This is a narrative history piece.
While based on real events it has been embellished.
Ken Kutaragi sat in his Chicago hotel room staring dumbstruck at his newspaper. “Nintendo-Philips Deal Is a Slap at Sony” read the headline. Kutaragi stood on stage at the 1991 Summer Consumer Entertainment show only a few days ago to announce Sony’s new partnership with Nintendo to develop a disk-based version of the popular Super Nintendo Entertainment System. The Nintendo PlayStation was to be Sony’s big step into the gaming industry, taking advantage of the superior capabilities of CDs over cartridges and allowing developers to push the boundaries in what games could do.
Kutagari remembered falling in love with the potential of video games back in 1984. A presentation was held at Sony’s Information Processing Research Centre to present the System G, a powerful workstation that could provide TV broadcasts with real-time computer-generated 3D graphics. But Kutaragi’s mind wasn’t on the broadcast potential, but on the potential for video games.
Kutaragi knew that Sony’s tech would be able to change the games industry in ways that couldn’t even be imagined, but Sony’s management weren’t convinced. To them, Nintendo and Sega were toy companies like Hasbro or Lego, and Sony was a respected manufacturer of consumer electronics. Going into the ‘toy’ industry isn’t a good look for their brand. After years of convincing, the Sony management team finally agreed, but wanted to partner with Nintendo as to keep the Sony brand off the system.
Nintendo agreed and the deal was set. Sony would develop a prototype for the Nintendo PlayStation. Kutaragi knew that if the PlayStation was a success, he could get Sony management to agree to bigger and better ventures in the games industry and change the game.
But Nintendo didn’t want the game changed, why would they when they have almost monopolised the industry? Once Nintendo discovered Kutaragi’s intentions for Sony to become a competitor to Nintendo, they had to make sure the PlayStation failed.
The day after Kutaragi announce the partnership, Nintendo announced another deal with one of Sony’s chief competition, Phillips. Phillips were to develop the Super NES CD-ROM, which is essentially a Nintendo PlayStation, just developed by Phillips instead.
This infuriated Sony management who were betrayed and publicly humiliated by Nintendo, so much so that Sony CEO Norio Ohga declared to Kutaragi that “We will never withdraw from this business. Keep going”.
Kutaragi founded Sony Computer Entertainment in 1993, and working closely with Sony Music, released the Sony PlayStation in Japan in December of 1994, selling out of 300,000 units in the first 2 months. Again, in September 1995 the PlayStation was released in the US and Europe, and sold almost 1 million copied before Christmas of that same year, selling double the units than the Sega Saturn.
But Sony’s success doesn’t stop there. The success of the PlayStation was enough to push Sega and other small competitors out of the console manufacturing business, until Microsoft launched the Xbox in 2001. Sony’s follow up console, the PlayStation 2, sold more units than any console before it and the PlayStation 4 recently took the title from the PlayStation 2 as the best-selling console of all time.
Its safe to say that 25 years and 4 console generations later with the PlayStation 5 on the horizon, Sony has achieved Kutaragi’s dream and forever changed the landscape of the gaming industry.