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Battle for control: why the age-old console wars show no sign of stopping

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November 07, 2020 at 10:00AM

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From Sega v Nintendo in the early 90s to PlayStation v Xbox in 2020, the world of computer games is still a battlefield

It is an exciting time in video game world: two new consoles, the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5, are arriving this month. With a long, lonely Covid winter ahead, it is tempting to splash out. New machines bring with them the promise of new worlds, as leaps in technology unlock creative possibilities for game developers. Throughout the 1980s, 90s and 00s, there was a transformational shift every five or so years, blowing apart people’s expectations of what you could do in a game, how big a virtual world could be and how you could explore it.

It is not quite like that any more. The pace of change has slowed and this time around the advances are less immediate and more subtle, more like tinkering under the bonnet: better resolution, higher frame rates, shorter loading times, smoother online features. Look at a PS5 game next to one from its predecessor, the PS4, and – unless you have a giant expensive TV and sound system – you might not immediately see the difference. It will take a few years for the creatives behind blockbuster games to unlock these machines’ full capabilities. But whoever gains early ground in the console war gets a bigger say in the future of gaming.

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