History of video game consoles (fifth generation)

History of video game consoles (fifth generation)
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The fifth-generation era (also known as the 32 bit era and occasionally, after the release of the Nintendo 64, the 64 bit era and more rarely the 3D era) refers to the computer and video games, video game consoles, and video game handhelds available at stores. The fifth generation lasted approximately from 1993 to 2006 and was dominated by three consoles, the Sega Saturn (1994), the Sony PlayStation (1994), and the Nintendo 64 (1996). Demographics in console sales varied widely, but these three consoles, especially the PlayStation, defined the system wars of this era. The FM Towns Marty, Amiga CD32, 3DO, NEC PC-FX, Sega 32X, and Atari Jaguar were also part of this era, but their sales were poor and they failed to make a significant impact on the market, though the Amiga CD32 sold well during the seven months that it was supported. This era also saw three updated versions of Nintendo's Game Boy: Game Boy Light (Japan only), Game Boy Pocket, and Game Boy Color.

Bit ratings for consoles largely fell by the wayside during this era, with the notable exceptions of the Nintendo 64 and the heavy usage of references to the 64-bit processing power of the Atari Jaguar in advertisements. The number of "bits" cited in console names referred to the CPU word size and had been used by hardware marketers as a "show of power" for many years. However, there was little to be gained from increasing the word size much beyond 32 or 64 bits because once this level was reached, performance depended on more varied factors, such as processor clock speed, bandwidth, and memory size.

The fifth generation also saw the rise of emulation. During this period, commonly available personal computers became powerful enough to emulate the 8 and 16-bit systems of the previous generation. Also, the development of the Internet made it possible to store and download tape and ROM images of older games, eventually leading 7th generation consoles (such as the Xbox 360, the Wii, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Portable, and Nintendo DSi) to make many older games available for purchase or download.


Console systems

Transition to 3D

The 32-bit / 64-bit era is most noted for the rise of fully 3D games. While there were games prior that had used three dimensional environments, such as Virtua Racing and Star Fox, it was in this era that many game designers began to move traditionally 2D and pseudo-3D genres into 3D. Super Mario 64 on the N64, Crash Bandicoot on the PlayStation, and Tomb Raider on the Saturn (later released on the PlayStation as well), are prime examples of this trend. Their 3D environments were widely marketed and they steered the industry's focus away from side-scrolling and rail-style titles, as well as opening doors to more complex games and genres. 3D became the main focus in this era as well as a slow decline of Cartridges in favor of CDs, due to the ability to produce games less expensively. The game also included more dramatic cut scenes with symphonic music – the term "interactive movie" became less associated with games that made heavy use of full-motion video and more with games with an action movie feel to them, such as Metal Gear Solid.

CD vs cartridge

As Nintendo prepared to launch its newest console, they decided to make the Nintendo 64 a cartridge-based system like its predecessors. Publicly, Nintendo defended this decision on the grounds that it would give games shorter load times than a compact disc (and would decrease piracy). However, it also had the dubious benefit of allowing Nintendo to charge higher licensing fees, as cartridge production was considerably more expensive than CD production. Many third-party developers viewed this as an underhanded attempt to raise more money for Nintendo and many of them became more reluctant to release games on the N64.

Nintendo's decision to use a cartridge based system sparked a small scale war amongst gamers as to which was better. The "media war" was spurred on no less by statements from top company executives themselves; one Nintendo magazine ad placed a Space Shuttle (cartridge) next to a snail (a CD) and dared consumers to decide "which one was better". At the time, CD-ROMs did suffer from long load times (some games even featured "mini" games that players could play while the real game was loading).

