The year is 1995, thank god for Sony, actually scrap that as it happens we should all thank Nintendo, it was after all them who created the brand that would ultimately end their reign. Confused? Don't worry we shall explain.
In the early 1990's after providing the sound chip for the SNES console for Nintendo Sony began working on a prototype for a cd unit add-on for the same console (snes), it's function was to act as the counter measure to the Mega-CD produced by Sega for the Megadrive/Genesis as the whole CD-Rom media boom was beginning thanks to PC's. It was for many industry experts the very logical next step for gaming. CD-rom technology allowed for massive games compared to what could fit onto a cartridge as well as hugely reducing manufacturing time and costs, it seemed like an all round great idea and it absolutely was but as Sega found out it was the right thing at the wrong time for the wrong price.
Nintendo watched on as Sega clearly showed that developers and retail were not ready for this, gamers wanted something more for sure but an add-on instead of a brand new console? It wasnt working for Sega and as Sony and Nintendo's project neared completion Nintendo pulled the plug on the whole idea leaving Sony out of pocket and Nintendo with no fall back plan to keep market share and compete with new emerging technology, it was in fact a complete mess that history has nicely swept under the rug and is very rarely spoken about, mainly because Nintendo created a monster and have no intention of claiming responsibility we suspect.
Philips who at the time were racing ahead with pushing technology boundries were bringing to market their own console called the CD-I and a new company born from the idea of the ex head of EA games Trip Hawkins called the 3DO was also on the horizon, this massive jump in how games would be made and played would ultimately start SEGA down the road to oblivion and Nintendo to suffer a huge gap between console's, it's absolute truth to say that what Sony did next changed everything in fact it's also true that without Sony none of us would have the industry we have today.
Furious at the broken promises and the ending of the deal Sony pushed ahead with their idea however instead of being a partner to someone they decided to create their own dynasty, their own console and for the next few years very much in secret for most of it assembled something that would go on to dominate everything and everyone, a complete game changer in every sense of the word, codenamed the PSX it would soon become something else, something quite literally frightening and astounding.
From 1993 through to early 1995 the industry in the west was in huge decline as Sega and Nintendo simply did not introduce new consoles, everythng felt tired technology wise especially for Sega who's megadrive was in fact released in 1989.
Nintendo who came to the 16-bit party later with a console capable of superior graphics to Sega's megadrive fared better however gamers across the world wanted more, arcade games had moved on and the PC gaming world was starting to be blown away by the use of CD media for full stereo sound and much bigger game sizes.
During 1994 Atari and 3DO each had a go at forcing the next step however Atari got everything wrong with the terrible console called the Atari Jaguar ranging from a lack of decent titles to lack of stock to developers not being able to even use the machine properly and 3DO got everything right, they just did it at a price that was far too high to even attempt a mass market machine.
As Sega and Nintendo started to look old and the new tech didnt take off software sales slumped everywhere. it wasnt all doom and gloom however as Sega were ready finally to launch a new 32-bit machine the Saturn and of course there was that Sony project a few magazines had been talking about.
In 1995 after a fantastic launch in Japan the Playstation hit North America and Europe and nothing was ever the same again, the next level of graphics and sound and game size that everyone wanted was delievered in spades at a price well within reach of most core gamers, sure Sony were completely new to this but they had watched everyone else get it so wrong and unlike Sega, Nintendo, Philips, Atari and 3DO they got the timing, price and games line-up perfect, absolutely perfect!
Sony had studied well, they learned how to make a console look nice from Nintendo, how to form great relationships with third party developers from watching Sega and as they were an electronics giant they could mass produce the console to keep costs down and as almost every single magazine from 1993 until literally early 1995 had not really bothered to keep tabs on them everything was a suprise.
Sony also learned how to sell from the masters, Sega, they went at everyone and everything at mach 10, you couldnt escape their new console it was everywhere. Tv shows fell over themselves to show you it, magazines bombarded you with screenshots and information, graphics wise it was so far ahead of its competitors regarding 3D it blew consumers away but most of all and the real master stroke was that it had a brand everyone knew, this was from SONY, this wasnt a toy, this wasnt for kids, this was for adults and if you had this you were instantly cool, fashionable and it worked, my god did it work.
Gaming in the space of a year went from something geeky teenage boys did in dark rooms to something you placed under the TV in your front room and everyone placed, so much was the emphasis of making it part of your life and cool that nightclubs up and down the UK had demo pods placed in them to tie Playstation into what a person would do as part of a night out.
Sony sold you the perfect way to begin and end your Friday night, if you were over 18 you bought one, it was that simple.
The Sony Playstation became part of pop culture overnight, games made Sony cool, Sony made gaming cool, Playstation made YOU cool, if you were around during these times you will understand the total shift in the gaming world, Sega and Nintendo promptly collapsed, the Saturn simply couldnt compete on the same level and Nintendo were so concerend they delayed their next console in order to make more games available for launch, also still not convinced about CD-ROM Nintendo continued with carts for games, something that cost them dear.
It wasnt just the hardware and the Sony brand that ended the 32-bit war before it even begun, developers flocked to Sony because of the low cost development kits, ease of software tools and how easy it was to have things published on this console, no quality control checking process like Nintendo forced upon everyone and ultimately it was the developers that took this console and made it what it was.
