If the games industry was the human body and Nintendo were the heart and Sega the soul then Sony may very well be the Brain, failing that they are without doubt a massive set of balls!
But we are getting ahead of ourselves here so let’s get back to that later shall we, for now lets find out how an electronics company came, saw and conquered an industry many believed they had no business being in. I warn you now this is a long one (ooer) and I don’t apologise for being in love.
Sony as anyone even slightly aware of the world knows are pioneers in the world of electronics, they are responsible for some of the greatest inventions and introductions of household and now personal technology from the Walkman through the Discman everyone at some point has experienced something from this giant, even their spectacular failures seem to work out into a positive spin. Betamax vastly superior to VHS, Just Sayin’
Through the 80’s it’s fair to say they were the brand, the Nike or Addidas of the tech world, you knew about Sony, you wanted Sony. Whether it was a HI-FI, Headphones, Speakers or as mentioned before the Walkman they were the number 1 hot ticket in town. Imagine their concern when the 90’s begin to loom and this video game craze is no longer a craze, it’s the next big battleground, how do you get involved in something you have absolutely no experience with because your first stab at it was the MSX and a complete washout? You make partnerships whilst you learn, that’s what….And so that’s exactly what they did.
The short version of all of this is that Nintendo created their own slayer, however looking into it with more clarity and pointing out the main player is something most retro sites simply ignore and that’s a shame because ultimately when Nintendo wronged a whole company just one man would make them pay, his name you ask….. A Mr Ken Kutaragi, the mastermind behind the original Playstation concept (PSX) and the final actual product that would go on to launch during 1994.
The initial deal with Nintendo was that Sony would produce an add-on for the SNES console that would allow the 16-Bit machine to keep pace with what Sega were doing regarding CD-ROM, the problem was that the details of the deal completely favoured Sony both in the short term and the long term details far too vast to go into here however it was bad enough for the then president of Nintendo famed for his ruthless approach to go behind Sony’s back and publicly humiliate them at the worlds largest trade show…..Mistake Number 1. Sony had spent millions by this time creating the tech required for an add-on and a completely separate console that would play both Super Nintendo games and the new Super CD games, by this point they had working prototypes ready and were completely invested into it all, rumour still being spread to this day is that over 200 of these units exist is a safe storage area somewhere in Japan, Imagine how much they would now be worth to collectors.
At the 1991 CES show Sony were understandably smug and why not considering the investment and work they had put into everything over the previous 12 months. They announced to the world that they were now in full partnership with Nintendo and that this new machine and add-on would be released the next year. Imagine then their surprise and disgust when just over an hour later Nintendo gave their press conference and announced that Philips were in fact the people with the new partnership deal. Sony…….Were……Furious...... Is the most understated description ever.
Nintendo and their dictator president had stabbed them completely in the back, and worse still in front of the worlds press, try to understand that Sony and their president were actually there along with top team members and they were completely humiliated. Instead of re-negotiating a deal with Sony to keep both them happy and ensure Nintendo's continued monopoly and dominance Nintendo had decided to do a new deal with Sony’s huge rival Philips in total secret that worked out better for Nintendo and allowed them to maintain complete royalties control over publishers whilst also earning money from the hardware as well. Ken Kutaragi at this point personally took over everything and is rumoured to have begged the then president of Sony to not abandon what they had already done, not waste all those millions and instead of completing the 16-bit project with it's compatability limitations and short term sales potential why not turn attention to the next generation of 32-Bit, the rest as they say is history. What happened next over several years nearly made Nintendo History!!!
From 1991 through 1994 Sony worked in what seemed like total secrecy, Nintendo it seemed were concerned enough about a company such as them getting into this industry to publicly stab them in the back so this time they would keep their cards close to their chests. As the 16-Bit era limped on through add-ons to Sega’s console the Megadrive, the Snes trundled along never getting it’s CD add-on and pretenders to the throne such as Atari and this new bunch 3DO tried and failed to ignite the scene. Gamers by this point were craving something truly new, they had been playing 16-Bit games since 1989 (UK) and even earlier in Japan and America and so change was well past it’s due date.
Sega who seemed to still have a finger or two on the pulse were ready to launch their new machine however so massive was the Playstation’s first public unveil that the Sonic making crew panicked and surprise launched their console months early completely destroying their deals with retailers and sewing the seeds of doubt into gamers and especially at the time the Gaming press. Not to mention now having 4 consoles on sale at the same time…Madness!!! “Sony just knocked this ball right out of the park!!!” ,“A homerun at the first visit to the plate” were quotes from USA journalists with UK based magazines going for the more subtle yet clear signs of impending domination with phrases like…”This changes everything” and one of my personal favourites “Game Over!”
