It has been five years since Sony launched the PS4 in the UK, and five years and one week since the Xbox One first rocked up on these shores, and so today - November 29 - marks the fifth birthday of current-gen gaming in Europe. With that being the case, we thought we'd take a look back through the pages of history and reflect on the last five years and the changes we've seen in the console space during that time. It turns out that a lot has happened in the last half-decade, so get comfy and join us on this little trip down memory lane.
The Xbox One and PlayStation 4 might have been born in November, but as with most births we knew they were coming a few months before. During the summer both platform holders unveiled their vision for the next generation, and the response from the wider community couldn't have been more contrasting. For Sony it was an easy PR win and the company was able to make a series of crowd pleasing announcements, but Don Mattrick's relationship with Xbox was starting to look like a shotgun marriage and it wasn't long before the executive was forced out. The Microsoft team had a bold vision for the future of console gaming, and while some of the ideas were great (albeit ahead of their time), the Xbox community voiced their collective displeasure and it quickly became clear that mistakes had been made.
Their respective launches characterised the perceptions of players, and so began a tale of two consoles where one was always in the ascendancy, a reversal from the previous generation where Microsoft's Xbox 360 had arguably wrestled top spot from the PlayStation 3. From the outside it looked like Sony had got complacent with the PS3, but clearly they weren't going to make the same mistake a second time. Ironically, it looked like MS had made the same mistake and taken their position for granted, but fans weren't convinced and many a marginal player returned to Sony's wide open arms over the next year or so.
One thing that has gone on to define Sony's dominance during this generation is the slew of quality first-party exclusives that the company has been able to bring to bear, but it's important to remember that it wasn't always like this and, at first at least, the Xbox One was very competitive. You might even say that of the two, Microsoft's console had the stronger lineup at launch. That didn't matter in the end, however, and it didn't take long for Sony to build on the gift handed to them by the Xbox team and their disastrous unveiling. Sony pulled out into the lead, and nobody has been able to catch them since.
The year following announcement and launch Microsoft carried on pushing the first-party ticket and introduced the world to Titanfall, Forza Horizon 2, and Sunset Overdrive, meanwhile Sony's focus was more on filling out the PS4's library with indies, and this once core part of Microsoft's business on 360 became Sony's bread and butter for this next-generation. Sony had a couple of big hitters such as Infamous: Second Son, but for the most part 2014 can be considered a year for the cross-platform titles, with Destiny, Wolfenstein: The New Order, and Darks Souls II impressing, and we remember how Alien: Isolation and Dragon Age: Inquisition wowed audiences to the extent that they were the only two genuinely standout titles of the year.
2014 was also notable for a few industry moves. Irrational closed its doors much to everyone's surprise, EA tentatively launched it's Access subscription service, and it was also the year that Facebook bought Oculus and consumer VR edged ever closer into view. Elsewhere, Amazon picked up streaming service Twitch, and the other major investment of year came later when Microsoft snapped up Minecraft studio Mojang.
Meanwhile, on the Wii U, Nintendo was pushing out some stellar games like Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros. for Wii U (catchy title that one), but due to the console's small playerbase they didn't get the audience they deserved. That problem has been solved to extent, as 2014 saw the start of a trend that has gone on to feature prominently on all platforms ever since, and that's remastered versions of older titles. The masses wouldn't get hold of Mario Kart 8 until 2017 when it hit the Switch, but 2014 saw the first wave of big games getting dusted off after their old-gen releases as studios began to realise just how much potential income was locked up in their olde titles. In 2014 we got revitilased versions of The Last of Us and Grand Theft Auto V, and really they're just the tip of the iceberg.
Given how the start of the generation played out, Microsoft and Sony came into 2015 and 2016 with very different agendas. Microsoft have shifted things around in a bit of last minute panic and were still shuffling their studios a bit (Twisted Pixel was cut loose, Press Play and Lionhead were shut down), while Sony were keen to consolidate and build on the start they'd enjoyed with PlayStation 4 even if they mirrored Microsoft as they closed down Evolution Studios (Motorstorm, Driveclub).
In July 2015 Nintendo president and CEO Satoru Iwata passed away. The leader who had brought Nintendo back to the top of their game with Wii sadly passed just prior to the massive comeback that is the Switch, and the charismatic Nintendo boss was mourned across the entire industry. It's difficult to express what Iwata meant, but his name belongs up there with Shigeru Miyamoto and Hiroshi Yamauchi in terms of Nintendo legends.
Mid-generation typically means that hardware revisions are being launched, and in 2016 there were no less than three new pieces of hardware launched between Microsoft and Sony. Both companies brought out smaller models of their consoles, the PS4 Slim and Xbox One S, the latter significantly reducing the size of the original Xbox One. Sony also brought out a more powerful model, with the PS4 Pro appearing towards the end of the year, while Microsoft announced the "most powerful gaming console ever made" in the form of Project Scorpio (later Xbox One X) at the same E3 as PS4 Pro and the smaller models were shown.