Hi everybody out there! Let’s continue on our way in the ‘Throughout the Ages’ section, this time with another Japanese company in the spotlights: Sony.
Sony Corporation, or simply Sony (sonus = root of sonic and sounds in Latin; sonny = familiar term for “boy” in America), is a multinational conglomerate corporation headquartered in Tokyo, Japan, and the world’s fifth largest media conglomerate. It was founded on 7 May 1946 by Akio Morita and Masaru Ibuka, the latter of whom started a radio repair shop after the end of World War II. Ibuka and his companion started Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo K.K., which led to Japan’s first tape recorder, called the Type-G, and later on to the TR-55, Japan’s first commercially produced transistor radio. One of its successors, the TR-63 model, really became successful worldwide, being the smallest commercially produced transistor radio.
During its history, Sony has been notable for creating its own in-house standards for new recording and storage technologies, instead of adopting those of other manufacturers and standards bodies. The most infamous of these was the videotape format war of the early 1980s, when Sony marketed the Betamax system for video cassette recorders against the VHS format developed by JVC. You all know who won this battle… Other formats launched by Sony were, amongst others, the Compact Disc (with Philips), 3.5 inch Floppy Disk, MiniDisc, DVD (with others), Memory Stick, UMD and Blu-ray Disc (with Panasonic and others).
Sony entered the game sector in 1993, which is relatively late, compared to Nintendo, Sega and other key players at that moment. A subsidiary was made within the Networked Products & Services segment, called Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. It was established on 16 November as a joint venture company of Sony Corporation and Sony Music Entertainment. After its formation, Sony Computer Entertainment maintained close ties with Sony Music which helped it attract creative talent and imparted its knowledge with regards to the use of CD-ROMs.
The PlayStation (also known as PSX, which was its development name), Sony’s first wide home console release, was initially designed to be a CD-ROM drive add-on for Nintendo’s Super Nintendo Entertainment System (or Super Famicom) video game console, in response to Sega’s Sega CD. When the plans to release the PSX as an add-on were cancelled, Sony redesigned the machine into a standalone unit. The PlayStation was released in Japan on 3 December 1994 and later in North America and Europa in September 1995, and in Australia in November 1995. It was the first video game console to ship 100 million units after 9 years and 6 months of its initial launch – quite an achievement, isn’t it? A very well known update for the PSX was the PSOne, being released in 2000, featuring a redesigned smaller (and more white) case, but also benefitting from the motherboard and quality improvements throughout the PSX’s development cyclus. Oh yeah, the new internal design made the modchips from the PSX era unusable. Like the gaming community has never been creative… Besides, there was also the Net Yaroze SDK from 1997, Yarōze being Japanese for “Let’s do it together!”. DIY FTW!
Currently the highest selling home console of all time, Sony’s second home console, the PlayStation 2 (PS2 or PSX2) was released in Japan on 4 March 2000, and later in North America and Europe in the fourth quarter of the same year. It was not the first console of its generation, being ‘beaten’ by the Sega Dreamcast, but the latter did not really get off the ground. Later on came the Nintendo Gamecube and the Microsoft Xbox, both during 2001-2002. The PS2 is powered by a proprietary central processing unit, the Emotion Engine, and was the first video game console to have DVD playback functionality included out of the box. Initially, the system was criticized for its complex development environment, due mainly to the proprietary hardware included. However, despite these complaints, the PS2 received widespread support from third party developers throughout its lifespan on the market. In September 2004, in time for the launch of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Sony revealed a new, slimmer PS2, just like during the previous generation of PlayStations, but this time the console did not get a proper name (e.g. PSTwo). Today, the PS2 has sold up to 150 million units worldwide.
