Three interesting and well-written articles about PlayStation history. What is most interesting, is how similar beginnings all the three PlayStations have had;
-Negative press before and after the launch.
-Complaints about the console's price.
-Massive shortages at launch.
-Underwhelming launch games.
-Developers complaining how hard the system is to develop for.
Sony has always catered for every demographic with games covering every genre imaginable. Looking at the list of PS3 exclusive games (here), it's obvious that hasn't changed.
http://www.gamesindustry.biz/content_page.php?aid=21225PART 2PlayStation: A History
With eager punters currently snapping up every single PlayStation 3 that's out there, it's easy to imagine that this is what the world's always been like - that Sony has always been in charge of the videogame industry. But while hindsight suggests that the PlayStation's enormous success was inevitable, the truth is that the scale of Sony's achievement was simply inconceivable when it launched, and absolutely unprecedented at the time. Especially for a console that had started life as an aborted add-on for Nintendo's SNES.
The world was a very different place when PlayStation first arrived in the UK. For a start, OJ Simpson and Rosemary West had both been on trial, Cotton-Eyed Joe had just topped the music charts, and Nick Leeson had brought down Barings. Windows 95 had only just come out to replace the antiquated Windows 3.1, and there weren't any DVDs in the shops, just videotapes. It was against this background that early pundits, giddy with excitement about the hardware's potential, reckoned Sony's new PlayStation was so good it might sell as many units as the Nintendo 64 and Sega Saturn.
The PlayStation had started life several years earlier. Sony's first foray into games was actually back in 1980, ironically as a manufacturer of the Microsoft-backed MSX console, but it was a collaboration with another future competitor that would produce the PlayStation. Sony's dalliance with Nintendo stemmed from fears that the increasingly successful Game Boy would encroach upon sales of the Walkman, and produced a joint venture between the two companies that was supposed to see Sony develop a CD-ROM drive for Nintendo's Super Famicom.
The project was scheduled to be unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show in 1989, but on the day that the add-on was due to be announced, Nintendo welshed on the deal. Fearing that the deal would give Sony too much control over the finished product, Nintendo's Hiroshi Yamauchi simply terminated the agreement. Nintendo would instead, it was announced, be working with Philips to produce the unit. The eventual fruit of that labour would be the Philips CD-i - an edutainment machine which is probably best remembered as home to some mind-bogglingly awful Zelda games.
The fruit of Sony's labour would be the PlayStation - probably best remembered for selling over 100 million units worldwide. It was championed internally by the R&D engineer who had overseen the abortive Famicom project, Ken Kutaragi, and referred to as PS-X inside the company as it made the transition from Nintendo peripheral to a fully-fledged games machine. It eventually launched in Japan on December 3, 1994.
Before the launch, the signs didn't bode well. Unlike its competitors, Sony didn't exactly have a strong track record in game development. Sony Interactive had a long track record of mediocrity, and when Psygnosis was acquired for $48m, its only hit had been Lemmings, which had been developed at DMA Design in Scotland - and DMA signed up for Nintendo's ‘Project Reality' in May 94.
It wasn't an especially good time to launch a console, either. 1993 had seen the start of an industry-wide slump which would last for about three years, reflected in the plummeting profits of the market leaders, Nintendo and Sega, and a decline in the US console market from $4.55bn in 1993 to $3.07bn in 1995. And in spite of the difficult market conditions, the Saturn's Japanese launch, a month earlier, had apparently been an amazing success. Sega shifted some 200,000 units amid scenes of hysteria, to gamers eager to part with $450-odd to play Virtua Fighter at home. By comparison the 100,000 PlayStation units that Sony shipped the following month, along with Namco's Ridge Racer, could be obtained easily without having to preorder.
But the US launch of the console, the following year, was different. An experienced management team, was made up of industry veterans like Steve Race (who had been in charge of Atari's European operations back in the days of the 2600, and had worked at Sega and Nintendo), and Bernie Stolar, who was responsible for enlisting thirdparty developers (one early masterstroke, which sounds unlikely now, was a six-month exclusivity deal for Mortal Kombat 3).
At the very first E3, in May 1995, Steve Race took to the stage. "I had a whole bunch of sheets of paper in my hands, and I walked up, put them down on the podium, and I just said, "$299," and walked off to this thunderous applause", he would later recall in Steven L Kent's The First Quarter. Such a low price point was a bombshell and all that Sony needed to steal the show. Sega, meanwhile, used the show to make the sort of ****-up that would characterise its approach to next-gen development for several years to follow. The company announced that the Saturn would launch early, in the stores of just four major retail chains. It was a move that alienated the other retailers, and took customers by surprise, resulting in the softest of soft launches.
