Sony Playstation 2

Sony Playstation 2

6th Generation Competitors
Gamecube Dreamcast XBox
Region Release Date Discontinued Lifetime Sales
Japan 4th Mar 2000 2012  155M (total)
North America 26th Oct 2000 2013
Europe 24th Nov 2000 2013

 

 

Sony took over the console world with their first console, the Playstation.  They had no experience in the market but still managed to outgun Nintendo and Sega.

Needless to say, the industry was looking forward to seeing how they coped with their second foray into the gaming world.  They did not disappoint.

The Playstation 2 was a behemoth in terms of technology, it shipped with a, then, expensive DVD drive.  It had a processor that was designed from the ground up to play games.  It was capable (at launch) of installing Linux, so it could be used as a powerful workstation.

The PS2 was an instant success, true the software attach rate wasn’t great.  Whilst it wasn’t cheap the PS2 was still far cheaper than any DVD player, so many people bought it for that purpose.  This may not have sold games but it put a PS2 in a lot of living rooms.

The rumour is that this fact was the final push the execs at Microsoft needed to fully support the XBox project.  The idea that a company as large as Sony, who seemed to be supporting an alternate operating system to their Windows platform, would control the living room was too much of a risk.

The Playstation 2 was definitely responsible for the very fast acceptance of DVD, it quickly became the single most used DVD player in Japan and probably the world.

The Playstation 2 saw the first 3D version of the Grand Theft Auto franchise.  The franchise is now one of the highest grossing entertainment products of all time.

Sony released a price cut slimline version of the Playstation 2, called the Slim.

 

The Playstation 2 is considered to be one of the greatest consoles ever made and is the longest lived and highest selling.  It was a genuine display of the art of technology creation and cemented Sony’s role in the gaming world.

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Sony Playstation

Sony Playstation

5th Generation Competitors
3DO Jaguar Nintendo 64 Sega Saturn CD32 FM Towns Marty PC-FX Pippin Playdia Loopy
Region Release Date Discontinued Lifetime Sales
Japan 3rd Dec 1994 2006 102.49M (total)
North America 9th Sep 1995 2006
Europe 29th Sep 1995 2006

 

 

Nintendo had released a floppy drive for their previous console, the Famicom.  After they released it’s follow up, the Super Famicom, they decided they wanted to do the same thing.

Rather than approach Sharp as they had with the Famicom, Nintendo decided to talk to Sony through Ken Kutaragi, the man who had convinced them to use the Sony SPC-700 sound chip instead of the near standard Yamaha family.

Sony returned with a prototype, a unit that was slightly bigger than the base machine but packed a CD Rom.  This was a working prototype and the Nintendo execs agreed to work together.

Nintendo agreed to announce the partnership at the May 1991 Consumer Electronics Show.  However, behind the scenes then president Hiroshi Yamauchi had re-read the contract and realised it handed Sony far too much power.

When Nintendo of America chairman, Howard Lincoln, stepped up on the stage instead of announcing the partnership with Sony, he announced one with PhilipsPhilips were Sony’s main rival in the CD world and this was a  gut punch too far.

Sony approached Sega, Nintendo’s chief rival, and offered them the technology.  Sega of America were interested but the idea was vetoed by Sega of Japan who stated, Sony don’t know how to make hardware or software, why would we do this?

Sony considered canning the whole project but instead decided to do it themselves after all.  They started planning a whole new machine based on their work and, after seeing Virtua Fighter, making it primarily 3D Focused.

The launch was nearly perfect.  Because they didn’t have the luxury of an existing games unit, they purchased companies and signed exclusivity contracts with others.  Sega managed to help them by flubbing the Saturn launch badly and Nintendo were far behind with their 3D console.

The Playstation shot into the lead in every market, far outselling the Saturn.  It was still being outsold by the previous generation but price cuts in the following years solved that too.

Whilst Nintendo are considered to have saved the games industry with the Famicom, they didn’t really grow the market in any meaningful way.  The Playstation, on the other hand, increased the target market to an older generation, thus hitting a more mature and wealthier demographic.

Because of this the games market started on the path to beating the film industry in revenue and moved the hobby out of the niche that it had been stuck in since inception.  They made it cool to play games.