As an oldie I can only really think of a few moments in the games industry where everything we had known just got thrown out of the window and a real next generation experience was delivered. Off the top of my head the jump from 8-Bit to 16-Bit was another one and very probably the first time you saw a Dreamcast run in 1999 after playing the PS1,N64 and Saturn since 1994/5/6 but I’m not joking when I say that after seeing the Playstation in action for the first time after putting up with Jaguar games, the 32X, Mega-CD etc etc etc you had to pinch yourself to make sure you were in fact not dreaming, yes people…Yes! Sony had not just done it, they had done it in style, inspired by a new market, betrayed by a partner and fuelled by a mixture of rage and determination Ken had pulled out a corker, however as amazing as the final product was it’s success has nothing to do with it’s polygons on screen, its CD quality music, brilliant controller or anything else you could see or touch it was everything behind the scenes.
Ken Kutaragi with a genius bit of ‘whatever you can do I can do better’ swagger had worked behind the scenes to form partnerships with every single possible games developer on the planet bar Sega and Nintendo and he did it under the statement that making a game for the Sony Playstation would be so beneficial to you that you would be mad to say no. The out of date and quite frankly criminal royalties system Nintendo had in place was something that belonged in the past, Sony would charge a sensible flat rate amount that showed no bias to anyone and it was so cheap even smaller developers could afford it. On top of that Sony had developed incredible dev kits that meant making games for the Playstation was easy, stupidly easy in fact, these kits were mega cheap and they were ready to go well in time before the launch of the main console.
Because Sony were electronics giants they could also bear the brunt of manufacturing costs so although the Playstation was by no means cheap it was less than $300 and £300 which was a clear $100 cheaper difference to Sega’s Saturn in America and the same in the UK. This boys and girls is what we like to call a perfect storm, a perfect blend of market ready, new tech, consumer craving, affordable price, software selection and let’s not forget BRAND NAME. The next time the industry would see this perfect storm again would be in 2008 for Nintendo’s return to glory (cough) the Wii.... Spoiler: I hate that console!
As mentioned on the main SONY INTRO PAGE this console simply walked into homes, if you had a friend who had one pretty soon afterwards you would have one too, one sale led to on average another three or in my case with my friends circle about twenty. As well as giving the core gamer what they wanted in spades Sony then began to do something even Sega had struggle to do they made gaming not just cool but household! It’s very probable that the Playstation would have been the first mass market console that reached out to all ages and demographics, in it’s lifespan it had every possible genre covered from Tank Sim to Spice Girls music video maker, gaming was no longer for boys bedrooms, oh no, hell no in fact. This time gaming was for everyone and by all that is right and pure this little grey box shall sit in thou front room under yonder main television!
If you liked to go clubbing you owned a Playstation, why? Because when you went out you could either play one at hundreds of major nightclubs up and down the UK or all your mates were talking about it, so much so that when you went home you stayed up until 7 a.m. playing it with them. If you played any sports and were part of a team guess what? Yup same again. Every single school kid talked about it in the playground, the television was full of adverts about it, games mags fell over themselves to shove it down your throat. Speaking of magazines the PS1 rejuvinated the market there as well, to this day an issue of the Offical Playstation magazine still holds the UK record for number of issues sold for a single month publication, over 450,000......Yowzer!
Olly023 our resident Sega nut here will tell you in complete fairness that the Saturn was a great machine and oh my god yes it was, amazing in fact, but the writing was on the wall for Sega the second they ripped up their launch plans for it, Sony didn’t place Sega into the coffin (if im honest Sega got into it themselves) but they absolutely nailed it shut and they did it inside 12 months without breaking a sweat. Not only was the launch of the Playstation completely perfect it also had a lovely stream of games released right through the first full year, in the UK games such as Wipeout, Ridge Racer and Ace combat were around from the first day and a couple of weeks later, Tekken hit the market before the first Christmas as did the then huge franchise Mortal Kombat However during 1996 Sony took a 5 speed car and found a 6th gear.
Crash Bandicoot, Resident Evil, and several other titles convinced people that this was a games machine that could deliver anything you could want and then when at the end of the year (May in America) Sony slashed the price to $199.99 the floodgates opened, this was the magic price point, the sweet spot, the money shot, cue mass market uptake overnight.
Many people often compare the rise of the PS1 to the ease of which you could ‘CHIP’ your console to play pirated games and to a certain extent that’s true however considering CD duplication was still expensive through home copiers this was not the main reason at all, the main reason was simply the under $200 / £200 price point for a console everyone was talking about. Piracy placed it’s part for sure but software selection plus cheap to get was the stand out factor here.