Next came another market: the handheld consoles. The PlayStation brand was namely extended to the portable games market in 2005 by the PlayStation Portable (PSP) and in 2009, the PSP Go. The PSP Go features Bluetooth functionality, a smaller 3.8-inch (97 mm) screen and weighs 43% less than the original PSP. Instead of the UMD drive as found on previous models, the PSP Go has 16 GB of internal flash memory and a Memory Stick Micro port that accepts cards up to 16 GB. Sony developed the Universal Media Disc (UMD) optical disc medium for use on the PlayStation Portable. Although Sony tried to push the UMD format for movies, major-studio support for the format was cut back in spring 2006, though as of 2009 some major-studio titles continue to be released on UMD.
But we have skipped an important year in SCE’s history, being 2006, the year when Sony released the PlayStation 3, a high-definition console. This release occurred quite simultaneously with the one of Nintendo’s Wii, and quite long after Microsoft’s Xbox 360. In terms of sales, the PS3 got beaten by both, surely by the ‘family console’ amongst both competitors. Another important factor in this comparison is, of course, the price: Sony offered a 20 GB model for $499.99 and a 60 GB model for $599.99, whereas the competitors had consoles for way less than that. As an answer to the Wii’s success, Sony later introduced the PlayStation Move, an accessory that allows players to control video games using motion controllers. And let’s not talk about the numerous updates to the PS3 and the slimmer design after a while – again…
So, why would anyone choose for a PlayStation, if it wasn’t for the fact that you hated cartridges when the Nintendo 64 was Nintendo’s counterpart or because you wanted to combine a gaming console with the BluRay compatibility at the time the PS3 got released? Well, for example, Sony chose for some iconic exclusive collaborations, to try to lure all kinds of gamers. NAMCO, which was active for Atari, Sega and Nintendo before as well, but which had accused Nintendo for monopolistic behaviour and stopped their collaboration consequently, took care of games like Tekken, Ridge Racer and Time Crisis. Most of NAMCO’s games were available as a standalone arcade game as well, like in amusement parks. If you were into platform games, Sony wanted you to forget Nintendo by introducing, amongst others, a wallaby and a little dragon. Am I kidding you? No, because Crash Bandicoot and Spyro indeed went into the battle and did pretty well against Nintendo’s Italian plumbers. Both the Crash and Spyro series became available for other platforms as well, when the Nintendo Gamecube and Microsoft Xbox were duelling against the PS2. I cannot end this overview without mentioning Sony’s collaboration with Polyphony Digital, part of Sony Computer Entertainment Worldwide Studios, which resulted in the famous Gran Turismo series, sometimes referred to as the first realistic driving simulator. (With dozens and dozens of Nissan Skylines, but hey, it has been made by Japanese people…) It took until 2005 to have an opponent for this racing series, namely the Xbox-exclusive Forza Motorsport.
Above that, if Sony stands for certain values in game industry, their consoles’ durability may be the most important one. All of Sony’s gaming inventions have known a long life span yet, the PSX/PSOne being the perfect example, having been displayed for sale until the bitter end. Sony only ceased its production more than eleven years after it was released, on 23 May 2006, only about half a year before the third generation of PlayStations was released. The currently outdated PlayStation 2 still can be bought, and it will be sold as long as games will be made for this console. And indeed, especially some sports series are still being published, like the FIFA football series, that is already TBA for the 2011-2012 season. Even though the real fight between Electronic Arts’ FIFA and Konami‘s Pro Evolution Soccer rather happens on other platforms, then still, their presence on an outdated platform contributes to the total prestige. Respect to that, because not everyone in the world has enough money to buy each and every gaming system the moment it comes out – and even then…
Despite of all its inventions and attempts, Sony has not always been the world’s number one in innovation, as has been shown during the past few years. Although we have to take into account the novelty status of the EyeToy camera at the time, it took until the end of 2009 before Nintendo’s Wii got countered by the PlayStation Move extension, followed shortly by Microsoft’s Kinect. Moreover, what will exactly be Sony’s response to the Nintendo 3DS? The device currently referred to as the NGP (Next Generation Portable) or PSP2 should include dual analog sticks, a 5 inch OLED capacitive touchscreen, 3G, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi support. The device is due for initial release during the fourth quarter of 2011, so you may get this treat under the Christmas tree.