PSOne to PS4 – the victors of the console wars, part two

Wednesday, 16 July 2014 08:03 GMT By Brenna Hillier

Our survey of the history of video game hardware approaches the present day; tempers get hotter and smiles get sharper. Who won the console wars?


This is the second part of a two-part series. The first instalment can be found here.

Fifth generation: mid 1990′s

Prototyped as an add-on for the SNES before Nintendo rejected the idea of optical media, the PSOne burst onto the market and soon convinced gamers that the third-dimension was the future of gaming, and thanks to seriously savvy marketing, even managed to make games cool.

After two cycles dominated by Nintendo and Sega, the fifth generation introduced a disruptive new element: Sony. This was the generation which made optical media, 3D graphics, full motion video and CD quality audio standard.

The first console of this generation was the 3DO, launching in 1993 for an extravagant $700 – that’s well over a grand in today’s terms. It was packed with high-end tech and promoted heavily, but flopped with only 2 million sales and is now something of a laughing stock despite its capacity for brilliant arcade ports.

It did a lot better than the Atari Jaguar though. Apparently incapable of learning its lesson, Atari had another go in 1993, but its reasonably-priced console only managed about a quarter of a million sales, possibly because the company went with a cartridge-based system rather than throwing its weight behind compact discs.

Sega did make the jump to CDs, but that wasn’t enough to secure the Saturn’s future when it launched in the west 1995. The penultimate Sega console sold over 9 million units, but Sega’s reluctance to embrace 3D tech over sprite-friendly tech meant it couldn’t quite match its most important rival.

That rival was, of course, the original PlayStation, now usually called the PSOne – a cute name coined for a smaller hardware revision. Originally prototyped as an add-on for the SNES before Nintendo rejected the idea of optical media, and significantly cheaper than the Saturn, the PSOne burst onto the market a few months later, and soon hosted a huge line-up of 3D-centric games. Cross-platform releases like Tomb Raider needed expansion packs to run on the Saturn, but the PSOne handled them like a dream, and games like Crash Bandicoot and Cool Boarders convinced gamers that the third-dimension was the future of gaming. The PSOne sold over 100 million units in its lifetime, and thanks to seriously savvy marketing, even managed to make games cool.

Interestingly, while Sony beat out the competition by jumping on board the generational trends, Nintendo found success by ignoring one of them. The kid-friendly cartridges used by the N64 were faster to load than CDs, and still managed to house beautiful 3D worlds. A respectable 32 million sales was Nintendo’s reward.

So who won? The PSOne changed the world of games forever, and definitely outsold the competition. Although it has to take second place, the N64 shouldn’t be discounted; let’s give it an honourable mention.


Sixth generation: late 1990′s

This was Sega’s last generation before it bowed out of hardware altogether. The Dreamcast was first to market in 1998, and as we’ve seen so far, poll position has been unlucky for consoles.

Now, my friends, things start to take a shape we’re more familiar with. The sixth generation of gaming consoles didn’t introduce any obvious new technologies or features the way all previous iterations had; instead, they were simply more powerful than their precursors, resulting in an amazing leap in graphics technology and the complexity of game worlds.

This was Sega’s last generation before it bowed out of hardware altogether. The Dreamcast was first to market in 1998, and as we’ve seen so far, poll position has been unlucky for consoles. Despite being first and as cheap or cheaper than the rest of the pack, it sold just over 10 million units total. It has its issues, but the general consensus is that a lack of cooperation between the Japanese and American business arms is what really killed its chances in the west. This was heartbreaking for the console’s fans; those who love the Dreamcast love it dearly – still.

The PS2 was next of the rank and it absolutely owned, going on to become the best selling home console of all time; it was only discontinued last year, in fact. It’s sort of hard to pinpoint what exactly made it so popular, but a simply enormous collection of games didn’t hurt, and the tremendous PlayStation fan base established in the previous generation – when Sony dominated – grew and grew, to over 150 million units.

