A couple of weeks ago, the book "Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle that Defined a Generation" by Blake J. Harris was released. And while the review of The New York Times was somewhat mixed, it inspired me to take a look at my very own video game history, one that actually includes multiple gaming systems from both Nintendo and Sega.
Early Beginnings: Commodore 64
Born in Germany in 1979, I am a child of the 80s, and a teenager of the 90s. My first true gaming experiences came at the age of 9 when my cousin received a Commodore 64 for his birthday. We played The Last Ninja 2, California Games, Archon, Giana Sisters, Bubble Bobble and Manic Mansion for what feels like thousands of hours. I still consider the Last Ninja 2 to be one of the best games ever made, and the music is second to none.
Sega Game Gear
My first "gaming property" was a Sega Game Gear that I received for Christmas in 1991. My favorite games were The G.G. Shinobi, Sonic the Hedgehog, and an Afterburner-clone called G-Loc, although I never completely fell in love with any of them.
I had opted for a handheld because I didn't own a television, and I had chosen Sega's Game Gear instead of the more popular and much cheaper Game Boy from Nintendo because it was newer and featured a color display. I later regretted my choice, mainly because the Game Gear was so clumsy that it essentially required a backpack to be carried around, and also because the backlit screen drained 6 AA batteries in less than 90 minutes. Compared to the Game Boy that was very portable and only required 4 AA batteries (8 hours lifetime), the Game Gear just didn't qualify as a true handheld. The biggest problem was that I only knew one other person with a Game Gear to borrow games from, as opposed to at least 10 Game Boy owners in the neighborhood.
A little more than a year later, in the spring of 1993, I sold the Game Gear via a 200-character classified in a local newspaper (pre-Internet, very old school). The money allowed me to buy a Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES). To this day, I can remember how scared I was taking a bus to the city with all that cash in my pocket. I still didn't have a television in my room, so I had to use my parent's television and could therefore not play as much as I wanted. Yet, the move away from the Game Gear was still totally worth it. My first games were Streetfighter 2 and Super Mario Kart. Both were absolutely brilliant, especially when played in VS Mode against friends. They probably remained my favorite games throughout my SNES career. Other great games included Jimmy Connors Pro Tennis Tour, Parodius, Super Bomberman (unparalleled multiplayer fun) and Super Mario Allstars.
I still recall reading an article in "Video Games" about the first PlayStation in early 1994. The console had the capabilities of a contemporary arcade racing machine, and the racing game Ridge Racer by Namco had been ported 1:1 - at least that's what the excited journalist reported from a gaming convention in Japan. The fact that the PS1 had a CD-Rom and memory cards to save game progress and highscores made it even more desirable. So I sold the SNES and pre-ordered a PlayStation. It was released in Germany on 9/16/1994 (I actually didn't have to look up the date when I wrote this, I still remember!). My first game had to be Ridge Racer. It was super fast and had great driving physics, especially with the special analogue NeGcon controller that I got for it. Other milestones were Tekken and Resident Evil. I got so hooked on both that I couldn't wait for the PAL versions of the sequels Tekken 2 and Resident Evil 2 to be released. So in order to get my hands on them as early as possible, I bought very expensive imported Japanese versions. Since I had a PAL PlayStation they would not run unless I used a little ballpen spring to exercise the CD-swap trick (essentially fooling the console into believing it was loading a domestic PAL game). Pretty crazy by today's standards. Twisted Metal, the original Need for Speed and Micro Machines V3 (best multiplayer game ever) completed my list of beloved PlayStation games.
Game Boy Pocket
Towards the end of it's lifetime, Nintendo started releasing derivatives of the original Game Boy. The first one was the Game Boy Pocket, a smaller, lighter, 2-AA battery version of the original Game Boy. Starting in late 1996, it was offered for a very reasonable price. So I finally got a Game Boy because there were tons of great games that I could borrow or buy from friends that had lost interest. Maybe it was a little redemption for the Game Gear experience 6 years earlier... In any event, the Game Boy Pocket was truly portable, and I predominantly used it during the late stages of highschool to entertain myself in class (Shakespeare was just not my thing back then). My favorite games were Donkey Kong and Tetris (duh).
