The Sony console almost never was…
This September marked the original Playstation 20th anniversary in North America, and aside from a few rough years during the Playstation 3 era, Sony has dominated the console landscape ever since. But what few gamers realize is that Sony’s first console only came about after a business deal with Nintendo went sour in the early ’90s.
Sony agreed to create a CD add-on for the Super Nintendo, and later a standalone console dubbed the “Play Station.” But when Nintendo executives realized that the original agreement they signed gave Sony total control over any SNES CD games released, they backed out of the deal at the last minute and announced a new partnership with Sony’s rival, Phillips, for a CD add-on at the 1991 Consumer Electronics Bad.
Not only did the Phillips add-on never see the light of day (which resulted in Phillips getting permission to make three god-awful Legend of Zelda games), it also gave Sony the idea to release a console on its own.
At the time, Nintendo was the undisputed king of console gaming, and though the Sega Genesis gave it a good fight in the early ’90s, it was still seen as the superior console by most gamers by the time the middle of the decade came around. The fact is, Nintendo didn’t even need a CD add-on then, and its poor business decisions led to the creation of its greatest competitor, the Playstation. Had things gone a little bit differently, and Nintendo stuck to the original, yet flawed contract with Sony, it’s likely that the PSX would have ended up a doomed add-on for the Super Nintendo, similar to the rival Sega CD. Sony would have been scared out of the console business for years to come. In that case, the past 20 years of gaming history would have likely turned out very differently in four key ways.
1. Under-Powered Consoles
Had the Playstation not launched in 1995, that would have left Sega free to dominate the gaming landscape that year with the Sega Saturn. The Saturn had some great games like Nights, Panzer Dragoon Saga and Dragon Force, but it was always meant to be an extremely powerful 2D console with 3D graphics shoe-horned in at the last-minute to compete with the PS1. With Sony out of the picture, Sega likely would not have created a console as powerful as the one it shipped. The Nintendo 64 came out the following year and was designed with 3D games like Super Mario 64 and The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time in mind, but the limited space that the cartridge format allowed meant most games featured muddy textures and low-quality music. The result would have been a console war between two systems that each had major design flaws. Consoles would have continued to improve, but technologically they probably have continued to lag behind where we are now for years to come. There likely would have still been games like Tekken, Crash Bandicoot and Gran Turismo, but with worse graphics if they came out on the Saturn, or terrible music if they were released on the N64.
2. Fewer Mature Games
Console gaming was a whole different world in the ’90s. There were virtually no first-person shooters, and RPGs were still a niche genre. The big selling point of a console was its mascot and the games (usually platformers) in which he starred. Sony dabbled in mascots a bit with Crash Bandicoot and the ill-fated Polygon Man before realizing that people actually cared about good games, and not which cartoon characters starred in them. But to this day, Nintendo and Sega still squeeze Mario and Sonic into as many games as possible. Without the Playstation pushing mature 3D games like Metal Gear Solid and Resident Evil, it’s unlikely that either Nintendo or Sega would have sought those games out in the late 90s and early 2000s. Huge franchises like Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto would have stayed on PC or seen little attention on consoles. That might mean that even today console gaming would still be seen as more of a kid’s hobby and outside the mainstream.
3. No Xbox
Microsoft developed the original Xbox console in response to concerns that the powerful (for the time) Playstation 2 console was luring developers away from PC gaming. Take Sony out of the equation, and when you have two under-powered consoles that mainly attract the attention of kids, while hardcore gamers and their developers would have stuck to computers. Microsoft might have continued to look into console gaming, and maybe even launched something in the mid-2000s if more powerful consoles started to appear, but without the original Playstation, it’s unlikely that there would be an Xbox as we know it today. And maybe Halo would have turned up on the Dreamcast instead.
4. Less Multimedia Functionality in Consoles
Do you like streaming Netflix through your console? Yeah, it’s an awesome feature, but streaming, online gaming, and apps are all features that Nintendo has shown little interest in even in 2015. Hell, the Wii U doesn’t even play DVDs, a feature that the Playstation 2 pioneered 15 years ago. Sega has always been a little more forward thinking, making online play a major selling-point of the Dreamcast, and promising to eventually add DVD playback to it. But it’s Sony and Microsoft that have pushed to make consoles multimedia entertainment centers. It’s likely that we would have seen some of these features if Sega continued to make consoles into the 2000s, but both Nintendo and Sega have always seen themselves as game developers first and foremost. If in 2015 the only two consoles on the market were the Wii U and the Dreamcast 3, it’s likely that the Dreamcast 3 would look a lot more like a Nintendo system than the Xbox One or Playstation 4.
Did the Playstation revolutionize your gaming experience? Share your stories in the comments section.