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Timeline: The PlayStation One Revolution

Born from betrayal and revenge, the PSX became something far more important than a Nintendo rival

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December 1994: All Systems Go

Zoom

On December 3, 1994, Sony issued 100,000 PlayStation systems to retailers across Japan, all of which sold out on day one. With caution, the company issued another 200,000 units across the first month, all of which sold out again. Sony was onto something, but despite the encouraging start, its executive circle still had reservations.

"Clearly, PlayStation launched into a market dominated by not one but two platform holders," PlayStation marketing boss David Wilson tells CVG.

"When PS1 released, Sony sent out notices which insisted we would refer to it as a 'PlayStation' and not a 'Sony PlayStation'. There was a real literal and metaphorical distancing of PlayStation from the Sony brand, just in case the system failed."

Sony knew the acid test was whether PlayStation could create the same sales momentum across Europe and the US - and both these continents wouldn't stock the system until the end of 1995. The western question was one that Sony wouldn't be able to answer for another twelve months - but the company had a plan.


May 1995: The Loss Leader


Steve Race may not be the most legendary games industry executive (he worked at PlayStation for about two years and eventually moved away from the industry) but he nonetheless marked a defining moment in E3 history.

By May 1995, Sega's team had grown fearful of Sony's competitiveness in Japan. It had spurred the company to make sudden and aggressive moves to protect its business in the west, and at E3 the company revealed it had covertly shipped Sega Saturn units across the US and was going to launch it, on that day, for $399.

Sega had seized the moment, and the industry remained unsure whether the PlayStation would be sold at a competitive price point (in Japan, it was priced at roughly $399 - tradition dictating that it was going to cost more in the west).

Sony's press conference, held the next day, began slow and gradually ground its expectant audience into collective boredom. But this was apparently intentional, because Sony wanted to jolt the crowd with a show-stopping announcement. It fell on Steve Race to deliver.

Called on stage by his colleague, Race strolled up to the microphone, paused for a few seconds, said the words "299", and returned to his seat. The crowd burst into applause.

The price point - far lower than expected - was at first resisted by Sony executives in Japan, because it meant the system would be sold at a loss. No major companies in the games business had sold consoles at a loss before, and no products across the entire Sony range had adopted this model. But the PlayStation's attractive RPP instantly dented Sega's fortunes, and the low price helped secure the firm's dominance in the years that followed.



1996: Undeniably Cool

In 1996, at a time when the creative pinnacle of video game advertising was the depiction of two painfully white boys jumping around a flashing TV, Sony made a risky and expensive decision. It hired the trend-setting ad agency TBWA to promote its new PlayStation console to a new demographic across Europe.
The ultimate result of this not only drove PS1 forwards as the dominant video game platform, but also triggered a cultural shift in how games were perceived by the masses.
Most of the early promotions became folklore themselves; Cards of perforated roach paper depicting a dealer offering a PlayStation pad. A Cool Borders advert that enumerated the joy of cocaine. Prostitution flyers left in phone boxes with the words "Randy Bandicoot, new in town, call me for fun times".

David Wilson, PlayStation's public relations director, has his own theory on why the company was free to make mischief.

"Because the Sony mother-company distanced itself a little bit from PlayStation when it first launched, it meant that we could get away with a lot more things," he says.

Targeting late-teens is so common in today's market that it is difficult to appreciate the breakthrough PlayStation made. It is a console that carried a clubland aesthetic that was both provocative yet sophisticated; a feat that its plastic toy rivals hadn't even attempted.

For all the cherished childhood moments provided by Mario and Sonic, it was PlayStation that made games cool and mass-market.

In 1999 another watershed moment occurred. An advert, called Double Life, signified that the PlayStation brand was no longer an icon for the adolescent, but a product pitched perfectly for people of all ages and tastes.

[Further reading: The PlayStation Adverts - CVG]


1995-1999: Unparalleled triumph

In the beginning, the main objectives for the PlayStation business were straightforward yet vital for success, according to Harrison.

"If we can be the creative choice of game developers, and the business choice of publishers, then those two together give us a chance of becoming successful," he told Edge years later.

"In order to be very successful you need both elements; you can't have one and not the other. I think this still holds true today for any company that wants to stay in the hardware platform business."

The first batch of PS1 units sold out on release in the US. By the end of 1995, Sony sold 800,000 systems across North America to Saturn's 400,000 units. Four million consoles sold worldwide in the '95-''96 Financial Year. Twelve months later that number trebled.

It was a surprise and sudden success that never seemed to cease.

Between 1997 and 1999, 60 million consoles were produced to satisfy global demand, at roughly 20 million units each year. Sony finally wound down production on PS1 in March 2006 - a year later, it was confirmed as the first ever home console to surpass 100 million sales.

As staggering as a commercial triumph it was, the PlayStation also triggered a cultural revolution - some of the best games of its generation belonged on PS1; from Gran Turismo 2 to Tomb Raider to Tekken 3 to Metal Gear Solid to Final Fantasy VII.

PlayStation was born from betrayal and had grown from gutsy decisions, but the eventual triumph shouldn't be remembered merely as a perfect act of revenge.

PlayStation may have shunted Nintendo from market-leader to distant-second, but Sony had achieved something far more special than winning a feud - it had built a whole new market, broke new records and upended the system. PlayStation One changed the game.

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