After an ultra successful launch and first year Sony were flying high, even the release in Japan of the more powerful Nintendo 64 had not slowed them down one bit, sure the Nintendo console was popular and was/is a superb machine but by the time the hugely delayed western launches had happened Sony’s lead was so vast it could and indeed would never be caught. It had cost millions to make, more to bring to market but Ken and the Sony team had done it, Sega were swatted like a fly, Atari were gone, 3DO had also waved the white flag and had long gone by this point and Nintendo were very clearly and obviously in 2nd place and gaming for the most part had changed, it was cool, it was fun, it was fast, awesome, loud, new, exciting…. All of those things and so much more
And this my fellow retro lovers is why you never EVER back out of a deal and why innovation and daring when done right will always reap it’s own reward. Sony had not just taken Nintendo's betrayal on the chin, they had refused to be told what to do or intimidated by an industry veteran and Nintendo were now the pupil, it was their turn to sit down take a back seat and learn from their mistakes. As the Emperor said… You will pay the price for your lack of vision!
After all that……Phew! What about the games? why should the 4 people reading this who have never experienced the Playstation go back now and get into it all? Because peeps this console is a solid piece of Retro History GOLD. I’m gonna run a list off of things that just spring to mind and if your not convinced to try them out or go back and fall in love all over again then I give up and there’s no hope for the world at this point lol.
Tekken 3, Soul Calibur, Oddworld, Crash Bandicoot 3, Spyro 3, Metal Gear Solid, Gran Turismo 2, Resident Evil 2, Silent Hill, Rayman, Parappa the Rapper, Broken Sword, Theme Hospital, Fear Effect 1&2, Ridge Racer Type 4, Wipeout 3 Special Edition, C&C Red Alert, Castlevania Symphony of the Night, Legend of Dragoon, Alundra, Wild arms, Ray storm and of course a tiny series of games called Final Fantasy with my personal choice of FF7. There’s just so much to choose from, add to that quality peripheral based gaming like Time Crisis or Point Blank, multi-tap 4 player International Track n Field or Micro Machines v4 the number of things to play on this console easily hit’s the hundreds, considering there’s nearly 8,000 games for this system worldwide you will never run out of things to play.
From a retro collecting point of view the Playstation is a great thing to pick up, machines are cheap as chips and a lot of the games right now are still in the £1-£5 bracket although there is a movement picking up pace now as people who were teenagers when this system hit are now entering the period in their life where they get nostalgic and want bits of it back, prices are rising so be warned.
The Playstation legacy is as detailed as it’s history however I’ve bored you all to tears for far too long with this but I need you all to understand it’s not just enough to say the PS1 was a hit, it’s important to know why and then understand that Sony with the exception of the arrogance of the PS3 launch have never rested on their laurels, they are relentless in their pursuit of gaming. There has for a while now been a small group of elitist retro people who like to hate on Sony and the Playstation because they probably see them as responsible for their hobby changing to embrace more people, a very short sighted attitude that I'm on a crusade to eliminate.
This year at E3 and at other shows when Sony took to the stage you could feel the magic was still there, the plans for the PS4 gaming wise and especially for indie development clearly shows they still know what it’s all about. Rather than use their market leadership that has only slowed slightly during the 2005 - 2010 period (when Microsoft and Nintendo gave them the biggest wake up call) to control the industry like a mad dictator (Hello 80’s and 90’s Nintendo) they have continued to do what they always wanted to do, make killer consoles then make it so no developer would ever turn them down, not any clever developer that is. Case in point Halo’s creators Bungie have now returned to making games on a Sony platform.
To finish I openly acknowledge that my love for this console will never die, I’m at heart a bit of a Nintendo Fanboy however when something gets everything so right you simply have to stand up and applaud. Sony did their homework then took everyone to school the result was a better more open Nintendo, a better Sega (Dreamcast), Microsoft getting curious about games consoles the market being rejuvenated, shops making serious money, gamers playing amazing games and then just to make their point again they launched a console that sold more over the course of late 1999 (Japan) through late 2000 (America, Europe) the PS2.
At RetroGameGeeks we stand for the gamers and the games, the tech is always nice, the stories always entertaining but what endures is what we play, the memories those games gave us, the warm fuzzy feeling we get when we cast our minds back to those late nights. Sony’s slogan was Never underestimate the power of Playstation I can think of no other advertising campaign that not only summed up where it had come from and what it was about but also dictated it’s place in history. Thank you Ken Kutaragi, thank you for the years of memories, the emotions from watching that flower girl die, the thrill of power sliding around the corner on the last lap to win the race and the sense of fear when I saw the Nemesis’s reflection in the mirror. To you sir I owe a debt I can never repay, memories that will stay with me until I draw my last breath on this earth.