Of all the video game hardware companies, Nintendo is the only one I have spent time talking about on this blog in depth but their biggest rival Sony, manufacturer of the PlayStation, has a fascinating story too. The origin of the PlayStation actually ties back to Nintendo and once you find out why, you’ll learn why Nintendo and Sony’s rivalry began before the first PlayStation was even released.
The chain of events that led to the Playstation began innocently enough with Sega.
The Mega Drive (Sega Genesis in America) was the video game console most popular for introducing the world to Sonic the Hedgehog and becoming Nintendo’s first real competition in the early nineties, and in 1991, Sega tried to get a leg up on the competition further by introducing the Mega CD (Sega CD), which was a CD-rom unit that attached to the Mega Drive/Sega Genesis and allowed for full motion video sequences in its games, including console ports of laserdisc games Sewer Shark and Night Trap, and Sega’s own Sonic CD.
Nintendo, always looking ahead, had considered a response to this before it even came out. The Japanese video game company approached another electronics giant in Japan, Sony, about a partnership working on a CD add-on for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES). Sony and Nintendo had collaborated earlier on the SNES sound chip, so this partnership perhaps seemed natural. The CD-rom unit was going to be called the Nintendo PlayStation.
Sony’s engineers worked hard on the PlayStation and the team was led by Ken Kutaragi, a creative engineer who first joined Sony in 1975 and had been intrigued by the possibilities of video games for a while, even talking about realtime 3D game systems as far back as the eighties. Despite this passion, Sony CEO Norio Ohga did not want Sony to get into the video game industry because he didn’t want Sony to be a toy company. It looked like the collaboration between Sony and Nintendo on the PlayStation would be the closest Kutaragi would get to creating a game system.
Unfortunately the partnership between Nintendo and Sony would have a bitter end after Nintendo made a huge mistake that angered Sony.
The design and manufacturing rights to the CD unit would belong to Sony, but Nintendo president Hiroshi Yamauchi was used to controlling every aspect of his business and he saw this as crucial to Nintendo’s success, so Nintendo changed its mind about collaborating with Sony and instead approached Sony’s rival Philips about an alternative product under a deal where Nintendo had more control, which would end up becoming the Philips CD-i.
The only problem was that Nintendo did not tell Sony about any of this!
At the 1991 Consumer Electronics Show, Ken Kutaragi announced the Nintendo PlayStation to the public, and at the same show almost immediately afterwards, Nintendo announced they would NOT be working with Sony on the PlayStation but would instead be working with Philips.
This humiliated and angered Kutaragi, and Sony CEO Norio Ohga was so enraged by Nintendo’s betrayal that he gave Kutaraga the go-ahead on continuing the development of the PlayStation to strike back at Nintendo with a rival gaming system, which was announced in 1993 as the PlayStation X.
The PlayStation X would of course become the PlayStation (often abbreviated PS1), released in 1994 to enormous success that surprised even Sony. What made PlayStation so popular? Well it turns out Sony’s refusal to be seen as a toy company may have helped it in marketing because the PlayStation had some of the best video game ad campaigns ever. Whereas Nintendo would often emphasize fun and Sega would emphasize coolness, PlayStation would emphasize sophistication.
Another contributing factor to PlayStation’s success was timing. The PS1 learned from the failures of consoles like Atari Jaguar and Panasonic 3DO and it absolutely took down lesser 3D consoles like the Sega Saturn thanks to enormous third-party support from the best game developers in the business like Capcom, Konami and Square, not to mention an affordable price. PlayStation was a must-own console that even outsold the Nintendo 64.
The PlayStation did not disappoint. Some of the best software of the nineties was introduced on that system, including hugely popular games like Ridge Racer, Tekken, Twisted Metal, Wipeout, Resident Evil, Parappa the Rapper, Final Fantasy VII, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Mega Man Legends, Gran Turismo, Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee, Metal Gear Solid, Spyro the Dragon and of course Crash Bandicoot.
The PlayStation was so popular that Sony announced the development of the PlayStation 2 in 1999 and released it in Japan, Europe and the U.S. the following year. The PS2 was so widely anticipated that it sold 980,000 units on its first day in Japan, and while the PS2 had many excellent games, what may have contributed the most to its high sales was its additional feature as a DVD player. Plus it had backwards compatibility with PS1 games.
PlayStation 2 was just as big as its predecessor and it buried the competition from Sega (Dreamcast), Microsoft (Xbox) and Nintendo (GameCube) at the turn of the millennium with a relentless momentum, its software library full of variety and ranging in all kinds of genres, some of the best being Shadow of the Colossus, God of War, Devil May Cry, Okami, Kingdom Hearts and memorable entries in the Final Fantasy, Metal Gear Solid and Grand Theft Auto series.
The handheld PlayStation Portable came out in 2004 and was capable of visuals that matched those of the PS2 and also included intelligent and memorable entries in the Final Fantasy, Metal Gear Solid and Grand Theft Auto series. The device was reasonably successful but its successor the PlayStation Vita (2011) struggled on the market, perhaps due to the rise of mobile gaming and competition from the Nintendo 3DS, despite having some strong and creative titles.
The PlayStation 3 came out in 2006 and featured Blu-ray support. It wasn’t as successful as PS2 and in fact people loved PS2 so much that the two consoles co-existed and often released the same games at the same time, although it had some great exclusives, some of my favorites being Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, LittleBigPlanet, Flower, Heavy Rain and The Last of Us.
PlayStation 4 received much wider acclaim than the PS3. Like previous PlayStation consoles, it requires internet access to enjoy all of its features and as is the case with many modern game consoles it encourages more online interaction, which on PS4 is enjoyed via the PlayStation Network. The PS4 Pro model even features enhanced 4K resolution.
Among the incredible software for the PS4 are Death Stranding, God of War, Horizon Zero Dawn, Kingdom Hearts III, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, Monster Hunter: World, Red Dead Redemption 2 and Spider-Man.
I own a PS2, PS3 and PS4 so thankfully I am able to play all these fantastic games. PlayStation 5 has already been announced this year and I’m sure it will be great (apparently the sequel to The Last of Us was moved from PS4 to PS5 so I already know one reason to own a PS5).
Nintendo and Microsoft are no slouches in the video game industry but Sony has had an extraordinary rise, first bolstered by the fact that their console was the first must-own system featuring disc-based games capable of featuring cut scenes and offering a more “adult” alternative to Nintendo and Sega that has contributed to the evolution of the gaming industry and the elevation of video games as art.