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Timeline: The PlayStation One Revolution

Born from betrayal and revenge, the PSX became something far more important than a Nintendo rival


As the world awaits the announcement of the PlayStation 4, CVG is running a special three-part article that looks through the defining moments of in PlayStation history.

Then, today at 6pm Eastern Time (11pm UK) we will stream live video of the PlayStation Meeting right here.

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Timeline: Revolution PS1


June 1991: Nintendo's Betrayal

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Fittingly for a company that has been at war with other platform holders for two decades, PlayStation was born from a fractious and highly politicised business relationship that, inevitably, fell apart.

At the Consumer Electronics Show in June 1991, Sony businessman Ken Kutaragi revealed a new kind of games console that his team had built in partnership with Nintendo. Conceptually, it was a SNES with a CD drive - a simple idea with staggering potential. But the business agreement itself was far more complex, as both companies were divided on how they would split the revenue.

Just one day after Sony's announcement, Nintendo publicly declared that it was building its SNES-CD console exclusively with electronics firm Philips. This was the first time Sony heard it was no longer in business with Nintendo.

Humiliated and outraged, the corporation's executives decided to not back out of games, and immediately it refocused efforts on building its own console - a 32bit system that would read not cartridges, but Compact Discs.


1991-92: Kutaragi's Struggle

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Fuelled by anger and ambition, Kutaragi immediately brought together a team of Sony engineers who had been working on a special effects engine called System-G (tech that was used to overlay 3D graphics on TV shows). The theory was that this group could invent a mass-market version of System-G that could be sold at an affordable price.

To his surprise, Kutaragi faced immediate internal resistance. Many Sony execs, grounded as they were in the corporation's traditions, did not endorse investment in the interactive entertainment sector. Video games were, certainly at that time, perceived by many as a toy business - faddish in concept and only appropriate for children and teens.

Four years later, Kutaragi would have proved these naysayers wrong in the most perfect way imaginable. But in January '92, there was no such means to convince the business. At an investor meeting that month, Kutaragi publicly confessed: "There is no consensus within Sony about why we are engaged in this business".

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Ken Kutaragi

The politics and in-fighting culminated in an extraordinary meeting in June '92, led by the then-chairman of Sony, Norio Ohga. The majority of the board opposed the console project, but Kutaragi revealed that his team was already working on a CD-ROM-based console that was capable of rendering 3D graphics.

And it was perhaps Ohga's brooding anger over Nintendo's betrayal that saved the project. According to an account of the meeting by Edge, Kutaragi asked Ohga:

"Are you going to sit back and accept what Nintendo did to us?"

The chairman replied. "There's no hope of making further progress with a Nintendo-compatible 16bit machine. Let's chart our own course."

[Further reading: The making of PlayStation - EDGE]


1993: Revolution From Within

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Phil Harrison, showing off an early PlayStation system in 1995

The iPhone is praised for triggering an "indie revolution" by turning bedroom coders into wealthy entrepreneurs. But at its core it is a developer revolution - because the App Store offers all studios the chance to produce content affordably, and update it regularly, with a handsome and hassle-free 70 per cent royalty rate. Unsurprisingly, a whole army of creative talent now marches to the beat of iOS.

It's important to understand how this happened when looking back at why, in 1993, Sony was already gaining serious support from the development industry without even a console to show off.

Nintendo, the biggest player in town, charged infamously high royalty rates, had a certification process that lasted two months, and enjoyed a huge slice of software sales with its own must-have SNES games that drowned out the competition.

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Phil Harrison, a young businessman who joined Sony in 1992, head-hunted game studios across the world and promised them a completely new kind of deal. He said that PlayStation's certification process would last no more than two weeks, that the business would offer far more reasonable royalty rates, and that Sony was not going to build its own audience-stealing star games. (The latter was not quite true at the time, as Sony part-acquired Psygnosis in May 1993 - the studio that would dazzle the world two years later with Wipeout).

Among the growing number of PlayStation partners was Namco, a company that had left Harrison dumbfounded during his tour of the studio in 1994. Presenting its demo of Ridge Racer, it was clear that Namco had very quickly got to grips with the PlayStation hardware.

"I remember realising that was going to be pivotal piece of software for the west in particular," Harrison told Edge years later.

But there was something else that was shown, Harrison explained: "It was almost an afterthought. One of the men demonstrating Ridge Racer asked, since I was there, would I like them to show me another game they're working on? 'Yeah sure', I said. 'What's it called?' 'It's called Tekken'."

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