USA TODAY US Edition
PLAYSTATION TURNS 20
How the game console changed everything,
Twenty years ago this month, Sony disrupted the video game landscape when its first PlayStation console system hit the U.S.
Back then, the Japanese company set the pace in the electronics arms race with Trinitron TVs, Walkman portable music players and the co-development of the compact disc with Philips. Nintendo and Sega were the dominant home console video game powers at the time.
Even though the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and Sega Genesis sold about 49 million and 40 million respectively, at the time, the highest-fidelity game experiences came at arcades. But Sony aimed to change that with the PlayStation, which it first brought to market in Japan in December 1994.
Few considered the PlayStation a slam-dunk success, but Sony’s inaugural system ushered in the first generation of 3D gaming at home and eventually sold more than 100 million units, better than any previous Nintendo or Sega home system (the PlayStation 2, at 150 million-plus, is the highest-selling ever). The PlayStation also produced a shift in the balance of video game power by ending Nintendo’s dominance, speeding Sega’s exit of the hardware business and encouraging Microsoft’s entry into the home console business in 2001.
USA TODAY sought out some recollections from those involved with the launch of the PlayStation, including the first commentary on the system’s 20th anniversary from Ken Kutaragi, the Sony engineer better known now as “the Father of the PlayStation.” Their responses explain how the creation of the first console unfolded.
CO-FOUNDER OF VIDEO GAME STUDIO NAUGHTY DOG, WHICH DEVELOPED CRASH BANDICOOT, RELEASED IN 1996: I remember the rumors (that Sony might enter the industry). Then there was the whole failed collaborative PlayStation-Nintendo CD thing we were reading about a year or two before that turned into the PlayStation.
AT SONY IN 1990, HE HELPED WITH THE MARKETING OF PLAYSTATION IN 1995; TODAY, HE’S PRESIDENT AND GLOBAL CEO OF SONY COMPUTER ENTERTAINMENT: I first heard about the PlayStation “secret project” in about 1991. My feelings were a mixture of skepticism about our ability to challenge entrenched competition in a brand new market and excitement as an (arcade!) gamer to see how Sony could change the landscape. ... I remember an early briefing on the CD-based business model behind the first PlayStation and understanding the benefits to consumers, retailers and especially lowering risk for game creators. I was certain that this would find success and absolutely wanted to be part of it.
AT SONY SINCE 1986, HE JOINED THE PLAYSTATION PROJECT IN 1993. NOW IS PRESIDENT OF SONY COMPUTER ENTERTAINMENT WORLDWIDE STU
DIOS: The first real-time demo on the early prototype hardware, I believe, was a group of cubes, spheres and triangular pyramids floating in the screen, changing from flat shaded colors to Gouraud-shaded colors to texture-mapped polygons. To me, it was like looking at magic performed in front of my eyes.
We were beyond excited as we knew we were working on something groundbreaking, something that would make people around the world enjoy the hottest games developed with 3D real-time graphics. Games like
Ridge Racer were only possible to play in the arcade before the original PlayStation was released.
AN ENGINEER AT SONY SINCE 1975, HE OVERSAW THE PLAYSTATION PROJECT AND BECAME SONY COMPUTER ENTERTAINMENT CEO IN 1999: In contrast to the word “work- station,” which is a high-end computer often used for work purposes, we hit upon the name “PlayStation,” in hopes to create the best computer system for “Play.”
Back when it was difficult for even expensive professional workstations to produce real-time 3D graphics, it was a great accomplishment for us to come up with a consumer gaming system that produced smooth 3D computergenerated visuals at 60 frames per second with minimal lag. Until that point in time, the world of video gaming was limited to a flat 2D environment that only allowed up, down, left, and right movement, but this achievement brought in the concept of 360-degree “space.” I also think it was very important that we shifted our mind-set from “adeptly create toys by utilizing ‘ outdated technology’ ” to “develop and adopt state-of-the-art technology that is forward-looking for a gaming console.”
JOINED SONY COMPUTER ENTER
TAINMENT AMERICA IN 1995; TRET
TON WAS SCEA PRESIDENT AND CEO
FROM 2006 TO 2014:
I started a games division for JVC. We were working with LucasArts and several other developers to publish games on the Sega and Nintendo platforms. We competed with (Sony game publishing subsidiary) Sony Imagesoft, and they were rumored to be the group that would launch the PlayStation. (But) Sony Computer Entertainment was formed.
People in the industry believed that Sony could design hardware effectively but questioned their prowess in software development based on the struggles of Sony Imagesoft and the prowess of Sega and Nintendo. I was impressed with the hardware and the management team they were assembling. Once I became familiar with hardware and strategic direction shaping up in 1994, I thought the company had a real chance to be successful, and decided I wanted to be part of it.
