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A console war is competition for dominance in market share in video game consoles, usually, though not always, involving direct competitive advertising between rival companies to demonstrate the superiority of one product over another.
The first console war under this definition occurred when Mattel ran commercials demonstrating the superior graphics of its Intellivision console vis-a-vis the Atari VCS in the early 1980s. The concept of a console war really entered the public consciousness, however, during the heated rivalry between Sega and Nintendo in North America during the early 1990s.
Today, the term usually refers to any battle for console marketshare, though it is often still specifically used to refer to a direct attack on a company's product by one of its rivals.