March 22, 2011
Japan Week Day 2: Sony
For the second day of my week dedicated to the game makers of Japan, Sony takes the spotlight. Sony has made vast advances in the 15 years it has been in the industry, two men in particular I am going to highlight that have been detrimental in their success, Ken Kutaragi and Kazou “Kaz” Hirai. The PlayStation brand has always been about advanced technology and pushing new formats as well as creating new experiences. The PlayStation pushed the home console CD drive, the PlayStation 2 pushed the DVD into the living room, and the PlayStation 3 introduced the most powerful home console as well as introducing the world to the HD quality of the Blu-Ray format. Starting with a small project with Nintendo to bring a CD drive to SNES, turned into one of the biggest decisions to rock the industry, and would advance a one man’s hard work into the stratosphere.
In January of 1992 Nintendo announced that they would bring a CD drive to the SNES and hard partnered with Sony to bring the project to life. Sony had placed Ken Kutaragi, a Sony engineer at the time, on the project. Nintendo decided to break off the arrangement and strike a deal with Philips N.V. to produce the CD drive for the SNES, and the most epic face palm happened in the modern era of gaming. Kutaragi took the terminated project to, Sony’s CEO at the time Norio Ohga, and asked to keep the project alive and produce a stand-alone unit. Nintendo would never produce a CD oriented machine until 2001. The project was approved despite some questioning and doubts and on December 3rd 1994 the PlayStation launched in Japan with shipping only a paltry 100,000 units. Surprisingly during the PlayStation launch the Sega Saturn was selling better and became the console of choice in Japan, though the PlayStation would catch the eyes of developers and pick up some steam. Kutaragi made sure the PlayStation was easy to program for and introduced a $10 a game licensing fee to attract developers. On September 9, 1995 the PlayStation launched in North America with a price tag at $299 and a launch lineup that span every genre. Over 102 million units would be sold worldwide during its lifetime and Kutaragi would be dubbed the “father of the PlayStation”. Kutaragi would oversee the development of Sony’s follow ups to the PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 3. The PlayStation 2 would go on to become the fastest selling game console to date, selling in an excess of 100 million units. The PlayStation 3 launched in November of 2006 and would be the last Kutaragi would handle the PlayStation brand he started. On April 26, 2007 Ken Kutaragi left Sony and the legacy to the game industry he started.
The other man responsible for Sony’s rise in the game industry is Kazuo Hirai. In 1995 he joined Sony at Sony Computer Entertainment America (SCEA). Hirai would bring such franchises as Jak and Daxter, Ratchet and Clank, SOCOM, and Sly Cooper to the PlayStation through second party developers. Hirai would rise to take Ken Kutaragi’s postion in 2007 and would lead the PlayStation brand. Hirai is in position to become Sony’s CEO after Sir Howard Stringer retires.
The PlayStation brand has soared to become what is now known as the Big Three (Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft). Sony and Kazuo Hirai would go on to bring motion control to the PlayStation 3 with the Move, and their vision of the future of portable gaming with the NGP. Sony has given so much to the industry and will continue to be a major player.