The Making Of: PlayStation
Sony executives gather in a Tokyo hotel to present PlayStation to potential partners.
One of the crucial points in the campaign to win hearts and minds came when Sony offered a solution to the problem that Japanese game publishers had no production capacity or supply infrastructure themselves. After all, under the Nintendo model, Nintendo would make and distribute their software for them. “All the publishers we worked with in Japan said that they loved the machine and were all super excited, but wondered how they’d bring their software to market,” explains Harrison. “This was where the partnership between Sony Corp and Sony Music really came to fruition.” Sony invited all the game publishers and developers to a hotel in Tokyo in 1994 and paraded on a stage the 40 direct sales people it had in place to distribute software. “It said: ‘We know this is a challenge for you, so we’ve gone ahead and built our own sales force’,” Harrison continues. “The net effect was that there were hundreds and hundreds of thirdparty publishers in Japan. Tonnes and tonnes of product being developed for PlayStation – with the resulting dynamic range of quality…”
Harrison found that developers began to allocate resources to PlayStation long before they had publishing agreements that laid out their royalty rates. “That was an incredible demonstration of support and confidence, given that we hadn’t even announced the formation of the company, just Sony Computer Entertainment in November 1993. And then throughout early ’94 we hadn’t announced the business model. We hadn’t a company, no leadership or executive team outside Japan – all that changed fairly quickly, but the key events were bringing in big companies like Electronic Arts in the west and Namco in Japan.”
It helped that the demos for the new hardware were inspiring. Harrison recalls having a video FedExed to him that had been used to show Japanese publishers the capability of the machine. “I remember watching it over and over again and thinking that I couldn’t believe it, that it was absolutely extraordinary. Just being excited, and also incredulous.” In December 1993, it was his turn to show around 100 European developers and publishers what Kutaragi had been creating. Frontier’s David Braben and Argonaut’s Jez San were there: “Jez said he didn’t believe it was running on the hardware and that it was on a Silicon Graphics workstation, and we had to take him to the side of the room to show him what it was running on.”
Apart from the powerful allure of the hardware itself, two factors helped Sony’s cause enormously. The first was that western developers and publishers were starting to move toward producing games heavy with full-motion video for CD-ROM on PCs, and experimenting with 3D. The second was that Japanese publishers were finding creating games for Sega and Nintendo expensive, risky – and slow. They were used to ten-to-12-week lead times for cartridges, meaning that they had to manufacture game cartridges according to forecasts and had difficulty reacting to actual demand. Sony offered an order system that was just seven to ten days. “It was a massive shift in the economics,” explains Harrison. “The working capital requirement shifted massively in favour of the developer and publisher, and they could afford to put more money into product development and marketing, so it was a virtuous circle.” The idea of a 3D-capable, CD-ROM-based console and a different way of doing business was a breath of fresh air for all.
Another major attraction for third parties was that Sony didn’t have internal development studios until early 1994. Though a weakness for Sony because it meant an almost complete reliance on external partners for PlayStation’s early software, third parties saw it as an advantage because it meant less competition. But Sony wasn’t entirely without capacity, having acquired Psygnosis in May 1993. It was a loose relationship – Psygnosis retained its publishing business, which released games for other platforms, but it played a vital role in creating PlayStation development tools that ran on PCs rather than the early kits, which were large, repurposed Sony NEWS workstations. “Psygnosis came to a large meeting at the Alexis Park Hotel in Las Vegas during CES 1994 – 11 months before the launch of the machine in Japan – with an early prototype of a working development environment that was far in advance of anything that had come out of Japan,” says Harrison. Psygnosis, of course, would go on to make Wipeout and publish Destruction Derby for the European launch lineup in September 1995.