The Making Of: PlayStation

The Making Of: PlayStation

Ken Kuturagi.

In May that year, Sony finally put a stop to negotiations, and whether or not it should retain the project was decided at a pivotal meeting chaired by Ohga on June 24. The great majority of those present opposed it, but Kutaragi nevertheless revealed that he’d been developing a proprietary CD-ROM-based system capable of rendering 3D graphics, specifically for playing videogames – not multimedia. When Ohga asked what sort of chip it would require, Kutaragi replied that it would need one million gate arrays, a number that made Ohga laugh: Sony’s production of the time could only achieve 100,000. But Kutaragi slyly countered with: “Are you going to sit back and accept what Nintendo did to us?” The reminder enraged Ohga all over again. “There’s no hope of making further progress with a Nintendo-compatible 16bit machine,” he said. “Let’s chart our own course.”

And achieving that meant Ohga removing Kutaragi from Sony, fearing that the widespread internal opposition to the project might crush Kutaragi’s resolve. “There was a huge resistance inside the company to actually being in the videogames business at all,” explains Harrison. “The main reason why the Sony brand wasn’t really used in the early marketing of PlayStation was not necessarily out of choice, but it was because Sony’s old guard was scared that it was going to destroy this wonderful, venerable, 50-yearold brand. They saw Nintendo and Sega as toys, so why on Earth would they join the toy business? That changed a bit after we delivered 90 per cent of the company’s profit for a few years.”

Kutaragi was moved with nine team members to Sony Music, a separate financial entity owned by the corporation, in the Aoyama district of Tokyo. There, he worked with Shigeo Maruyama, CEO of Sony Music and soon to become a vice president of the division that ran the PlayStation business, Sony Computer Entertainment International (SCEI), and Akira Sato, who’d also become a VP. Though on face value it hardly sounds significant, the involvement of Sony Music was fundamentally important to PlayStation’s subsequent success. “Music was huge business back then, and they knew you had to attract talent and that you have to spend money to launch things,” says Deering. Sony Music knew how to nurture creative talent and how to manufacture, market and distribute music discs – with the move to CD-ROM, the mechanics of making and supplying games had become very similar to that used for music. “Sony made an awful lot of money pressing music discs,” explains Deering. “Between the converging interests of the disc pressing divisions and Ken Kutaragi and Ohga-san they were truly well down the road to developing PlayStation.”

Phil Harrison (left) and Chris Deering (right)

The final two key players in PlayStation were Olaf Olafsson, who was president and CEO of SCEI’s umbrella organisation, Sony Interactive Entertainment (and, incidentally, a writer who’d been nominated for the Icelandic Literature Prize), and Terry Tokunaka, who became president of SCEI and had come from Sony’s head office. Tokunaka’s vision for the project was simple, as Harrison explains: “It was that if we can be the creative choice of the game developers, and the business choice of the publishers, then those two together give us a chance of becoming successful. In order to be very successful you need both elements; you can’t have one and not the other. I think this still holds true today for any company that wants to stay in the hardware platform business.”

Harrison was among the evangelists who went out to scout for developers and publishers to create games for the platform, having joined PlayStation when it was finally greenlit in the summer of 1993. “We had to work hard to demonstrate our credibility, because bringing hardware to market is one thing, but being an organisation to market and distribute and sell it is another,” he says. With Sony’s strategy distinctly different to that of Sega and Nintendo, it had a huge opportunity to change the console market, change that prospective publishers and developers were only too keen to happen. “A lot of the business questions related to what the business model was for a publisher, what the royalty rates would be, how we’d make and distribute the software,” says Harrison. “That was set against the backdrop of the incumbent business models of Sega and Nintendo, which were at the time very restrictive. They’ve changed now, but at the time, publishing on 16bit Nintendo was an expensive and risky proposition.”

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