It may have been lack of competition, too; Nintendo’s 2001 Gamecube is a good console, had a nice low price tag, and, uh, a handle? But a lack of third-party support hampered it, and despite selling a respectable 22 million, the GameCube is considered one of Nintendo’s rare fumbles. Like the Dreamcast, those who loved it, loved it, and there’s no denying it boasts some excellent software.

Although it barely outsold the GameCube, we have to make a fuss about the Xbox. Western-made consoles hadn’t been a major success since the halcyon Atari days, but Microsoft let nothing get in the way of its vision. It bet the bank on online multiplayer, and as a result? We all won. The Xbox launched in 2001 and introduced the world to Halo, Xbox Live and a new, connected future – eventually totting up 24 million sales.

So who won? All four major sixth generation consoles are strong contenders but on unit sales alone the PS2 not only takes the cake but most of the rest of the dessert trolley, too.


Bonus round: handhelds part two

The DS family is extremely interesting in light of Nintendo’s later innovations with the Wii U. The “dual screen” tech was being tested here, and it proved a huge success.

After the Game Boy, Nintendo largely had the handheld market to itself, following various hardware revisions with the Game Boy Advance, which admitted no rivals. The next skirmish in the portable space took place in late 2004 and early 2005, between the DS and the PSP. Both consoles initially launched within a few months of each other, but they offered very different packages.

The more expensive option, the PSP positioned itself as the first portable capable of offering a home console-like gaming experience, as well as a multi-function device. Thanks to swappable memory cards, users could load up with comics, movies and music in addition to UMD movies – and games, of course. This was an attractive prospect in a market that had embraced digital media in a big way thanks to Apple’s iDevice range, but it was a hefty price tag to swallow without the bonuses offered by smart devices. Described as a midway point between PSOne and PS2, the PSP provided a new way to enjoy PSOne games on the go, which helped it a lot, and has some great games of its own, including Monster Hunter and other multiplayer titles. The homebrew community really unlocked its potential, but of course Sony couldn’t get behind that. While often dismissed as a failure by oblivious gamers, the PSP family has sold over 80 million units worldwide – as much as the PS3, and close on the Xbox 360′s heels.

The DS family, on the other hand, is extremely interesting in light of Nintendo’s later innovations with the Wii U. The “dual screen” tech was being tested here, and it proved a huge success. Cheaper than the PSP and equipped with then-new gimmicks like a touch screen and microphone, the DS conquered. With over 180 million unit sales, it is the best-selling console of all time. Kid friendly but packed with homebrew potential, the DS not only continued terrific Nintendo traditions but forged more – like Professor Layton and Scribblenauts. Nintendo’s hardware revisions annoyed early adopters, but increasingly improved the console, adding Internet capability and so keeping apace of the times. The DS is still going strong and provides a good contemporary gaming experience, for heaven’s sake.

So who won? The DS won not only this generation of portables but every generation, and has never been equalled by a home console, either. It is a phenomenon.

On the next page: another portable skirmishes and two unfinished generations to ponder.


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  1. Llewelyn_MT

    For me, the current and only generation started in 1994, when I got a PC.

    #1 9 months ago
  2. gen-snake

    sony will barly win 8th gen…..

    #2 9 months ago
  3. Optimaximal

    The sixth generation of gaming consoles didn’t introduce any obvious new technologies or features the way all previous iterations had;

    So, you don’t consider Sony’s masterstroke of pushing the DVD format an ‘obvious new technology’. I know several who bought the PS2 primarily as a DVD player that could play a few games if they wanted it to.

    #3 9 months ago
  4. TheWulf

    Interesting article. Shows how always off the beaten track I was, really. Home computers, SEGA consoles, the Dreamcast, the N64, the GameCube, the PS2 only in its later years (when I discovered the likes of Ratchet & Clank), and so on.

    Though I will say that Skies of Arcadia on the Dreamcast still stands as one of the best (if not the best) JRPGs ever created, so it has that going for it. And so many other weird, niche titles, too. But weird, niche titles was kind of SEGA’s thing, until Nintendo took over that role with the Gamecube’s early years.

