July 7th, 2014, 21:56 Posted By: wraggster
Never underestimate the force of revenge. Without it, Sony’s PlayStation would never have made it from designer Ken Kutaragi’s wild imagination into 102 million homes around the world. Neither would games have popped into 3D with the forceful brilliance facilitated by Sony’s debut without that most ancient of creative incentives: a business vendetta.At the Consumer Electronics Show in June 1991 Sony unveiled its first video game console, a joint creation from the Japanese electronics giant and Nintendo. A Super Famicom with an in-built CD-ROM drive, the system was designed to be Nintendo’s route into the emerging world of multimedia entertainment, as well as Sony’s first tentative step into a market that, to date, it had watched from afar.The next day, Nintendo announced it would be breaking its deal with Sony, instead partnering with its rival, Philips, on the project. Few snubs in Japanese business have been played out so publically, and the turnabout was humiliating to Sony, despite the fact that the relations had been deteriorating for months over how revenue would be shared and collected by the two companies.The next month Sony president Norio Ohga called a meeting to plan litigation against Nintendo. But financial recompense through the courts would not be enough to sate his appetite for revenge. Ohga stood to his feet and declared to the room: ‘We will never withdraw from this business. Keep going.’This feature is an extract from Simon Parkin’s book, An Illustrated History of 151 Videogames.
Kutaragi, buoyed by this support from the most senior level of the company, pulled together a team of engineers that had been working on a 3D graphics engine designed to augment live television broadcasts with 3D images in real time. The technology, dubbed System-G, shared technological similarities with the way video games work, even if, as a high-end workstation, the thought of introducing this sort of technology to the home seemed impossible.By June 1992 all relations with Nintendo had been severed and Kutaragi was called to present his work to Ohga and other Sony executives. It was here the designer revealed his plans for a proprietary CD-ROM based system capable of rendering 3D graphics for use in a video game. Ohga asked what sort of chip the machine would require and Kutaragi replied it would need one million gate arrays. Ohga laughed at the figure: the maximum Sony made at the time was 100,000. Kutaragi, in a moment of shrewd understanding, replied: “Are you going to sit back and accept what Nintendo did to us?”Ohga, wanting to protect Kutaragi from Sony’s board, who viewed video games as toys and feared entering the market would dilute the company brand name, moved the designer to Sony Music, a separate subsidiary. The move was significant as Sony Music understood that creative talent needs nurturing in a way that the drier, tech-focused core part of the company didn’t. Likewise, their expertise in manufacturing huge amounts of discs would prove invaluable.Attracting developers to the new system proved straightforward. Without an internal development studio at Sony, the lack of competition to many potential developers was an advantage. In Japan, Nintendo’s huge royalty rates made development for the machine a huge risk for publishers, so Sony’s more reasonable rates proved attractive.If you want more insight into PlayStation’s creation, Making Of feature from 2009 is an essential read.
When PlayStation launched in Japan on 3 December, 1994 a huge number of developers across the world were busy creating software for the machine. Namco’s launch title, Ridge Racer, was a startling port of the arcade game, one that demonstrated the power of the system in no uncertain terms. All 100,000 launch units sold out, with another 200,000 units shifted in the following 30 days. Pricing was key to its success, and, even though Sony lost money on each unit sold until 1995, the fact the PlayStation was ¥5,000 cheaper than Sega’s Saturn helped Sony gain crucial ground in the 32-bit race.By March 2007, Sony had sold 102 million systems across the world, success born in a perfect storm of technology, pricing, marketing and, perhaps most importantly, old-fashioned rivalry and honour.
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