Last update - October 2022
Over a decade ago I wrote up a piece called Closing Time which examined the last official releases for popular game consoles, and some not-so-popular ones too. I swore I'd keep it up to date but admit to having a spotty record on that some years. As of this moment it's in good shape. Anyway, sometime in 2008 I finally got around to adding a Game Boy Advance entry to that page. It had been a few months since the last game was released but I kept hoping one more title would sneak out. If somehow another game was released after July 31st 2009 then the Game Boy namesake would be 20 years old. Now of course this wasn't one single system that lasted 20 years, three distinct systems were tagged "Game Boy" over this span. Most of the longevity can be credited to the original B&W model which had a shelf life of just over a decade. I bet that little guy had the longest lifespan of any game system... well, did it?
Spoiler alert: It did not.
Not content to just look at a couple systems to see which won the marathon, I decided to create a little timeline of how long they all lived. Maybe I should have done a Google image search to see if someone already did this? Then again, I've never done that for anything else I've posted so why start now?
How does one measure the lifespan of a video game console? I went with the date it was first available until the date the last licensed game was released. Only US dates are represented because consoles had different lifespans on different continents. For example, if you took the date the Sega Master System launched in Japan until the date when the last game was released in Brazil you'd find that it lasted longer than time itself. A couple systems never had any games released beyond their launch library, those massive bombs are shown to go until the approximate date when they were discontinued. There are still a few systems where I couldn't find exact final dates so their ranges are also approximations that may be off by a month or two. If you want to see the details behind these dates, here they are.
I respect that others may prefer different criteria but this one made the most sense to me, plus I already did the last game released research and am lazy. Anyone is free to remix these images to account for international release dates and homebrew games. Somewhere towards the bottom of the page I might be nice enough to include the source diagrams used to generate these PNGs in some friendly open format.
Here's what the final timeline looks like (click for full-size):
That's cool and everything but what does it all mean? Let's start breaking this giant diagram down..
The whole reason I started this was to see which was the longest lasting system, but now I think the winner needs an asterisk next to it. See for yourself:
At almost 14 years the Neo Geo is the winner. It's a little hard to hand it the trophy since it served a niche market and was not sold in the vast majority of retail stores. For all practical purposes, the DS family earns bragging rights for longevity. From the launch of the original DS to the final 3DS game nearly 18 years passed before the last games were published. The combined original (non-Advance) Game Boy line would be second using the same criteria. The Wii and XBox 360 both came so very close to breaking the 13 year mark.
On the other side we have the Virtual Boy, Gizmondo, Pippin, and a handful of others failing quickly. I'll stand by my previous claim that the Gizmondo is the worst system ever or at least the one I would least like to own. I got my Virtual Boy for free and sometimes I feel ripped-off but at least it has some collectible value and is a nice conversation piece. The RDI Halcyon and Tandy VIS would be great collectors items too due to their extreme obscurity. I played a Pippin one or two times at the Midwest Gaming Classic. It's not a bad system but definitely couldn't compete against the PlayStation or N64.
Another takeaway from this diagram is that handheld systems generally have impressive lifespans. The PlayStation Portable and Vita might be considered "also rans" but they outlasted the PlayStation, Genesis, and NES. Meanwhile Atari's second-longest running system was the Lynx.
OK, there was a second motivation for starting this article. In numerous places, like Wikipedia, I see the 3DO and Atari Jaguar referred to as "fifth generation" consoles. Putting them in the fifth generation makes them contemporaries of the PlayStation, Saturn, and Nintendo 64.
That doesn't sit right with me.
For starters, they both spent far more time competing against the Genesis and Super Nintendo. Heck, they were both dead before the Nintendo 64 was even released. The real objection though is that there's simply no comparison between the 3DO/Jaguar and the PlayStation/Saturn/Nintendo 64. I know I'll get hate mail for saying it but nearly every Jaguar game could have been done on the Super Nintendo with no loss of quality. For 2D and FMV games the 3DO stacked-up well, but this was the 3D generation and it didn't stand a chance.
I prefer to define generation starts by major/defining-moment system launches:
Using these generation dates, the picture looks something like this:
For a while I thought about separating out consoles and handhelds, then the Nintendo Switch happened and that idea seemed bad.
I realize most visitors just want to look at the big pictures and argue about their accuracy. I can already hear distant keyboards complaining away - hey moran, the game gear was re-make by majesco in 2001 and you have it stoped in 1997, you have no idea what your talking abot.
So I decided to keep the main page brief (I know, too late) and move the more in-depth examinations to different pages for those few that are interested. There are more really big pictures on these pages too if that's what you're in to.
Here are the source files for these diagrams. They are in and OpenDocument format and can be edited in LibreOffice, OpenOffice, and maybe other things. They are in separate files because that's how I like to work.