    I really miss that period of gaming, too. Lots of weird, strange, abstract games that were made with love, evoking the imagination and wanderlust. These days, it’s mostly grimdark and/or kill all of the shit in pseudo-realistic ways. That’s not my cup of tea.

    But this trip down memory lane has served to remind me of just how awesome the golden era of gaming was. From 1990 to 2003 we had a period of games with genuine heart and personality, there was some trail off into ’04 where that remained to be the case, but around ’05 it just all died off. There’s no doubt in my mind that the 360 played a big role in this.

    From ’05 until now, it’s been pretty dreary, with only the odd genuinely great game to jump on and glomp until I’m sick of it. It’s just such an inversion. You couldn’t take a step back then without tripping over something weird and wonderful, and games about pseudo-realistic violence were rare. At most it was incredibly cartoony and goofy to the point of being unrelated, and I could handle that.

    At some point we went from Grim Fandango and Spyro to Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed. Almost everything is set on earth, almost everything features a caucasian, straight, male character, almost everything has a plot which makes die-hard look like Shakespeare by comparison…

    I’m just sad that it all went that way.

    And the thing is is that it’s clearly driving creative people bonkers. You have studios haemorrhaging creative types all the time, and then you have other studios (like Insomniac) trying to mimic DoubleFine so their creatives won’t abandon them. Even CliffyB, ardent mainstream defender, appears to have snapped and decided that following his aspirations is more important to him than having all of the money.

    We’re seeing it happen all the time. It just needs time to organise. I feel that we’re on the cusp of a second golden era, a second gaming Renaissance, if you will. It’ll just take time for these people to organise into developers which can produce PS2-era games. I think that they don’t realise that most niche audiences would be okay with that, even PS1 era graphics. I saw a game with PS1-ish graphics recently, else Heartbreak I believe, and it didn’t look at all a bad thing to me. But then, I’m not a graphics whore.

    I think that graphics whoring has become a very mainstream thing, really, because that’s what they want. They want ever bigger spectacles, ever bigger explosions, more Michael Bay-esque games. That’s what the mainstream desires. However, that’s not what the niche audiences want, and there are so, so many underserved niche audiences out there.

    So I’m just waiting to see them get organised, and I think when they do, we can expect some pretty great things.

    Back to the golden era — it’s funny, but it was also the golden era of Disney and TV, too. It was a time when we had shows like Deep Space Nine, Voyager (yes, I liked Captain Janeway, she was a thinking person’s Kirk), and especially Stargate SG-1. The ’90s were oversaturated with good sci-fi, really. Back when, you know, people had imagination.

    That seems to be it, doesn’t it?

    Games… modern military shooters, racist action adventures, Aryan main characters, cheap male power fantasies, et cetera. No imagination.

    TV… wrestling, wrestling, fucking wrestling, reality TV, wrestling, awful supernatural shows, procedurals, wrestling. No imagination.

    It makes me wonder if the world was hit by some kind of virus that suppresses the human imagination, and if I was perhaps somehow immune to it, because I still have my sense of wonder. And I’d much rather a new Stargate than most of the dreck that’s on TV today.

    Even music has become much more conservative, well dressed, and well-kempt. Aside from fringe indies doing weird things (like dubstep, back before it hit the mainstream), it seems like music has become very… clean. One of the last, great metal bands, Nightwish, died for me around ’05-’06 (surprise) when Tarja left. Since then, not much has caught my attention.

    Everything’s getting more boring. I just wonder if there’s a massive font of creativity just building up and getting ready to explode. It feels like there has to be because right now the world almost feels like it’s ’50s conservative America again.

    Can’t keep going that way. Can it?