The Japanese market took longer for Sony to dominate, whilst they took the lead early, the Saturn didn’t fall as far behind.  Much of this was due to brand loyalty, something that the North American and European markets weren’t really affected by.

Sony released a cut price, smaller version called the Ps One in 2000.

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Sega Saturn

Sega Saturn

5th Generation Competitors
3DO Jaguar Nintendo 64 Playstation CD32 FM Towns Marty PC-FX Pippin Playdia Loopy
Region Release Date Discontinued Lifetime Sales
Japan 22nd November 1994  2000  6.26M
North America 11th May 1995 1998  2M
Europe 8th July 1995 1998  1M

The development of the Saturn was tumultuous.  Sega had tried to extend the life time of the Megadrive for as long as possible by adding new peripherals such as the Mega CD and 32X.  But this had caused confusion amongst the consumers and they started to panic.

The Saturn itself had gone through numerous design changes, initially it had been designed as a 2D machine, Sega hadn’t expected 3D to be a key selling point, considering it was barely taking off in the PC world.

But Sony had made it a key feature of the upcoming Playstation and whilst Sega didn’t consider Sony to be their primary competitor enough buzz in the media finally got though to the heads in Sega Japan to make them realise they had to react.

The redesigned Saturn was based on Sega’s existing Model 1 architecture, itself a groundbreaking 3D arcade system.  The architecture used the SH2 RISC Processor, a custom chip designed by Sega and Hitachi.  Whilst not a GPU in the sense we know it now, the chips made certain calculations faster.

For 3D to work it needed two of these chips and therefore so did the Saturn.  After Sony released the specs of the upcoming Playstation Sega were forced to add another chip, the VDP, to compete.

Whilst this was happening Sega of America were trying to draft their own system, this would use a custom chip created by SGI.  But Sega of Japan were uninterested in changing their plans and were largely dismissive of the team SGI sent to talk to them.

This cold-shoulder approach caused SGI to end their talks and they instead sold the solution to Nintendo and it became the basis of the Nintendo 64‘s Reality Processor.

In the end the Saturn became an 8 chip megalith.  The complexity was astounding and Sega were struggling to work with it internally just to create the tools that developers would need to make games.

At this point Sega decided to make the 32X add-on for the Megadrive.  This had some elements from the Saturn, including the Hitachi SH2’s.  But it would not be compatible with Saturn software and consumers were confused by the mixed messages they were getting.

The Saturn released in Japan to fairly positive sales.  Virtua Fighter pretty much sold the system and almost everyone buying a console bought it.

But in a move that would haunt Sega until they left the console market, they announced the North American release date of Saturday the 2nd of September 1995.  Nicknamed Saturnday this day was chosen to give western developers time to get to grips with the complex system and for retailers to prepare for stock.

But then, at the E3 event in May the head of Sega of America, Tom Kalinske, announced that the console would release immediately at a price of $399.  Even worse only a few retailers had stock, the rest would miss out of the traditionally high demand first day.

This news upset publishers and retailers.  The publishers had to rush development of their titles to get them ready, and most would miss release day by weeks.  The retailers who had not received stock were outraged, some announcing that they would never stock a Sega item ever again.

This was an almost perfect outcome for Sony, who were not frightened into moving their release date earlier, instead the head of Sony US came out and said one thing, $299, the price of the Playstation, before leaving the stage to universal applause.

Once developers had got used to the Saturn hardware they found out it was a powerful beast, but it was missing a few things that the Playstation had.  But it also didn’t suffer from the texture warping effect that Sony’s machine did.

The Saturn wasn’t a flop, as such.  It sold well enough, but it caused tremors in the industry that Sega never recovered from and had a large impact on the failure of their next system, the Dreamcast.

There are two conflicting accounts to how the date move happened, Sega of America said they were unaware of the date change until the day of the conference when Sega of Japan ordered them to announce it.

Sega of Japan say that SOA were well aware beforehand and were involved in the decision.

We may never know the absolute truth, but the fact remains that 3 retailers already had stock and an agreement to sell them the same day, that was not something that Sega of Japan could arrange and was definitely not something that could be arranged in a couple of hours.

