The Father of Playstation
Although the PlayStation now accounts for approximately half of Sony's revenues, Sony was not always the gaming powerhouse that we know today. The gaming revolution that changed the direction of the entire Sony corporation can be attributed to one man: Ken Kutaragi. His spirited and assertive passion was instrumental in bringing the first PlayStation to market. This story of politics and vision will clarify the design philosophy behind the PS2.
Sony and Nintendo
Kutaragi's first involvement in the gaming industry came in the mid 1980s. After having purchased Nintendo's Famicom (NES) for his daughter, he found himself disappointed by the system's sound chip and its use of ROM cartridges rather than floppy disks.
Since the rest of Sony disregarded the NES as a toy, Kutaragi independently approached Nintendo to see if they would use his research team's floppy disk technology. Although Nintendo chose not to use Kutaragi's storage medium, the company was interested in getting a Sony sound chip for its next generation 16-bit console.
As a researcher, Kutaragi never had the authority to make any deals with Nintendo. He developed the chip in secret, only revealing his work to his boss, the head of R&D at the time. When Nintendo wanted to issue a joint press release touting Sony's new chip in the Super Famicom (SNES), the senior executives at Sony were furious that Kutaragi had been furtively helping a rival company. Fortunately, Sony's President Norio Ogha saw the potential in the market, and gave Nintendo the permission to use Sony's chip.
When Nintendo began development on the Super Famicom's 32-bit successor, the company approached Kutaragi for help yet again, but this time Nintendo wanted Sony to play a larger role. Kutaragi proposed the use of a CD-ROM and the 32-bit SNES CD-ROM was born.
Despite the previous success of the Sony/Nintendo partnership, most of Sony's executives were reluctant to help Nintendo whom they still saw as a rival for their customers' attention. Furthermore, Sony was reluctant to divert resources from their historical strengths in analog technologies such as TVs, VCRs, and audio equipment for what, at the time, was an unproven digital entertainment future.
Kutaragi found his savior at Sony Music Japan. Shigeo Maruyama, a senior executive and disciple of Ogha was ready to support Kutaragi. Through his sponsorship, Kutaragi asked Ogha to create an independent group around the Nintendo project. Kutaragi saw this separation as the only way to keep his dream alive, and knew that Ogha had himself used the same tactic to start Sony's music division against the wishes of upper management years ago.
While developing key components for the SNES CD-ROM, Kutaragi's research group remained outcasts at Sony. No other teams were willing to use any of his technology. In 1991, things got worse when Nintendo backed out of the deal, and instead partnered with Philips.
Even though it seemed as if Sony's foray into the console market seemed over, Kutaragi refused to give up. He petitioned for the creation of Sony's own console program, claiming that it would be the platform for Sony's future growth. After some debate, Ogha approved the start of Sony Computer Entertainment, and in Christmas 1994, the PlayStation launched in Japan.
The rest, as they say, is history. As the first console with C libraries and powerful 3D hardware, developers quickly signed onto the PlayStation. With a huge library of games, the growing Playstation user base and the all-important game licensing fees skyrocketed Sony to the top. Sony later released tools to allow developers to program directly to the metal resulting in games with improved performance. Sony Computer Entertainment became a full-fledged division of Sony. In 1996, work on the PlayStation 2 began, and in 1999, Kutaragi was made CEO of the division while still being the lead engineer of the PS2 project.