These days everyone knows the name PlayStation. From you to your best friend’s cousin’s grandma’s dog. But do you know the history behind one of the most popular and successful game consoles in history? Because I can tell you now, there’s a lot of twists and turns in how we got to the current PlayStation 4!
With the original PlayStation considered as a huge turning point in the gaming industry, all the way to the console wars that devoured Sega and pushed Nintendo to the sidelines until the release of the Switch… The PlayStation has been a massive part of gaming for over 20 years now. So, lets take a look at how it all came to be, shall we?
A Deal Of The Century
Back in 1988, the gaming industry had recovered from the “crash” thanks to Nintendo’s brilliant NES and SNES consoles, and Sega’s Master System and MegaDrive (Genesis in the States) were yet to make a huge splash. In an effort to solidify themselves as the kings of gaming, Nintendo got in touch with Sony to create a brand new way to play games for the Super Nintendo; a CD-ROM drive add-on.
Sony had yet to make any mark in the gaming industry at this point, so they jumped at the chance to expand into a new market, and started work on designing the system. It was planned to be released within 18 months, and to take the entire industry by storm. Originally dubbed the SuperCD, it was designed to play both CD-ROM games and SNES cartridges as well (similar to have the eventual SegaCD would work). At the time, this was going to be groundbreaking technology for gamers everywhere!
However, in 1991, things became somewhat political…
At the Chicago CES event, Sony officially announced their Play Station, which would have a port for SNES cartridges and also a drive for CD-ROMs, with the ability to play video games and other forms of multimedia. They planned to use their experience and family of companies in different media, such as Sony Music and Columbia Films, to develop various different software for the system as well.
This, added to the fact that the audio chip in the SNES was built by and required improvement and expansion from Sony, brought Nintendo to the limit. So, the very next day, Nintendo announced that they would be working with Phillips, and not Sony, for the SNES CD project!
Naturally, this infuriated Sony, who had just spent a year and a half developing the system, and had just announced it to the world as well. Yet despite this contractual break, Sony and Nintendo remained on good business terms… This was, however, purely due to the fact that Sony was developing a SNES port and Nintendo were using Sony’s audio chip.
The Year Of The X
It wasn’t until 1993, after Sony had lost the rights to the original Play Station CD-ROM system to Nintendo, that they decided to make a comeback. They did this by announcing the PlayStation-X (not the lack of a space), which was designed to be purely a gaming system – unlike the original Play Station, which was to be a multimedia system.
Focusing on the inclusion of 3D graphics, as opposed to the 2D and 2.5D graphics of the SNES, it was set to be the most powerful console built to date.
And, of course, being that this was Sony, everyone knew that they could deliver on what they were announcing (at least, back then). Thus, the hype and excitement grew over the coming months, with everyone waiting to see what would come from this PlayStation-X. But technology wasn’t Sony’s only plan of attack. You see, they had seen what happened to Atari, with the lack of games available for their last console, so Sony started to make hundreds of deals with third party developers.
They made deals with over 250 development studios, including Arcade favourites like Namco and Konami, whilst also purchasing the unknown European development studio Psygnosis. This allowed them to have big name arcade games on the PlayStation-X, as well as a strong team of developers within Sony itself to create even more software. Psygnosis even proved to be one of the best acquisitions Sony could have made, as Andy Beveridge and Martin Day worked through Christmas and New Year’s to create a brand new development system – one born from PC system standards, rather than the outdated console standards that Nintendo and Sega were using. This meant that the development system for the PlayStation-X was now universal, and any development studio could create games for the system!
And so, December 3rd, 1994 came around… Just one week after Sega released the Sega Saturn, Sony came out swinging with the launch of the PlayStation in Japan. It destroyed the Saturn in terms of sales, flying off the shelves like a bat of out hell. Launching with a tonne of extras, such as a link cable to connect two TVs to it, a mouse for PC ports, various adapters and a multitap to allow for four player, it was a massive success!
Then, in May of 1995, Sony showed off the PlayStation at E3 in Los Angeles, cementing their plan to bring it to the rest of the world. Alongside the console itself, they showed games like Ridge Racer and Tekken, wowing the crowds and winning everyone over.
Releasing in September that year in the States, it was sold a full $100 cheaper than the Sega Saturn, leaving both it and the SNES in the dust. Even with just 17 games available, over 100,000 PlayStations were pre-ordered, before the launch date! Using the marketing slogan U R Not E (note the “red E”), they shot to market leader like lightning, firmly positioning themselves ahead of both Sega and Nintendo. By 1996, over 7 million PlayStations had been sold, and Sony dropped the price even further, increasing sales yet more. And all of this, you have to believe, was a slap in the face for Nintendo!
That is, until Nintendo brought out the N64, which provided even better visuals than the PlayStation was offering. Plus, with Sega’s Dreamcast on the horizon, Sony knew it was time to level up.
The Sequel Can Be Better
It was in March 1999 when Sony decided to play their next card, announcing the PlayStation 2 (that would go on to be widely considered the best console ever made). Despite being bigger in size than the PlayStation-X, it boasted features such as being able to stand vertically, and use DVDs instead of CDs. This, along with the new technology under the hood, meant that the games could be bigger, better and most stunning to look at.
