The Playstation was an incredibly important point in the history of gaming. It led the charge for home consoles to embrace 3D graphics and CD media. The controllers and games we play today can all be traced back to Sony’s first foray into home gaming.
Ken Kutaragi is the man most responsible for bringing the Playstation to life.
This story begins way back when Kutaragi (while working with Sony) secretly (yes, secretly) developed the SNES sound hardware. Many of his bosses were angered by his covert op, but he received enough support to retain his position. He continued to coordinate with Nintendo, pitching the idea of a CD attachment to the SNES.
Nintendo’s think tank was against CDs. They figured the frustrating load times outweighed any potential gameplay advantages (a là the N64). Kutaragi was eventually allowed to develop a Nintendo Play Station prototype as long as it remained completely separate from the SNES and cartridge format.
Kutaragi found support from the founder of Epic/Sony records, Shigeo Maruyama (who provided most of the details of this particular story). Interestingly, Maruyama stated he only went along with Kutaragi’s CD console idea as a way to get Karaoke in the homes of consumers.
Kutaragi was known as an ambitious and even eccentric man. Nintendo of America President Minoru Arakawa warned Nintendo’s Japanese HQ to reign in Kutaragi, for fear of him taking too much power.
The deal that changed gaming
There are various accounts of how this went down. Many report that Sony and Nintendo had intended to announce their Play Station at CES 1991, until Nintendo pulled the rug out. Sony announced the deal as planned, while Nintendo proclaimed the next day they would be working with Phillips instead.
Others state the deal was reworked and Nintendo had intentionally protracted negotiations to slow Sony’s eventual launch of their own machine.
Most stories report that Nintendo was upset with how much ownership Sony would retain over the games. A quick look at how Nintendo has always valued their first-party games and struggled with third-parties from the N64-era on, lends support to this theory.
Kutaragi wakes the giant
Maruyama accounted for how Kutaragi gained the final push for his machine
“Kutaragi had begun stirring up trouble in the company. He even came up to Mr. Ohga and said “Sony’s very own Norio Ohga gave his approval, but the project got canned for no reason. If you back out now, how will you maintain your honor!” And Mr. Ohga responded “You are right. This has brought us shame…”
Many at Sony were not convinced that home gaming was the way to go. So much so that Kutaragi and his team were moved from the Sony HQ to Sony Music to sidestep the opposition and work on their project without interference.
2D or 3D?
In hindsight it seems ludicrous that gaming would remain in 2D, but at the time it wasn’t a simple decision. 2D was at its peak, producing gorgeous sprites that looked far more polished than the clunky early-gen polygons.
Virtua Fighter‘s massive success in the arcades was the tipping point and pushed Sony to choose hardware that could handle 3D visuals.
Ironically, although Sega had created Virtua Fighter – the very game that inspired Sony to go 3D – they still insisted on their Saturn focusing on producing the best possible 2D visuals and simple polygons. Sega’s mistake was failing to anticipate how fast 3D technology would evolve and they struggled to keep pace with the Playstation/N64. Multi-platform polygonal games almost always looked and ran better on Sony’s console.
In a bizarre twist, the tech that enabled the N64 to produce the best 3D graphics was initially offered to Sega! Sega of America insisted it be included, but Sega of Japan (still resentful of the Genesis/Megadrive’s success in the West and failure in Japan) ignored their advice to embrace 3D.
Sony Computer Entertainment
The legendary SCE was formed in 1993 and was soon approached by EA and Namco to make games. Both companies were lured by the promise of lower production costs and higher storage capacity compared to the expensive and limited cartridges needed for the N64.
Sony was also proactive in working with third-party developers. They provided programming information that was constantly updated and invested in tech support teams to help development.
Nintendo on the other hand, cranked out fabulous first-party games, but seemed to leave third-parties to fend for themselves. Some, like Rare, were able to produce top-notch products (Goldeneye, Banko-Kazooie), but many others struggled or didn’t bother.
The First E3
A few months prior, Sega had stated they would release the Saturn in Sept, 1995 on “Saturnday”. But in order to beat Sony to the market, they announced at E3 1995 (July) they had already shipped 30,000 units to the biggest retailers. The console would cost $399, and include a copy of Virtua Fighter. This burned a few bridges with other retailers taken by surprise and not included, causing Sega to be dropped by KB Toys.
Sony’s E3 mic drop moment
Sony capitalized on Sega’s mistake with one of the greatest E3 presentations of all time.
