Sixth Generation (1998-2009)
Coinciding with the turn of the 21st century, the sixth generation of video game consoles ceased the trend of defining system performance by bit ratings. Instead, consoles began to be rated similarly to personal computers, in terms of their memory and processing speed. This made direct comparisons of system performance much more difficult, and shifted the focus to the differences in each console's game library.
As in prior generations, Sega was first to the market with the Dreamcast. The Dreamcast was meant to shore up losses from the struggling Saturn, and to make Sega competitive with Nintendo and Sony once again. Its development team consisted of two loosely related groups from Sega and IBM, respectively led by Hideki Sato and Tatsuo Yamamato. Released in 1998, the Dreamcast benefited from creative hardware and software design, both of which were lacking in the Saturn. It was the first console to provide Internet accessibility and multiplayer support, which would later revolutionize console gaming. The Dreamcast was especially successful in the United States, where it made record sales.
In 2000, Sony introduced the successor to the wildly successful PlayStation. The PlayStation 2 impressed users with its expansive functionality: it could play CDs and DVDs, access the Internet for multiplayer gaming, and even run a Linux-based operating system. It also offered backwards compatibility with PlayStation games, which appealed to users that had invested heavily in their fifth-generation game libraries.
This multimedia approach to gaming consoles became a distinguishing factor of the sixth generation and beyond. The Nintendo GameCube and Microsoft Xbox, both released in 2001, continued the trend of online support. The Xbox took this a step further with Xbox Live, a paid service that allowed users to play online and download games and extra features. Xbox Live set the foundation for the Playstation Network, a similar service that began with the PlayStation 3.
This period is also notable for the waning dominance of Nintendo. While it had been outsold by Sony in the fifth generation, the Nintendo 64 was able to remain competitive because of its high graphic performance and quality game selection. The GameCube was not nearly as inspired a system, suffering from a sparse game library and minimal features. Nintendo's struggles would continue with the Wii, which presented a more forward-thinking design, but barely improved in game selection.
The sixth generation lasted until about 2005, when the first seventh generation consoles began to emerge. GameCube and Xbox production halted in 2007 and 2008, and Dreamcast fell out the market as early as 2001. However, the PlayStation 2 was not discontinued until January 2013, with the final game for the system, FIFA 14, released in September 2013.