Since the release of the PlayStation back in 1994, Sony has dominated the gaming and video console market for several years, beating competitors like Microsoft’s Xbox and Nintendo consoles. In 2020 alone, Playstation accounted for 27% of Sony’s revenue, generating $5 Billion. However, Sony wasn’t always the leader in the gaming market, and the journey to the top was not easy either. This is The Story of the Playstation.
In this 3-part blog, we are going back to the beginning, to explore the challenges that Sony faced, the hard battles (and betrayals) against the likes of Microsoft and Nintendo, and where the gaming industry sits today thanks to innovation and advances in technology.
PART 1: THE BETRAYAL
The story of the playstation begins in 1991 when Sony and Nintendo entered a partnership to create a revolutionary console that would require the use of CDs instead of cartidges. By 1990, Nintendo had already developed a video game system using an Electronic Video Recording player (EVR), created the famous Donkey Kong, and The Gameboy (the first portable handheld game system). Let’s just say, Nintendo held the reigns at the time. In this venture, however, Nintendo wanted to develop a CD-ROM for the SNES (Super Nintendo Entertainment System). Sony had been quite successful developing electronics such as televisions and that meant they had the technology and technical expertise to execute.
Later in the June of 1991, at the CES, Consumer Electronics Show, Sony had planned to announce their partnership with Nintendo, on a console that would certainly revolutionize the gaming industry! However, it was a sour day for Sony, as Nintendo went behind their backs (imagine!) and announced a separate deal with Phillips to develop their own console.
The events of this day would not sit well with Ken Kutaragi, who had risked everything to achieve his dream of developing the Playstation. But, he wouldn’t give up so easily! “Kutaragi-san envisioned providing this high level of 3-D computer graphics to console gaming and ultimately dominating the video game industry”- Playstation Museum (playstationmuseum.com).
Ken Kutaragi, the father of the PlayStation and former CEO of Sony, started out as a researcher at the company immediately after his graduation and quickly rose through the ranks. He was described as an excellent engineer and problem-solver.
In fact, this was a bitter betrayal for Kutaragi who had persuaded Sony’s management to help manufacture Nintendo’s SNES console. You might be wondering what the fuss was for developing a CD-ROM console, but at the time, cartridges were very expensive and the gaming experience was errrr… awful much! A CD-ROM unit on a console would tremendously increase processing power and storage capacity. Even better, the new 3D console would offer a much better, immersive gaming experience.
What Went Wrong?
Before the PlayStation, Sony was successfully developing high-end electronics, and avoided the video gaming industry like the plague! They considered video games to be toys and that their involvement in the industry would impair the Sony brand. However, thanks to his tenacity, Kutaragi convinced Sony to place some chips forward and develop the console with Nintendo. Now the deal they had agreed on meant that Sony would license the CD-ROM software and manufacture the CD media while Nintendo was limited to manufacturing and licensing the cartridges. This was a deal that Nintendo found to be a bit… unpalatable.
In case you’re not aware, most consoles are actually sold at a loss, considering the amount of new technology added to each new console nowadays and the high costs of marketing, manufacturing, and delivering hardware units at scale! Therefore, the sales of games are what keep the lights on for most console manufacturers (well at least before the introduction of subscriptions models). drop your PSN handles by the way, would love to connect 🙂
So in 1991, the CD-ROM business was expanding rapidly and game consoles would eventually stop using cartridges altogether for CDs, which easily slipped into the consoles, offered more storage, and increased use cases. So handing this privilege to Sony, was not something that Nintendo felt too good about. Only 10 years before, in 1982, Sony and Philips had developed the CD together. Therefore, Nintendo approached Philips to develop a CD-i add-on for the SNES, and even better for them, Nintendo could develop games for the console.
Despite the setback, Ken Kutaragi approached Norio Ohga, the CEO of Sony at the time, to convince him that they should proceed with developing the PlayStation. He agreed! It would be another 3 years after the CES conference before Playstation unveiled the Playstation in Japan. December 1994 saw the Playstation release in Japan, and 1995 was the USA release. This was the beginning of the end for cartridges and a new dawn for a wave of technology and inventions that would forever change gaming and to some extent, human interaction (considering how much time kids are spending on the devices nowadays.
Later in 200, Sony would release the Playstation One, PS1, in a much smaller, portable design. Some of the most successful games released for the PS1 included Crash Bandicoot, Gran Turismo, Tekken and Final Fantasy. Oh, The memories! The PS1 would be produced until March 2005, when Sony’s next console eclipsed the success of the PS1! A 64-bit device that would become the best-selling video game console with 157.7 million units sold! Welcome the PLAYSTATION 2.
In the NEXT BLOG, we uncover the development of the best selling gaming console of all time and the battles between Sony and Microsoft