The Top Ten Most Influential Video Game Consoles of All Time

The Top Ten Most Influential Video Game Consoles of All Time

  • By: CM Boots-Faubert
  • Posted 21st Dec 2011

(1) Sega -- Genesis
(4th Gen August 1989)

A member of the 4th console generation, the Sega Genesis was originally released in Japan in 1988 as the Sega Mega Drive before arriving in North America as the Genesis. Interestingly it returned to its original name when it was launched throughout the rest of the world, and it soon developed that the reason behind the name-changing was a simple one: the Mega Drive brand was already in use in North America, and Sega was unable to secure the licensing it needed to use it there.

The third console created by Sega, the Genesis was initially launched as direct competition to Nintendo's NES and while accidental, its release timing placed it in between the releases for the NES and SNES, giving the console a temporary but considerable edge over Nintendo's dominance of North American home gaming. Sega helped the edge along with its "Nintendon't" campaign, creating the first console war in the industry.

-- Its two significant contributions to console gaming --

The first contribution traditionally observed for the Genesis is its CD Drive Peripheral, an add-on device that was released for all of the versions of the console -- in Australia, Europe, Japan, New Zealand, and South Africa it was sold under the brand Mega-CD, while in North America it was called the Sega CD.

Until the world-wide deployment of the Mega-CD/Sega CD, video game media traditionally consisted of cartridges, which typically could only hold 8 to 16 megabits of data in a combination of ROM and RAM -- and presented as strictlyh a hardware solution to the problem of providing game code.

While most cartridges included a small amount of RAM with a battery to power it, the game code was embedded in ROM, and the limits were the combined mixture of size restrictions and cost. CD media in comparison could hold as much as 640 megabytes (5120 megabits), which was more than enough space to hold entire game worlds -- and it did! The adoption of CD as the media of choice quickly became an industry standard.

While the Genesis was the first console to utilize CD media world-wide, it was not in fact the first video game console to use the CD as its game media. That honor goes to NEC's TurboGrafx-16, but as that add-on was prohibitively expensive -- it retailed for $399.99 -- very few gamers actually experienced it outside of Japan, and so the techno-leap largely escaped the notice of gamers in the rest of the world, giving Sega the official kudo award for the move.

Historically speaking the change to CD media was largely viewed as inevitable, because the advances from 8-bit to 16-bit and beyond combined with the broader video capabilities evolving at the time clearly supported the progression to deeper and larger game worlds.

The second innovation for which the Sega Genesis is known may shock and surprise you. In fact it not only improved the world of console gaming but the world of video gaming entirely, smoothing the path for the release of games that otherwise would have had to receive heavy editing in order to comply with censorship laws that pertained to games targeted at the general gaming market. What are we talking about? Why, just the Game Rating System!

The video game community world-wide came under fire in the early 1990's, when government and journalists focused upon the inclusion of mature content in some video games -- content that up to then was not disclosed or advertised on the outside of the package, which meant that most governments and the media only found out about it after the game went on sale and was in the hands of gamers, which was too late for them to do anything about it.

With game violence, sexual situations, and profanity suddenly becoming a hot-button issue, the always-interested-in-controversy news media applied unprecedented scrutiny on the popular games being released, which forced governments all over the world to give teeth and structure to the reviewing boards or the agenies responsible for vetting games in order to determine whether or not the games being released could be sold to their citizens without first being revised (censored) to comply with the local laws.

Up until the first series of scandals were leveraged by the press to sell papers and magazines, the review structure in most Western nations largely failed to actually perform their assigned duties. Once the issue of sex and violence in video games became headline news however, that all changed. This was an untenable situation both for game developers and for console makers, and Sega reacted by swiftly making a move it hoped would largely eliminate the threat -- with remarkable success.

Sega's solution was to institute the first voluntary video game ratings system in the world, which it called the Videogame Rating Council (or VRC). The logic of this move was simple -- most of the world (including the USA) operated under the common law principals of Caveat Emptor, and as long as a maker or merchant was up front about the contents of the product being sold, the onus was swapped to the buyer, effectively removing or nullifying the smoking gun.

The ratings system that Sega devised included a basic and standardized system that was intended to allow game sellers to control the flow of sales based upon the rating. These included the family-friendly rating of "GA" (General Audience) the Teen rated MA-13, and the adult rated MA-17, and eventually served as the foundation for the ESRB later on.

The new voluntary rating system did exactly what it was intended to do -- it appeased the government and concerned parent groups -- and its implementation while expensive succeeded in allowing Sega to release its port of Mortal Kombat without being required to censor it, which had been the case elsewhere in the world.

The company went to the unprecedented extra step of requiring that the gamer be required to enter a special code in order to unlock the full contents of the game -- a move that was thought to have two functions -- the first being to meet the requirement of direct-action and choice in accessing the potentially objectionable content, and the second permitting the game to be vetted by the review boards prior to that code being released -- which allowed the game to get an MA-13 rating when it should have had the more severe MA-17 rating if Sega had actually been following the rules it set up.

Once the success of the rating system was proven -- Sega's version of Mortal Kombat outsold Nintendo's uncensored but also unrated version at a rate of 4-to-1 -- game developers and publishers all over the world recognized the value of the system and began to voluntarily utilize it in order to avoid having to release multiple versions of each title depending upon the region it was being sold in.

The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB)

Shortly after Sega formed its VRC other publishers began similar efforts, but however well-intentioned they were, these efforts ended up hurting the cause because each publisher was creating its own unique rating codes, and the end result of this lead to confused parents and worse, became a focal point of the government hearings on the matter then taking place.

Into the breach stepped the Software Publishers Association's Recreational Software Advisory Council (RSAC), which created and supervised a system for rating PC games -- but not console games -- and this drew enough attention from Congress to give the console games industry the breathing room it needed to act.

While the hearings continued in Washington, Sega of America President Michael Katz evidently became concerned that the effort and the considerable expense that the company had gone to in creating and then promoting their new voluntary rating system -- what had clearly been a PR coup -- was quickly being derailed by the actions of his competition.

The precise details are not known as no record was kept of the event -- and what we do know is based solely upon the sparse writings of the recollections of the parties involved set down long after the actual events unfolded -- but it seems that Katz arranged a conference call with his counterparts at most of the major American game publishers to discuss a strategy to stabilize the situation.

During these conferences the directors from each of the companies had a meeting of minds that eventually lead some to agree to fund and create the Interactive Digital Software Association (re-branded as the Entertainment Software Association in 2003) and establish a codified and universal voluntary video game rating system for the United States, Canada, and Mexico that every publisher could use and that, eventually, would appear throughout the rest of the world as well. Now that is some historic influence and impact!