There aren’t many inventions that have a generation named after them, and grow so ubiquitous that they become almost a generic term. As Hoover is to the vacuum cleaner, PlayStation is to the modern video game console.
The success of the Sony PlayStation can be attributed to hard work, extreme clevernessin both the technical and business fieldsand a good deal of imagination. If some of the older Sony executives had had their way, though, the PlayStation would never have happened.
In the early 1990s, Sony had been working in tandem with Nintendo to create a gaming platform that operated with CD-ROMs; other companies, like Sega, were using cartridge systems. Sony wasn’t really a force in the video game world at the time and then Nintendo backed out of the project, choosing instead to go into a partnership with Philips. Ironic, given that the compact disc was a collaboration between Philips and Sony. Norio Ohga, Sony’s president at the time, was enraged. He put exec Ken Kutaragi in charge of making a rival machine.
When the time came for Kutaragi to show what he had come up with, most of the board wanted to ditch the whole idea. In an attempt to keep the project alive, Kutaragi reminded Ohga of the humiliation Nintendo had caused. So Ohga packed the PlayStation team off to a separate Sony-owned concern, Sony Music.
Meanwhile, Columbia Pictures had come under the Japanese giant’s umbrella. When ace director Steven Spielberg was working on Hook, one Sony suit, Olaf Olafsson, saw some intriguing potential for the future of video gaming. By owning a studio, we can get involved right from the beginning, during the writing of the movie, he said in a Fortune magazine interview. The main company also became the sole worldwide licenser for CD-ROM technology.
The first commercially available PlayStation came out in Japan on December 3, 1994, after four years of development. We probably spent as much time on the joypad as the body of the machine, said Kutaragi.
It was released in the United States on September 9, 1995, having already created a buzz earlier in the year at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles, where Michael Jackson made a surprise appearance. That initial weekend in American stores, sales topped 100,000, at $299 a pop. It only took six months to reach the one-million mark.
In two years, that figure leapt to four million in North America alone, 20 million worldwide. By that time, revenue from hardware and software had exceeded $1 billion. In 2001, there was a PlayStation in 30 percent of American homes. Video games weren’t just for spotty teenagers anymore. Now cool people played them.
The PlayStation2, released in 2000, added DVD capability, and the graphics, one of the PlayStation’s greatest strengths, got even better. It earned the title of word’s most successful console, with more than 140 million sold. The PS3, which debuted in November 2006, cemented the console’s superior status by also having a Blu-ray disc player, high-definition graphics and the ability to link with other players via the internet. It has already sold 38 million.
Ask the average person on the street what their favorite Sony product is, more often than not you’ll hear PlayStation. So said the gadget-geek website, Gizmodo. As recently as July 30, 2010, PlayStation was the most followed brand on Facebook, with 1.4 million devotees. One of the main reasons why the PlayStation is so beloved to gearheads is Gran Turismo, which is the all-time best-selling racing game in the world. For fans of European cars, this is probably the only way we could drive an Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione at full pelt around the Nrburgring Nordschleife. Kutaragi-san, we owe you.
One of the main reasons why the PlayStation is so beloved to gearheads is Gran Turismo