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The Great Console Wars of the 80's/90's

by
on
5/31/2022
The Great Console Wars of the 80's/90's

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Have you ever heard of the great console wars of the 80s and 90s? Where Sega, Nintendo, and Sony went to war to see who could create the most popular gaming console? Well, we relived history the other day when a member of our data science team shared the Gaming Historians youtube channel. 

For those of you unfamiliar with the great console wars, just know it was a dangerous and dark time - Lol kidding. It all started in 1985 when Sega decided it wanted to start competing in the US market with its Sega Genesis console. With enhanced technology and innovative marketing, it made a big splash and, within three years, was able to gain a large portion of the market, which Nintendo historically dominated. 

As new products and better computing capabilities surfaced, other players vied for better market share of video game consumers. In 1995 Sony entered the gaming space and continued to disrupt an already wavy industry. 

An in-depth yearly breakdown of the great console wars can be found at Old School Gamer Magazine, or read the direct article here.

Enough history, back to the experiment!

While reminiscing with the Gaming Historian’s videos and lightly sharing which console we had, it became apparent that the Rasgo team couldn’t decide which console was truly the best. Being a data company, we decided to put it to the test. 

All felt strongly that their chosen console was actually the winner of the three, so we decided to look at the sales data to see what kind of story it would tell. 

Our goal was to see if the console wars were visible in the sales data. 

To start, we needed to find some data. It just so happens that there was some free data on the internet (http://www.vgchartz.com/, scraped by https://github.com/GregorUT/vgchartzScrape). This would serve as the base dataset for our discovery. 

We uploaded the different sales data into our Snowflake account and began searching for insights in Rasgo. 

Within the first few minutes of transforming and measuring the different insights, we realized that  we should represent the console sales as a proportion of total annual sales - because the video game market has been explosive over the past 40 years.

Below is the breakdown of how we structured our analysis: 

Visual representation of how you would analyze the gaming data in Rasgo.

Considering Sony was a late player in the game, we decided to isolate the battle between Nintendo (the original leader in the US market) and Sega (the international invading force).

Nintendo continued to lose market share to Sega for a number of years until the now illustrious Nintendo 64 was introduced and took the console industry by storm. You can see in this chart just how badly Sega was decimated in 1997. 

According to Wikipedia, after the launch of the Nintendo 64, sales of the Saturn and Sega’s 32-bit software were sharply reduced. 

Graph of market share between Nintendo and Sega.

As of August 1997, Sony (not pictured) controlled 47 percent of the console market, Nintendo controlled 40 percent, and Sega controlled only 12 percent.

Sega laid off 60 of its 200 employees in North America following the disaster of 1997. They never recovered. It's important to identify years and sales data per year in order to see how different marketing activities and consumer trends impacted the three competing companies. One thing is for sure, the Nintendo 64 developed a cult like following and helped push Sega out of popularity.

Even with this explosive growth the eventual winner of the console wars was Sony, as people are still talking about and playing their games. Only the true historians of video games even remember the Sega Genesis Console!

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