The contemporary video game console market is dominated by three central players: Microsoft (with the Xbox line of game systems), Sony (with its PlayStation fleet), and Nintendo (with the Wii family of products). The Big 3 have vied for supremacy of the multibillion-dollar home video game market for the last 10 years, with consumers enjoying the playable fruits of their high-powered rivalry.

It was not always thus. Longtime gamers — and, as the average age of a video gamer is 37, that means most of us — will recall that for much of the history of game consoles, it’s been a one-on-one contest. The Magnavox Odyssey inaugurated home console gaming in 1972 and was soon locked in a decade-long battle with Atari. Neither company manufactures game consoles today. ColecoVision and Mattel’s Intellivision were sideline casualties of the early 1980s console wars, but neither ever really challenged the Big 2.
In the late 1980s and early ’90s, it was again a two-console race, this time between SEGA and Nintendo, with each company offering four generations of game systems to outdo the other.  NEC’s TurboGrafx-16 and SNK Playmore’s Neo Geo were the bit players (pardon the pun) of that campaign.
It wasn’t until the 1994 that Sony entered the market with the PlayStation, sparking the first serious three-front console war. The PlayStation quickly became the best-selling game console in history, effectively forcing SEGA out of the console business by 2001 — the same year Microsoft entered the fray with the Xbox.
What even the most ardent game fanatics often don’t know is that the three-console market almost remained a two-player game because two members of the modern Big 3 originally collaborated on a single game system.
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But for some boardroom back-stabbery, many of us would own Nintendo PlayStations today, with nary a Wii or a Sony nameplate in sight.

Back in 1989, the SEGA Genesis was staring down the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) for ultimate console bragging rights. SEGA was looking to pull ahead with the development of a peripheral CD-ROM drive that would offer far more advanced gameplay and multimedia capabilities than the cartridge-based Genesis or SNES could offer. Not to be outdone, Nintendo turned to the company that co-invented the CD — Sony — to develop its own CD-ROM extension.

Visionary Sony engineer Ken Kutaragi developed the “Play Station” to Nintendo’s specifications, only to see the deal fall apart when the two companies couldn’t agree on how to share technology licensing rights. Nintendo walked away from the partnership, and Kutaragi convinced Sony to develop his work into a standalone console product — the Sony PlayStation.Thus, in December of 1994, the Sony PlayStation arrived, almost two full years before the Nintendo 64 hit the shelves. (Nintendo never did build that CD-ROM extension for the SNES, and wouldn’t debut a CD-based console until the Gamecube in 2001.) The game console market has been a three-player contest ever since.
That’s not just some counterfactual console conflation, it’s a frag-tastic flash of Geek Trivia.

The quibble of the week

If you uncover a questionable fact or debatable aspect of this week’s Geek Trivia, just post it in the discussion area of the article. Every week, yours truly will choose the best quibble from our assembled masses and discuss it in a future edition of Geek Trivia.