The video game console business in the US got a major shakeup on September 9, 1995. 28 years ago today, the first Sony PlayStation console launched in North America, several months after the console launched in Sony’s home country of Japan in December 1994. Sony says that the console, also known as the PS1, officially sold over 102.4 million units before production was discontinued in 2006.
The launch of the first PlayStation might not have happened if the original plans for Sony’s entry into the console gaming business had occurred, As related in this Ploygon story, Sony engineer Ken Kutaragi made a deal with the leader in game consoles, Nintendo. The deal would allow Sony to create a sound chip for the SNES console. Kutaragi originally made the deal without telling the higher-ups at Sony beforehand. In the end, Sony’s then CEO Norio Ohga allowed the deal to go through.
Nintendo and Sony then struck another deal. Sony would create a CD-ROM add-on for the SNES, which Sony called the “Play Station”. According to this Kotaku story, Sony’s contract with Nintendo also allowed it to keep the CD-ROM game software rights as well. That meant all the royalties from any CD-ROM game sales from the “Play Station” add-on would go to Sony. Nintendo would just get the money from the CD-ROM hardware add-on device.
The plan was to officially announce the “Play Station” SNES CD-ROM add-on at the 1991 Consumer Electronic Show. However, Nintendo realized they had given away too many rights to Sony. Behind Sony’s backs, Nintendo decided to make a deal with rival Phillips for them to make a CD-ROM add-on for the SNES. Sony reportedly found out about this deal two days before the reveal.
In the end, Sony announced the “Play Station” which would play SNES games and CD-ROM based titles, at CES on June 1, 1991. On June 2, Nintendo and Phillip announced its rival CD-ROM add-on at CES.
In the end, neither device actually launched. A prototype of the “Play Station” was discovered years later, with Engadget reporting that it still worked. It’s an interesting side note in the history of console gaming.
While Sony decided not to sell its original SNES “Play Station”, the company decided to go head first in the video game console world with its own standalone console, the PlayStation, that had no Nintendo connections and with Kutaragi in charge of its production.
According to a copy of Electronics Gaming Monthy. the first PS console had a 32-bit custom R3000 CPU with a clock speed of 33.8688 MHz. It had 16 Mb of RAM, along with 8 Mb of VRAM and 4 Mb of audio RAM.
The maximum resolution for games on the console was 640 × 480. The Geometry Engine chip allowed the console to handle graphics effects like texture mapping and grourand shading. You can go even deeper into the hardware aspects of the original PlayStation in this article written by Rodrigo Copetti.
As we mentioned, the first PlayStation console launched in Japan on December 3, 1994, with over 300,000 units sold by the end of that year. The launch 28 years ago today in the US got a big boost when Sony announced the launch price of the console would be just $299 at the very first Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3).
The console launched with a handful of titles in the US, but the highlight was Ridge Racer. Its 3D texture-mapped graphics might look a bit dated today, but they looked incredible to many gamers back in 1995. As in Japan, the PS1 was a massive sales hit in the US.
Today, Sony has launched four additional main consoles in the PlayStation family, along with two handheld gaming consoles, the PSP and PS Vita. Again, one wonders how the video game industry might have been different if Sony and Nintendo had decided to get along better all those years ago.