    #4 9 months ago
  5. polygem

    You know what’s crazy wrong with the vita…i can’t play my vita games remote play like on the telly. I just bought symphony of the night for the vita. That port doesn’t stretch the picture which is great but at the same time it makes the game tiny on the vita screen. Then I thought, that’s fine, I’ll just play it on the big screen like you can do so easily on the wiiu….but you cant, its not working. There’s so much stuff on playstation that needs tweaking. It all feels rushed, clunky, uninspired and not well thought out, a pain to use. Same goes for the content manager. I can manage my vita content on PC and ps3 (though still a bit clunky but works) but not on ps4? El oh el at next gen. Maybe I’m just too stupid though, could be, only tried that for the first time yesterday but this stuff shouldn’t be complicated to begin with.

    #5 9 months ago
  6. TheWulf


    That’s a really funny statement. It’s also why I like the PC.

    One of the biggest dealbreakers for me with consoles was that I can either keep tens of consoles all hooked up to a TV, or I can buy HD remakes of games, or really expensive virtual console stuff. Whereas I can head upstairs, right now, pick out a game from the ’80s or ’90s and just load it onto my PC with minimal effort (thanks to PC Gaming Wiki), I can’t do that with any other machine.

    I can’t do it with a PS4, I can’t do it with a 3DS, I can’t do it with an XBox One, I can’t do it with a PS Vita. And so on, and so on, and so on.

    That’s why I’ve remained a PC gamer, because the choice of having a few exclusive titles or having a rich back catalogue that stretches back to the ’80s is something of a no-brainer for me. Not only that, but where PS4 owners can’t just decide to play Spyro 3: Year of the Dragon on their machine, at a whim, I can.

    The PC is not just a repository of its own games, but of every other system emulated, too. This goes right up to the Gamecube, the Wii, the PS2, and the PSP. And it stretches as far back as the earliest consoles and home computers. I can literally pick a game from a period in gaming history and bam, I’m playing it on my PC.

    I can browse the history of games, and if I see something I fancy, I’m playing it all ready. Hm, that arcade game from ’92 looks like fun! I’ll just play it on MAME. It’s an endless historical museum of gaming fun, it’s one of the biggest entertainment archives we have, accessible to anyone who owns a PC. And that’s really great.

    If the consoles could do that, I’d probably be playing on them more often. But the PS2 support on the PS3 was incredibly lacklustre, because Sony did bother to try, they just didn’t care enough to do a good job of it. So PCSX2 is infinitely better.

    And PC emulation is only getting better all the time.

    Crono Trigger, Ultima VII, Perfect Dark, Mario 64… providing it’s not a 360/PS3/PS4/XBox One game, then if you can name it, you can play it. Even then, many of those games get ported to the PC, and only very rarely are things true exclusives. In fact, exclusivity agreements rarely cover the PC. So when the XBox doesn’t get something, the PC does, when the PS4 doesn’t get something, the PC does.

    It’s just a really sweet spot for gaming right now. And games, regardless of how old they get, never cease being relevant, because they remain compatible forever. I mean, even really old PC stuff that required DOS, if you can’t get it to work in Windows then it’ll probably work with DosBox.

    The PS3 could have had all this and more. But Sony was afraid that giving the Linux partition access to the PS3′s graphical capabilities would tempt people away from buying PS3 games, then they dropped the Linux partition all together because of their own ineptitude. So that was proof that the consoles will never really be able to do this, because the manufacturers just don’t want people to do that.

    The console manufacturers would just rather you buy your games over and over. For every new generation, you have to buy them again, and again, until they’re no longer supported.

    So, yeah. I really love that.

    #6 9 months ago
  7. ChristopherJack

    I just realized something, I have never bought anything Nintendo has ever made brand new. I’ve owned a Pokemon branded GBC, Gameboy Pocket & a NDS & a couple Pokemon games for each of them but all of them, including the games were bought preowned. I never kept any of them because I quickly came to realize how unplayably slow the Pokemon games were once I first tasted emulators.

    #7 9 months ago
  8. dreamcastnews

    The Saturn version of Tomb Raider was originally exclusive to the machine for one, and two, it didn’t need the ram card to work – in Europe I’m pretty sure King of Fighters was the only game needing it and it came with the game.

