It’s not quite an industry secret, but it also isn’t exactly widely known either. Back in the early ’90s we were almost presented with a console that would have changed the landscape of gaming as we know it: the SNES-CD.
Back in the late ’80s and early ’90s, Nintendo and Sony entered a partnership that enlisted the latter to create a CD-ROM add-on for the Super Nintendo. The project was spearheaded by Sony’s Ken Kutaragi, and at 1991’s Consumer Electronics Show it was revealed to the public with the name “Play Station.” It was a CD based console that could also play the ridiculously popular SNES’ cartridges. It could have dominated the gaming industry for years and crafted a fruitful relationship between Sony and Nintendo that for all we know could still be ongoing. However, it was not meant to be…
Nintendo realized that the deal as it stood was far more favorable toward Sony than themselves. Licensing control as it was seemed much more generous toward Sony’s bottom line. The current Nintendo president at the time, Hiroshi Yamauchi, sent Nintendo of America president Minoru Arakawa and executive Howard Lincoln to secretly meet with Philips, Sony’s chief rival, to see if a better deal could be struck. Philips was developing the “superior” CD-i format and were willing to be much more lenient with Nintendo’s demands. Sony formally announced the SNES-CD at the 1991 CES, the next day Nintendo made a surprise announcement breaking it’s deal with Sony and instead partnering with Philips. Ouch.
To say a rift developed between the two companies would be an understatement. Sony was blind-sided by Nintendo’s move. Not only did they renege on their collaborative deal, they then partnered with Sony’s biggest competitor. Ken Kutaragi would not be deterred, however. He presented an idea to his superiors at Sony with the logic of “if you can’t join them – beat them.” A few years later the real deal came to fruition, the Sony PlayStation was born.
We may never know what a Sony/Nintendo partnership could have developed into, although it is fun to think about. What we do know is that ever since that initial deal to create the SNES-CD, Sony has been riding Nintendo’s creative coattails. It may be controversial to throw out a blanket statement like that. After all, hardcore gaming today is more a Sony strength than Nintendo’s, but if you break it down it’s pretty obvious. Sony has been copying Nintendo’s ideas and designs for years. And I’m just talking about hardware.
SCPH-1010 – AKA – The PlayStation Controller
The PlayStation made its debut in North America on September 9th, 1995. The SNES was over four years old at that point and consumers were excited for “the next big thing.” The next big thing, however, would not feature a revolutionizing controller.
The PlayStation Controller was almost a direct replica of how the SNES’ operated. D-Pad, check. Select and Start, check. Four face buttons, check. The difference between the two resides in Sony adding two additional shoulder buttons to its design. Hardly something you could classify as truly unique for your console. Sony was far from done borrowing ideas for its controllers though.
SCPH-1180 – AKA – Dual Analog Controller
In 1996, Nintendo released the Nintendo 64. They revolutionized the industry with Super Mario 64, one of the first games to truly capture an immersive and fun 3D world. To play, gamers had to make use of the new Analog Stick on the N64 controller. Nintendo was hardly the first company to make use of an analog stick, Sony released a bulky controller utilizing two of them in April of 1996. However, theirs was mostly a gimmick controller for the PlayStation. Nintendo in turn made it an industry standard.
Nearly every game would utilize it and it would go on to become the most common directional input in console gaming to this day. Nintendo knew it then and based their entire system around it. Sony, as is the theme, would follow suit in April of 1997 with the release of the Dual Analog Controller. Although, to their credit, Sony would incorporate two joysticks on their version, which as we know today is common place amongst nearly all consoles.
SCPH-1200 – AKA – DualShock Analog Controller
Nintendo released Star Fox 64 in 1997. Bundled with it came the new Rumble Pak. Critics praised the accessory. In the originalStar Fox review IGN stated it “adds an unusual burst of arcade ecstasy to the game.” The Rumble Pak would go on to be utilized in the majority of the N64 library, and as with previous Nintendo devices, it became standardized within the games industry.
Sony knew Nintendo had created something special. So, in November of 1997, Sony released the DualShock Analog Controller. Thus, making their own version of Nintendo’s Rumble Pak come standard within their preexisting controller.
PSP-1000 – AKA – PlayStation Portable (PSP)
Nintendo dominated the portable gaming market for years, decades even. The Game Boy was released in 1989 and the company has held a tight grasp on the handheld console market to this day. Until you take into consideration iOS and Android gaming, of course. Nintendo released several upgraded models of its Game Boy line, each with incredible success. Several tried, but no one could compete. Sega gave a valiant effort with its Game Gear, releasing it in 1990. In total, Nintendo’s Game Boy line would finish at over 118 million units sold. Sega, in comparison, sold a paltry 11 million Game Gears.
