Nintendo, with the NES, had built up an amazing following by 1989; considering how difficult of a time they had getting their start, they truly focused on the software and allowed the NES, and later the Game Boy, to fully flourish. Sega on the other hand decided to push towards the 16-bit era and in 1989 released the Genesis. Its dénouement came when Sega decided to push even further with the 32X and Sega CD not much longer after first introducing the Genesis. Time and time again console manufacturers continue to overlook how software is the ultimate deciding factor of its lifespan, and not the hardware itself; Donkey Kong Country further exemplified this when it was introduced into a sea of underwhelming, yet clearly technologically advanced, console launches.
With the Genesis, Sega inadvertently benefited due to Nintendo’s strict licensing and exclusivity agreements by allowing it’s software to evolve and expand off of already established and well-known franchises; Final Fight initiated Streets of Rage and Sonic The Hedgehog responded to Super Mario Bros with callous heels. The Genesis was on the right track by creating software that spoke for itself even after the Super NES came to market. It’s marketing was edgy and mature in nature, it needed nothing more than to continue down this path, but what ultimately happened was it decided to introduce new technology that was not necessary, let alone beneficial. The Sega CD and 32X did nothing to enhance the end-user experience and its biggest barrier to entry being price, caused it’s adoption rate to be so low that designers at the time were slow to support it, if at all. Even as a kid I remember playing Sewer Shark and Mighty Morphin Power Rangers on Sega CD thinking how this could be any fun when I can’t even tell what’s going on; images were grainy, gameplay was sluggish, and as the player I never really felt in control of anything.
I do have very fond memories of Super Mario World, Altered Beast, Street Fighter II, and Bionic Commando, but all of these are games and not consoles. I honestly believe that it simply becomes an issue of one-upmanship. When these game companies introduce a new product they are passionate, focused, and whimsical even (everybody needs a little whimsy now and then), but once success hits, or in some cases lack thereof, there’s this inherent need to create something else in its place; even though history dictates that software will always determine the lifespan of a console cycle. Amazingly Microsoft and Sony get the message but Nintendon’t.