25 Years Of Playstation: Nintendo’s Accessory To Dominate The World Of Video Games
Nintendo’s Accessory PlayStation, Sony’s video consoles, knew how to make a place between Nintendo and Sega and forever changed the world of videogames worldwide Until the arrival of PlayStation, 25 years ago today, in the schoolyards of the early 90s there were only two possible sides, or you were from Nintendo or you were from Sega. The rivalry did not reach the level that accompanied the election of a specific football team but it was not strange to end up arguing at recess about whether it was the Super Nintendo or the Megadrive that had the best games.
In the mid-90s Sony ended the discussion. On December 3, 1994 the company launched its first console, the Playstation, a machine that opted for the CD as a support for the games and the three dimensions as the main claim. He arrived in Europe in 1995 and was a success.
In less than ten years, the Sony Playstation, which arrived without its own game catalog and relying on third-party developers alone, became the first console to exceed 100 million units sold. Being from Sega or Nintendo was no longer important because everyone wanted, to a greater or lesser extent, to ‘play the Play’.
As usual, the true story is much more complex and the company’s decision to launch its first console was the result of years of impossible agreements and bad strategic decisions. It is a story with a happy outcome, but with a presentation and a knot worthy of a Greek drama.
Sony became interested in the world of video games in 1988. After the so-called “video game crash”, which ruined many companies in the mid-80s, the commercial success of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) had returned some stability to the sector
Sony had part of the patents of a new physical media that was used until then only for music, the CD, but that considered that it could have many more uses, and one of the most obvious was the replacement of the video game cartridges, which although they offered almost instantaneous loading they were much more expensive to manufacture and limited in memory capacity than the compact disc.
The company approached Nintendo with the idea of developing a compatible CD drive with what would be the next console of the Japanese manufacturer, the Super Nintendo. It would be known as Super Disc and would work as an accessory for the console capable of playing games specifically designed for it, that is, an accessory to transform the Super Nintendo into a completely different console, something more similar to those that Sony and Philips had made in that time with the CD-I platform.Nintendo was enthusiastic about the idea.
His rival, Sega, was finalizing the release of a CD drive for the Megadrive (the Mega-CD) and needed an answer. Joining Sony, another Japanese company, was the ideal ation with Nintendo, Sony began working on its own machine, the Play Station (yes, with space), which would combine both support for native Super Nintendo cartridges and this new Super Disc into a single product. That is, Nintendo would sell the Super Nintendo with the option of adding the PlayStation as a Sony accessory. It would be a more expensive machine, but with both media and compatible with all cartridges in the game console.
The company even officially announced the new machine in June 1991 but differences in the fine print of the game rights contract and the development kit made the relationship sour. Nintendo thought that it was giving Sony too much power and 24 hours after the presentation it announced by surprise an agreement with Philips to create the future support for Super Nintendo CD, which never materialized.
Sony had no choice but to immediately stop manufacturing PlayStation. Only 200 units came out of the factory and were never for sale. The console looked very similar to the Super Nintendo but more square and with a disc slot on the front. On the controls, similar to those of the Super Nintendo, instead of the Nintendo logo you could see the Sony one.
It was a hard blow, but during 1992 both companies tried to reach a new agreement that would satisfy all parties and save a little face in front of the players. It turned out completely impossible. That was when Sony decided to go all out and launch an independent machine, known internally as PSX, which would end up being the first Playstation. No space in the name. Without Nintendo as a partner.
Sony engineer Ken Kutaragi, who would have worked on the Super Nintendo sound chip, had to design the new machine’s processor. Kutaragi decided to make the three dimensions the hallmark of the new platform, including specific components to accelerate vector graphics on the screen, something relatively new and only available at the time in recreational machines. Nintendo had Mario, Sega and Sonic and if Playstation could not have a pet, at least the best graphics.
To gain the support of game developers Sony created a development kit that could run on a regular PC, instead of having to use a special machine, as was the case with the Nintendo and Sega kits. It was the right decision. At the end of 1994 the machine was ready, with a surprising and very slender design that stood out for details never seen before, such as control knobs with eight buttons instead of six, memory cards to store games and game discs with a black surface to distinguish them from music CDs. Perhaps more important, with a good catalog of games, including some technically amazing ones like Wipeout.
In the first month on sale in Japan Sony managed to sell 300,000 units while the Sega Saturn, its main competitor and launched more or less at the same time, piled up on store shelves. Sure they had a success at hand, Sony invested millions in the promotional campaign for the US. and Europe, hiring even Michael Jackson himself. The launch also coincided with serious setbacks from its rivals, such as Nintendo’s Virtual Boy, which helped further cement its position as a solid alternative. By 1997 there was no doubt. Sony had managed to break the Nintendo and Sega duopoly.
With the wind blowing in favor, Sony began designing the successor of its new machine, the Playstation 2. The film industry began to migrate to the DVD as a storage standard and Sony saw the opportunity to build its new console on that format and so Look for synergies with another of its divisions, the Sony Pictures production company.
With more storage capacity, this Playstation 2 would be able to offer more extensive games with better kinematics but the console itself could also be used as a DVD player for the TV, since independent devices were still somewhat expensive. The official announcement of the Playstation 2 was made in March 1999, although it would not reach stores until the following year.
Sony decided to make the console backward compatible with PlayStation games, an unprecedented practice in the world of cartridge machines. Even the controls of the previous console would be compatible with the new one. Everything that helped push the launch of the original Playstation, including developer support facilities, remained. The result was an even greater success.
