Hardware, the beginning of the end?
As for graphics card companies, 3dfx may have failed, but without them, where would we be now? NVIDIA and ATI (now AMD) have been dominating the previous years with GPUs. Years ago we had games that pushed our systems, games that (when released) could not run at full detail on our systems. They were built to scale over time.
It represented great value for money. A gamer could buy games such as Quake 3, Half Life 2, Far Cry, etc and run them on a standard PC at the time in low quality graphics. Once upgraded they could replay the game in higher detail and again and again as upgrades were done, the game simply scaled higher and higher.
This was in a world without anti-aliasing and anistrophic filtering. Once you added that on top, VGA memory became in issue. 3dfx cards had 4MB, then we started seeing 16, 32, 64, 128MB and games grew and grew and grew. There seemed to be no stopping the usual 12 month new game engine cycle that PC gamers were used to.
Until the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.
As for graphic quality, think of it like a movie. Yes, there are great movies out now and we have a constant flow of great movies from various directors. But again, how many do you remember from the past 10 years compared to 20 - 30 years ago? The classics...
If that doesn't tickle your fancy, how about thinking of it like a picture. Take a picture from your camera phone and look at it on the screen - looks great, doesn't it? Now look at that picture on a full HD screen or better yet, 30-inch 2560x1600 screen. Not so great now, hey?
But, if you used a DSLR camera to take the shot, it would look great on both high resolution displays and low resolution displays, because the original asset is a high-resolution picture. Why can't games be the same?
Why can't multi-platform games be designed and created on PC first with high-end, multi-GPU setups and then scaled down accordingly? Once the assets were created, they could be kept for future games. Games now have $100 million budgets, this cannot be hard. The blame? Consoles. More specifically? - Next page.