Despite these and other moves by Nintendo, almost every other contemporary system used the new CD-ROM technology (the Nintendo 64 was the last major home video game console to use cartridges). Also appealing to publishers was the fact that CDs could be produced at significantly less expense and with more flexibility (it was easy to change production to meet demand), and they were able to pass the lower costs onto consumers. In particular, the fifth generation marked a turning point for optical-based storage media. As games grew more complex in content, sound, and graphics, the CD proved more than capable of providing enough space for the extra data. The cartridge format, however, was pushed beyond the limits of its storage capacity. Consequently, many game developers shifted their support away from the Nintendo 64 to the PlayStation. One of the most influential game franchises to change consoles during this era was the Final Fantasy series, beginning with Final Fantasy VII, which was originally developed for the N64 but due to storage capacity issues was developed for and released on the PlayStation; prior Final Fantasy games had all been published on Nintendo consoles – either the Nintendo Entertainment System or Super Nintendo.

Console wars

The 32-bit / 64-bit era was a paramount staging ground of the continuing "console wars" between the large game hardware manufacturers. "Console wars" were a phenomenon in which people would attempt to evaluate the upcoming hardware of a system and purchase the system for that reason alone, speculating that the best games must be made for that hardware. Since the length of time systems spent in development had been steadily growing since the 8-bit era, consumers were left with a lengthy period of time in which to speculate about the strengths and weaknesses of the consoles to be released in the next generation.

Overview of the fifth generation consoles

Many events transpired to mislead gamers during this era, causing much confusion over which console was superior to the others. Adding to the uncertainty was the fact that there were more competing consoles in this era than at any other time since the North American video game crash of 1983, with video game magazines frequently performing side-by-side hardware-specification comparisons of the systems using dubious statistics. Also, console makers routinely boasted theoretical maximum limits of each system's 3D polygon rendering without accounting for real world in-game performance.

The FM Towns Marty was the world's first 32 bit console (contrary to claims from the Amiga CD32 and 3DO), being released in 1991 by Japanese electronic company Fujitsu. Never released outside of Japan, it was largely marketed as a console version of the FM Towns home computer, being compatible with games developed for the FM Towns. It failed to make an impact in the marketplace due to its expense relative to other consoles and inability to compete with home computers.[1]

Despite massive third party support and an unprecedented amount of hype for a first-time entrant into the industry, the 3DO Interactive Multiplayer's $700 price tag hindered its success.[2]

The Amiga CD32 was sold in Europe, Australia and Canada, but never in the US due to Commodore's bankruptcy.[3] A large stock of NTSC CD-32s remained at the factory in the Philippines, which were later sold off by creditors and continued to appear on the second hand market for many years.

The Sega 32X, an add-on console for the Mega Drive/Genesis and Sega Mega-CD, was released almost simultaneously with the Sega Saturn. The Sega Neptune was also announced as a standalone version of the 32X, but ultimately canceled. Sega failed to deliver a steady flow of games for the 32X platform. More importantly, with the Saturn and PlayStation already on the horizon, most gamers preferred to save up their money rather than spend it on a console that was doomed to become obsolete in just a few months.[4]

The Sega Saturn was released as Sega's entry into the 32-bit console market. It was moderately successful, selling 17 million units worldwide. However, it was not the commercial success that the Master System and Mega Drive had been and lagged in third place (behind the (by then) less expensive PlayStation and N64 consoles) until it was discontinued.

The Atari Jaguar was released in 1993 as the world's first 64-bit system. However, sales at launch were well below the incumbent fourth generation consoles, and a small games library rooted in a shortage of third party support made it impossible for the Jaguar to catch up. The system's 64-bit nature was also questioned by many. The 32-bit Atari Panther was set to be released in 1991, but was canceled due to unexpectedly rapid progress in developing the Jaguar.[5]

The Atari Jaguar CD, an add-on console for the Jaguar, was released in 1995. Due to the extremely low installed base of the Jaguar itself and Atari's dire financial situation, the Jaguar CD was only produced in very limited quantities, and so had no chance to make any impact in the market.

The Sony PlayStation was the most successful console of this generation, with attention given by 1st and 3rd party developers enabling it to achieve market dominance, becoming the first console to ship 100 million units worldwide.

