Hello readers, and welcome once again to another edition of Retro Looter, where we talk all things retro gaming. This time around, I thought I’d do something a bit different and give maybe some of our younger readers some gaming history 101!
PlayStation, Xbox and Nintendo are all household names when we think about the ‘console wars’, but it’s interesting to remember that things weren’t always this way. Rewind a couple of decades, and Sega were still big hitters. Atari were still holding on, and even companies like Philips were dipping their toes in. Microsoft was still too busy with Windows 95, and Sony…well that’s the very intriguing story I’d like to share with you today.
You see, back in the summer, you might remember seeing news break out of a very rare thing indeed – that thing being, the SNES PlayStation (also known as the Nintendo PlayStation, the SNES CD, or the Sony Super Disc). It might sound like some sort of fan creation or an April Fool’s joke, but the creation was a 100% genuine prototype. The SNES PlayStation is in fact a timely reminder of what could have been, and how Nintendo inadvertently created its biggest rival.
To add some context, in the early 90s, CD-ROMs were still very much in its infancy, but, as a format, was becoming increasingly desirable for game companies due to its huge storage capabilities, especially when compared to the cartridge style format used by most game consoles of the time. To give you a comparison, SNES cartridges used about 6MB and were expensive to produce, whereas CDs had up to 700MB and were much cheaper. Nintendo, being the biggest player at the time, were looking at ways to incorporate this new technology into the aging Super Nintendo, and when it came to the technology behind the CD-ROM, it was Sony who held all the cards.
Nintendo’s biggest rivals, Sega, were already making moves with their Sega CD add-on, and their efforts were cumbersome to say the least, but they were already preparing for the next generation of CD-ROM based consoles with the Sega Saturn. Not wanting to be left behind, Nintendo struck an agreement with Sony, a deal that on paper at least, looked to be a match made in heaven. On the one hand, you had Nintendo, the most renowned video game maker on the market, and on the other, Sony, arguably the world’s biggest electronics company. It gave Nintendo all of Sony’s expertise with the CD-ROM and allowed Sony to satiate a desire they’d had for years; a slice of the rapidly growing gaming industry.
The birth child of these behemoths was the SNES PlayStation.
Sadly, the relationship between the two companies began to sour. Nintendo boss Hiroshi Yamauchi double-crossed Sony, unhappy with Sony’s intention of becoming a major player in the gaming industry overnight, and revealed at the 1991 CES show that they had penned a new with Philips to produce a CD-ROM add-on for the SNES. He feared that Nintendo would have effectively created a new rival at its own expense, so Yamauchi, in a cool and calculated move, intended to show Sony who was boss by scuppering the deal and teaming up with Sony’s rival Philips. It was a move that would backfire and have huge ramifications for the future of Nintendo.
Angered by Nintendo’s backstabbing, Sony decided to continue with the development of a SNES-less Playstation, and what they created became the square little grey box we all know and love.
The PlayStation launched with hardware far more powerful than anything that had come before it, and its ability to handle 3D visuals led to developers and publishers flocking to the new console. And the rest, as they say, is history. The Sony PlayStation became the first ever home console to sell over 100 million units worldwide, and in the process, Sony stamped its authority within the gaming industry, becoming a dominating force.
Sega dropped out of the business altogether, though Nintendo soldiered on with the cartridge-based Nintendo 64; a great console in its own right, but one that suffered from a lack of third-party support due to the PlayStation’s popularity.
It’s pretty crazy to think what might have been had Nintendo and Sony worked out their differences. The very landscape of the home console industry would certainly be very different to the one we have now. Would Microsoft have had the confidence to enter the market against a Nintendo/Sony union? Would we have ever seen a Wii? It’s truly fascinating to consider what might have been. The only thing you fellow Retro Looters need to know is if you want to get your hands on one of the SNES PlayStation prototypes you’re going to need cash. Lots of cash…