I’ve been reading Console Wars, a new book by Blake J. Harris that chronicles the rise of Sega during the 90’s. It’s a delightful book, full of endlessly fascinating details, such as how Target’s lenient return policy allowed customers to return years-old NES’s in order to get credit towards a SNES. Needless to say, this didn’t sit well with Nintendo and it led to Target pulling Nintendo products from the stores for a time. I lived through this era and reading the behind the scenes drama that went on has been very enjoyable. My nostalgia bones are all tingling right now.
But it got me to thinking about how the console cycles seem to repeat, like the Reapers cull of intelligent life in Mass Effect. Nintendo’s draconian policies towards retailers and publishers, though of benign intent, allowed an upstart like Sega to come in and gain a foothold in the market, indeed, almost upending The Big N. And Nintendo’s last-minute change of heart to partner with Phillips rather than Sony to create a CD-based console gave Sony the incentive to enter the market alone, not partnered with either Nintendo or Sega, a move which would haunt Nintendo to the present day.
Once Sony entered the market with the Playstation, Nintendo’s reign of dominance ended until the release of the Wii. And Sony’s eventual hubris with the Playstation 3 gave Microsoft’s Xbox 360 the opening to become the top dog in the console wars. By this time, Nintendo was outselling both with the Wii, but had started to target a different audience of gamers than Sony and Microsoft.
And now we come to the present day, where Microsoft’s stubbornness in pushing the Kinect in our faces has allowed Sony’s Playstation 4 to jump out to a fast start. The console cycle isn’t over yet, but so far, it’s following the same pattern as each one before it: the dominant company falls through arrogance, allowing someone else who is hungry and tuned in to gamer’s desires to ascend.
The only console cycle that this hasn’t happened with is the Playstation 2 era. Sony entered that generation on top and managed to stay on top and even further cement their hold on the market with the PS2. The Xbox made some noise, but it wasn’t even close to what the PS2 sold. Ditto for the Gamecube, a powerful system that was hampered by the same problems that plagued Nintendo with the Nintendo 64. The least powerful system, the PS2, crushed the competition, thanks to a vast library of quality titles. That DVD player didn’t hurt either. But Sony’s undaunted success didn’t last and they too were struck by the hand of hubris.
But as we see now, gamers forgive and gamers forget. There’s no telling where things are headed in the future, but I really enjoy watching all this play out, especially while reading Console Wars and thinking to myself that mantra from Battlestar Galactica: All this has happened before and all this will happen again.