Back in the 90s, when most gamers were debating between graphics on the Sega Genesis and the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), Sony was cooking up a cutting-edge machine in their Tokyo laboratory. In a short matter of time to follow, owning a Sony PlayStation would give gamers undisputed bragging rights.
And would you believe it all happened by accident? Sony never meant to push out their own branded console but was looking to collaborate with one of the industry’s top dogs at the time: Nintendo.
Between the early and mid 90s, Nintendo was experimenting with optical disc technology and had consulted format pioneer Sony to assist with the development of a Compact Disc-based gaming console. The collaboration was short-lived due to conflicts of interest between both parties and Nintendo pulled out of the partnership before the console, codenamed ‘Play Station’ was announced. Nintendo decided to work instead with Philips.
Sony was left with an unfinished console. However one smart Sony executive, Ken Kutaragi, had a plan. Under his supervision, the completed ‘PlayStation’ was ready to beat both Sega and Nintendo at their own game. The PlayStation was the first successful CD-based 32-bit console after ill-fated attempts by companies like Atari’s 64-bit ‘Jaguar’.
Since launching in Japan in 1994 and the rest of the world in 95, the PlayStation’s user base grew exponentially, eventually overtaking both Sega and Nintendo to become the new market leader. Titles such as ‘Crash Bandicoot’, ‘Metal Gear Solid’, ‘Need for Speed’, ‘Final Fantasy VII’, and ‘Tekken’ became smash-hits, giving Sega’s ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ and Nintendo’s ‘Mario’ a run for their money. CDs were relatively cheaper to develop games on as compared to traditional cartridges, so it comes as no surprise that the optical disc remains the dominant physical format even today.
Despite Sega’s attempts to combat Sony with their own CD-based console the Sega ‘Saturn’ they failed to make an impact, and by the time their final console the Sega Dreamcast would launch; Sony had already become a gaming juggernaut. The PlayStation 2 arrived a year after the Dreamcast to usher in a new era with DVD technology, better polygons and killer titles like the ‘Grand Theft Auto’ series that when launched, was exclusive to Sony.
When tech-giant Microsoft decided to throw its hat in the ring, they learned from Sony that games make the console, not the hardware. Microsoft’s Xbox had superior hardware but was unable to compete with the third-party support that Sony enjoyed on the PlayStation 2. Since launching in 2000, the PS2 stayed in the market well into the life cycle of the PlayStation 3 which came out six years later. It is known as the best-selling and longest running console of all time.
Sony’s PlayStation may have been born by accident, but it showed the sheer innovation and intelligence of ‘the father of PlayStation’ Ken Kutaragi and his team, who launched products at the right time, set new trends and constantly pushed the limits.
The Beast from the East is still roaring strong in the new millennium. With the overnight success of the PlayStation 4, one can only guess what new surprises the Japanese behemoth has in store for us!