The sixth generation of video games officially began in 1998 with the introduction of the short-lived Dreamcast, which was discontinued in 2001. Sega announced that they would no longer produce video game consoles after two straight underperforming consoles and became a third-party developer. The PlayStation 2 was released in 2000 and became the best-selling video game console of all time. Microsoft entered the home console market with the Xbox. Although initially expected to struggle, it vaulted into a solid second place behind the PS2 on the strength of the launch title Halo: Combat Evolved. The Nintendo GameCube, launched in 2001 alongside the Xbox, fell into third place, a first for Nintendo.
The sixth generation improved on the 3D graphics of the fifth generation consoles as an era of many sixth generation games. Some of the new features in the consoles included built-in DVD players and hard drives. Internet play on consoles, pioneered by the Dreamcast, became commercially viable with the Xbox Live system, which was launched in November 2002, one year after the console's release. It featured a broadband connection and downloadable content and was a major success.
The seventh generation of consoles began with the release of the Xbox 360 in 2005. This was followed by the Wii and the PlayStation 3 in 2006. The seventh-generation featured widespread implementation of HD-ready graphics, media centers, and wireless game controllers, as well as complete online service for all consoles. The PS3 also has Blu-ray Disc compatibility. The Wii implemented an innovative game controller that features full motion sensitivity and is wielded like a remote, with limited button interaction. In response, the PS3 features tilt-sensitive controllers. The Wii's motion sensitive controls and focus on family-friendly games, while alienating some hardcore gamers, has helped the Wii to become by far the best-selling console of the current generation. The high price of the PS3 has kept it in 3rd place, but it has slowly increased in popularity, allowing it to remain competitive with the 360.
Nintendo continued to dominate the handheld console market with the release of the dual-screen Nintendo DS in 2004. One of the screens is a touchscreen. The PlayStation Portable, released in 2005 by Sony, was the first serious competitor to Nintendo's handheld gaming consoles and is by far the best-selling non-Nintendo handheld.
Early on in the decade, the gaming world was shaken up over two major stories that dominated the headlines: Sega was pulling out of the console war and that Microsoft was entering the market. Sega stated that the poor performance of the Sega Dreamcast and Sega Saturn lines contributed to their decision. The company returned to third party publishing for the remaining consoles. Microsoft officially debuted their Xbox console at the Game Developers Conference in 2000 after much speculation.
After the release of the Xbox and PlayStation 2, a noticeable trend was to push gaming consoles into media centers and offer more features than just playing games. Nintendo was slow to react and released the Gamecube in 2001 without many of the exotic features seen in other consoles. Instead, Nintendo was focusing on improving the gameplay experience, as well as preparing its new innovative controller to be released in 2006. Backward compatibility also became a staple feature to gaming in this decade. The PlayStation 2 was the first major system to allow for backward compatibility to a preceding console.
Copyright infringement became a big concern to game developers and many companies tried experimenting with ways to combat the growing problem, especially among PC games. Some companies required registration through the use of a product key. In one of the more notable events of the decade, Valve was hit particularly hard by a hacker and subsequently had much of their work on Half-Life 2 leaked onto the internet.
Sony and Microsoft released their PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 consoles in the mid-decade. As the decade progressed, more and more features were added to consoles. Internet connectivity became ubiquitous and some games integrated the use of webcam accessories. In the mid-decade, the industry was caught in the crossfire of the HD DVD and Blu-ray format war. Ultimately, the Blu-ray format won out, but that didn't help Microsoft after they have already made HD DVD compatibility a feature. Nintendo had still yet to release a system compatible for viewing films. Instead, Nintendo unveiled the Wii and revolutionized the industry with the interactive gameplay that its brand new controller provided. It would not be until the next decade that Sony or Microsoft would release a similar motion controller to the Wii as an accessory (See: Kinect and PlayStation Move).
The 1990s decade oversaw the transition from 2D-based gaming to fully immersive three-dimensional environments and gameplay. The 2000s continued on this trend by polishing many of the flaws of creating a new dimension for games such as rigid polygon characters and animations. By the decades end, Microsoft and Sony had already been releasing games in high definition.
PC gaming remained popular throughout the decade, but was in an overall decline as console graphics technically advanced. Publishers also liked the standardization that consoles provided, whereas PC game performance was dependent on the graphic capabilities of a player's hardware. Nevertheless, the PC remained the device of choice for many popular strategy, simulation, and online games.
