Saturday 24 February 2018

Playstation's amazing success story

COMPUTER gaming was about to get serious when Sony unveiled its PlayStation to British customers in 1995.

In less than a decade, the brand would take consoles from the clutches of children and teenagers and open them up to adults as grown-up gaming devices and multimedia entertainment hubs.


It would also catapult the company from the periphery of the games industry to its very core as the PlayStation became the world's biggest-selling console to date.


"It's been an amazing success story," said Mark Eyles, a console expert at the University of Portsmouth who developed leading computer games when he worked in the industry in the 1980s and '90s.


"I think the underlying story is Sony deciding they wanted part of the games market in the 1990s. There was already Nintendo and Sega, who had products out there, and Sony looked at them and thought 'this could earn us some money'.


"When the PlayStation came out it was interesting to see a big player like Sony come in an carve out a big market, then continue to invest in it."


While the first PlayStation games can now be played on a smartphone, many were jaw-droppingly advanced when they were launched.


With the rise of games on CD, rather than clunky cartridges used by 1990s market-leaders the Super Nintendo and Sega Megadrive, the PlayStation offered gameplay that was faster, graphics that were sleeker and a package that was all together more engaging.


"A lot of its success was due to good, robust technology but technology that delivered the quality of games people wanted. It's games that sell consoles, not the other way round," said Mark, who worked on early classics including Ant Attack and Alien Vs Predator and is now an educational adviser for TIGA, the independent game developers' association.


"It's not just the technology that's made them successful. Sony has been a master of identifying trends in gaming and predicting what people want.


"If you look at the things they have done with the PlayStation, they've continued to push the boundaries."


PlayStation was the brainchild of Ken Kutaragi, a Sony executive who had just come out of his hardware engineering division.


When it was unveiled to UK gamers in 1995 it cost £299, but the high launch price quickly tumbled - a pattern that has been repeated time and time again in Sony's battle to dominate the market with successive PlayStation reincarnations.


The PS2, which replaced its aging predecessor and the facelift PlayStation one in 2000 at a price of £299, brought the device from the confines of teenagers' bedrooms to the family living room thanks to its ability to do more than just run games.


It had a built-in DVD player and, like the original console, could also play CDs.


Sony had latched on to customers' desire for a more than just a gaming machine, and with its PlayStation3, launched in 2007, it took the concept a step further by making the console compatible with the PlayStation Network - an online platform that lets users communicate, play against each other remotely and access the internet.


"Sony expanded away from just hardcore, traditional games into social technology and the connectivity that goes with it," said Mark.


"I guess the biggest change in the PlayStation over the years is from a games console to an interactive device at the centre of your living room. When the PS2 came out, you could play your DVDs on it, which made it different from most of the other consoles around. Then the PlayStation 3 came out and you could play games and movies and have online access, which meant even more connectivity.


"I don't know what the PS4 is going to be like but I'd be very surprised if some sort of connectivity isn't built in.


"The PlayStation has been involved in a graphics arms race. It's gone from very obvious computer generated cartoon graphics to photo real - it's hard to distinguish the graphics from a photograph.


"It's quite amazing how quickly things have moved forward and how much gaming power we have now got. The challenge for the games industry is keeping up."

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