In it's prime the Playstation produced, nurtured or re-invented brands such as Metal Gear Solid, Gran Turismo, Resident Evil, Tomb Raider and of course the behometh that was for many the system seller worldwide, Final Fantasy 7. Nintendo were due to have this new flagship game appear on their new console the N64 however Squaresoft after seeing early prototypes from Sony and the benefits of CD-ROM as the host media dumped that idea and instead went with the Playstation, It's impossible to overstate the importance of Final Fantasy 7's release on the Playstation format.
During the Playstation 1's life cycle it crushed every other competitor sales wise, Sega, Nintendo, Atari, 3DO, Philips etc couldnt make a dent, Sega in fact lost out twice to the original Playstation with both the Saturn and the Dreamcast, Sony's next gen machine the PS2 in places like Europe didnt launch until late 2000, Dreamcast was available September 1999 in that territory and much earlier in Japan.
So massive was the original Playstation that even consoles way ahead of it simply didnt sell. Nintendo with a 64-bit console the N64 also never got close to it sales wise, Sony had been treated badly and let down, studied, learned from others mistakes then in one fell swoop had beaten easily those it could have so easily been partners with, it was in so many ways a complete copy of Atari failing to cement a deal with Nintendo in the 80's that eventually produced the NES whch killed them off completely, history does in fact repeat itself and those who fail to learn from it will ultimately pay the price.
Gaming under the PS1 era came of age, it was now no longer for the kids and Sony knew this was the key element so in 2000 they unleashed the next gen machine the Playstation 2. Again it got everything spot on right, it was what people wanted, for a price that was affordable and this time it even played films on the new technology DVD.
This time around Sony had a nearly extinct Sega to contend with, a Nintendo reeling from serious mistakes and a new player in Microsoft who although experienced to a small degree thanks to them making hte Dreamcast's operating system were very new to console gaming overall however it didnt matter how much money or power Microsoft had because Sony by that time had market share most of the popular franchises and were trusted by gamers completely. It was a perfect storm of ingredients to ensure exactly the same things would happen all over again, the PS2 was a stroke of genius, Sony were still the kings.
On its launch the Playstation 2 retailed for the same price it's original little brother had in the UK, £299.99, now this may seem expensive however at that time you would pay more for a DVD player on its own, let alone a DVD player that would play state of the art next gen games, it was a no brainer.
The PS2 hammered the nails into Sega's coffin inside a year of it's launch, it utterly destroyed it sales wise and had a nice head start on it's rivals the Nintendo Gamecube and Microsoft's first entry the XBOX. Nintendo once again made several key mistakes, they again shunned the popular and sensible media choice and decided they would have their own media instead of DVD, it was on disc but a smaller version with less storage and of course this meant no DVD playback. They also chose to make their console look like a toy rather than something that looked like it would sit under the frontroom TV and look more adult.
Microsoft who launched just before had quite obviously studied Sony well and decided to go down the adult path, they also chose DVD as the gaming media and their console also allowed you to play back DVD films (purchase of a dongle needed though) however unlike Sony you would not need to pay extra for multi player fun or memory cards as the XBOX had 4 joy pad ports as standard and a massive hard drive for game saves.
Sony by this time however already had a massive lead, they had the public, developers, games stores and the media in their pockets and Sony still meant cool, they beat Nintendo and Microsoft easily but the most impressive aspect of that was that the PS2 was nowhere near as powerfull as either processor wise, developers however ruined Microsofts and Nintendo's chances by simply porting the ps2 version of a game across and not using the extra power of the other two consoles, in many ways it was never a fair fight.
Sony from 1995 through until the arrival of the next generation console from Microsoft, the XBOX 360 in 2005, ruled the world as far as home consoles were concerned, at no point were they ever in any danger in any territory which may explain why they became so very compalcent during the end of the PS2/Gamecube/Xbox era, they truly believed they were untouchable and even the PSP handheld console which never really performed in sales against the inferior tech inside Nintendo's console the DS didnt give them the kick up the butt they needed.
Microsoft were not to be denied, they were a company not used to failure at this point in their history and even though they had lost out badly to Sony they had decided the next generation would be a whole different story, HD gaming was upon us and this time round they would launch first, be aggresive and make gaming change completely, no longer would gamers play games on their own in living rooms this time round the whole world would join in, their xbox live project was working. welcome to the era of online gaming, welcome to Microsoft's playground.....
Nintendo though had other ideas, maybe it wasnt about graphics, maybe it was about control, maybe, just maybe it was time for something completely new......... And they did have all that unsold Gamecube technology sitting around, surely they couldnt get it all back again, could they??
In 2005 and 2006 Sony got a wake up call from 2 different numbers but that's another story for another time..........
At RetroGameGeeks we remember the days of seeing that dinosaur for the first time, hiding in a box to fool the guards, having a pad vibrate as your car hit the edge of the track and seeing a flower girl die, Playstation games are at times fun, qwirky or flat out silly and at other times genre creating/defining but above all else they are absolutely worth playing, as Sega pushed Nintendo on Sony pushed everyone on and opened the market up for change. It's now more than ever important to NEVER underestimate the power of Playstation.