LEFT SEGA IN 1994 TO BECOME DIRECTOR OF MARKETING FOR SONY
COMPUTER ENTERTAINMENT AMER
ICA: I really wanted to work on a brand new hardware launch. It was a powerful system with a corporate focus and commitment to delivering a platform that truly offered a full entertainment system. Events and meetings I was involved with included from the music, film and consumer electronics teams, and leaders such as Howard Stringer and others out of (the New York corporate office) were very involved and collaborative. While we didn’t have a huge portfolio of games at launch, the games were at that time aesthetically and technically impressive. At the time, both Sega and Nintendo were working on nextgen platforms, so it was a pivotal time in the industry with Sega in particular having a solid foothold of the market share. GAVIN: In August or September 1994, we got really early developer kits for both the (Sega) Saturn and the PlayStation. Most people were thinking the Saturn would be big because the Genesis had been. The Sony is so much better. ... It was just a nice clean design, and Sony was way more organized. After about a month with both machines we just took the gamble ... and didn’t make
Crash Bandicoot for (the Saturn). The PlayStation was a straight-up game machine. The fact it was as 3D for real and that it was on a CD was huge. The CD made all the difference for developers and for players.
KUTARAGI: Optical discs had great potential as a form of distribution media for entertainment content, and it was our overall strategy to boldly adopt CD/DVD/Blu-ray as a standard feature for individual platforms not only for games, but also film and music. With this strategy, not only did the potential number of PlayStation-compatible games largely expand, but also the growth of new forms of media, such as DVD and Blu-ray, was accelerated thanks to the unparalleled expansion rate and the massive global install base of PlayStation platforms.
I had a grand dream to deliver PlayStation to living rooms across the globe and for it to become the incubator for a new category called “Computer Entertainment,” which I believe was realized successfully. TRETTON: The software library that was available from internal development was admittedly thin in the early days, but strategic deals to publish Namco’s Ridge
Racer and Battle Arena Toshinden from Takara gave the platform some key exclusives. The graphics and gameplay were arcade quality and a real leg up from most console games at the time. GAVIN: (Sega had Sonic the Hedgehog, but Sony) had no mascot, and we had the opportunity to fit that spot. (Naughty Dog co-founder) Jason and I wanted to do a Donkey Kong Country
Super Mario World- type game play in 3D. We didn’t expect it to work out, but it did. We expected to make a good game. The fact it worked out so well, we couldn’t believe it. YOSHIDA: When we were visiting Japanese publishers before the launch of the original PlayStation, one major Japanese publisher said to us, “Come back when you have sold 1 million units in Japan, then we would consider developing a game on PlayStation.” After that, internally, “Let’s sell 1 million units” became a slogan. We even aired a TV commercial with the tag line, “We shall sell 1 million units” a couple months after the launch, then “We have sold 1 million units” later when we achieved the milestone in 1995.
We had early success with the original PlayStation with games like Ridge Racer and Tekken showcasing the power of 3D real-time graphics. However, we were not sure about the long-term success of the PlayStation until Squaresoft announced it would develop
Final Fantasy 7 on PlayStation. The announcement was made in early 1996, and SCE supported the announcement with a TV ad showing off the beautiful prerendered movie from the game in development. The game was released in January 1997, and, at that time, Dragon Quest 7, hugely popular in Japan, was announced for PlayStation. And the rest is history.
AT SONY SINCE 1986, WAS AN ASSIS
TANT TO SONY FOUNDER AKIO
MORITA BEFORE JOINING THE PLAY
STATION PROJECT. NOW IS
PRESIDENT AND CEO OF
SONY COMPUTER ENTER
I TAINMENT AMERICA: was working in development in Tokyo when the local team (led by none other than Shuhei Yoshida), together with Naughty Dog, created such an immaculately localized version of ( Crash Bandicoot) that many in the Japanese market thought it was a homegrown title. This at a time when games created in the west (“yo-ge”) were generally considered inferior to titles developed in Japan. The success of
Crash in Japan showed that great content, no matter where created, would find fans worldwide. GAVIN: The big commercial games that made the platform,
Crash (released in 1996) was one of them. But you also had Tomb
Raider (1996), Gran Turismo (1997), Final Fantasy VII (1997) and Metal Gear Solid (1998). That first generation of big new PlayStation franchises were defined by allowing more style than the 16-bit games. ... PlayStation became the bastion of the glitziest, highest budget blockbuster games and Microsoft sort of glommed in on that and made a similar platform. Sony also encouraged the growth of artsier games, too.
The PlayStation is when the medium of home-dedicated video games came of age. It stopped being just a toy.