Because of many delays to the release of the Nintendo 64, in 1995 Nintendo released the Virtual Boy, a supposedly portable system capable of displaying true 3D graphics, albeit in monochromatic red and black. Because of its graphical capabilities, the system could cause headaches and eye strain, and was not functionally portable, though it was marketed as such. It was discontinued within a year, with less than 25 games ever released for it.

The Nintendo 64 was announced as "Ultra 64" and two arcade games (Killer Instinct and Cruis'n USA) were released claiming to use the hardware. A TV ad for the Super NES port of Killer Instinct showed a gamer using a chainsaw to open the arcade cabinet so he could take out the console inside. This caused many gamers to refrain from buying the 3DO, Saturn, or PlayStation because they thought the commercial showed what was in the Nintendo 64's hardware, and it appeared to be superior to any of the competing systems.[citation needed] The arcade system was in fact completely different from that used for those games (albeit of comparable capability), disappointing those who had expected the images from the ads.

NEC, creator of the TurboGrafx-16, TurboDuo, Coregrafx, and SuperGrafx, also entered the market with the PC-FX in 1994. The system had a 32-bit processor, 16-bit stereo sound, a 16,777,000 color palette and featured the highest quality full motion video of any console on the market at the time.[citation needed] The PC-FX broke away from traditional console design by being a tower system that allowed for numerous expansion points including a connection for NEC's PC-9800 series of computers. Despite the impressive specs it was marketed as the ultimate side-scrolling console and could not match the sales of the 3D systems currently on the market.

Results of the fifth generation

After the dust settled in the fifth generation console wars, several companies saw their outlooks change drastically. Atari, which was already on shaky ground after setbacks to Nintendo in the previous generation, ended up being purchased by JT Storage and stopped making game hardware. Sega's loss of consumer confidence (coupled with its previous console failures) in North America set the company up for a similar fate in the next round of console wars.

The Sega Saturn, although the most technically advanced console of the generation, suffered from poor marketing and comparatively limited third-party support. Sega's decision to use dual processors was roundly criticized, and some believe the second CPU was added as a "panic" response to the PlayStation's specifications.[citation needed] Regardless of their reasons for including it, only Sega's first-party developers were ever able to use the second CPU effectively.[verification needed] The Saturn was far more difficult than the PlayStation to program for.

Sega was also hurt by a surprise four-month-early US launch of their console. Third party developers, who had been planning for the originally scheduled launch, could not provide launch titles and were angered by the move. Retailers were caught unprepared, resulting in distribution problems. Some retailers, such as KB Toys, were so furious that they refused to stock the Saturn thereafter.[6] Also, the fact that the Sega Saturn was US$100 more costly than the PlayStation and N64 pushed many potential buyers into purchasing the cheaper consoles.

Due to numerous delays, the Nintendo 64 was released one year later than its competitors. By the time it was finally launched in 1996, Sony had already established its dominance and the Sega Saturn was starting to struggle. Its use of cartridge media rather than compact discs alienated some developers and publishers due to the space limits and the relatively high cost involved,[citation needed] US$3.50 for an N64 cartridge versus US$0.35 for a PS disc.[citation needed] In addition, the initially high suggested retail price of the console may have driven potential customers away, and many early adopters of the system who had paid the initial cost were angered by Nintendo's decision to reduce the cost of the system within a few months of its release. However, the Nintendo 64 was popular in the Americas, selling 20.63 million units there (more than half of its worldwide sales of 32.93 million units), and is home to highly successful games such as The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Super Mario 64, GoldenEye 007, Banjo-Kazooie, and Super Smash Bros..[citation needed] However, while the Nintendo 64 sold far more units than the Sega Saturn, it failed to surpass the PlayStation, which dominated the market.


