Today marks the 20th Anniversary of the release of the Sony PlayStation in Japan. To commemorate the occasion, Sony made a pretty cool announcement that has peaked the interests of modern and retro gamers alike. Before we get to the announcement, let’s take a trip down memory lane to look at the storied history of Sony’s product line of home videogame consoles: the PlayStation family.
On December 3rd 1994, Sony, known for being one of the largest home electronics manufacturers in the world, made the leap into the home videogame console market with its mighty PlayStation. The PlayStation revolutionized the videogame industry and began to debunk the stereotype that videogames were just toys for children. PlayStation provided immersive gameplay and cinematic storytelling experiences that weren’t previously possible on older hardware, and ushered in a new era of videogaming which shifted game developers and publishers from being considered toy makers to being seen as part of the entertainment industry. But every great legacy has an interesting origin story and Sony’s PlayStation is no exception.
Believe it or not, the PlayStation itself was born out of a deal Sony had with Nintendo. Sony was already manufacturing the audio processor chips Nintendo used in its Super Nintendo console and had approached Sony about developing a CD-ROM add-on for the SNES. Sony designed the add-on, as well as a stand-alone console that would play SNES cartridges and Sony’s CD-formatted games, which they dubbed the “Play Station.” Nintendo was going to announce the Play Station at the 1991 Consumer Electronics Show until they took another look at the contract they had with Sony and didn’t like the terms of it. So, without even telling Sony, Nintendo announced the CD add-on for the SNES was being developed by Sony’s rival home electronics manufacturer, Phillips, who had already been developing their own SNES CD add-on the whole time. Sony decided to cut ties with Nintendo, drop the space between the words ‘Play’ and ‘Station’ (as Nintendo owned the rights to the name “Play Station,” but not “PlayStation”) and move forward with the creation of their own CD-ROM based console. Nintendo ended up dropping development of the SNES CD.
The Sony PlayStation (PSX or PS1 as some have come to call it) was released in Japan on December 3rd 1994, with its North American and European releases coming in September of the following year. In the US, it was launched with a price tag of $299 and boasted a wide variety of games at launch. Battle Arena Toshinden, Rayman, The Raiden Project, Ridge Racer, and NBA Jam: Tournament Edition helped to shore up a very solid launch window for the console.
PlayStation prided itself on becoming a platform in which third party developers could express themselves and tell their stories to the masses. Sony even went as far as sending employees from their record label division to the offices of software developers for business dealings, making the developers feel like true artists with talent instead of just code monkeys. This, combined with the ease of development for this (at the time) powerful, 3D-capable platform, wooed many developers to the PlayStation camp. Namco, Capcom, Konami, Squaresoft, and other industry giants all published masterpieces for the console and shifted gaming industry emphasis from first-party-developed games (on Nintendo and Sega consoles) to the third party; the ripples of which are still felt in today’s gaming market.
After a few redesigns and improvements to the PlayStation, Sony brought forth the PlayStation 2 in March of 2000. The PS2 further revolutionized not only the video gaming industry, but also all of home entertainment with the inclusion of a DVD-ROM drive that not only played high-capacity games, but also played DVD movies (which contributed greatly to the success of the media format in living rooms across the world). The powerful hardware and backwards compatibility combined with quality home entertainment to make the PS2 the highest selling videogame console of all time, selling over 155 million units worldwide.
The 2006 launch of the PlayStation 3 proved to be a hiccup for Sony, with the public opinion of the console being overpriced at $499 and $500 for 20GB and 60GB models, respectively. Sony did, however, include a lot of innovation and features into the console that the competition lacked. Built-in Wi-Fi, HDMI port, memory card readers, and Bluetooth wireless rechargeable controllers were all features the Xbox 360 lacked. The high-definition home movie media war between Blu Ray discs and HD-DVDs was won largely in part with the inclusion of a Blu Ray player built into the PS3, and the console made a resurgence when consumers realized that the PlayStation 3 was the best Blu Ray player on the market for the money.
Sony took everything that it had learned with the ups and downs of the three previous console generations and put it all together for the newest member of the PlayStation family: the PlayStation 4. Sony started listening to consumers about their growing discontent with the style of the Dual Shock 3 controller and redesigned it. They added new social features, better access to friends and party chats, live Twitch streaming without the need of a capture card and computer, DRM-free gaming with physical media, and a lower price than Microsoft’s latest offering. The launch of the PS4 was the perfect storm of marketing and fan service. One year into the console’s life, it’s sold over 13 million units worldwide and has a big leg up against the competition.
With the 20th anniversary of the launch of the PlayStation, Sony has announced a very limited edition PlayStation 4 that is stylized to be reminiscent of the original PlayStation in its gray color, and will include a matching Dual Shock 4 controller, PlayStation camera, and vertical stand. Only 12,300 will be produced and individually numbered. Expect further details and pricing information to become available at Sony’s PlayStation Experience event in Las Vegas on December 6th. Greatness truly does await whoever is fortunate enough to pick up one of these beautiful consoles.
Wherever your fandom allegiances lay in the console wars, or whether the PlayStation tickles your nostalgia bone or not, there is no denying that Sony permanently changed the videogame industry for the better. DVDs, Blu-Ray, dual analog stick controllers, HDMI, and many more standard console features wouldn’t be used today if Sony hadn’t been the innovator. Many retro gamers overlook the PlayStation as a classic console, and I say they’re right; the Sony PlayStation is not a classic. It’s a legend.
I'm a 28 year old husband, father of 3, Christian DJ, PlayStation fanboy, and retro video game collector from Chesapeake, VA.
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