When the PlayStation launched in the US in 1995, all of the available 100,000 units sold out in September, the month of its launch. In spite of the Saturn's five-month headstart, the PlayStation had outsold it within two days. At the end of the year it was Sony 800,000, Sega 400,000. The PlayStation was officially a success. By the end of the year there were 55 titles available. The following year, Sony dropped the price to a staggeringly low $199, and the industry was forced to follow suit. And it just got better and better for the PlayStation: it took Sony two years to sell 10 million consoles; then just nine months to sell the next 10 million, before the next 10 million sold within six months. Nobody had expected that.
http://www.gamesindustry.biz/content_page.php?aid=21233PART 3Taking the Lead
Certainly, some of the PlayStation's success stemmed from the failures of its competitors. But it's only with hindsight that it becomes clear that the first wave of ‘next-gen' consoles were a false start. The 3DO, for example, had launched before affordable floating point technology would make 3D graphics easier to produce. It was priced at a hefty $699 and hampered by a poor controller and odd business model that saw several manufacturers creating their own versions of the console. Atari's Jaguar had been similarly blighted by rubbish games and oddly-shaped controllers.
Nintendo's Ultra 64 - a collaboration with Hollywood darling, Silicon Graphics - showed much more promise than either of those two, but its launch was hampered by delays, and long-term sales were undermined by the low number of titles released for the console. So while it sold 300,000 units at its Japanese launch in 1996, and 500,000 over the weekend of its US launch, this level of success tailed off pretty quickly. And while Sony's relatively high royalty rate (of about £9 per unit sold) might have annoyed some developers, it was still cheaper than the cost of manufacturing cartridges for Nintendo's console.
One industry pundit has even pointed to the ease with which Sony's new format could be pirated as a crucial ingredient in the console's success - not a theory that's easy to verify, but certainly an interesting argument. What is certain is that it was the perceived superiority of Sony's CD-ROM format over Nintendo's carts that inspired Square's Hironobu Sakaguchi to switch allegiance from Nintendo to the PlayStation. Final Fantasy VII was the first Japanese RPG to crack the US and UK markets, and it did so with aplomb, becoming the biggest-selling game of 1997 and eventually shifting over six million copies.
Equally important was the failure of the Saturn. While Sega's console did perform reasonably in Japan, Sega apparently overstated the number of units that actually reached the hands of consumers, quoting the number of units that had been shipped to retailers as sales figures. Outside Japan, the Saturn had been hamstrung by confusion over the introduction of the Mega Drive add-on, the 32X, and the console's dual processor made it difficult to program (and was, in any case, allegedly a rushed attempt to match the PlayStation after Sony's specs had leaked, a year earlier).
The result was that in 1997, Sony had 46% of the US next-gen market, while Nintendo had 40%, and Sega just 12%. When the Saturn was discontinued, in 1998, it had sold 2 million units in the US, compared to 10.75 million PlayStations. It was all too clear that multiformat games, such as Mortal Kombat Trilogy, were just better on the PlayStation.
And that was the real reason for the console's success: Sony's hardware was simply unparalleled when it launched. In 1995, Edge magazine described the PlayStation as ‘unquestionably the most powerful collection of electronic gadgetry ever assembled for home use". The console had seen Sony outhinking the competition. Before it launched there was no real widespread perception that 3D games were to be the way forward for the industry. Companies such as Sega, 3DO, Atari, and SNK, were all focused on the 2D capabilities of their consoles, with only Sega's coin-op games Virtua Racing and Virtua Fighter providing an untextured glimpse of the future.
By contrast, Sony produced a platform that would inspire an industry-wide paradigm shift. While the original PlayStation's R3000 processor operated at a fairly average 33MHz, Ken Kutaragi had designed custom hardware, included a Graphics Processing Unit, that was optimised for 3D graphics processing and unprecedented audio playback. It was relatively easy to program, because Sony provided decent development tools, and because it had one processing chip with a 3D geometry engine in the CPU. And the console's controller was equally groundbreaking, with an amazing ten buttons comfortably incorporated into an oddly-shaped design which still forms the basis of PlayStation controllers.
Significantly though, all that revolutionary hardware made it possible to create an amazing selection of games. And that, in the end, is what it always boils down to. Although it didn't have a first class in-house development team, Sony convinced third-party publishers to use its incredible technology to produce a stunning variety of software. Looking back some years after the console's launch, former president and CEO of SCE, Teruhisa Tokunaka said: "Sony's relationship with thirdparty developers has been a key element in the PlayStation's success." It certainly had been.