Name Amiga CD32 3DO Interactive Multiplayer Atari Jaguar Sega Saturn PlayStation Nintendo 64






Launch prices (USD) US$399.99 US$700[2] US$250[7] US$399[2] US$299.99 US$249.99
Manufacturer Commodore Panasonic, Sanyo and GoldStar Atari Sega Sony Nintendo
Release date
  • WW September 1, 1993
  • NA October 1, 1993
  • WW March 20, 1994
  • WW November 18, 1993
  • JP November 22, 1994
  • NA May 11, 1995
  • WW July 8, 1995
  • JP December 3, 1994
  • NA September 9, 1995
  • EU September 29, 1995
  • WW November 15, 1995
  • JP June 23, 1996
  • NA September 29, 1996
  • WW March 1, 1997
Best-selling game Zool, unknown amount of units. Return Fire, unknown amount of units. Tempest 2000, unknown amount of units. Virtua Fighter 2, 1.7 million in Japan[8] Gran Turismo, 10.85 million shipped (as of April 30, 2008)[9][10] Super Mario 64, 11.62 million (as of May 21, 2003)[11][12]
Media CD-ROM (cassette, floppy disk, hard drive (software), data card via add-ons) CD-ROM Cartridge (CD via add-on) CD-ROM, cartridge (limited, Japan only) CD-ROM Cartridge, (proprietary magnetic disk via Japan-only add-on)
Accessories (retail)
  • Team Tap (up to 8 players)
  • JagLink – 2 console networking
  • CatBox – 8 console networking, additional video output options
  • Memory Track, for Jaguar CD only
System sales (worldwide)


2 million


9.5 million

102 million

32.93 million

Other consoles

Add-ons and remakes

Worldwide sales standings

Console Units sold
PlayStation 102.49 million shipped (as of March 31, 2007)[15]
Nintendo 64 32.93 million (as of March 31, 2005)[16]
Sega Saturn 9.5 million (as of May 4, 2007)[2]
3DO 2 million (as of May 4, 2007)[2]
Virtual Boy 770,000 (as of May 4, 2007)[7]
Atari Jaguar 500,000 (as of May 15, 2007)[17]
Apple Bandai Pippin 42,000 (as of May 4, 2007)[7]

In 1996–97, when the PlayStation, N64, and Saturn were the only major 5th generation consoles still on the market, Sony managed a 51% market share of the worldwide market, followed by Nintendo with 40% with a percentage of them from the 16-bit SNES, while Sega lagged with 9%. Production of the Sega Saturn was prematurely discontinued outside of Japan in 1998, with its demise being accelerated by rumors that work on its successor was underway, which hurt sales in late 1997. The N64 was produced until 2001 when it was succeeded by the Nintendo GameCube; however, PlayStation production had not ceased as it was redesigned as the PSOne, further extending the life of the console around the release of the follow-up PlayStation 2. The PlayStation was discontinued in 2006, shortly after the Xbox 360 was released.