CPU 32-bit 33. MHz
Ram 2MB 1MB video
colors 16.7 million
polygons 180,000 per second textured. 360,000 flat-shaded
resolution 680×480 480i
sound 16-bit , 24 channel
Since Sega had rushed the Saturn to market, they had fewer games at launch than Sony. Although a case could be made that Sega still had the stronger lineup with Virtua Fighter, Daytona USA, Panzer Dragoon and Clockwork Knight headlining the group.
Sony tried to provide a game in every genre and had Toshinden, Ridge Racer, Rayman, Raiden Project, NBA Jam TE among others. Namco had also created a Playstation-friendly arcade board, which led to great ports of both Ridge Racer and Tekken.
The following year, Nintendo came in with easily the smallest launch lineup in console history: Mario 64 and Pilotwings 64.
Sony targeted teenagers with their marketing, while Sega aimed at adults, even advertising with Playboy. Sony’s marketing philosophy was that children aspired to be teenagers, and adults felt younger when playing games.
Sony used colorful, edgy themes for their commercials and even the memory card UI.
The Playstation was very successful in the UK, outselling the Saturn 3-1, also outspending them $20 million to $4 million in terms of marketing. This was an important step as previous home consoles had failed to usurp PCs as the gaming go-to in the UK (this is why many UK gamers call them “computer games”).
The Playstation’s use of CDs and the mainstream availability of CD burners meant the console was ripe for piracy. The iconic Playstation logo and sound was actually there to detect region and legitimacy before booting the game. If the game didn’t pass, it would boot to a menu that allowed gamers to play audio from their CD. (Some audiophiles have proclaimed the first Playstation’s with RCA jacks have tremendous audio).
Modders were able to solder chips onto the system’s board in order to play pirated and non-regional games. A ‘soft’ mod required the use of a GameShark, a legitimate disc, and a spring. The legitimate disc was inserted first and the spring was used to trick the console into thinking the lid was closed. Once the system finished its check, the user would swap the legitimate disc for a pirated one. The GameShark plugged into the I/O port caused the disc to stop long enough for the user to swap it.
The 5th Generation’s rocky start
Many analysts had predicted a second video game crash as the 5th generation was flooded with consoles, similar to the first crash. The Atari Jaguar, Panasonic 3DO, Amiga CD32, FM Towns Marty, Neo Geo CD, PCFX, were all after a piece of the pie.
The three leaders after the 1995 Christmas buying season were the Playstation, Saturn, and 3DO, but sales were unexpectedly poor, even failing to outsell the previous generation! That year, the SNES released Chrono Trigger, Yoshi’s Island, DKC 2, Megaman 7, Megaman X3 and Tetris Attack (amazing combative puzzle game). Even the Genesis had a strong year, pushing forward with Vectorman and Comix Zone.
Sony vs Nintendo
The N64 faced many delays and didn’t launch until 1996. Sony had gained a significant lead over the Saturn by then, and it came down to a two-horse race.
Nintendo’s cartridges pushed several publishers away due to memory constraints and higher costs of development. A CD could hold 680 MB while cartridges ranged from 4-32 MB (only RE2 and Conker’s Bad Fur Day were 64 MB). Most notably, this led to Square switching the release of Final Fantasy VII to Sony’s console, selling 9.8 million copies, the second-highest PS1 seller of all time.
CDs allowed for large files like sound, FMV, detailed textures, and pre-rendered backgrounds. The hours of narration in Metal Gear Solid and Resident Evil, the licensed soundtrack of Wipeout XL, and the epic scope of FFVII could only be done on CD.
The downside was that the Playstation could only hold a small amount of information and had to constantly load new chunks from the disc, causing frequent load times.
Nintendo’s cartridges had zero load times and were more durable, but sound had to be compressed, and many features had to be left out. This made it difficult to port some games from Playstation to the N64, but when working within the strengths of their own hardware, Nintendo was able to produce stunning games. Mario 64 and Ocarina of Time are fantastic examples of using flat polygons to create beautiful worlds and characters.
Quality vs Quantity?
Nintendo’s mantra in this time was “Quality over Quantity”, but it would be incorrect to assume Nintendo had unmatched highs while Sony relied on an army of mediocrity. Mario 64, Ocarina of Time, Mario Kart, Goldeneye, Smash Bros, and even the better AKI wrestling games were certainly some of the best of the generation. While Sony had a lower average of quality due to the sheer amount of titles released, they could still match (if not surpass) the amount of high-end games with: Metal Gear Solid, Resident Evil, Final Fantasy VII/VIII/IX, Gran Turismo, Tekken, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, Final Fantasy Tactics and many more.
