As a speaker requires a physical platform on which to stand from which to deliver their speech, the term platform refers to the physical hardware system or software environment upon which an application is built against and can be used on. A machine that can play games, such as a GameCube, a Game Gear, or the operating system of a personal computer, are referred to as platforms.
Encyclopedia Gamia uses two specific distinctions to classify a platform; one of the following must apply for us to classify a hardware system or software environment as a platform:
- A different type of media is required to use the machine's native hardware.
- The system's specifications prevent or cannot support applications not designed for it from running, and the system's native software standard is not available out-of-the-box with an alternative product.
The first concept is why we judge the Jaguar CD, 32X and SEGA CD/Mega CD to be platforms, despite their design of being an accessory of a base console. Because these used different formats of media than any other machine developed (the Jaguar CD and SEGA CD/Mega CD used compact discs, while the 32X used a unique cartridge format, for example), we classify them as platforms.
The second concept is mostly how we judge operating systems as platforms; for example, a game developed for Microsoft Windows cannot run on systems that run GNU/Linux-based operating systems without specific additional software to serve as a compatibility layer. This also allows us to classify devices as platforms despite the concept of backward compatibility, which allows some devices to run software designed for previous generations of hardware developed by the same company.
Platform is not to be confused with platform video games, which are an entirely different concept altogether.