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Atari 7800

Atari 7800

3rd Generation Competitors
Sega Master System Famicom / NES Amstrad GX4000 Commodore 64 Game System
Region Release Date Discontinued Lifetime Sales
Japan NA  NA NA
North America May 1986 1st January 1992  3M
Europe July 1987 1992  500K

Atari were hit hard in the video game crash and were eventually sold off a couple of time.  They mostly concentrated on the computer market but still attempted to regain the glory they’d felt with the 2600.  The 7800 followed the largely failed 5200.

The 7800 was basically an expanded 2600.  It featured the same audio chip but a vastly improved graphics system.  It was the first console developed outside of Atari, instead designed by General Computer Corporation.

The 7800 was an improvement over the 2600 and 5200, but not enough to compete with the incoming Japanese consoles.

The 7800 is compatible with the 5200 and 2600 range of games.

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Sega Megadrive / Genesis

Sega Megadrive / Genesis

4th Generation Competitors
Neo Geo CD PC Engine Super NES Neo Geo AES CDTV Philips CDI NEC SuperGrafx
Region Release Date Discontinued Lifetime Sales
Japan 29th Oct 1988 1997 35M
North America 14th Aug 1989 Ongoing
Europe Sep 1990 Ongoing

Sega knew they had to try harder to beat Nintendo in the next generation, part of which was getting out first.  To this end they took their System 16 arcade board, home to such classics as Altered Beast, and made a living room friendly version.

The Megadrive was born, it sold well in Japan eventually, but the launch was disrupted slightly by the release of Mario Bros. 3 on the Famicom a week before.  Positive reviews helped build sales but they still only sold 400,000 units in the first year.

They needed to go international quickly, after two mis-steps, a deal with Tonka toys and a deal with Atari, they opened a North American office and hired a staff.  Unfortunately, due to a trademark dispute the Megadrive had to be renamed to Genesis in North America.  The Sega America team wasted no time and got some hard hitting adverts out.

The Megadrive sold well, it was eventually overtaken by the Super Nintendo, but it’s sales were easily strong enough for Sega to consider it a success.

Sega attempted to prolong the life of the Megadrive by adding a number of peripherals.  The first, the Mega CD, added CD capabilities to the Megadrive.  It was a nominal success, but the need for a separate power supply made for a messy living room though.

The next add-on was far less successful.  Because Sega were still developing their next console they were keen to string the Megadrive along even more.  They introduced the 32X, a device that added a new set of processors to the Megadrive that could be used alongside the existing hardware.

It was expensive and added yet another power supply.  Owners of the console weren’t sold and only a few games were made.  But the introduction caused a lot of confusion and caused Sega to rush the introduction of the Saturn.

There were numerous versions of the console.

  • A compact version was released with slightly cost reduced components.  This also had a revised version of the MegaCD which sat next to it instead of on top.
  • TecToy are still creating versions of the Megadrive and games for the Brazilian market.
  • Sega released a combined Megadrive and MegaCD called the CDX, which could also be used as a portable CD Players.
  • Victor released a combined Megadrive and MegaCD in Japan called the Wondermega.  JVC released a restyled version called the X’eye in North America.  Neither were popular.
  • Amstrad released a combined PC and Megadrive for the European market, called the Mega PC.  It was similar to Sega’s own Terradrive, but considered better built.
  • Pioneer released a MegaDrive module for it’s LaserActive laser disc player.

 

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Sega Master System

Sega Master System

3rd Generation Competitors
Atari 7800 Famicom / NES Amstrad GX4000 Commodore 64 Game System
Region Release Date Discontinued Lifetime Sales
Japan 20 Oct 1985  1992 1M
North America Sep 1986 1992 2M
Europe 1987 1992 6.8M

Sega had a few cracks at breaking into the burgeoning console market in it’s home country, Japan.  The Mark III was the first console that showed any kind of competition with Nintendo (which still wasn’t much) and with the Famicom selling well overseas as the NES Sega decided to do the same.

They rebadged the Mark 3 as the Master System, changed the casing and, for cost reasons, removed the ability to use FM Synthesis.

Because of that last point, although games are largely compatible all the way back to the SG 1000, some of the Japanese games don’t quite sound right on a Master System.

