Sony got its start in 1946, just after World War II , when Masaru Ibuka founded an electronics store in a bombed-out department store in Tokyo. Among other achievements, they were responsible for building Japan’s very first tape recorder.
Back then, the company was known as “Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo”; they changed their name to Sony in 1958 after expanding. The name Sony comes from the mixture of the Latin word “Sonus” (meaning sonic or sound) and the American term “Sonny” (colloquialism for a young boy).
With the advent of the electronic component known as the transistor, Sony was able to manufacture small, portable radios that it sold to American teenagers. Over the years Sony has been responsible for many of the common devices we’ve been using in our day to day lives, such as floppy discs, compact discs, Blu-Ray, and of course the Walkman, the first personal portable tape player.
They were also responsible for Betamax video-tape players, which were of a higher quality, but ultimately lost out to VHS. It should be said however, that the Betacam format was (and still is) widely used in the television industry.
Sony’s first foray in the video games market was actually with Nintendo back in 1988 when they worked on a joint project to create a CD ROM drive for the yet unreleased Super Famicom (SNES). Actual working prototypes were made, and even debuted at the Consumer Electronics Show in 1991. But one day after the show, Nintendo dissolved their partnership with Sony and chose to go with Phillips instead (their partnership also broke down, resulting in the CD-i console and some truly awful Zelda games).
Then-president of Sony, Norio Ohga, was reportedly furious at the termination of the partnership and got Ken Kutaragi to develop the PlayStation Project in order to compete against Nintendo.
In 1993, Sony formed Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. which at the time was more closely associated with Sony Music (a separate financial entity) than to main branch of Sony itself. After demonstrating their hardware in 1994, game publishers began to approach Sony, notably Electronic Arts and Namco. Game companies were attracted by the use of 3D capable hardware and cheap-to-produce CD-ROMs.
The PlayStation was released in Japan in December 1994, North America in September 1995, and Australia in November 1995. It was favoured by the market immediately due to its superior launch titles and relative cheapness when compared to the Sega Saturn. The Nintendo 64 was delayed and wasn’t released until well over a year later, giving Sony a head start.
The PlayStation was the first console to sell over 100 million systems worldwide.
How many games were released for the PlayStation? That’s difficult. While the official number of titles is 7,981, that includes many instances of the same game being released in different regions. Of all these many games, the biggest selling PlayStation release was Gran Turismo.
Sony’s next console was The PlayStation 2, which was released in 2000. The anticipation was so high for this console it had people in Japan camping outside games stores for days before the release. The PS2 had two big hooks: full backwards compatibility (an underused concept back then) with the PS1, and the ability to play DVD video discs.
DVDs had started to take off, but the players themselves were still very expensive. With the PS2 actually costing a little less than a dedicated player, this allowed Sony to find a new market as well as solidifying its own DVD format as mainstream.
Even today, the PlayStation 2 is still the most successful home console in history. It sold over 150 million units and had 3,800 titles in its library. New PS2 consoles were still being made up until the end of 2012! Its best-selling game was Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, with Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec a close second.
The PlayStation Portable was Sony’s answer to the ever popular Nintendo handhelds. The PSP was a bigger than a Game Boy, but had a crisp screen and was the only handheld ever to use optical discs. It was released in Japan in December 2004, North America in March 2005, and the rest of the world in September 2005.
The PSP was popular, but not always in the way Sony intended them. People started hacking them in order to turn them into powerful emulators, or pirate Sony games directly onto the memory cards.
The PSP Go was released in 2009, and it updated the hardware by eliminating the optical disc drive and adding a slide screen, giving it a more compact look. The Go had 16GB of internal flash memory, and games had to be purchased through the PlayStation Store as it was not backwards compatible with the PSP.
The PlayStation 3 was released in Japan and North America in November 2006, the console was the first to feature a Blu-ray player, once again helping one of Sony’s disc formats to become more common in people’s home entertainment libraries. When it was released in America, there were reports of people mugging campers outside the games stores, drive-by shootings with BB guns, and one customer even being shot. Material shortages meant that Europe and Australia didn’t get the PS3 until March 2007.
With strong lunch titles such as Resistance: Fall of Man, the console was an immediate hit and sold out in most stalls. Stereoscopic 3D was also added to PS3 in 2008, but so far only 62 games have taken advantage of the technology. The highest selling game so far is Gran Turismo 5. (I think I’m picking up a pattern here; PlayStation gamers love this racing series. Oddly enough, I don’t think I’ve ever played any of the Gran Turismo games, am I missing out?)
The PlayStation Vita, the successor to the PSP, was released in Japan in December 2011 and everywhere else in February 2012. The Vita includes duel analogue sticks and both front and rear touch screens.
Early rumours suggested that the Vita would be as powerful as a PS3, but Sony countered with the quote: “Well, it’s not going to run at 2 GHz because the battery would last five minutes and it would probably set fire to your pants”. The device is still powerful however; and is compatible with the upcoming PS4 as second screen, allowing games to be played remotely.
Despite its power, sales have proven to be somewhat sluggish, especially in Europe and Australia where prices were higher. Gamers also felt that not enough unique games were released for the system to justify the purchase of a whole new console.
In September 2013, Sony updated the Vita, making it thinner and lighter with a longer battery life. Towards the end of the year they will also be releasing the PS Vita TV, a sort of mini console that allows you to play Vita games on your TV.
The highest selling game for the PS Vita is Uncharted: Golden Abyss.
This brings us up to speed with the PlayStation 4 set to be released on November 15th in North America and November 29th for Europe and Australia. Oddly enough, The PlayStation 4 is getting released in Japan later rather than earlier this time – it won’t be released there until early 2014.
During E3 2013, Sony announced there would be no region locking and people will be able to resell and trade games. Unfortunately though, the PS4 won’t be backwards compatible.
Sony is no stranger to controversy. During the marketing campaign for the PSP, some of the highlights/lowlights included: hiring graffiti artists to spray paint advertisements in major American cities; putting up posters that suggested “Take a running jump here” that pointed at a train platform in England; and everyone’s favourite (failed) guerrilla marketing wherein ad-men pretended to be teenage bloggers, rapping about how desperately they wanted a PSP for Christmas. What was meant to go viral was instead laughed off the internet.
Sony has come a very long way since dipping their toes into the console market in the 1980s with Nintendo. The PlayStation has proved to be resilient and consistent hit all over the world. It’s funny to imagine how it seemed almost absurd that Sony was joining the console wars against Sega and Nintendo in the mid-90s, and now we can’t imagine the scene without out them.
Here are my personal favourites on each of the PlayStation consoles:
- PlayStation – Crash Bandicoot: Warped
- PlayStation 2 – Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
- PSP – Everybody’s Golf
- PlayStation 3 – Ghostbusters
- PS Vita – Rayman Origins
What are yours?
- Andrew “ProdTally” Yoshimura