Saturday 7 December 2019

PlayStation at 20: how Sony nearly killed its console

The original Playstation
The original Playstation
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Rhiannon Williams

The original PlayStation was met with widespread opposition within Sony, today’s Sony Computer Entertainment CEO has revealed.

It would go on to sell more than 100 million units, but the original PlayStation was often dismissed as a toy and viewed ridiculed by the majority of the corporation, Sony's Computer Entertainment CEO has revealed.

Speaking at the Develop video games conference in Brighton to celebrate 20 years of PlayStation, Andrew House recalled the initial struggle to get the console recognised as a viable product.

While working for Sony in Tokyo in the early nineties, Mr House volunteered to be part of the secret project in charge of developing the original PlayStation, known as PSX.

"It was viewed extremely negatively by a large part of the corporation," he said. "My then boss said I was an idiot, as it was a toy. The other great quote was that 'this will never be a serious part of Sony's business'. I guess there was a bit of revenge mission."

The PlayStation was launched in 1994, selling over 100 million units worldwide and kickstarting the wildly successful modern console range, now dominated by Sony and its rival Microsoft.

"They saw it as an extension of the toy market, as something for kids that was just not what should be in Sony's DNA," Mr House added. "Fortunately a small, very passionate group of us fundamentally disagreed with that, and thought there was great potential to start with games and move into an area with more entertainment."

The early nineties' gaming industry was, Mr House recalled, completely dominated by SEGA and Nintendo, casting PlayStation as a challenger to the established order.

Mr House was joined by Mark Cerny, lead architect of PlayStation 4, who is now in his fourth decade of games development.

"Andy was talking about the scepticism of the publishers, I didn't see much scepticism from the developers; it was clear PlayStation was a nice piece of kit," he said. "It was very welcome."

Building on its success, Sony began planning the PlayStation 2, which went on to become the best-selling console in history with sales of over 155 million units.

"We were really trying to, through PlayStation 2, legitimise gaming as an entertainment medium," Mr House said. "We were trying to get people away from thinking about games as just for kids, or just a kids' toy."

Many of the philosophies which underpinned the development of the current PlayStation 4 came from the sometimes "bitter and painful" experiences of PlayStation 3, he added.

The console's third incarnation was criticised for its high price, while developers said they experienced difficulty trying to create programs for the machine. Despite initial misgivings, the PS3 still sold over 80 million units.

The first design for the current PS4 was "so off-base, I was trying very politely to say how much I didn't want it," Mr House continued. "Our benchmark at the end of the day was knowing that I was going to have to get up there at E3 [launching the product], was 'what would I be proudest holding?'"

PlayStation today markets itself as the gamers' console of choice, as opposed to a more general entertainment system, with the tactic born out of a desire to cater to those most passionate about the product. That contrasts sharply with Microsoft initially emphasising that its latest Xbox, the One, aims to be an entertainment hub. But there remains scope to extend the demographic while maintaining that commitment, the company says.

"We were fairly crystal clear and consistent that we were for gamers, that we wanted to inspire the most loyal and core game audience for the platform first and foremost," Mr House added. "[But] I want to be clear that th

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