This post is about Sony’s very first game system, not the line of consoles. If you’d like to read about that, clickhere!
In order to stay ahead of the curve, it’s important to think two steps ahead of your competition. You can’t only focus on what’s popular now. You need to predict what could be popular in the future and hope to hit that trend first. Back in the late 80’s, Nintendo attempted this when they partnered with Sony to develop the first profitable disc-based console. Cartridges were doing just fine on the market but CD-ROMs were rapidly growing and the potential for gaming enhancement was obviously there. Nintendo and Sony put a lot of work together to make a CD add-on to the Super Nintendo and even had some legitimate system designs created. Yet the partnership ultimately fell through, propelling Sony to produce their own console without Nintendo’s intervention.
Sony was unquestionably the big winner of this split. Not only did the big N lose their ticket to the next phase of gaming technology, their follow up system would deliver the company’s first major sales defeat. It was bound to happen when Sony’s inaugural PlayStation, now 20 years old in North America, came roaring onto the scene like a hot new friend. This system was unlike anything on the market and people wanted it with a fervor that Sega failed to hit when they tried to take down Nintendo. It was less a console war and more of a completely one-sided battle. Except unlike Sega, Nintendo didn’t fade away. They were beyond stable enough to whether this and future storms. They just had to adapt to a new norm where Nintendo was no longer the reigning industry leader.
The big reason why the PlayStation did so well was its technology. Nintendo was absolutely right in giving CD-ROMs a try. The PlayStation essentially opened an entirely new spectrum of gaming with the far superior disc. It also helped that Sony was already a very popular company and were able to push their system out one year earlier than Nintendo. This allowed gamers to really see what a company could do when they’re not constrained to a cartridge. Environments produced on PlayStation games were much bigger and significantly more detailed than what was seen before, really captivating players on a different level. This was the first real step any company took to making video games much more cinematic adventures as opposed to the sprite based journeys seen previously.
Sony also took this time to hit a demographic that Nintendo and Sega weren’t getting: the older, high school and college aged individuals who wanted more mature experiences. Nintendo and Sega heavily focused on their mostly family friendly and first-party games. Since Sony wasn’t a dedicated game developer, they relied mostly on third-party involvement, and this prompted a lot of companies to shift over so they can tell better detailed stories with more control. Square jumped on board to deliver the stellar Final Fantasy VII, eventually following up with a few more critically loved Final Fantasy games. Konami knew that a stronger system was absolutely necessary to expand Metal Gear’s scope. Capcom, despite using Nintendo to make Mega Man and Street Fighter popular, turned to Sony for Resident Evil. Namco was able to enter the fighting genre with Tekken as well. None of these games, and more, could have found a home back then on Nintendo with the directions developers wanted to take. Sony made that possible and young adults got some significant properties to sink their teeth into.
However, the PlayStation had some notable flaws. Discs, despite being more powerful, required more care than certain gamers expected, and scratching was painfully common. Damaged discs would either skip horribly or not play at all. Loading times were much longer too which assured that cartridges would be a much quicker experience. It’s biggest fault though definitely lied in its inability to accommodate more than two players without a separate attachment. It’s easy to see why Sony thought this was unnecessary. Previous systems did just fine with only two controller ports. Yet multiplayer is exactly what exploded in the fifth generation, and with the Nintendo 64 featuring four controller ports, gamers flocked to that system to play with friends. The PlayStation may have had better graphics and more dramatic games, but the Nintendo 64 still had Mario Party and Smash Bros.
The PlayStation is easily one of my favorite consoles of all-time. I remember when my brothers and I first got it, I immediately ran to the computer to play our new copy of Crash Bandicoot. My excitement completely blinded me to the fact that this was how games were played on the system, not through cartridges. This new system delivered to me a lot of new and defining experiences that changed how I viewed video games. FF VII turned me into a huge fan of JRPGs. Gran Turismo presented the more detailed look at video game racing. Crash Bandicoot was an insanely fun platformer that gave me my first taste of Naughty Dog. Resident Evil scared me so much, I avoided the franchise until early high school. The PlayStation was such an awesome device, and it weirds me out that I was five when it first came overseas.
Sony’s PlayStation truly was a trendsetter, changing the industry forever. First and foremost, it showed companies that you don’t need to be solely about video games to produce your own systems. Microsoft notably followed suit in the next generation with the Xbox. It also proved that CD’s were the way to go. Outside of handheld systems, the Nintendo 64 was the last home console that didn’t require a disc. The previously booming form was rapidly replaced with a far superior alternative. Sony since continued with their disc-based innovation. Their PlayStation 2 games were put onto DVD quality discs and their PlayStation 3 games were Blu-Ray. Nintendo, meanwhile, wouldn’t bounce back to the top until two generations later with the Wii. Sony accomplished what Sega couldn’t, and this healthy industry competition is still running strong two decades later.
Luke Kalamar is Pop-Break.com’s television editor. Every Saturday afternoon you can read his classic video game column, Remembering the Classics. He covers Game of Thrones, Saturday Night Live and The Walking Dead (amongst others) every week. As for as his career and literary standing goes — take the best parts of Spider-man, Captain America and Luke Skywalker and you will fully understand his origin story.