Add to this the fact that they kept the controller the same as the Dual Shock controller for the PlayStation-X (bar a few tweaks) and that the console was fully backwards compatible, and you had a monster of a machine! Being able to play both PlayStation-X and PS2 games on one console was crazy at the time!
Released in 2000, sales brought in around $250 million in the first day… Pre-orders and day one sales were astronomical, destroying the record of the PlayStation-X, whilst also drawing almost all attention away from Sega’s Dreamcast. Launching with games like Tekken Tag Tournament, Dynasty Warrior 2, TimeSplitters, Armored Core 2 and Midnight Club, the PS2 already had an amazing amount of variety for gamers. And this was only a sign of things to come.
Library Of The Gaming Gods
Over the next few years, the defining aspect of the PS2 came to light; it’s library of games. Due in part to the continued improvement of the universal development system original made by Psygnosis all that time ago, games were coming out left, right and centre.
Actions games like God of War brought a new, more visceral type of violence to gaming, whilst Grand Theft Auto 3 (and subsequent entries) broke record after record. The library of games just kept expanding, allowing the PS2 to completely overshadow the Dreamcast and outshine Nintendo’s GameCube. In fact, it was such a successful console that Capcom even ported the previously Gamecube exclusive Resident Evil 4 to PS2 because they knew how much more they would sell!
Sony even created an optional hard drive for the console, which could be used to play Final Fantasy XI, the first console-based MMORPG (online roleplaying game).
It was this insane amount of AAA, award winning games that led the PS2 to have one of the longest lifespans of a console ever… It wasn’t until January 2013, 13 years after launch, that Sony discontinued production of the PS2. 13 years!
Now, considering that the PS2 was discontinued in 2013, it may come as a shock that the PS3 was released in 2006… It was officially announced in 2005, after months of speculation, which was also the year that the Xbox 360 was released. However, despite having an amazing launch in Japan, it struggled when it was released to the rest of the world. This was, in large, due to the fact that it was considerably more expensive than previous PlayStations had been, as well as more expensive than the Xbox 360.
It wasn’t until Sony released the slimmer version of the PS3 that it really took off. By this stage, everyone had already come to the decision that this generation’s battle had been won by Microsoft and the Xbox 360. Yet, as Sony did to Nintendo with the original PlayStation, they came back swinging!
The PS3 Slim took off like a rocket, with sales finally reaching the level expected from the original PS3!
This was helped by Sony’s move to do what they knew best; focus on exclusive titles. That move had helped to make the original PlayStation a success, and it did the same with the PS3. The return of God of War, as well as games like Infamous, Gran Turismo and the (hundreds of) award winning The Last of Us, helped boost sales at an astounding rate. By the time the video game industry moved to the next generation, the PS3 had sold 80 million units, which was about the same amount as the Xbox 360. And keep in mind that the 360 had a year’s head start and had performed better until the release of the PS3 Slim!
Sony Goes Fourth
It was in 2012 that rumours first began circuling about Sony working an their next console, the PlayStation 4. Initial rumours suggested that it would take a similar path as the original idea for the Xbox One, with always-connected internet and the inability to play used games. In fact, some rumours even spread that Sony were planning to ditch the now classic DualShock controller, replacing it with one more akin to the Xbox which would have the PlayStation Move control system built it.
Having been in development since 2008, just two years after the PS3 was initially released, Sony had put a lot of time and effort into the console – they knew what they were doing. At E3 2013, they announced and unveiled the PlayStation for crushing the rumours instantly. On top of that, they had once again managed to create a console that came in a whole $100 lower in price than their competitor, this time the Xbox One. Sony showed off the PS4’s new UI, and announced that it would be released in November of that year.
Upon launch, a few of the console’s units had faulty HDMI output, but this was addressed relatively swiftly. On top of this, images surfaced that seemed to show a “Red Line of Death”, similar to the Xbox 360’s “Red Ring of Death”. However, this was a warning that it was overheating, but didn’t have anything to do with your console’s end of life, unlike the Xbox 360.
In September, similar to the PlayStation-X, because the PS4 was so successful Sony dropped the price by a futher $50. This, along with their typical focus on exclusive games, helped to boost the console’s performance even further. Announcements of games like Shenmue 3, Final Fantasy 7 Remake and Horizon: Zero Dawn as either exclusives or timed exclusives helped to drive up even more interest and desire for the PS4, as did the release of the PS4 Pro and PlayStation VR.
Thus, as it stands at the time of writing, the PS4 family has outsold the Xbox One family of consoles, and despite the more powerful Xbox One X being released, it is likely that the PS4 Pro will continue to sell really well due in part to the exclusive games available, but also the fact that it is, again, considerably cheaper than the competition.
What Does The Future Hold?
There are already hundreds of rumours about the potential PlayStation 5, including suggestions that it will be released in 2018, 2019, 2020 and beyond. So whilst we don’t have any actual information from Sony themselves, things seem to be heading the same way they did with the PS4. If Sony can continue to build upon their technology, software and exclusive games, whilst remaining cheaper than the competition, you can bet that the PS5 will be a success too!
I, for one, am excited to see what the future holds for the console family born from betrayal. Do you own a PlayStation? Have you ever? Did you learn anything new from looking at the history of the PlayStation? Let me know in the comments below!