Early partnerships with the likes of Konami and Namco, and the use of PlayStation hardware as the basis for coin-op motherboards saw, for the first time, arcade-quality gaming transferred to the living room. Namco's Ridge Racer accompanied the Japanese launch of the console and was an amazing advert for the power of the PlayStation. Converted in under six months at a cost of around £15,000, it was a perfect conversion of coin-op technology, back when coin-op technology was seriously powerful. It was followed up with Tekken, which was a similar arcade-perfect port, before another perennially popular PlayStation series was born from this synergy between coin-op and console: Konami's J-League Winning Eleven.
Other early titles like Toh Shin Den and Jumping Flash showed promise but are now largely forgotten, eclipsed by subsequent generations of software that appealed to a widening audience of gamers. Indeed Sony was given a lot of retrospective credit for producing software and marketing that resonated with the late 90s rave generation. But on the eve of the PS2 launch, Sony's Alan Welsman pointed out that putting games into clubs had originally been Sega's idea: "What happened was games became acceptable - 50 per cent through Sony and 50 per cent natural dynamics of the consumer changing. It was happening anyway."
Nevertheless, Sony's software played no small part in accelerating the rate of change. Wipeout's packaging was created by The Designers Republic, and its licensed track listing was a direct appeal to club-goers (before licensed track listings were at all common - another advantage of Sony's CD-ROM technology). But it was the diversity of Sony's software that was it's strongest suit - while the Nintendo 64 was home to some of the best-selling games, PlayStation was home to more best-selling games. Tomb Raider appeared first on Sega's Saturn, but quickly became synonymous with Sony hardware.
And every year there was seemingly another million-seller to keep driving hardware sales: Final Fantasy VII, Metal Gear Solid, Gran Turismo. Indeed it's difficult, today, to recall the paradigmatic impact of Polyphony's racer, which broke from the traditions of arcade handling models and just a handful of car types. Its physically realistic handling model and comprehensive vehicle roster was every petrolhead's dream. But the PlayStation catered for every demographic, from the mature horror fan, with Resident Evil, to the family audience with the likes of Crash Bandicoot - and there were even arty curios like Parappa the Rapper, and import niches like Konami's BeMani games.
Indeed Sony's commitment to wide-ranging creativity and new ideas was consistent throughout the life of the PlayStation. Nintendo 64's innovative controller was shamelessly plundered to pave the way for the DualShock analogue controller, and the console was supported by a huge number of peripherals, from lightguns to driving wheels, and even an equivalent of the Dreamcast's VMU unit, the Pocket Station (which was only released in Japan).
Meanwhile the Net Yaroze enterprise marked a surprising commitment to originality that is often forgotten by the company's critics. Another brainchild of Ken Kutaragi, the Net Yaroze was essentially a cut-down dev kit. £550 got would-be games programmers a modified black (region-free) PlayStation, a serial cable to connect to a PC, a C compiler, development libraries, code examples, and access to a support site. Many coders who cut their teeth on the system ended up in the industry, such as George Bain and James Russell who went on to join SCEE itself. It was an enterprise that would pave the way for the inclusion of Yabasic with the UK launch of the PlayStation 2, and the launch of Linux on for Sony's second console.
Not that the eventual appearance of PlayStation 2 diminished the continued success of the original PlayStation. It was eventually repositioned as the PSone, but actually the evolution had been ongoing. Over the course of various incremental revisions, the 1000 series turned into the 3000 series, then the 5000, 7000, 7500 and 9000 series. Each new iteration featured a more integrated chipset (and regrettably fewer sockets at the back) reducing the manufacturing cost to grant the console an unprecedented longevity.
In the year of the PlayStation's launch, 3DO head Trip Hawkins said, at E3, "For a company that is so new to the industry, I would have hoped that Sony would have made more mistakes by now." By the time Sony announced the end of PlayStation production, on March 23, 2006, Sony hadn't made many more. 100 million units sold is testament to that. It was the first console ever to do sell in such numbers.
The History of PlayStation 2
With such an unassailable command of the market, nobody really expected the PlayStation 2 to fail, did they? Well, strange as it may sound, yes, some people did. For a start, no other company had dominated the market across successive generations of hardware. Then there were the hardware shortages that hampered the console's launch in every territory - compounded in the UK when it got caught up in media hype about ‘Rip-off Britain'. And then there were the disappointing post-launch titles. Remember The Bouncer? Remember how it was going to represent a stunning new direction for emotion in games? That was quickly forgotten when the PS2 became the fastest selling console in history, with over 105 million units shipped worldwide by March 31, 2006.