Handheld systems


Milestone titles

  • Ape Escape became the first game to explicitly require the use of Sony's DualShock controller's analog sticks.
  • Dragon Quest VII was the number one best-selling title on the PlayStation in Japan, released in 2000. The game was the first main installment of Japan's national RPG series released in 5 years.
  • Final Fantasy VII is one of the most critically acclaimed games of all time. It was the first game in the Final Fantasy series to make use of full motion videos (FMVs) and opened the door to the mainstream US market for Japanese-origin RPGs. Final Fantasy became one of the biggest franchises in video gaming, with FFVII in particular having several spin-offs known as Compilation of Final Fantasy VII, including two sequels (a movie, and an action adventure game) and a prequel.
  • Gran Turismo broke away from the mold of traditional arcade style racing games by offering realistic physics and handling as well as a plethora of licensed vehicles. GT is credited as increasing popular awareness of certain Japan-only sports cars such as the Mitsubishi Evolution, Subaru Impreza WRX, and Nissan Skyline, and a UK-only sports car company named TVR and eventually paved the way for their importation into the US.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is one of the most critically acclaimed games of all time and often listed as the greatest video game of all time.[19][20][21][22][23][24][25] It smoothly transferred the playing mechanics of the previous 2D Zelda adventures to 3-D with a 3rd person perspective that could switch to 1st person. It also featured mini-games such as fishing & horseback riding.
  • Metal Gear Solid was released on the PlayStation in fall of 1998. It received critical acclaim for its involved storyline, believable voice acting, and cinematic presentation. The series remains a best seller for the PlayStation after many incarnations.
  • Nights into Dreams... was developed by Sega's Sonic Team. The game was sold with the Saturn's analog controller, which looked similar to that of the Dreamcast. With its innovative gameplay and graphics, Nights, an exclusive title, aided in the selling of a number of Saturns.
  • Panzer Dragoon Saga was the final game developed by Sega's Team Andromeda. Upon release, the game was met with unanimous praise from international gaming publications and has come to be considered to be among the most significant of the Saturn releases. The game was released in very low quantities in the US and Europe, which resulted in the game becoming one of the most valuable Saturn games on the collector's market.
  • PaRappa the Rapper, although only a modest success at its time of release, was highly influential in creating the music video game genre, which would grow in popularity throughout the fifth and sixth generations, thanks in large part to the popular Dance Dance Revolution.
  • Nintendo's Pokémon titles for the Game Boy led to massive success in both video game sales and licensed merchandise. This success was thanks in part to the Pokémon anime series, which was localized for North America. In addition to establishing a wildly popular franchise, Pokémon arguably helped extend the life of the handheld Game Boy system.
  • Super Mario 64 was the first game released for the Nintendo 64 and one of the most innovative games of its time. It helped prove that analog controls, as opposed to the D-pad, were almost a necessity for 3D games.
  • Resident Evil and Silent Hill helped popularize the survival horror genre, which was previously confined to relatively obscure titles such as Alone in the Dark and Sweet Home. This genre continued to grow in the sixth generation of video games, and Silent Hill and Resident Evil went on to produce many successful sequels. Both have since been adapted for films.
  • Tomb Raider popularized many elements seen in later video games and spawned several very successful sequels. The main character, Lara Croft, was named the most recognizable female video game character by Guinness World Records.[26] In 2001 a film adaptation titled Lara Croft: Tomb Raider was released. As of 2010, it is the highest grossing video game to film adaptation.[26]
  • Tekken 3 was released for PlayStation in 1998. The PlayStation version is still regarded as one of the greatest fighting games of all time.
  • GoldenEye 007 and Perfect Dark are two critically acclaimed games that helped modernize the first-person shooter genre on consoles, paving the way for future franchises such as Halo.
  • Return Fire is one of the 3DO's defining titles, and sold well. It was later ported to the Sega Saturn and PlayStation. Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo and The Need for Speed are also highly rated titles for the 3DO.
  • Alien vs. Predator was one of the Atari Jaguar's defining titles; it was well received from critics and is remembered as the Killer app for the Jaguar.

