Our mission to determine which console generation is the best of them all has finally reached the current millennium, with our look at the 6th generation and why it should be considered the best one of them all. This era of gaming represented a major evolution to the very meaning of what it meant to be a game console as nearly all the major systems on the market introduced new features like multimedia playable, network connectivity and other features that moved them closer to being entertainment centers rather than just a way to play games. In a lot of ways the current stable of consoles can trace their roots directly back to what we saw in the 6th generation, easily making it one of the most influential gaming generations of them all.
The sixth generation of gaming is remembered by many as the ‘PlayStation 2’ generation as that system absolutely dominated hardware sales for nearly 6 straight years. The system ended up selling 158 million units, which still stands as the most units sold by a single system to this day. This domination is even more evident when directly compared to how it outsold its direct competitors; the Xbox (24 million), the Nintendo GameCube (21 million) and Sega’s Dreamcast (8.2 million). And while Sony’s console dominated the charts for years there was so much more going on in the industry during this generation that needs to be recognized.
For the first time in the history of gaming this was the generation (and still is to this day) where we’ve been the closest to console parity among the three main players in terms power and system abilities. While there were some noticeable and obvious differences for the most part the Xbox, GameCube and PlayStation 2 shared a huge library of games from third-party developers, especially from major firms like Ubisoft, Activision, EA Games and Capcom. Today it isn’t uncommon for gamers to debate the merits of one system over another and while that was definitely true in the 6th generation, there never was a time where the lines between each system’s performance weren’t so blurred.
So to set themselves apart from their competitors, each console had to offer something that was not available anywhere else. This led to the development of systems that (for the most part) offered more than just gaming. For example, the PlayStation 2 also served as DVD player and was for many their first device to play the new, higher-quality format. The Xbox was a pioneer in online gaming thanks its Xbox Live service which is still the gold standard for gaming with folks around the world and the GameCube, while primarily a ‘pure’ gaming system did offer connectivity with another Nintendo system, the Game Boy Advance, which gave us a two-screen experience that predated both the Nintendo DS and Wii U by several years.
This was also the gaming where what we currently know as AAA gaming came into its own. For the most part, video games on all fronts became more and more cinematic during this generation, with full-motion video, voice acting and well crafted soundtracks becoming the standard for major titles. This led to an unprecedented increase in the overall quality of game’s cinematic qualities to the point where people were starting to wonder if the lines between movies and video games was starting to disappear. While today we know that wasn’t going to be the case yet it does speak to the rapid improvements that we were happening on an almost daily basis in the industry.
However the biggest new element introduced into the console gaming scene has to be the advent of online gaming. Every single major console (yes even the GameCube) featured a way to play online with friends and that was a huge thing back in the early 2000’s as what was originally the exclusive domain of PC gamers was now something that almost everyone could get into. Online gaming has not only become a major feature of gaming but some would argue the most important aspect of what makes a modern hit. Some of today’s biggest games like Minecraft, Overwatch, Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds, Rocket League and Splatoon all rely on strong online connectivity and can all thank the 6th generation for making this feature a standard.
With console players starting to make their way online however it forced a change in the dynamics of PC gaming. What was once the best place to play strategy games and shooters soon saw these genres finding their way onto consoles which would have eroded the need for a powerful gaming PC if it weren’t for a new, emerging genre – the MMORPG. In just a few short years games like EverQuest, EVE Online and of course World of Warcraft gave PC gaming a new meaning and a genre that, to this day can be still be called a best on PC experience. Without a doubt the MMORPG has done more to advance the cause of online-heavy gaming than any other genre and it all really began here in the 6th generation.
On the handheld gaming front is was actually a fairly quiet generation with the Game Boy Advance being the only portable gaming system to carve itself a large slice of the market. That’s not to say that if you had a GBA you didn’t have anything to play though since the system was home to a near endless supply of fantastic games. Titles like Fire Emblem, Advance Wars, WarioWare Inc.: Mega MicroGames$, The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap, Final Fantasy Tactics: Advance, Pokémon (Ruby/Sapphire) and Mega Man Zero led the way for the system followed by an impressive lineup of high quality ports of NES, SNES and Genesis ports with the Super Mario Advance Final Fantasy Advance and NES Classic series all coming to the GBA. It is a bit sad though that we never got to see the full potential of the system as Nintendo essentially replaced it with the DS in 2004 after just over 3 years on the market.
The sixth generation of video gaming can be described as both one of gaming’s most innovative and progressive times while at the same time laying the groundwork for what we saw in 7th and 8th generations. This was the era where gamers went online for the first time, where consoles became more than game machines and games themselves became more cinematic in nature. In short this was the generation where gaming became mature and so the groundwork was laid for the generations yet to come.