Sony officially unveiled plans for its next generation PlayStation in March 1999. Like its predecessor, it was an impressive piece of kit, featuring, at its heart, the Emotion Engine, a chip optimised for fast graphics processing. It also boasted DVD-playback, backward-compatibility, and a dramatically different case design. It also extended the analogue functionality of the DualShock controller to the face buttons. And it was important to Sony: at the time, the original PlayStation accounted for 40% of the company's revenues.
But the months leading up to the console's launch weren't especially happy ones for Sony. Early previews of games weren't particularly well-received, and development insiders suggested that the system was difficult to code for. It was enough to for some people to have legitimate doubts about Sony's ability to dominate the market a second time.
A special event in 2000 showcased the initial batch of games, but many titles had started life intended for the original PlayStation and it showed, with early highlights restricted to the likes of Dark Cloud, Gran Turismo 2000 (which was eventually cancelled), and Fantavision (which hardly looked like it required the might of the Emotion Engine). Shortly after the event, rumours began to emerge about the difficulty of programming the device, with Capcom's Shinji Mikami pointing to the lack of development tools, and his colleague Keiji Inafune arguing that the machine was so powerful that it was difficult to budget or plan for the new techniques that would be required to program it.
A nine-minute trailer of Metal Gear Solid 2 at E3 later that year offered some respite from all the carping. Raindrops splashed off characters' clothes, bottles shattered and gun casings scattered, to a bombastic Hollywood musical score. More good news emerged at an LA sound stage, where Sony announced a launch date of Oct 26, and a price of $299, just as it had for the original PlayStation. It would launch with 20 games, as the original PS hadn't. But again, the games on the show floor didn't impress, especially as the Dreamcast was just then entering a creatively fecund period, producing games like Seaman, Shenmue, and Jet Set Radio.
But competition from the Dreamcast ultimately proved short-lived. Although Sega's next-gen console launched to success in 1998, it was hampered by manufacturing shortages, an initial shortage of standout titles, and continued speculation about the PlayStation 2. The real nail in its coffin though, was the fact that Sega had financially exhausted itself by propping up the Sega Saturn. At the start of 2001, Sega issued a press release stating the discontinuation of DC. It was the victim of the PS2's success, but both companies would eventually benefit from Sega's new multiplatform development, thanks to groundbreaking titlessuch as Rez and Virtua Fighter 4.
Another threat that would emerge was Microsoft's Xbox, announced by Bill Gates himself at GDC in 2000, shortly after the launch of the PlayStation 2. Lorne Lanning even made a high profile switch to Xbox, arguing that he couldn't do justice to Munch's Oddysee using Sony's hardware. But eventually Microsoft's console would also cease to threaten sales of the PlayStation 2, arriving on the market well after Sony had established a substantial installed base, and at too high a price to trouble Sony.
Indeed, in spite of the pre-launch teething troubles, the biggest threat to launch-day sales of the PS2 was an inadequate supply of consoles. When it launched in Japan on Sunday March 4, in 2000 the scenes of hysteria that ensued contrasted with the relatively sensible launch of the original PlayStation. 600,000 consoles sold out and many punters found themselves empty-handed - one Japanese gamer even threw himself off a roof in Akihabara after failing to get hold of one. Again though, it wasn't all good news for Sony: software sales were low, apparently because people were buying it to use as a cheap DVD player, and reports of faulty memory cards caused Sony's stock price to falter in the days following the launch.
The US launch, on October 26 was also rather mixed: the initial shipment of consoles was revised downwards at the last minute, from 1 million to 500,000, but there were many more games available at launch. EA certainly did well out of it, selling 40,000 copies of Madden before the console even went on sale, as did Rockstar, whose Midnight Club and Smuggler's Run were both prominent at launch (In spite of the muted reception to the console, Sam Houser perceptively noted that "Anyone thinking this isn't a completely new era for the games business is smoking crack.").
Finally the console was launched in Europe on November 24, 2000. But again, trouble continued to dog Sony, from David Lynch discovering that his ‘Third Place' TV adverts had been screened in black and white (and not colour as he'd intended), to TV show Watchdog targeting the PS2 as part of a ‘Rip-off Britain' expose because of its £300 price point. There were even allegations in the media that Sony had manufactured a stock shortage to drive up demand for the console. Certainly it wasn't a popular move to restrict European preorder allocations to just 80,000 units, particularly after Sony had earlier announced that Europe was the biggest market for the PlayStation (with 28m units compared to 27m in US and 17m in Japan).