The Master System was more powerful than the Nintendo in pretty much every department, but it was never as popular.  There are many possible reasons, Nintendo already had a strangle-hold on North America and parts of Europe, better (or at least more numerous) games (due to Nintendo’s contract agreements) and a genuinely loved mascot in Mario.

Sega tried to fight the last two points by utilising their already solid arcade IP, but they’d already ported quite a few across to other platforms (including the Famicom).

There were various versions of the Master System released, many with different in-built games.  Eventually Sega ended the Master System with a reduced cost version 2, placing it as a cheap option to those who couldn’t afford it’s new Megadrive / Genesis.

Mastertronic were signed up to distribute the Master System in most of Europe and got an impressive number of preorders, however, Sega were unable to meet demand and many retailers cancelled their entire order, this pushed Mastertronic and it’s partners into financial difficulty.

The Master System, and it’s successor the Mega Drive, continue to be successful in Brazil.  Tectoy has a perpetual license and continues to release new versions of both consoles and new games.

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Sega Dreamcast

Sega Dreamcast

6th Generation Competitors
Gamecube Playstation 2 XBox
Region Release Date Discontinued Lifetime Sales
Japan 27th Nov 1998 2001  9.13M
North America 9th Sep 1999 2001
Europe 14th Oct 1999 2001

The Saturn had caused Sega a lot of issues.  Not only was it largely a flop, being massively outsold by the Playstation and beaten by Nintendo.  But it also caused Sega numerous issues with publishers, distributors and retailers.

Several large retailers in North America, upset at being missed out of the Saturn launch, refused to carry Sega products, and that refusal carried on through the Dreamcast.

Although most publishers eventually did produce games for the Dreamcast, one especially damaging holdout was Electronic Arts.  Whilst they weren’t quite the size they are today, they were still an important figure with a lot of popular IP.  Most importantly for the North American market their sports licenses that had proved very popular in the previous generation.

Initial sales of the Dreamcast were strong though, helped by some solid arcade conversions from Sega and their partners.  Indeed it was considered to be one of the strongest launches in software terms up to that point.  The sales continued strong up until the Playstation 2 was announced.

As soon as Sony gave a launch date the Dreamcast sales started to dry up.  They did get a minor boost when Sony were unable to meet demand, but not enough for Sega to continue.

To add to their problems a flaw was found in their copy protection system, a routine created to cope with a special form of Japanese disc allowed discs to be created on normal CDs that bypassed region and copy checks.

This was the final nail in the coffin, Sega reduced the price of the Dreamcast to sell the back stock.  Once it was gone, they removed the Dreamcast from sale and left the console world for good.

The Dreamcast was certainly a powerful console, easily able to match the Playstation 2.  A lot of this was due to the custom  PowerVR GPU created by Imagination Technologies.  It was designed to pair with the SH4 processor perfectly and that meant there was very little bottleneck in the system.

Online play was a feature built-in to the console.  All consoles came with a dial-up modem, but a broadband option was also available.  Notably it was the first time that Quake had online play outside of the PC.

Sega produced a unique memory card system called Visual Memory Units.  These memory cards had little screens that games could use to display information and even install mini games onto.  Unfortunately, this also meant the VMUs cost quite a bit more than other consoles memory cards.

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Philips CDI

Philips CDI

4th Generation Competitors
Neo Geo CD Megadrive Super NES Neo Geo AES CDTV PC Engine NEC SuperGrafx
Region Release Date Discontinued Lifetime Sales
Japan NA  NA  NA
North America 3rd Dec 1992 1998
Europe 1992 1998

Philips were one of the creators of the CD standard and they decided to make a machine to show off it’s capabilities.  Initially they expected to license the technology to other manufacturers, much like the 3DO company tried later on.

Initial interest was not strong however and Philips ended up releasing several models themselves.  Magnavox did release a variant of the 450, but it was mostly just a rebadged version of Philips own model.

Philips placed the CDI as an educational tool, and didn’t have a strong games library.  Like many companies that tried the same strategy Philips failed.  The initial machines were quite expensive and a relatively limited library that suffered from quality didn’t help.

The platform is renowned for licensing the Zelda and Mario licenses from Nintendo and the games were so bad that it, allegedly, stopped Nintendo from every licensing their IP ever again.