Playstation’s lower cost of development and third-party friendly philosophy also led to more experimentation and variety.
After the 5th generation’s sluggish start, the Playstation went on to become the first home console to sell over 100 million units. It settled at 102.49 million, for 4th all time, behind the PS2 (155 mil.), DS (154 mil.), Gameboy/Color (118 mil.).
Sony’s first attempt at a console was a gigantic success that helped bring gaming into the mainstream. The Playstation reached a broader audience and helped legitimize gaming as a hobby and passion for people of all ages. It cannot be overstated that every console controller today owes its design to the dualshock.
The games may look clunky now, but many of the franchises that started on the PS1 were groundbreaking and are still around today. 3D gaming was a brave new frontier and both Sony and Nintendo were instrumental in how 3D gaming would evolve.
It’s also interesting that after the PS2 refined the strengths of the PS1 and went on to be the all-time best seller, that the PS3 would get so far away from what made the first two so strong. Instead of developer-friendly hardware and an approachable price, the PS3 used powerful, but difficult architecture and launched at a ludicrous $599 (it still came around to sell 80 million). Sony wised up with the PS4, but it goes to show that how difficult it can be to get a console right.
What are your thoughts on the Playstation?
Decent short history, even though you have errors, such as the PS3’s release price which was $599 not $699
Thanks for the catch, *edited.
$699 is crazy. There’s no way the ps3 would have been worth as much as a launch 3DO
Had they went with the 2005 hardware reveal, i am sure it would have been $699 or more, back when they revealed it, it had 6 USB ports, 2 HDMI ports and 3 Ethernet ports :p
6 USB ports, sure for a mouse/keyoard, controllers. 2 HDMI, dual monitor for some reason. But what the heck are you doing with 3 ethernet ports!
Possibly for lan parties or something crazy, no sure if you are interested, but i am a big fan of console histories, i created my own history website dedicated to the PS3, i could email you the address if you are interested, in the mean time here is an image of the 2005 reveal PS3 🙂 https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/0429eaa2a3361e73846fa6c0931ec8f4742838de55a9f4cde2bc4669d718fa69.jpg
Sure I’d love to check out the site. You can post the link in the comments here.
Cool thanks, hope you enjoy it 🙂
I usually get a lot of stick because it contains information about the hacks, people just want to read the nice things:
Wow it’s insane how much things would have been different back then had Nintendo gone forward with Kutaragi and made the collaboration a reality. I grew up with Nintendo so they’ll always be close to me at heart, but playing PS3 for the first time and especially FF VII, VIII, IX and MGS1, I could feel that….greatness XD that was the impetus for what would lead up to where Sony is today. And really shined through showing the potential these games had, surprisingly enough that they held up even today for me me to play ever so to the finish and be wowed by them despite their age. Being able to get immersed and really dig these games and feel what made them special. It’s a similar kind of special that Nintendo has yet different at the same time, both unique yet you can feel the passion flowing through their games.
Would have been amazing to see them come together and wonder how they’d take that to the next level, hopefully they do someday. Playing PS1 games has also made me wanna do more retro gaming tbh I really want that to see what I’d missed out on whether I play remasteres or remakes even from all before PS3 or get something akin to NES Classic Mini but for PlayStation consoles, it’d be exciting. It’s interesting that despite both Sony and Nintendo having different target audiences, the core of their DNA is nearly the same: doing it for the love of the game. So for that and more reasons, Sony and Nintendo are my favorites and hope through time their legacy isn’t forgotten.
I started of as a Sony fanboy with the PS1, didn’t care for any other consoles, then the PS2 came out i was still only for Sony, but then the GC and Xbox came out and i had to get them, ever since i have gotten all the main games consoles to date, looking forward to the Switch 🙂
For me my dad and a couple other relatives started out in arcades then went to NES and onward so it’s been in my DNA before I was even born haha. Though I’d been old enough for N64 at least, I actually began with the GameCube with Super Mario Sunshine and Wind Waker among some others. Had gotten Wii and Super Mario Galaxy among Twilight Princess, Wii Sports and others that made me more of a gamer despite how “casual” Wii is to many people. Getting immersed and losing myself in the games was a lot of fun and really blew me away. Even though my cousin had also owned PS and Xbox consoles I’d had no inherent interest exactly to play them til later on. It was while I was in high school while PS3 and 360 were at their peak, I’d met a friend who lived nearby.
