The year was 1991. Sony took the stage at the Consumer Electronics Show to announce a new gaming console. It would play Super Nintendo cartridges, as well as new, disc-based games with a built-in optical drive. They called it “PlayStation.”
This console was the culmination of a partnership with Nintendo, and as you can probably guess, it was never released. Sony’s partnership with the gaming powerhouse fizzled, but it climbed out from the rubble and developed something way better: a sleek, 32-bit gaming console that rendered state-of-the-art 3D polygon graphics, with a processor nearly ten times faster than the Super Nintendo’s. It changed everything.
The PlayStation’s Origin Story
It might seem far-fetched that Sony and Nintendo once worked together, but it made sense: Nintendo was the undisputed leader in the gaming industry, and Sony knew a thing or two about compact discs. Together, these two could make the most beautiful console baby ever.
The partnership would have resulted in two products, the first being a two-in-one gaming console that played SNES cartridges, as well as soon-to-be-produced games using a new “Super Disc” format made by Sony. The second product would be an add-on Super Disc peripheral for the Super Nintendo, giving owners a cheaper option if they wanted to upgrade their existing consoles. CD add-ons weren’t uncommon for cartridge-based consoles back then—the Famicom, Atari Jaguar, and Sega Genesis all offered CD add-on peripherals at one point.
During the development stage, however, Nintendo found the terms of the deal to be unfavorable, citing an unfair split in revenue. So while Sony was busy announcing its new gaming console to the world, Nintendo was busy working up a better deal with Philips, one of Sony’s biggest rivals, to develop the add-on peripheral and dedicated console instead. The very next day at the Consumer Electronics Show, Nintendo announced a partnership with Philips, much to everyone’s surprise, including Sony’s.
Sony continued to develop the hybrid console while attempting to mend fences with Nintendo, but it eventually scrapped the project and focused its efforts on creating its very own console with advanced hardware and software to render next-gen 3D graphics. This would be the beginning of what we know as the PlayStation today.
As for what’s left of the “Nintendo PlayStation” that could’ve been, a couple hundred prototypes were made, but only one known working unit exists. You can take a much closer look at it in a video series from The Ben Heck Show, where it’s torn down and restored to its former glory.
How did Nintendo’s partnership with Philips work out? Not great. Philips had the rights to use Nintendo characters, like Mario and Zelda, in a handful of video games made for Philips’ CD-i disc player. It was a massive failure, though, and Nintendo never got its CD add-on peripheral for the Super Nintendo.
A Legend Is Born
Sony officially launched the PlayStation in Japan on December 3, 1994 for ¥39,800, or about $365. Thanks to launch titles like Ridge Racer and Mortal Kombat 3, around 100,000 units sold on the first day alone.
The PlayStation wasn’t released in the US until September the following year, which gave Americans just enough time to drool and prepare their pre-orders. Indeed, Sony sold around 800,000 PlayStations during the 1995 holiday season.
I still remember the day I got a PlayStation. Granted, it was years after its initial release, and I bought it used with a modchip installed, but it was the game console that transitioned me from a boy into a man. I went from playing cute side-scrollers on the Super Nintendo to playing racing simulators and realistic fighting games on the PlayStation. It was a game changer, pun intended.
Looking back, the PlayStation was simply iconic, and it’s the one console I remember the most from my adolescent years. It was much sleeker than any other console on the market, and the controller was ahead of its time, featuring a radical new shape that made it much more comfortable to hold than other gamepads. Over the years, Sony revised it bit-by-bit, adding joysticks, vibration feedback, pressure-sensitive buttons, motion sensing, wireless connectivity, and a touchpad, but the overall design still holds up to this day. In fact, the basic shape of the controller remained largely unchanged for 19 years, until the PS4 released in 2013 with a significant redesign to the DualShock 4 controller.
That’s not to say Sony didn’t play around with different gamepad designs over the years. Unsurprisingly, an early prototype of the original PlayStation’s controller was SNES-inspired. And leading up to the PS3, Sony showed off its infamous “Boomerang” prototype. Let’s all be grateful that neither one actually happened.
A Legacy That’s Still Growing
The PlayStation would go on to become the first gaming console ever to sell 100 million units, with a final tally of 102.5 million when Sony discontinued the original PlayStation, as well as the redesigned PS One, in 2006. By that point, the PlayStation 2 already blew past that number, becoming the fastest-selling console to reach 100 million units in sales. And it currently remains the best-selling gaming console of all time at 155 million sold.
Sony continued its trailblazing with the release of the PlayStation 3 in 2006, which included many firsts for the PlayStation brand and gaming consoles in general. It was the first console to come with a Blu-ray drive, as well as the first PlayStation with a built-in storage drive (offered in 20GB or 60GB configurations).
It was also the first PlayStation to include a wireless controller, although it wasn’t of the DualShock variety. Called the Sixaxis controller, it didn’t include vibration feedback. And that wasn’t for lack of battery power—the feature was temporarily omitted due to a legal battle with Immersion, who claimed Sony was infringing on its force feedback patents. Sony eventually settled and released the DualShock 3 controller a couple years later, the first PlayStation controller to sport both vibration feedback and wireless connectivity.
Today, the PlayStation 4 rules the gaming landscape. Thanks to the overhauled DualShock 4 controller, easily-upgradeable storage, and a steady stream of exclusive world-class titles, Sony has sold more PS4s than Xbox Ones and Nintendo Switches combined.
And even after its successful launch, Sony kept improving the console, starting with a slimmer model sporting faster USB, Bluetooth, and WiFi, as well as a 4K-equipped PS4 Pro with a faster CPU and GPU, and more RAM. Even then, Sony sneakily improved the Pro model twice since its initial release, the first time with a quieter cooling fan, and the second time with a new power supply, going back to the traditional “C8” connector that Sony has used since the original PlayStation.
The PS4 Pro is truly the pinnacle of console gaming. And when paired with an SSD upgrade, it’s about the best console experience you could ask for. That is, until the next PlayStation comes around, which is sooner than you may think.
What the Future Holds
It’s been six years since the PS4 initially launched (yes, it’s been that long), which means we’re at the tail end of a gaming generation. But a new generation is on the horizon, and we’ve already heard inklings of Sony’s next console, the PlayStation 5.
There’s still plenty to be uncovered, of course, but we know it’ll arrive next year in time for the holiday shopping season. Confirmed features include the usual CPU and GPU improvements (with ray-tracing acceleration), 8K support, solid state storage, and advancements to what we can only assume will be called the DualShock 5 controller: haptic feedback, “adaptive triggers” with different levels of resistance, a better speaker, and USB-C (thank god).
It’s still too early to speculate wildly about the next PlayStation, of course, but we reckon Sony will continue the same trailblazing it’s been accustomed to for the past 25 years. The graphics boost compared to last-gen consoles may not be as drastic as the original PlayStation’s was, but we’re hoping for that same audible gasp everyone let out back in 1994.