    Other than that, the Saturn was indeed flagging behind the PSOne when it came to exciting 3D IP.

    #8 9 months ago
  9. Legendaryboss

    So for Consoles MS & Sony, both consoles will be closer to each other. The Wii was an anomaly, their other consoles show that well: their current market in the console world when all is said and done is around 20 million.

    Then for handhelds it all lies solely on Nintendo’s shoulders seeing as they are the king. With the handheld market decreasing this is worrying. Vita has absolutely no chance if remote play is penned as a killer app, i mean seriously? Not that it had a chance in the first place, theres no future for it now.

    #9 9 months ago
  10. ManuOtaku

    Great article, again, and for me it is spot on.
    I do Own all consoles and handhelds touch on this topic, with the exception of saturn, and for me the best games were available on dreamcast, N64 and wii, of course all the playstations, and xboxes, had great games, but the most interesting, different in settings and ideas with great gameplay were in the former mentioned consoles.

    For me on the nintendo side of things, i believe gamecube was the anomally, all their consoles sild beyond the 40 million mark, the only one that didnt was the cube, i believe the toy image of the console had a part on that, among other reasons, although, i did like a lot the cube desing, and the controller was great, oh my, those triggers, were perfection imho.

    #10 9 months ago
  11. FrankJaeger

    @polygem Dear friend, you know you can stretch PSOne games on vita, right? At a cost of resolution, of course. After starting the game, press the PS button for some time and you’ll have the settings menu on the top right of the screen. On other settings, you can customize the screen mode/size (original, normal, zoom, full or custom). There’s even a bilinear filtering option. If you already know this, just ignore my post. Just trying to help. Maybe did not understant your concern. My best regards!

    #11 9 months ago
  12. polygem


    Hey, i didn´t know that and i didn´t really have the time to look into it yet. SOTN has been the first psx game that i have purchased for the vita yet.

    Many, many thanks. Seriously. that´s great!!!

    Will check it out asap.

    Would still like to have the option to play the vita games on the telly as well though…/maybe someone will tell me that this works as well now???- i wouldn´t mind it :D

    #12 9 months ago
  13. fearmonkey

    In my case, 3DFX won during the PS1 years. I bought a PS1 shortly after launch, a friend and I went in on it. I later bought his half out I loved it at first, for about a year or so, then 3DFX came out with the Voodoo chipset, and my My monster 3D could play 640×480 games that looks so much better than my PS1, I never went back really. I never loved the controller either, it just didn’t really fit my hands well.

    Then the Voodoo 2 came out later and it wasnt until the Dreamcast that I got excited about console gaming again. The Dreamcast was such an amazing little machine, I still have mine, still play it from time to time. With it’s modem and broadband adapter, visual memory cards, it was ahead of the game.

    I also have a 3DO, which I got many years after it launched. The great thing about the 3DO, no copy protection, so you can get iso’s of all those old games no one makes anymore.

    Lastly, have to mention that I modded my Xbox after the console was discontinued. It still works and is just about the best emulator player around. It can play about everything up to the PS1 on emulation. I used it as a media center for a long time as well. It still has a bigger Hard drive than my 360 lol.

    #13 9 months ago
  14. Dragon

    ” The DS won not only this generation of portables but every generation, and has never been equalled by a home console, either. It is a phenomenon.”
    A factually wrong statement. PS2 is the largest selling video game console ever. DS is second.

    #14 9 months ago
  15. polygem

    did that help correct your boner temperature?

    #15 9 months ago
  16. Seventizz

    I give the 7th generation to the Xbox 360. The software to console ratio was solid, Sony lost a major chuck of market share and while the Wii sold the most units – it’s longtime support and quality are questionable.

    Hopefully MS can again remain at the top of this gen. MS innovates, Sony copies, and Nintendo – is Nintendo.

    #16 9 months ago
  17. Surfer Dude

    These write ups are great!

    #17 8 months ago

Comments are now closed on this article.

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