Sony, after the failed collaboration with Nintendo, decided not only to enter the gaming market on its own but also to conquer it in the shortest time possible.
The PlayStation console was ready to hit the shelves for the 1994 holiday season and it met with immediate success among the public, media, and developers alike.
The reasons for PlayStation’s long-lasting and terrific success were several, starting from a very carefully planned strategy that included the formation of a new company branch. Sony Computer Entertainment, Inc. (SCEI)25 officially started its operations in November 1993 to attract specific talent and to provide a more focused environment in which to work. Indeed, Sony’s aim was extremely clear—to design and develop the most powerful gaming console ever, with a strong focus on 3D graphics. Raw hardware power alone wasn’t enough, though, and to overpower the competition, Sony also had to have the best games not just the best hardware.
To lure the most talented developers, several tech demos were programmed by internal teams and shown to software houses worldwide. This direct and friendly approach, together with the decision to adopt CD-ROM instead of cartridges as the game medium to make manufacturing easier and cheaper, succeeded in raising an unprecedented interest—250 third-party developers were signed in Japan alone and all big companies like Electronic Arts, Namco, Konami, and Williams decided to support the newborn system. Sony was also active in buying specific studios to turn them into first-party developers. For example, after its impressive string of successes including Shadow of the Beast and Lemmings, UKbased Psygnosis was bought for $48 million and went on to produce some of PlayStation’s best games, including titles like WipeOut and Destruction Derby.
With such enthusiasm from developers, it wasn’t difficult for Sony’s marketing team to transmit such positive vibes to consumers. By distancing itself from the previously dominant “family friendly” marketing approach that characterized companies such as Atari and Nintendo, Sony decided to aggressively target tech-thirsty teenagers instead. The focus shifted to the system’s prowess to showcase games with more mature content, effectively enlarging the gaming audience to a new category of people who might not have been home-gamers before.
The original Sony PlayStation, the first home console powerful enough to handle 3D graphics easily thanks to a R3000 RISC CPU and a customized GPU
On December 3, 1994, when the first batch of consoles went on sale in Japan, long lines formed in front of every shop despite the steep price of 37,000 ¥ (about$387), turning the PlayStation into the most important product released by Sony since the WalkMan in the late 1970s. The success was indeed embraced worldwide and the PlayStation was destined to be the first system to sell more than 100 million units, making Sony the leading player in the gaming industry for years to come.
Interestingly, Sony’s sudden rise to success appeared to have taken the other established console manufacturers by surprise, as evidenced by their inability to properly plan for a new strategy to effectively counter Sony’s disruptive move. Sega in particular, after the impressive results obtained with the Mega Drive/Genesis, fell short in preparing for their new system, in part due to a severe lack of communication between the Japanese and American branches of the company. In fact, the former was so secretive about their new Saturn console that the latter, unaware that the Japanese headquarters was actually already designing a new system, started a parallel project on their own to extend the lifespan of the Genesis. In late 1994, Sega of America released a new Genesis add-on, the 32X, which featured two 32-bit RISC processors able to increase performance and allow the development of more complex games. With the Japanese release of the Saturn scheduled around the same time, though, the lifespan of the new
add-on was very short; no one, in fact, was really interested in another add-on when the next-gen system had a worldwide release just a few months later, in mid-1995.
“It’s more powerful than God,” claimed one of the ads supporting Sony’s marketing campaign. Together with the mascot “polygon man,” it showed Sony’s willingness to address the teenage crowd in a much more direct and aggressive style than ever before.
Unfortunately, the Saturn also fell short of expectations as developers were confused by its dual CPU architecture and flocked toward Sony. In another dubious move, Sega soon admitted defeat in the current generation of consoles and decided to focus on a new system instead, leaving the Saturn to its own unlucky destiny.26 But before having a look at what Sega had in mind, we should first see how Nintendo decided to fight back against the new threat.
Most likely, Nintendo, having been the market leader for the past two generations of consoles, felt quite secure in its dominant position and didn’t really feel the need for changing much in its approach. In 1996, its new system was finally available—the Nintendo 64 (N64).