How PlayStation changed the gaming world

The original PlayStation hit stores in December 1994 and changed the gaming world with revolutionary graphics, engrossing gameplay and complex virtual worlds that served as a rival to Nintendo.

The original PlayStation was released in 1994, making Sony’s foray into computer games. Courtesy SONY
Powered by automated translation

Twenty years ago, a small grey box of electronic tricks made its debut in Japan, heralding the birth of the global gaming phenomenon that has changed the entertainment landscape, launching titles that now outstrip sales from Hollywood’s biggest franchises.

The original PlayStation, which hit stores in early December 1994, brought revolutionary graphics, engrossing gameplay and the kind of complex virtual worlds that had only previously been available in an arcade.

“When we arrived, the video game was seen as a niche hobby. One of our achievements is to have succeeded in making a legitimate cultural object, like music or cinema,” says Jim Ryan, the chief executive of Sony Computer Entertainment Europe.

The launch was Sony's first foray into computer games and pitted the company against the established giant of the sector, Nintendo, whose character-driven two-dimensional offerings like Super Mario had wowed children.

But unlike the 16-bit cartridges that powered the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, Sony’s PlayStation opted for cheap-to-produce CD-ROMs, a technology that allowed vast tracts of data to be stored.

The discs' convenience and powerful graphics in the original 32-bit machines lured game developers and players into a world where, suddenly, 3-D was in reach. And it wasn't just the insides of the machines that Sony had reimagined; they shunned the plain rectangle controllers of the SNES in favour of an ergonomic device that sat neatly in a player's hands. Titles such as Tomb Raider, Gran Turismo and Final Fantasy spurred console sales and launched what became multi-billion dollar franchises.

Global blockbusters like Grand Theft Auto joined the PlayStation world, as well as other platforms. The latest instalment took a US$ 1billion (Dh3.67 bn) in its first three days of sales, overshadowing huge cinematic hits.

In March 2000, PlayStation 2 burst onto the market, leveraging the mega-capacity of DVDs before the format was standard storage.

The company shifted around 150 million units worldwide, and the PS2 remains the best-selling console of all time.

Although addicts got a handheld PSP in 2004, it would be another six years until the main console got an update with the PS3, a Blu-ray equipped and Internet-ready device that allowed gamers in different continents to play against each other. Where gaming had once been largely a solitary activity, there was now a global community.

Unlike the ever-contracting windows of release for mobile phones and tablets, gaming consoles have retained their strung-out lives, with engineers packing as much hardware and spare capacity into them.

“In every generation, Sony has tried to bring an innovation in its machines to make the difference,” says Laurent Michaud, head of consumer electronics and digital entertainment practice at Digiworld Institute / IDATE.

Acolytes had to wait until 2013 for the PS4, an ultra-powerful machine with 4,000 times the memory of the original and processing capacity larger by orders of magnitude.

The 13.5 million units Sony has sold in the last year allow users to play games straight from the Cloud in a universe that now includes compatible smartphones, televisions and tablets.

Sony is also introducing a cable-style television service in the United States delivered through PlayStation3 and 4 consoles, called PlayStation Vue. And to mark the 20th anniversary, Sony is releasing a special, limited edition PS4 in the original grey, which will be offered to 12,300 fans worldwide.