Just to start off: there is no defense for acting like complete jerks to strangers on the internet. And some of the vitriol that is thrown about is on some next generation uncalled for levels. Sprinkle some anonimity and the lack of nuance that 140-character tweets can’t provide? It’s a recipe for disaster, but we can’t act like there’s was no starting point to the “console wars” as we know it.
In a recent interview with The Verge, Xbox boss Phil Spencer said the following regarding the fanboy enclave that exists online:
“That tribalism in the industry, if there was anything that would ever drive me out of the industry, it’s actually that,” and he followed up by saying further into the interview: “Man, that’s just so off-putting to me … To me, it’s one of the worst things about our industry.”
Phil is right; and he actually acts on it, as well. When the two companies launched earlier this month, Xbox came out to congratulate PlayStation on their release of the PlayStation 5. It’s a matter of professional courtesy in the modern era of consoles.
But, if we go back, we can see that the rivalries and “console wars” had a starting point when Nintendo owned upwards of 95% of the market and SEGA tried to carve out their own piece of the pie with the launch of their second console: the Genesis.
It’s been the subject of many a book (one early example written during that era is “Game Over” by David Sheff). And it has most recently — and prominently — received the historical treatment, with a dash of added probably-not-all-factual lively conversations, in Blake J. Harris’s “Console Wars.”
Going back to the nascent video games of the late 80s, we must remember that video games had just gone through a crash after Atari allowed the market to be saturated by complete trash — culminating with the New Mexico landfill burial of the E.T. game. The “video game” in business was taboo. Nintendo brought them back into the light by not introducing a “video game console,” but an “entertainment system” that could be sold to the masses as a hot new “toy.”
They entered the market and completely dominated the scene. It was everywhere. In comes SEGA and they enter the proverbial “battle” with an aggressive marketing campaign led by Sega of America’s Tom Kalinsky to try to make a dent in Nintendo’s commanding market share.
SEGA essentially split the market with Nintendo during the Genesis/SNES era. Throw all that publicity, mainly aimed at boys to argue about on the playground, and given — naturally — their limited “income” in needing to ask mom and dad for one thing for Christmas? It’s bound to have a “wars” effect. One that seems to have permeated enough that it somehow still continues to this day.
Given that the average age of gamers is 35 nowadays makes for some unreasonable adults throwing around heated “arguments” for one side or the other. The market is made up by people that should have some, potentially, disposable income to pick up a console — or two — to match their tastes. Microsoft is making big moves into subscription gaming (a la Netflix) with Xbox Game Pass, Sony is banking on big-time exclusives like Horizon: Forbidden West and God of War: Ragnarok for PlayStation, and Nintendo caters to a crowd with wholesome — and still awesome — Mario titles and their ilk for the Switch.
I see a lot of influencers and content creators talking online about how gamers should do away with the “console wars” nonsense and just enjoy and play whatever they want — on whatever console they choose and leave others be. And I agree, but we can’t also just outright dismiss that these “wars” were thrust upon us by PR and marketing in the early 90s. As much as we agree that the current crop — and honestly, old enough to know better — of gamers should get over it.