It was 1993 when the console wars between video game giants turned bloody. That was the year when Mortal Kombat, a martial arts fighting game, was launched on two different consoles by Nintendo and Sega. At the time, the two fierce Japanese rivals were locked in a bitter battle for control of the console industry.
Sega, the smaller of the two, came up with a unique way to hit back at Nintendo, its family-friendly adversary, by inserting a special “blood code” into its own version of the fighting game.
To maintain its squeaky clean image, Nintendo had removed all blood and gore from its version of the infamous fighting game. However, Sega’s interpretation of Mortal Kombat allowed players to fight with plenty of blood, gore and and a splatter of body parts – a ploy which proved wildly popular, especially among younger gamers.
It was only the launch of the Playstation in 1995 that saw Sega’s dominant era brought grinding to a halt. Nearly 25 years later and the cut and thrust of the console wars has not stopped.
Two of the world’s biggest companies have put the final touches to two key new consoles, which have launched into a market that has been given a huge boost by the Covid-19 lockdown. With billions of people cooped up indoors for months on end seeking distractions – with no sports or alternative diversions – Sony and Microsoft are hoping for blockbuster sales.
On 19 November, Sony’s PS5 finally went on sale in the UK. It is up against Microsoft and its Xbox Series X. Both devices arrive just before Christmas in an attempt to entice gamers for the next generation of devices.
Both consoles are massive, packed with powerful hardware and with cutting edge graphics. But which is best placed to win the latest bout of the console wars?
Sony’s Playstation and Microsoft’s Xbox have vied for dominance for almost two decades now. Launched in 2000 PS2 was a generation-defining console with sales of more than 150 million. The Xbox 360, launched in 2005, put Microsoft back on level terms with Sony – with sales of 85 million.
The PS4, originally released in 2013, outsold Microsoft’s competitor Xbox One two-to-one with more than 100 million units, securing its current status as the market leader.
The global gaming market is forecast to exceed $160bn this year, according to analysts Newzoo. The new consoles represent only a slice of this, with mobile gaming growing fast among casual users.
The impact of coronavirus has, until now, supercharged games sales in 2020. Reported UK lockdown sales of current PS4 and Xbox consoles more than trebled in the first half of the year.
Sony edges ahead
Of 2.7bn gamers worldwide, there are around 100m users of Playstation’s console systems, and just under 100m on Microsoft’s Xbox Live. But those players make up a substantial part of gaming revenues, with Newzoo estimating console games were worth around $49bn in 2019.
Ahead of its launch, the PS5 had an edge.
“Sony understands the concept of locking people in with hardware,” Richard Windsor, a technology analyst at Radio Free Mobile, said earlier this year. This means enticing users with exclusive games that only work on its new PS5 console. It is planning 28 exclusive games on launch.
Jim Ryan, chief executive of Sony Interactive Entertainment, told The Telegraph in an exclusive interview last week: “We like making big blockbuster games; that’s what we do at PlayStation.”
The PS5 is due to have the biggest exclusive games on its new console thanks to coronavirus. Spider Man: Miles Morales, an updated Grand Theft Auto 5 and racing game Gran Tourismo 7 are all “triple A” games.