“Video games were perceived as being toys. Sony is hardly a toy corporation, either. This is how a new mini-oral history on IGN on how PlayStation changed console gaming starts. The former head of Sony Worldwide Studios, Shawn Layden, is the source of these wise words, and anyone who used a NES or SNES growing up will attest to their accuracy. The games frequently took place in vibrant settings with knights, dragons, and mystical mushrooms, and the Nintendo consoles made for angular cartridges could withstand punishment like toy construction bricks. PlayStation seemed like something altogether different back in the 1990s.
Both Layden and Andrew House, a former CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment Interactive who joined the firm around 1990, spoke at length with IGN about how PlayStation managed to break into the market and how even Sony employees believed it was destined to fail. House recalled that his supervisor had essentially told him, “You’re an idiot and it’s a toy and it’s bound for failure.” The finance department seemed to be saying, “Please lease everything, because in nine months you might not be there anymore,” according to Layden. We are faced with a “sink-or-swim” choice.
Discs were the company’s biggest edge. CDs were inexpensive and could be printed on demand, in contrast to expensive and difficult to produce cartridges. Layden explains that you may simply order 10,000 optical discs. Moreover, if your game sells out on Thursday, call us so we may restock it by Wednesday the following week. House continues, “This also helped lower the entry hurdle for more creators, which allowed PlayStation to become a breeding ground for new genres and experimentation—something it sorely needed because it didn’t have any prominent first-party studios to lean on at the time.”
The cultural shift caused by PlayStation
The two go on to discuss PlayStation’s cultural influence and how it made gaming a way of life in other places. A video game console that could channel the same sense of cool as the Sony Walkman and your elder sibling’s collection of grunge and hip-hop Records was also pitched in addition to the idea of bringing arcade-level visuals into the home. The enjoyable mindset you had when you were 17 was what [PlayStation] was going to offer, according to House, if you were older, in your twenties and above. If you were younger, being that was what you aimed to be because it was stylish and in style.
An old video from 2000 that was recorded at a midnight PlayStation 2 launch and has recently been making the rounds online perfectly captures that feeling. It depicts teenagers waiting in lines at the mall to pick up GameStop pre-orders while trying to uncomfortably justify dragging their parents out of bed on a school night to get a sleek new black box when they already have the old one at home.
One young person wearing a Ralph Lauren shirt from the 1990s remarks, “It’s one of those things you’ve been waiting for forever.” Another person adds, “Simply having an arcade within your room, perhaps even better than arcade graphics.” One supporter even brought his kitten to the midnight opening, and another waxed lyrical over the arcade port Silent Scope, which IGN at the time awarded a 6 out of 10. They sit on the ground and read the most recent edition of Game Informer while playing Madden at a demo station. Perhaps the last time you could buy a brand-new “next-gen” system without the online community reminding you that all of the launch titles were terrible.
Similar to the PS1, the PS2 was released at the ideal time to capitalize on the switch to DVDs. In addition to allowing for the playback of movies, the new format significantly increased the available storage for experimentation by developers. That was an experience that console players haven’t exactly been able to equal since because it seemed like another revolutionary step ahead. The games have improved further, but they no longer always feel as novel.
Though they may not go down in history as two of the all-time great video games, PaRappa the Rapper and Crash Bandicoot seemed new and original at the time. Ico and Grand Theft Auto III were both released during the PS2’s first year, and both games set new standards that are still being used today. The final PlayStation to be devoid of microtransactions, downloadable content, and online outages, it went on to become the best-selling console of all time. Although I would never want to return to it, I’m grateful I had the opportunity to do so while it still existed.