Blizzard was a company in the spotlight on numerous occasions throughout the 2000s and loyal to the PC. In 2000, it released the hack and slash game Diablo II which is frequently listed as one of the best games ever made. The game continues to have a wide following many years after its release and was listed on NPD Group's top ten PC games sales list as recently as 2010. Then in 2004, Blizzard wowed gamers with the release of World of Warcraft, which was the world's most-subscribed MMORPG at the time with over 10 million subscribers.
The Sims, a spin-off project of the popular Sim City franchise, also became a popular game of the era. Combining all of its sequels and expansions, The Sims easily becomes one of the best-selling PC game in history. The Sims also had an important role in bringing female and casual gamers into the often male-dominated and hardcore gaming market.
Rhythm-gaming was primarily centered in the arcade with popular games such as Dance Dance Revolution and Beatmania. Many of these franchises have been popular since the late-nineties, but it wasn't until Guitar Hero's release in 2005 that the genre really affected popular culture. Most games in this category will feature a set list of songs that a player can choose to perform. They also tend to come with a unique controller, usually shaped like a musical instrument. The success of Guitar Hero lead to the creation of other similar game franchises such as Rock Band and DJ Hero. Coincidentally, the game has been cited as inspiration for people seeking to actually play instruments and has led to a revival of interest in classic rock nostalgia.
In retrospect, it appears that rhythm gaming was a fad. In late-2011, due to low sale figures, Activision closed its Guitar Hero division.
Since 2007, the fast growing mobile market in African countries such as Nigeria and Kenya has resulted in a growth in mobile game development. Local developers have taken advantage of the recent increase in mobile internet connection in countries where broadband is rarely available and console games are expensive, though locally developed applications have difficulty competing against millions of western applications available on the Google Play Store. This growth has continued through the 2010s as gaming is becoming a more viable business.
As video games approached greater realism in their graphic capabilities, it was inevitable that controversy would result. The evidence was inconclusive, but debates continued throughout the decade about the level of profanity, violence, pornography, and whether or not video games had an addictive effect. One game series in particular that was no stranger to controversy in the 2000s was Grand Theft Auto. In the 2004 San Andreas installment of the series, the game received widespread criticism revolving around the Hot Coffee mod, a normally disabled mini-game that could be enabled. The drama and pressure forced the ESRB to re-rate the game as an AO (Adults Only) and to have it pulled from store shelves. The game was also criticized for being excessively violent. Another game that struck a nerve with many analysts and the general public was a game released in 2005 entitled Super Columbine Massacre RPG! in which a player actually carries out the events of the 1999 Columbine high school shooting. The game and its creator, Danny Ledonne, was both praised for the bold statement on free speech and criticized for being distasteful. It became the first finalist to ever be rejected at the 2007 Slamdance Film Festival's Guerrilla Games Competition. In protest of the rejection, many of the finalists withdrew from the competition and in the end no awards were handed out that year. The competition has not been held since the 2007 incident.
As video games diversified and became an ever-present part of pop culture, its influence began integrating with other media. The film industry in particular took notice and capitalized on how they could integrate gaming into their storytelling. The Wachowskis, known for their Matrix series of films, developed Enter the Matrix to tie together the events of the Reloaded and Revolutions motion pictures. Making films from video games is nothing new to Hollywood, but the transition from video game to film doesn't always succeed. The 2000s however began to show promise in the profitability and success of making video game-based films.Opening in 2001, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider became the highest-grossing video game adaptation with over a US$274 million box office performance. Tomb Raider held that title for nearly a decade. Other adaptations in the 2000s included the popular Resident Evil saga, Silent Hill, Max Payne, Hitman, Alone in the Dark, DOOM, House of the Dead, and Dungeon Siege.
The 2000s was also the first decade that the medium has significantly affected classical music. Tommy Tallarico and Jack Wall had a vision that a concert would be a way to show "how culturally significant video games and video game music is in the world today." The first Video Games Live concert was held at the Hollywood Bowl on July 6, 2005 to an audience of 11,000 people. Many of the events feature a live orchestra, synchronized lighting and effects, and gameplay projected onto a screen.
Notes:1Game franchises that also accompany major film or television franchises.
2Game franchises that are considered spin-offs of previously established franchises.
The following chart describes the best-selling video games of the 2000s in physical form. Downloaded content may not be included into figures, however it should be noted that the Angry Birds game released in late-2009 had reached over 1 Billion downloads by 2012.