go extremely high on eBay, and other auction sites, so they are somewhat difficult to obtain.

Home systems[edit]


Name 3DO Interactive Multiplayer Atari Jaguar Sega Saturn PlayStation Nintendo 64
Manufacturer 3DO Company, Panasonic, Sanyo, GoldStar Atari Sega Sony Computer Entertainment Nintendo





Launch prices (USD) US$699.99 (equivalent to $1.14 thousand in 2014)[5] US$249.99 (equivalent to $408.00 in 2014) US$399.99 (equivalent to $619.00 in 2014)[5] US$299.99 (equivalent to $464.00 in 2014) US$199.99 (equivalent to $301.00 in 2014)
Release date NA 19931004October 4, 1993

JP 19940207February 7, 1994
EU 19940328March 28, 1994

NA 19931115November 15, 1993

EU 19940627June 27, 1994
JP 19941121November 21, 1994

  • JP November 22, 1994
  • NA May 11, 1995
  • EU July 8, 1995
  • JP December 3, 1994
  • NA September 9, 1995
  • EU September 29, 1995
  • AUS November 15, 1995
  • JP June 23, 1996
  • NA September 29, 1996
  • EU March 1, 1997
  • AUS March 1, 1997
Media CD-ROM Cartridge, CD-ROM (via add-on) CD-ROM, cartridge (limited, Japan only) CD-ROM Cartridge, proprietary magnetic disk (via 64DD)
Best-selling game Virtua Fighter 2, 1.7 million in Japan[10] Gran Turismo, 10.85 million shipped (as of April 30, 2008)[11][12] Super Mario 64, 11.62 million (as of May 21, 2003)[13][14]
CPU ARM60 (32‑bit RISC) @ 12.5 MHz (10 MIPS) LSI LR333x0 (R3000A compatible 32‑bit RISC) @ 33.8688 MHz (30 MIPS) NEC VR4300 (64‑bit RISC) @ 93.75 MHz (125 MIPS)[18]
GPU Two accelerated video co-processors 5 processors contained in 3 chips: "Tom", "Jerry" and Motorola 68000 Two custom 32‑bit video display processors at 28.63 MHz 66 MIPS vector math unit in the main CPU Reality Co-Processor: 64‑bit MIPS R4000-based 128‑bit vector register processor at 62.5 MHz
Memory 2 MB RAM, 1 MB VRAM 2 MB of fast page mode DRAM (4 chips x 512 KB) 1 MB SDRAM, 1 MB DRAM, 6x 512 KB for 3D graphics, 3D frame buffers, 2D graphics, sound, CD subsystem, BIOS ROM 2 MB, 1 MB VRAM, 512KB sound 4 MB (8 MB with Expansion Pak)
Audio 16-bit stereo audio, including: Stereo audio, with:
  • Wavetable synthesis
  • FM synthesis
  • FM Sample synthesis
  • AM synthesis
  • 16-bit PCM stereo
  • Two DACs to convert digital data to analog signals
  • Number of channels dependent on software
Stereo audio, with:
  • 32 channels capable of either FM synthesis or PCM stereo
Stereo audio, with: Stereo audio, with:
  • Variable number of PCM channels (up to 100 if all system resources are devoted to audio)
  • Capable of playing back most types of PCM audio (PCM, MP3, MIDI, tracker music, etc.)
Accessories (retail)
  • Jaguar TeamTap
  • Jaguar Pro Controller
  • Jaguar MemoryTrack Cartridge
  • Jaguar JagLink Interface
System sales (worldwide)

2 million


9.5 million

102 million

32.93 million

Other consoles[edit]

Mass market
These consoles were created for the mass market, like the 5 consoles listed above. These, however, are less notable, never saw a worldwide release, and/or have sold particularly poorly, and are therefore listed as 'Other'.
Non-mass-market systems

Add-ons and remakes[edit]

Worldwide sales standings[edit]

Console Units sold
PlayStation 102.49 million shipped, 74.34 million PlayStations and 28.15 million PSOnes shipped (as of March 31, 2005)[20]
Nintendo 64 32.93 million (as of March 31, 2005)[21]
Sega Saturn 9.5 million (as of May 4, 2007)[5]
3DO 2 million (as of May 4, 2007)[5]
Atari Jaguar 250,000 (as of May 15, 2007)[22]
Amiga CD32 100,000
PC-FX <100,000
Apple Bandai Pippin 42,000 (as of May 4, 2007)[23]

From 1996 to 1999 (when the PlayStation, N64 and Saturn were the major 5th-generation consoles still on the market) Sony managed a 47% market share of the worldwide market, followed by Nintendo with 28% (with a percentage of that figure from the 16-bit SNES), while Sega was third with 23% (with a percentage of that from the Dreamcast).[24]

Production of the Sega Saturn was discontinued in 1999, with its demise being accelerated by rumors that work on its successor was underway, which hurt sales from late 1997 in Western markets. The N64 was succeeded by the GameCube in 2001, but continued its production until 2004; however, PlayStation production not ceased as it was redesigned as the PSone, further extending the life of the console around the release of the follow-up PlayStation 2. The PlayStation console production was discontinued in 2006, shortly after the Xbox 360 was released.

Handheld systems[edit]


Milestone titles[edit]

See also[edit]


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