He’d had a Wii and PS3 back then – the first ever PS3 game I pretty much played was Infamous. I remember getting lost in the world and being amazed by the story, presentation, and openness at the time it had me floored, even though I knew the game could have looked better also, which I think was one of the very few drawbacks on the game otherwise it was fun. Was so exciting having more possibilities. Especially for Arkham Asylum; soon we’d got that game and kind of forgot about Infamous after that the game was so mindblowing for me I always looked forward to playing that and other games like Motorstorm and Rock Band when I’d gone over.
Overtime he’d go back and forth between that and 360 though so I eventually also played the latter too; you could say because of that I forgot my hype from PS3 partly because to this day I’ve never been big fan of how Dualshock controllers have a symmetrical layout I’ve always preferred asymmetrical. But yeah I got more experience with that also. Then came sophomore year I actually convinced my parents to get us the 360 Slim on Black Friday. Next thing I know, from then to this day most of my relatives all stopped playing Nintendo and had instead mostly did things with Microsoft now. From Call of Duty to Gears of War 3 which had come out that year and some others like Assassin’s Creed we played a lot and got more experience with other games so I gained more awareness and stuff.
But I still didn’t play a lot outside of Nintendo since I’d actually liked Microsoft but not as much. Soon after we moved and didn’t see my friend for a while, haven’t seen for a few years in fact lot happened since. It was the next Christmas after when PS3 Super Slim released, that I got it for Christmas with Infamous collection and….MGS4. It’d turned out my copy of MGS4 was pretty messed up so had to get a new one. Meawhile I did Infamous, Uncharted and Killzone also really digging those series. Soon enough I forgot about the way the controller felt weird in my large hands and how it was so different than usual.
I ended up liking Sony more than Microsoft; it really was all about the games. Games like MGS4 where despite time passing since its initial release, I fell in love with the game. It captivated me in every way it’s one of the few that I played numerous times, same amount as number in title hehe. And The Last of Us that blew me away and captivated me also it was so epic. Both of those games opening my eyes to what games could be that made me fall in love with Playstation that Sony and Nintendo are my main places for gaming especially with others like FF and KH.
Then there was Bayonetta which I played and….wow I never knew….games that were that visceral and expressive could be that mesmerizing. That game helped me open my eyes to and also just have me reinforce an open mind even more so from now on so I can experience more and enjoy more. It was extraordinary.
I’d gotten my own Wii U the year after, then following that I got PS4 waiting on Scorpio now, and will most likely get Switch within this or next year. It can’t be overstated how much Nintendo impacted my early gaming years and how Sony and MS helped open my mind to more but also how without my friend I probably would have never had given it second thought; that legacy will never be forgotten to me. I don’t wanna miss out on a lot there’s so much to experience don’t see why people would wanna only seclude themselves – regardless of money it’s like people take enjoyment in that but I don’t. So for as long as I can I’ll try to keep up with all 3 as much as possible. And never forget how much it’s impacted my life overall. It can’t be understated how much it’s part of my identity. Games will always be a part of me. And hope best is yet to come for gaming. Even if people don’t want Switch I’ll play it to the end even if Nintendo is gone someday I’ll support them to the end. And Sony it wouldn’t be the same without them nor for Microsoft. Long live gaming.
It could have been much different if they collaborated but competition is great for invention. Looking back I really appreciate how different Nintendo and their cartridges were from Sony’s discs but the N64 was still a powerhouse. I wish they would remember that moving forward.
It’s fascinating that you got into the PS1 games through a PS3? I’ve always thought the PS1 generation would be the hardest to go back to without nostalgia because the first days of 3D were not pretty. I’ve LOVED having a Vita that can play any of those classics on the go but I also grew up with the PS1 and it’s fun enough just to relive the memories.
Yeah exactly; the competition let both of them try new stuff and learn from each other’s mistakes so they could get better overtime even if the overall philosophy is the same for each of them to this day. That’s the thing though: Nintendo is probably convinced that was the main issue BECAUSE two generations in a row with N64 and GameCube, they saw that Sony wasn’t as powerful as GameCube yet they did better than Nintendo. So Nintendo got naive notion that power isn’t as important for a console so only wanted to do more mass appeal. And just when they thought power didn’t matter as much in console market anymore, PS3 was getting more software per unit with every customer than Wii was and they were stumped.