Nintendo continued its success with the Game Boy Advance. This device did everything better than the Game Boy/Game Boy Color. It even had the ability to link up to Nintendo’s latest home console, the GameCube. But Nintendo had another form of innovation up its sleeve in the form of the Nintendo DS. It featured not one, but two displays, one of which was touch enabled. People were skeptical of the device at first, and Sony took notice and hoped to capitalize.
Sony was working on the PlayStation Portable at the same time the Nintendo DS was being developed. You could say Sony ‘followed Nintendo’s lead’ into the handheld market, the PSP and Nintendo DS were both portable consoles, but that’s about where the comparisons end. Nintendo was looking to innovate. Sony wanted to dominate. The PSP featured a larger widescreen display, analog control, better visuals, Wi-Fi, and many other options that tech enthusiasts craved at the time. It even borrowed the idea of having the PSP and PlayStation 3 interact with each other, similar to the Game Boy Advance and GameCube. What it lacked however, and perhaps most importantly, were the games.
The PSP had a decent library, but the system was an afterthought to the PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 3. Nintendo’s handheld dominated it in sales. The DS would go on to become the second best selling console of all time behind the PS2, selling over 153 million units between its various models. The PSP between its many versions sold about half of that, shipping 76.3 million units. The handheld battle continues to wage on to this day featuring the successors of these two consoles: the Nintendo 3DS and the PlayStation Vita (PCH-1000).
CECH-ZCM1E – AKA – PlayStation Move motion controller
When the Nintendo Wii released in November of 2006, many considered the system a joke. A console hoping to cash in on a new gimmick. It was inferior in every way to the just released PlayStation 3. That ‘joke’ is on its way to selling 100 million units. Sony released the PlayStation 3 just two days before the Wii launched in North America. Sony’s base model was being sold at $499.99 while the Wii cost $249.99.
The Wii became an instant hit and became the console of choice for ‘casual gamers.’ Parents and Grandparents everywhere could participate with its incredibly low learning curve and the easily accessible Wii Sports. Sony and other competitors quickly realized that Nintendo tapped into a very deep casual demographic – and they had it all to themselves.
In a move to reinvigorate the PlayStation brand during lacking sales, Sony unveiled the PlayStation Move motion controller at E3 2010. Its design is very similar to Nintendo’s Wii Remote, a direct result of the controller becoming a huge success. Sony still endorses the Move controller, although they no longer treat it as its own ”platform launch” as they initially described. The Move controller will be utilized with the upcoming PlayStation 4, much like Wii Remotes are capable of functioning with the Wii U.
PS Vita/PlayStation 4 Interconnectivity
After the launch of the Wii and the Wii U, it has become obvious that Nintendo and Sony are on very different paths as companies. Sony has targeted the more serious gamer market while Nintendo at this point seems to be primarily focused on including as wide an audience as possible. Nintendo attempted to continue the success of the Wii with its new console, the Wii U, which highlights the Wii U GamePad as its revolutionary new input. The touchscreen controller brings about new methods of interactivity and enables game developers to think outside the box with their designs.
The idea, while still in its infancy, is promising to say the least. And again, Sony took notes. When Sony held a press conference in February to show case the upcoming PlayStation 4, they made sure to mention that there would be interconnectivity between the PS4 and their newest portable, the PlayStation Vita. Sony plans to have developers utilize the PS Vita/PS4 combo in similar ways Nintendo utilized the GamePad, thus, hopefully eliminating any advantage Nintendo currently holds within the market.
This article is in no way trying to portray that Nintendo is a better company than Sony. Far from it. Sony is doing many things better than its competitor currently is. But what is undeniable is that Sony has peaked over Nintendo’s shoulder for many years. The end result amounts to a better product for us, the consumers. Sony has taken many of Nintendo’s ideas and made them better. Meanwhile, to stay fresh and unique, Nintendo is constantly trying to come up with more innovative ways for us to enjoy our favorite past time.
The two companies may have shared a similar trajectory for the first fifteen or so years, but they are very different today. And while some Sony fans may be Nintendo haters, they absolutely owe gratitude to the company for heavily influencing the gaming industry as we see it today. And really, seeing a former partnership instead turn into a rivalry this important and influential, aren’t we all lucky that they didn’t get along?