It’s hard to imagine today, but there was a time when Sony wasn’t a part of the gaming industry. The company had launched a series of MSX computers in the late 1980’s, but that was about it. The situation changed in 1991 when a deal with Nintendo turned sour, leaving Sony determined to take a slice of the marketplace for itself. The two Japanese companies had signed a deal to produce a CD-based version of the Super Nintendo that would be manufactured by Sony, but Nintendo didn’t like the terms of the deal and cancelled the project – signing up with Philips instead. The first Sony knew of the deal falling through was when a senior Nintendo front man announced it on stage at the 1991 CES – ouch.
Sony was left with a CD-based gaming console based on SNES technology, but decided to re-engineer it to make it their own design. The product saw the light of day at the end of 1994 as the PlayStation (PSX) – a machine that caused massive disruption to the gaming industry. In a forward-thinking move, the system had class-leading 3D graphics capabilities and the timing couldn’t have been better – polygon-based games were quickly becoming the norm, replacing the classic 2D scrolling and sprite-based genre.
The launch of the PSX was a huge deal – I remember going to a launch party at a town-centre pub where the system was plugged into the venue’s huge TV wall. People took their turn to sit on a tall bar stool in front of the screens and play Ridge Racer, featuring graphics that seemed arcade-perfect at the time.
Although the PSX was borne out of a failed Nintendo project, it was arguably Sega who suffered more in the marketplace. They’d already upset customers with the poorly-supported MegaCD and 32x addons for the 16-bit Megadrive, and the new Saturn console struggled to compete – it was a 2D graphical powerhouse but couldn’t match the PSX for 3D titles. It was also expensive to produce, making it hard to undercut Sony on price.
As well as being a leap forward technologically, the PSX had another significant attribute – the Sony brand and the classy appearance of the machine pushed gaming upmarket and – crucially – made it more acceptable for older audiences. Perfect for the demographic of gamers who had grown up with gaming and wanted a more mature experience. Software houses responded with games that appealed to older audiences, featuring complex story lines, adult themes and frequent 18 certifications. The effect lasts to this day, with the PS3 and Xbox360 continuing to offer adult-themed games which sell in huge numbers to first-generation gamers now in their thirties and forties.
Looking back, the list of important gaming titles on the PSX is huge and covers every genre. There’s Tombraider, Grand Theft Auto, Ridge Racer, Metal Gear Solid, Crash Bandicoot and Gran Turismo, plus many more.
In it’s lifetime the PSX was hugely successful, with production only ceasing in 2004 and commercial games still being released a year later. The PS2 cemented the reputation of the brand, although by the time of the PS3 there was significant competition from Microsoft.
For the huge changes it brought to the gaming industry, I put the PlayStation in first place in my list of technology that changed the gaming industry. As a loyal Xbox fan it’s a difficult choice, but the influence of the system is too great to ignore. We are where we are today because of what the PSX gave us.
How many people own and use a PSX regularly today? The platform still has many great games to offer – although a downside is that the system is now dated graphically due to the massive advances in 3D rendering. Somehow, 2D titles fare better in this respect.
There is also the common problem of older consoles looking substandard on modern TV’s – requiring the use of either a bulky CRT TV or a conversion box such as the HD Box Pro. I think if I were to buy a fifth-generation console today I would get the Saturn, purely for the unusual software catalog. But back in 1995, I’d always go for the PSX.