My guess is with Switch they’ve finally acknowledged this fallacy in their step so they’re trying to get used to more high end development and reel in devs again. Then when PS5 and Xbox Two or what it may be called then, will come out 5-6 years from now and by then Nintendo will probably recover enough return investment to loss so they rebound from how much money they’d lost with 3DS and Wii U to go all out and focus more on power again. They probably don’t wanna go that deep again until they know they’ll have the backing for it as they know just as much as any average consumer technology is expensive nowadays.
Which also makes me think they’ll do away with the second screen idea and do mainly traditional controls starting next decade but we’ll see. Sure they haven’t forgotten how dear to gamers the N64 and GameCube are besides NES and SNES. So only matter of time before they get back to basics. Even if they do something different they’ll be more traditional in approach probably once they see Switch not get them as far as they want. Should be interesting to see how Switch fairs with the public. IMHO Switch is everything Wii U should have been back then but it’s here now and it’s Nintendo’s last hope tbh.
Yeah I’d gotten PS3 Super Slim more than 4 years ago. The first PS1 game I actually played was MGS1 since I had played MGS4 but didn’t know what was going on at some points tbh was rather confused to say the least XD so got some background with that. First time really getting how special PS was. I’d tried Spyro the Dragon, Crash Bandicoot and CTR on my cousin’s PS1 before but didn’t have as much interest back then. Which reminds me so excited for N Sane Trilogy coming; hoping Spyro gets something like that or so I actually liked it. But yeah after that it was some time but I’d played Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD ReMIX and got more awareness of FF then bought VII-IX on PSN. Played them in consecutive order and was blown away.
Have wanted to play more retro games since besides also playing older Nintendo JRPG’s on the Wii U hyping me up also. Still have Parasite Even downloaded and untouched on my PS3 tbh hoping to get to it soon. Especially since it’s Square Enix. Really interesting how so many companies did quite some stand out titles back then. MGS1 really surprised me wasn’t sure if I’d like it. There’s hope for me to be able to play some of them through remasters/remakes like Crash Bandicoot but some also wanna experience original magic of the games themselves and download off PSN or play on original system. Hard to decide which games are better to play in which form would need more extensive research into each such as Syphon Filter.
But yeah, doing some retro gaming on VC on Wii U with games like Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga and Earthbound also helped me pique my interest in FF so I get more of a taste of JRPG’s. What also helped was that tbh unlike many gamers nowadays the graphics aren’t a top priority for me so since I’d also grown up playing Nintendo games and especially some older ones the graphics didn’t make me cringe or so. So got into them right away was just matter of game play and story for most part selling me on the game itself even if the presentation was part of it.
Could really feel the magic of what made those games special back then and why they’re so iconic I love those games so much. I do plan to do more PS1 and retro gaming but probably will be a while before I do. IMHO many are more closed minded only looking to future so looking back at older games only hinders them so hence why many never wanna do retro gaming. I even had gone back to DK 64 and some others on N64 and I enjoyed it. Wish others would give older games a chance. They miss out on so much only looking forward especially today’s generation of new gamers who only do mobile or tablet gaming even if they rooted em for retro gaming still not the same.
Guess I’m just the rare exception who’s very open minded that it takes a lot for a game to turn me away, especially with graphics as I love variety. Wish others would want variety instead of only having interest in little to one thing it limits possibilities. Especially even on PS you rarely here gamers talk about many games at all anymore now it’s only just one or two games they’re really invested in. Idk in a way not being into as many consoles early on only then getting into them when I was older and had more experience helped me widen my perspective somehow. Can’t get enough of Playstation but again Nintendo will always be my go to for gaming.
I’ve wanted a Vita ever before it was ever released. Especially for P4 Golden so disappointed I never got around to it to this day. Maybe I’ll get within next year or so to play some of the games. Disappointing it didn’t do better I saw the potential. Even if it had its setbacks. And yeah I know the PS1 classics can be played on the go though at heart I’m mainly console gamer even if I do also play on handheld so prefer big screen as much as possible unless if its remake or something like Xenoblade Chronicles 3D was on New 3DS XL.
And now that you say that, I wonder how many gamers actually do feel any nostalgia anymore from games they play as they relive memories or find things that harken back to things of old. Sad tbh some of these games will be forgotten someday especially by the ones who played them back then and rather leave it behind. Wonder what will happen with that. Glad to see someone else who digs nostalgia also in their gaming. Not many ever look back once the next generation starts, which also has me concerned with the Switch because they may not do it anymore moving forward and puts into question the future of VC and for Sony any support for older titles. Unless they lean back on it again like MS.
Thanks Christopher! A fascinating console indeed.