Playstation 2 almost managed to sell more than one million console in the first five days for sale in Japan and ended the first decade of the 21st century crowned as the most successful video game console in history, with more than 250 million units sold.
Experimental And Mind-Bending 25 Years Of Playstation: Nintendo’s Accessory To Dominate The World Of Video Games Techniques That You Won’t See In Textbooks
They were sweet years for Sony, who seemed unable to take a bad step. Sega, which announced the Dreamcast almost at the same time, was forced to withdraw from the market due to low sales and although Microsoft launched a technically more powerful console in 2001 – the Xbox – it failed to subtract inertia from the Sony machine. All good games had guaranteed availability on the platform, with the exception of Nintendo characters, who had achieved a modest success with the Nintendo 64 in recent years and was preparing the arrival of the GameCube.
With absolute control of the so-called sixth generation console, Sony launched into one of the markets that still did not dominate. He had proved capable of creating a platform to play in the hall, but he had no rival for the lucrative segment of portable consoles.
In 2004, the company launched the PSP that Ken Kutaragi, who became president of the games division, defined as “The Walkman of the 21st Century.” The machine was incredibly ambitious and promised higher quality graphics than the original Playstation in pocket format. Sales were good, but in general below the expected internally. In a way, and although the company did not know how to see it, it was the canary in the mine.
With so many consecutive successes Sony had entered into a complacent dynamic and the consequence was a series of errors that condemned the successor of the Playsation 2. The Playstation 3, launched in late 2006, seemed to follow the same lines as the previous version. It was a much more powerful machine, with an ambitious processor and a completely renovated architecture, which would bring to the homes a new optical disk format that began to emerge in those years, the Blu-Ray, and high definition games.
But Sony made several mistakes that condemned the machine. It was more expensive than its direct rival, the Xbox 360, because the latter did not have Blu-Ray, arrived a year later and the new processor architecture made the development of new titles more complex and made it impossible to backward compatibility with the Playstation games 2, something that did not suit the unconditional of the brand.
The launch was to some extent good, with long lines and even riots to get one of the first units, but as the months went by and the availability problem was solved, it became clear that the Playstation 3 was not going to match its predecessor in popularity. The market interest was no longer the same, although in some territories, such as Spain, it worked acceptably well.
Sony redesigned the machine much earlier than usual, trying to lower costs to slightly increase the profit margin, but its rivals had gained a lot of ground. Nintendo, which already chained two generations behind, turned the Wii into an international phenomenon overnight. Xbox 360, with an aggressive online gaming policy, managed to snatch the US market from the Japanese brand.
Somewhat weakened and with less support from developers, Sony reacted by doubling efforts in its own games catalog, with exclusive titles. It was a successful strategy. The sales of PS3 never got to be as high as Sony projected but this effort in creating games and sagas like Last Of Us or God of War would end up paying off during the period of transition to PS4.
He also launched a successor to the PSP, the PlaySation Vita, which was well received among the Playstation fans but that again failed to meet internal expectations nor won the attention of the great developers. If in the previous generation Sony seemed unable to comment on an error, it can be said that the opposite happened in this one.
The problems of the Playstation 3 led those responsible for Sony to consider a new generation much earlier than expected. The Playstation 4 saw the light in 2013 but the development work began in 2008 and with a clear objective: to recover the lost ground and create a console that could take the company back to the success levels of the Playstation 2.
The development of the machine focused an architecture more similar to that of the PC that simplified the creation and portability of games, with a very advanced graphics processor and a greater amount of RAM. Sony made a greater effort to integrate online and social game elements into the console, with a chip dedicated exclusively to these tasks.
Many of the most interesting games of the last years of the Playstation 3 were also adapted to the new machine, with better graphics that demonstrated the capacity of the PS4. This decision allowed to recover part of the players who had migrated to Xbox in the previous generation. Sony also kept the console below 400 euros.
It worked. In the years it has been on sale, the Playstation 4 has sold more than 100 million units (the PS3 never exceeded 88 million). The figure includes the redesign of 2016 that allowed Sony to create two versions of the console, a “slim” model, much thinner and a “Pro” model with twice the graphic power but maintaining compatibility with all titles.
With almost 7 years behind the Playstation 4 seems ready for a successor. Mark Cerny, architect of the new machine, has already confirmed that it will reach the market at the end of 2020. Few details are known. It is known, for example, that you will use ray-tracing, a very realistic three-dimensional lighting and image creation system that is especially expensive at processing time. It will also be able to offer games, theoretically, with 8K resolution.
But unlike the Playstation of 1994 this machine does not have to surprise with power. Two and a half decades have not only allowed the Playstation brand to consolidate itself as a manufacturer of powerful game consoles, but as a platform capable of attracting the talent that creates the most shocking and critically praised games.
All experts point to November 2020 as the date on which the new PlayStation 5 will be launched, but the market has changed a lot in recent years. What role will videogame streaming play in the industry in the coming years? Has the time come to retire the physical support on disk and bet again on cartridges that read the information faster? Can competition from Google Stadia be a problem? And that of Nintendo, with its very popular Switch, or that of Microsoft, which is about to caramel its streaming platform and its Netflix service?
They are still unknowns whose solution is far from clear. We will have to wait at the end of next year, and see how the next video games are developed and sold, to get the idea of what the future of PlayStation will be, as a brand and as a platform.