One slightly surreal result of the stock shortages were roving packs of reporters on launch night, searching in vain for the sort of broadcast-quality hysteria that was commonplace in the US and Japan. There was a similar sense of anticlimax online, where budding entrepreneurs asked for £1,500 but got about £500 for early units. And the criticism continued after the launch, with online games sites becoming unexpectedly hysterical about the lack of antialiasing and developers continuing to complain about how difficult it was to program.
Interviewed at the time, Sony's Phil Harrison bullishly pointed to the wave of criticism as a reflection of the ‘worldwide cultural significance of the introduction of PlayStation 2'. And, of course, he was right. It took 15 months for the first million-copy selling game to appear, but Capcom's Onimusha: Warlords got there in the end - exorcising the memory of underwhelming Japanese launch titles like Tekken Tag Tournament, Street Fighter EX3 and Ridge Racer V.
In any case, from 2001, Sony could count on the unprecedented success of Rockstar's hugely original pop-culture melting pot, gameplay sandbox, GTAIII, and an increasingly diverse portfolio of games. Like the original PlayStation, every sector of the market was covered: from simple puzzle games like Fantavision to sports games such as FIFA and Madden; from high art, like Ico, to Hollywood blockbuster in the shape of Metal Gear Solid 2; and from family friendly titles like Jak and Daxter to fiendishly stylish action games like Devil May Cry; Sony once again had it all covered.
Including the market for innovation: early demonstrations of the console at trade shows frequently saw developers waving wands and swords around to show off the theoretical possibilities engendered by the PlayStation 2's USB connectivity. Over time these gave way to the groundbreaking Eye Toy, which in turn, heralded a wave of similar titles that were pitched at expanding audiences.
In the wake of criticism of the console in the months after it launched, Sony's Phil Harrison declared: "I think there's been a couple of high-profile examples of developers who failed, through their own poor decision making and technology planning, to understand what PlayStation 2 is about." A year or two later, the console's success allowed Ken Kutaragi to be more authoritative: "Last year some of the developers complained about PS2, but this year no one is complaining". Certainly nobody was complaining when the revised slimline PS2 helped the console outsell the original PlayStation.
The company's foray into the handheld market has so far been slightly less successful in terms of market share. Released in Japan at the end of 2004, and in the rest of the world the following year, the PSP expanded the multimedia capabilities of the PS2. Initially announced at E3 in 2003, the device is closer to the PS2 than PSone in terms of performance, which led to widespread expectation that success was a foregone conclusion. Certainly in terms of unit sales, and the quality of software it has been a success, with games like GTA: Liberty City Stories, Lumines, and Ridge Racer, all demonstrating the potential of the hardware. It's just that it's suffered by comparison to the Nintendo DS. Perhaps recently announced plans to make the PSone software library available for download may help it achieve more prominence.
Certainly its ability to connect to the PlayStation 3 should help. In some ways, the PlayStation 3 can be seen to build on Sony's previous experiment with the Playstation 2's multimedia functionality. The multimedia promise that had tongues wagging at the launch of the PS2, didn't ever really materialise, and nor did the episodic gaming that Sony's Phil Harrison often talked about. But while there wasn't much of an online strategy in the UK, both Japan and the US markets were well served by the PlayStation broadband adapter, and, in December 2003, the PSX was launched in Japan.
Consisting of a recordable DVD drive, TV tuner, hard disk, broadband adapter and PS2 chipset, the PSX marked the first use of the Cross Media Bar which now forms the front end for the PSP and PS3. It was available in two flavours (one with a 250Gb hard drive, and one with just 160Gb), which suggests that, while it wasn't launched outside Japan, it did amount to a useful trial run.
Which brings us up to date with the PlayStation 3, launched in Japan on November 11 2006, and in he US, on November 17. Continuing Sony's trend for hefty hardware specifications, its architecture is based around the 3.2 GHz Cell processor, jointly developed with Toshiba and IBM, and the DualShock controller has morphed into the wireless motion-sensing SIXAXIS.
So far, it's been uncannily reminiscent of Sony's earlier launches. There's been hysteria to accompany the US and Japanese launches, a sense of grievance to greet news of delays for Europe, carping about the slightly underwhelming wave of launch software, complaints about price point, and technical teething problems with backward compatibility. But then that's how the PlayStation and PlayStation 2 started life, and look where they ended up: selling over 100 million consoles each.