Philips eventually released the cut price 400 series, it was more console like and did away with infra-red controller capability (which wasn’t popular for games anyway).

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Gamecube

Nintendo Gamecube

5th Generation Competitors
Dreamcast Playstation 2 XBox
Region Release Date Discontinued Lifetime Sales
Japan 14th Sep 2001 2007  4.04M
North America 18th Nov 2001 2007  21.74M
Europe 3rd May 2002 2007  4.77M

Nintendo followed the 64 with their first optical disc based console.  The Gamecube used mini DVD discs, they held less than a full sized DVD but were also (slightly) harder to reproduce.

Obviously using the smaller discs also meant that the Gamecube had no chance of playing DVD movies – although Panasonic did release a licensed version called the Q that could.  The Q was the result of a similar deal to the Sharp deal that Nintendo struck with the Famicom.  Panasonic’s parent company, Matsushita, created the miniDVD drives and Panasonic were allowed to release the Q.

The graphics chip for the Gamecube was created by a startup called ArtX.  ArtX was started by ex SGI employees, who had previously created the Graphics processor for the Nintendo 64.  Although ArtX were purchased by ATI before it was finally delivered.

The CPU was created by IBM and based on the PowerPC technology mostly used by Apple’s PowerMac computers.

The Gamecube did not sell great compared to it’s main rivals, but it did outsell the XBox in it’s home territory of Japan.  It did manage to outsell the early cancelled Dreamcast.

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Famicom

Famicom

 

3rd Generation Competitors
Sega MasterSystem Amstrad GX4000 Commodore 64 Game System Atari 7800
Region Release Date Discontinued Lifetime Sales
Japan 15th Jul 1983 2003  19.35M
North America 18th Oct 1985 1995  34M
Europe 1987 1995  8.56M

The Family Computer (Famicom).  Possibly one of the most famous consoles in history.  It supplanted the Atari 2600 as the go to word for gaming and successfully rebooted a failing gaming market.

Nintendo was hot off a string of popular arcade titles and decided they didn’t want other companies to get the money for bringing them in the home.  So they started development of their home system.

Initially released in Japan, it eventually made it’s way to North America and Europe as the Nintendo Entertainment System and to South Korea as the Hyundai Comport.  It was easily the best selling consoles of the third generation.

Along with a new hardware platform, Nintendo also created the now standard method of licensing and approval.  They’d witnessed how the gaming market in America had combusted due to a rash of poor quality titles.  So developers had to register with Nintendo and get their products licensed before they could be distributed.

To stop non-licensees releasing games Nintendo added a simple method of authentication.  The solution meant that each cartridge had to have a compatible chip inside it to run.  This didn’t entirely stop unlicensed games, a few companies reverse engineered the design and made their own cartridges, or made cartridges that could ‘piggy back’ on licensed games and run that way.

The power of the Famicom drew a lot of developers to Nintendo, and Nintendo took advantage of this by making them sign rigid agreements, these agreements stopped them from developing from competing platforms.  Because of this it was hard for competitors to thrive and is one of the main reasons Sega struggled with the Master System.

The platform also lured a group of incredibly successful developers who had worked on the Sinclair Spectrum and Commodore 64.  These developers, called Imagine, sold the rights to the name and most of their IP and re-appeared named Rare.  They impressed Nintendo so much that they eventually bought a large share in the small British company.

Nintendo didn’t really see much competition in the third generation.  The MasterSystem was poorly advertised and was missing many of the key developers due to Nintendo’s agreements.  The two other notable platforms, the GX4000 from Amstrad and the Game System from Commodore never took off.  The C64GS was underpowered and the GX4000 hit the market too late.

Nintendo also released a disc drive for the Famicom.  This drive only came out in Japan and used proprietary 3 inch discs.  These discs had an embossed Nintendo logo which acted like the copy protection.

The idea behind the discs was that you could buy games as normal but you could also go to kiosks which would burn the game you wanted to a disc.  These discs could also be time locked for demo or rental purposes.

Sharp helped with the development of the drive and were allowed to create several Famicom based products.  These included a TV with a built-in Famicom and a unit, called the Famicom Twin which merged the Famicom and Disc System into one.

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