Part 4

Finishing up my entirely too long series of posts on the history of gaming we arrive at the last generation. This generation, as have previous ones, had a significant impact during their time and will continue to have lasting effects for the future of console gaming. The true effects of these innovations may not be seen for years to come, but expect to see new and impressive ideas continue to arrive in this and the future generations.

This brings us to the current and seventh generation (2004-). This generation is marked by interesting changes to every console. As console manufacturing and competition became more intense, the field dropped down to 3 combatants. First out the gate was Microsoft with the Xbox 360. While adding more advanced hardware to it's console, the true reason for The 360's success has to lie with one of it's previous innovations. Live has proven to be king of online console gaming and has become the de facto standard for the industry. A standard that Sony, and to a much lesser extent, Nintendo have scrambled to emulate.

Both the Wii and the PlayStation 3 were released about a year after the 360 to widely different degrees of success. The PlayStation 3 was next out the gate, with a couple of features hidden up it's sleeve. The first was the inclusion of Blu-ray support for gaming and movies. Another was the inclusion of a consumer swappable harddrive, to compete with the 360's more expensive proprietary model. Sales of the PS3 were initially promising, but due to the consoles high price, soon began to slip. The next generation Nintendo console, the Wii, was released two days later. When announced, this console wasn't given much of a chance to succeed. They had an unusual and untested control scheme and a plan to target the casual market. The Wii immediately became a hit. With the novel controls and a low price (released at half the cost of the PS3 and $50 less then the 360 Core, $150 less then the 360 Premium). In the short term, Nintendo's gamble has paid off. In the long term, it remains to be seen if the Wii can continue to fend of the 360 and the PS3.

The handhelds also continued to change. The first release was the Nintendo DS in late 2004. The DS was similar in look to the previous SP model with one large exception. The clamshell design was similar, but the inclusion of a touch screen for input on the lower half was a major innovation. This touchscreen was activated by using a stylus, not unlike one found with PDAs. The DS would see a revision in mid 2006 known as the DS Lite. While the Lite has the same overall internal hardware as the original DS it did include brighter screen, extended battery life, and as the name suggests, smaller size and lighter weight. A few months after the original DS was released, Nintendo saw it's first serious handheld competitor in over 15 years.

Sony in early 2005 released a handheld console of their own, called the PlayStation portable. This is the first handheld system that has truly given Nintendo a run for their money. To compete with the DS, Sony included Wi-Fi connectivity to allow connections to other PSPs (something the DS can do) and internet browsing (something the DS can't do), an optical disc format, more powerful hardware (to provide near PS2 quality graphics), and the ability for firmware updates. Initial sales of Sony's new console were very strong, but due to a much higher price than the DS ($100 more) and the lack of a games library hurt PSP sales after the shortly after the launch. Recently the PSP underwent a DS style update by releasing a Slim and Lite model late last year. This redesign was not a significant change, but helped to reduce size, weight, improved loading times, and added the ability to output to a TV. Also, significant firmware updates improved the hardware's functionality and it's PS3 interactivity. Sales of the PSP are far behind sales of the DS, but recent numbers have shown a slowly shrinking gap in this regard.

As you can see, innovation has happened, to varying degrees of success, in every console in every generation. Sometimes that innovation hasn't been a hit or helped to see a console succeed. Sometimes it helps a console become a market leader. It's hard to tell what the future will bring, but based on what we've seen of the past, expect something innovative.



1 Response to "We've Come A Long Way"

  1. Anonymous On March 30, 2008 at 1:50 AM

    Consoles sure have come a long way - nice read.