In 1998, I managed to afford another console without selling the previous one for the first time, partly because I opted for a used Nintendo 64 that already came with a couple of games. So I kept the PlayStation and the Game Boy Pocket, and got a N64 on top of that. Nintendo had released the N64 two years after the PlayStation, and although I remember that the system was graphically superior to the PlayStation, it never quite managed to catch up in popularity. Part of the reason was that the cartridge-based games tended to be more expensive than the CDs for the PlayStation, and I remember that variety and depth of the available games were not as great. But there were some All-Star-Quality classics that I will never forget. Super Mario 64 and GoldenEye 007 (awesome postmortem here) are among the best games ever made. 1080° Snowboarding was also awesome.
Sega Dreamcast (and the end of my story)
The last console I ever bought was the Sega Dreamcast. It came out in early 1999 and was the first 128-bit or "Sixth Generation" console in the market. The audio-visual advantages it had compared to everything else that was available at the time (predominantly PlayStation and Nintendo 64) were huge, and I had never seen these kind of graphics before. Everybody knew that the PlayStation 2 would be even better (I had perceived Sega as doomed ever since the Sega Saturn was such a failure compared to the PlayStation in the mid 90s). At the same time, everybody also knew that the PS2 wouldn't be released in Europe for another 18 months, so the Dreamcast was the way to go. In many ways, using it felt like a super polished PlayStation 1 experience. The graphics were stunning, and Soul Calibur might still be my favorite fighting game of all time. The other games I truly loved were Resident Evil Code Veronica, Ready 2 Rumble, NBA 2K, NHL 2K, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2, Virtua Tennis 1 & 2 and Ferrari 355 Challenge. I guess the fact that my focus had shifted to sports, fighting and racing games reflects my advanced age at this point. One totally crazy thing I got was Sega Bass Fishing with a virtual fishing rod. Even today, my friends still make fun of me for that purchase.
My console career more or less ended when I started law school in the fall of 2000, and I finally "donated" my Dreamcast to my nephews in 2004. The Dreamcast was the last console I ever bought. The reason is not that I don't like gaming anymore. It's actually quite the opposite: With the right console and the right game, you will find me playing in front of a TV at 4:30 am on a random Tuesday, with no end in sight. Ever since Apple's AppStore opened in July 2008, my new passion have been mobile games. I actually decided to quit law in 2011 and focus on mobile games as a career.
So what decided the Console Wars?
What it comes down to is content. Always. Every game console's lifeline is the game content that is available for it. Aside from drastic price disparity, the winning console in every generation (handheld, 8-bit, 16-bit, 32-bit, 64-bit, 128-bit) was always the one that had the highest density of great games. Great games attracted people to the platform which in turn allowed you to more easily find friends that you could trade games with. One needs to know that in the 90s, a SNES or PlayStation game would set you back at least $40, possibly $50 or more. Keep in mind that those are the actual prices from 20 years ago and consider how much that would be in today's money. The result was that in those pre-online days, hardly anybody owned more than 2-3 games when they first got a console, and if you were a broke teenager that number would only rise in homeopathic increments every year (birthday and Christmas). Essentially all teenagers therefore engaged in "trading" games with friends ("I borrow your Super Mario cartridge, you can have my Street Fighter cartridge for a couple of weeks"), except for maybe the very spoilt/wealthy or very non-social people. In short: If you wanted to have access to a variety of content (games), you better knew a couple of other guys that had the same console that you had. And whether other people would prefer one platform over another was predominantly due to the quality of the game content available for that platform.
In the mobile world, this is obviously pretty different. The price difference between a cheap Android and an expensive iPhone 5S is not 20%, but rather 500%. Many people don't buy a smartphone with gaming in mind whatsoever. And most content is developed for both iOS and Android, and oftentimes simultaneously released. If you consider the $40+ price tags of the old days, the financial commitment for each game today is also a fraction of what it was. The most expensive mobile game I can spontaneously think of is MineCraft at $6.99, and that seems "outrageous" in light of all the free and $0.99 games out there. But don't get me wrong: MineCraft is brilliant, and totally worth $7. So go get it!