See also


  1. ^ "FM Towns Marty/FM Towns Marty 2 Console Information". Consoledatabase.com. http://www.consoledatabase.com/consoleinfo/fujitsufmtownsmarty/index.html. Retrieved 2009-08-17. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Blake Snow (2007-05-04). "The 10 Worst-Selling Consoles of All Time". GamePro.com. p. 1. http://www.gamepro.com/article/features/111822/the-10-worst-selling-consoles-of-all-time/. Retrieved 2007-11-25. 
  3. ^ Perelman, M: "Steal This Idea", page 60. Palgrave Macmillan, 2004
  4. ^ "32X/Project Mars: Anatomy of a Failure". goodcowfilms.com. http://www.goodcowfilms.com/farm/games/news-archive/SegaBase%20-%2032X.htm. Retrieved 2007-06-22. 
  5. ^ Atari Jaguar History, AtariAge.
  6. ^ Helgeson, Matt. "Top 10 Embarrassing E3 Moments", Game Informer(208): 40–41.
  7. ^ a b c d e Blake Snow (2007-05-04). "The 10 Worst-Selling Consoles of All Time". GamePro.com. p. 2. http://www.gamepro.com/article/features/111823/the-10-worst-selling-consoles-of-all-time-page-2-of-2/. Retrieved 2007-11-25. 
  8. ^ "Japan Platinum Game Chart". The Magic Box. http://replay.web.archive.org/20071213230402/http://www.the-magicbox.com/topten2.htm. Retrieved 2007-11-25. 
  9. ^ "Gran Turismo Series Shipment Exceeds 50 Million Units Worldwide" (Press release). Sony Computer Entertainment. 2008-05-09. http://asia.PlayStation.com/eng_hk/index.php?q=node/1517. Retrieved 2008-06-03. 
  10. ^ ""Gran Turismo" Series Software Title List". Polyphony Digital. April 2008. http://www.polyphony.co.jp/english/list.html. Retrieved 2008-06-03. 
  11. ^ "Mario sales data". GameCubicle.com. http://www.gamecubicle.com/features-mario-units_sold_sales.htm. Retrieved 2007-11-25. 
  12. ^ "All Time Top 20 Best Selling Games". 2003-05-21. Archived from the original on 2006-02-21. http://web.archive.org/web/20060221044930/http://www.ownt.com/qtakes/2003/gamestats/gamestats.shtm. Retrieved 2007-11-25. 
  13. ^ "Play:Right Rare > Hardware > Casio Loopy". http://www.uk.playright.dk/raretitel.php?id=29220. Retrieved 2008-12-14. 
  14. ^ "Atari Jaguar CD system pounces onto multimedia marketplace". Business Wire. September 21, 1995. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0EIN/is_1995_Sept_21/ai_17456629/. Retrieved 2011-05-07. 
  15. ^ "PlayStation Cumulative Production Shipments of Hardware". Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. http://www.scei.co.jp/corporate/data/bizdataps_e.html. Retrieved 2008-03-22. 
  16. ^ "05 Nintendo Annual Report - Nintendo Co., Ltd." (PDF). Nintendo Co., Ltd.. 2005-05-26. p. 33. http://www.nintendo.com/corp/report/NintendoAnnualReport2005.pdf#page=33. Retrieved 2007-11-25. 
  17. ^ Greg Orlando (2007-05-15). "Console Portraits: A 40-Year Pictorial History of Gaming". Wired News. Condé Nast Publications. http://www.wired.com/gaming/gamingreviews/multimedia/2007/05/gallery_game_history?slide=28&slideView=7. Retrieved 2008-03-23. 
  18. ^ "Nintendo Adds Color to Its "Rainbow" of Products With New Game Boy Color Titles". Business Wire. October 12, 1998. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0EIN/is_1998_Oct_12/ai_53077910/. Retrieved 2011-05-07. 
  19. ^ "The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time reviews". Metacritic. http://www.metacritic.com/games/platforms/n64/legendofzeldaocarina. Retrieved 2008-11-26. 
  20. ^ "IGN Top 100 Games, #001-010 (2005)". IGN. http://top100.ign.com/2005/001-010.html. Retrieved 2008-11-26. 
  21. ^ "IGN Top 100 Games, #4 (2007)". IGN. http://top100.ign.com/2007/ign_top_game_4.html. Retrieved 2008-11-26. 
  22. ^ "NP Top 200", Nintendo Power 200: 58–66, February 2006.
  23. ^ "The Greatest 200 Games of Their Time", Electronic Gaming Monthly 200: February 2006.
  24. ^ "All-Time Best Rankings". Game Rankings. http://www.gamerankings.com/browse.html. Retrieved 2008-11-26. 
  25. ^ "Top 100 Games of All Time", Game Informer 36. August 2001.
  26. ^ a b "Record-Breaking Lara Croft Battles her Way Into New Guinness World Records", MCV. January 21, 2010.

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