The Making Of: PlayStation
Early PlayStation marketing, left to right: the infamous perforated flyer, Polygon Man and a ‘power of PlayStation’ ad.
A larger sticking point, however, was PlayStation branding. SCEA hated the name and wanted to change it to PSX, a contraction of the project’s codename. “This was actually a huge internal battle, to the point where there was research done among consumer groups,” says Harrison, who, having seen various youth groups reacting badly to the name PlayStation, had his own fears about it. “I remember thinking, ‘Oh my God, the name is bombing and everyone is going to hate it’. I shared the information with Tokunaka-san, and he said, ‘Oh, that’s nothing, you should have heard what people said about Walkman’. And that pretty much ended the debate.” In Europe, at least: the US nevertheless went ahead with early trade promotion, calling it PSX, and had even come up with its own mascot, Polygon Man.
SCEA’s marketing company was Chiat/Day, the LA-based agency that had produced the famous Apple ‘1984’ Super Bowl advert and had come up with the Energizer Bunny. Its consumer research had said that the golden age was 17, in that a 12-year-old wants to be 17, and a 25-year-old wants to be 17 again. So SCEA wanted to aim its message at that age group. “Polygon Man was going to be this iconic brand that would talk in various media to consumers as this kind of next-gen type spokesman,” says Harrison. With shades of Sega’s anarchic Pirate TV campaign in the UK in the early ’90s, it was far from SCEI’s minimalist vision for the brand. “It upset the Japanese because they thought it was fighting the PlayStation brand,” says Deering. “But we knew it was to dodge it.”
“I remember walking onto the E3 booth in 1995 with Ken and seeing the Polygon Man design on the side of the booth. Ken just went absolutely insane,” says Harrison. Kutaragi’s problem was that SCEA was investing a limited budget in an alternative brand. “But the thing that really upset Ken was that the Polygon Man design wasn’t Gouraud shaded, it was flat shaded! So Polygon Man was taken out into the car park and quietly shot.” Other parts of the US launch campaign were rather more successful, such as ‘U R Not e’ (being coloured red, the ‘e’ stood for ‘ready’), and ‘Enos’ (another red ‘E’ denoting ‘Ready Ninth Of September’). Race would leave SCEA just six weeks before the big launch – rumours flew as to whether such marketing disagreements had anything to do with his decision. Nevertheless, the US PlayStation launch was a massive success. All 100,000 units sold out in September, and by Christmas PlayStation had sold 800,000 in the region compared to Saturn’s 400,000 since May.
PlayStation launched in Europe on September 29 at £299, across many more countries than Sony had intended. “They were quite upset with me – they really only wanted us to launch in the UK, France and Germany, because of possible advertising expense,” says Deering. “I said that it’d go elsewhere anyway, and there would be other issues, and leave it to me. So we went everywhere except Scandinavia, which we didn’t get to until November or so.”
By the end of the year, his team had shipped 600,000 units, using Deering’s experience with and contacts in Sony’s film and music publishing businesses. SCEE eventually covered Russia, India and the Middle East. By the end of March 2007, Sony had sold 102 million PlayStations. Sales between SCEA and SCEE were almost equal, demonstrating the importance of Europe to the global game market. And it was a game market transformed by a new way of doing business and given new legitimacy by the presence of such an internationally respected company as Sony. PlayStation was the product of a confluence of the right technology at the right time at the right price, but it took Sony to create it. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine any other company than Sony, armed with the combined experience and capabilities of its hardware, software and entertainment divisions, producing a story like PlayStation. All those different divisions were galvanised by a single vision, however. Kutagari’s constant insistence that PlayStation was a gaming machine, not some multimedia device, focused a sprawling organisation into unity.
Today, PlayStation 3 is the result of anything but focus, and Nintendo has regained the position as the leading console maker that Sony took from it. And with what? A console driven by the most coherent vision of its generation. Perhaps St Augustine was right and there is only one story: of creation, fall and redemption. In PlayStation’s case, we’re now waiting on the latter.