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(After this discussion on Meta, the question has been undeleted.)

As we know today, there is a competition between the holy trinity of the console gaming industry (Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft) about their different consoles and the games related to these. That is what we call the "Console Wars". We also often use this term to compare different consoles of the same generation, such as the Playstation 4, the Wii U and the Xbox One.

But now I am really curious about something. When did this concept of "Console War" appear in gaming history? Was it during a particular console generation? Did the term appear for the first time, for example, in a gaming magazine, or in a conference led by a gaming company? Or was it just something that people started to say and, with time, became the concept that we know today?

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"Console wars" have occurred across all generations of console gaming, but typically the most well known use of this phrase is from the 16-bit era of gaming. TVTropes calls this the 'classic battle.'

During this time, Sega and Nintendo both aggressively marketed their systems, with many Sega ads directly attacking Nintendo, trying to paint the SNES as an inferior system for casuals and kids. This was generally unheard of at the time - Japanese companies found it inappropriate to do competitive advertising prior to this campaign.

genesis does what nintendon't

In the autumn of 1990, Kalinske took over as CEO of Sega of America, and instantly began work on consolidating the new philosophy: that the Genesis was the machine that kids graduated to when they found the NES too limiting. “The starting point,” says Kalinske, “was that Nintendo was clearly the preference of the child gamer. To me, it seemed logical to really hammer the older audience, and to do that with more aggressive marketing, and with sports, strategy and role-playing games that appealed to teenagers and college-age males.”

At the time, I remember kids arguing about which system was superior, and you had to be able to defend the one you had, even though buying a console as a kid was basically impossible. You had whatever your parents had/could afford/were willing to buy you :)

Generally speaking, though, "console wars" occur every generation. Each console vendor wants you to buy into their walled garden and purchase their software exclusively. They take steps to keep certain games only available for their platforms, and they use aggressive marketing to make their console seem like the most desirable one.

Technically, there have been console wars as soon as the first Pong clone appeared. However, the SNES/Genesis era really defined the term, and the advent of the internet made these types of arguments far more prevalent.

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  • Sounds like that's probably the start of the console wars. Also jives with my memory. I don't see any indication that the term "Console Wars" was used at this point though. Have any evidence of that? – DCShannon Mar 17 '16 at 22:31
  • @DCShannon, this happened before the age of widespread internet, so I'd need access to pre-internet sources to definitively say it was used at that time, and it's probably nigh impossible to definitively prove the first usage of the term. The internet generally agrees (as much as it ever does...) that the original console war was SNES vs Genesis, though. – agent86 Mar 17 '16 at 23:52
  • Fair enough. Still, a picture of a magazine article or something would really tie the room together. – DCShannon Mar 17 '16 at 23:55
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The term started out as "cartridge wars" in an article called The History of Computer Game Design by Don Daglow in the August, 1988 issue of Computer Gaming World. He updated it to Console Wars after the term console came into wide use in the early to mid-90's.

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  • Can you link to any source that corroborates this? – Joachim Aug 22 '20 at 6:40

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