For many younger gamers, the PlayStation brand is synonymous with videogames, having effectively dominated the market for more than a dozen years, and sharing with us some of the greatest games we've ever had the pleasure to play.
It wasn't that long ago though that Sony had no presence in the gaming world, save perhaps for gamers wanting to hook their Nintendo's up to a Sony T.V. So where did Sony come from, and how did the PlayStation so quickly enter a gaming universe in the control of Nintendo and Sega and quickly dethrone them?
In the early 1990's, the gaming world was getting its first glimpse at the future of gaming, games played via CD's and not the traditional cartridge format that was the current standard. CD games allowed for much clearer and more robust music, animated or full motion video cutscenes, and the ability to store wads of additional data that a cartridge simply could not.
Sega launched a CD add-on device for their Sega Genesis system called the Sega CD, and 3DO launched a brand new CD-based games console also called the 3DO in the early 90's. Around this same time, Nintendo was in talks with Sony to help them develop a CD add-on for their own system, the Super Nintendo. Those talks eventually fell through, and Nintendo scrapped plans to dive into CD technology (a move that would later prove nearly fatal, as their new console the Nintendo 64 was heavily criticized for sticking to the archaic cartridge format). Before the Nintendo 64 would be released though, Sega would launch their own CD system the Sega Saturn, and upstart Sony would take their failed deal with Nintendo and turn it into a multi-billion dollar boon, as they reworked the Super Nintendo CD add-on device into a standalone system called the Sony PlayStation.
The PlayStation launched in 1994 in Japan and 1995 in North America and Europe, and it was an instant success. Despite going head to head with Sega (a brand that at the time was extremely popular, especially in North America, as it was seen by gamers as being much edgier and hipper than Nintendo), Sony quickly took control of the market on the strength of strong ad campaigns and multiple major game releases like Metal Gear Solid and Final Fantasy 7. The Saturn on the other hand was seen as being difficult to develop for, and in North America where the brand was the most popular, over-zealous Sega of America president Bernie Stolar effectively squashed his own system by condemning RPG's (which were receiving a huge worldwide boost in popularity at the time thanks to FF7) and 2D games (which the Saturn was adept at handling, and the one area where the system outclassed the PlayStation), refusing to release many of them in North America. Highlighting this error in judgement is the fact that Square's Final Fantasy 7 would go on to sell over 9.9 million copies worldwide, while the Saturn system itself only sold 9.7 million.
With Saturn dead before it ever got off the ground, and Nintendo alienating the older and more demanding fanbase by sticking to cartridges and kid-friendly games, the PlayStation demolished the competition, selling over 100 million consoles and nearly 1 billion games, both trouncing the previous records.
Despite Nintendo switching away from cartridges for the next generation with their new Gamecube system, Sega getting off to a much better start with their new system the Dreamcast, and computer giant Microsoft entering the fray with their Xbox console, the massive fanbase Sony had garnered during the last console generation, proved to be too much to overcome, as the PlayStation 2 again dominated the market with the most games, and by far the highest sales, even beating the records set by the original PlayStation, selling a massive 140 million systems worldwide and counting.
With Sega taking their leave of the console industry to focus on game development and heavy rumors abounding that Nintendo would soon do the same, questions began to surface as to whether or not Sony's dominance of the industry was a bad thing, and what might happen if there was only one console developer left standing.
There were many on both sides of the argument. On the one hand, gamers would only need to buy one console to have access to every game on the market. Fierce competition between game developers would also lead to better games on the whole. On the other hand, that stiffer competition could also lead to numerous smaller developers getting wiped out by having their games lost in the sea of releases for a sole console. There was also the threat that a monopoly on the console industry would lead to higher priced systems or games, though there's no real reason to believe that this would be the case.
Yet in the current console wars, an interesting thing happened. Nintendo which was seemingly on its last legs released an under-powered, yet unique system that struck a chord with gamers worldwide, pulling many of the mainstream gamers who had stuck with PlayStation's for the past decade away from Sony. Microsoft meanwhile got the jump on the PlayStation 3 with their Xbox 360, and took an early chunk of the hardcore gaming market away from the PS3. By the time the PS3 launched at a massive price point, and with mixed reviews, it was in a major hole that it has yet to crawl out of.
Original predictions by Sony that the PS3 would eventually sell over 150 million units worldwide now seem unlikely, as the system has sold just over 25 million units in nearly 3 years. Despite being the most powerful system on the market as well as an excellent Blu-Ray player, it's often seen as being more difficult to develop games for than the Xbox 360 is (remember this is one of the reasons the Saturn fell to the original PlayStation), and not nearly as innovative and family-friendly as the Wii, and that has led the PS3 to trail both the other systems in games produced, an area it handily crushed the competition in with the PS1 and PS2.
Despite the rough start, the PS3 still has the potential to catch and surpass the 360 by the end of 2009, though catching the Wii will take far longer and may not happen at all. However this generation turns out, the PlayStation brand remains strong, and mistakes of this generation should serve the company well as it readies the PlayStation 4 for launch in the coming years.
History of the Playstation part I:
History of the Playstation part II: