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Alternate history: N64 goes with CDs instead of cartridges

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What do you think would've been the outcome?

N64 would've won the gen 40 62.50%
 
PS1 still would've won 24 37.50%
 
Total:64

I'd like to add another factor in support of a CD N64 beating the PS1: Dragon Quest VII. Had Nintendo gone with CDs, Enix would not have jumped ship. Dragon Quest VII came out so late in the life of the PS1 in part because of multiple platform changes, although the massive amount of dialogue they had to write for it didn't help either. It started out on SNES, then went to N64, then to PS1. It would have likely launched much sooner without the change to PS1, and would have done so on N64. Enix may have actually had time to make a Dragon Quest VIII on N64 before the generation ended. If that had happened, it would have been a curb-stomp fight.



PS1 would have still won and N64 would not had any more 3rd party support than it did.
3rd paries where running from nintendo after the SNES and NES days because of the way Nintendo where. CD on their system would not have helped them.



A common consensus (myself included) is that FF7 would've made N64 a lot more successful. However playing devil's advocate for a second, how do we know Nintendo would've treated FF7 the same way Sony did? Sony had a HUGE marketing campaign behind the game, it was everywhere, still one of the most hyped games I can remember and the push paid huge dividends for Sony. I dont see Nintendo investing with that same passion as Sony.



There is NO way I can imaging an alternate future with the N64 employing CDs with Hiroshi Yamauchi at the helm. He was too much of a senile kook.



PortisheadBiscuit said:
A common consensus (myself included) is that FF7 would've made N64 a lot more successful. However playing devil's advocate for a second, how do we know Nintendo would've treated FF7 the same way Sony did? Sony had a HUGE marketing campaign behind the game, it was everywhere, still one of the most hyped games I can remember and the push paid huge dividends for Sony. I dont see Nintendo investing with that same passion as Sony.

Rumor has it, Nintendo kept screwing With Squaresoft by limiting them to develop with limited cartridge capacity which strained their relationship while also preventing the release of the Famicon versions of FF II and III and the SuperFamicon version of FFV outside of Japan.  They also had a general policy of allowing third party developers to only develop a limited number of titles per year.  That's when companies like Konami developed sub city labels like Ultra.  Nintendo wasn't a big supporter of competition back in the day. 



Shadow1980 said:

I think Nintendo would have won, and handily so. People tend to forget that the PS1 was not an instant hit, and took a while to become truly successful. In all of 1995, it sold only 1.37M units in Japan, a very low number by the standards of the time. Shipment data suggests that it was likely outsold by the Super Famicom and may have done only about on par with or slightly less than the Saturn. It did improve considerably in 1996, selling nearly 2.7M units, likely due to a combination of two separate price cuts that dropped it down to ¥20k by mid year and an improving library, including several high-profile releases like Tekken, Resident Evil, and Arc the Lad II (sales data for 1996 isn't granular enough to tell what did what exactly in terms of pushing hardware, though). But it wasn't until 1997 that it really took off, and it was the release of Final Fantasy VII that appears to be the initial trigger, pushing the system to nearly 180k units the week of its release.

In the U.S., the PS1 had a very weak launch period, selling only about about 600k units from Sept. to Dec. 1995, and it sold just short of 2 million units in all of 1996 even after a major price cut, a rather paltry number and one of the worst first full years of any major system (only the Genesis, Saturn, and Wii U did worse). In fact, though the N64 was only available for the last 14 weeks of the year, it sold almost as many units as the PS1 did that year. While the PS1's sales did improve after some price cuts, it continued to be outsold by the N64 for the first two-thirds of 1997. But then FFVII was released in September that year, and it blew the doors off the PS1. It sold approximately 3.76M for the last four months of 1997, compared to about 3.86M for the previous two years before. That's how much the PS1 improved in the U.S. thanks to FFVII.

Europe is harder to gauge without any actual sales data, but shipment data suggests that the PS1 struggled early on as well. By March 31, 1997, 18 months after launch, Sony had shipped only 3 million units, about par for course in a region that never really had gotten into console gaming before. However, another 3.1 million units were shipped over just the next six months, though whether it was in anticipation of FFVII's release in November or just a general increase in demand is unknown. By June 30, 1998, shipments had nearly doubled yet again, putting cumulative LTD shipments at over 11.7M (already better than lifetime sales of any prior console in the region). By that point, it was clear that Europe had chosen the PS1 as the first console it would adopt en masse. Unfortunately, the absence of any data beyond shipment figures makes it impossible to tell the exact factors that led to growth of the PS1's sales in Europe.

So, if the PS1 started off slowly and didn't start to really grow until certain factors propelled it to mainstream status, would those factors still have existed had the N64 been disc-based?

Well, Japanese third parties likely would have remained with Nintendo for the most part. Namco was Sony's earliest and biggest third-party supporter early that generation, and it's possible that might not have changed if the N64 was CD-based. Capcom and Konami may have supported both the PS1 and N64 just as they supported the Mega Drive and SFC in the previous generation; they showed minimal interest in the PS1 at first, but that started to change as the generation progressed, with Capcom having some high-profile PS1 releases in 1996 and Konami accelerating PS1 support in 1997. Given their prior support for Nintendo, I think most of their games (including notable titles like Resident Evil and Metal Gear Solid) would have been multiplatform instead of PS1 exclusive if format had never been a concern, giving Sony no real advantage. Square and Enix exclusively supported Nintendo in the previous two generations, meaning Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest would likely have remained exclusive (in fact, FFVII was originally in development for the N64 before Square jumped ship to Sony to take advantage of the PS1's disc format). Without the massive system-selling success of FFVII to propel it forward, the PS1 almost certainly would have had a far worse 1997, and likely would have continued trailing the N64 in the U.S.

As for Western developers, the N64 did get quite a bit of support from them, including quite a few titles from big names like Activision, Acclaim, THQ, and LucasArts (though EA primarily supported the PS1). While Sony did nab Crash Bandicoot as a high-profile third-party exclusive in 1996, most of the PS1's best-selling Western titles released in 1995 & 1996 were not exclusive, and some did come to the N64, or likely would have had it been CD-based (e.g., Tomb Raider was released on the Saturn as well). In fact, it wasn't until 1997 and especially 1998 that we really saw major Western third-party releases as PS1 exclusives, and even then such support was primarily from the likes of EA, Eidos, and Insomniac.

So, had the N64 been CD-based, given what we saw earlier in Gen 5 we can plausibly assume a scenario where the PS1's biggest supporters were reduced to just EA, Namco, and Naughty Dog. Without any sort of leverage originating from a dominant market share as well as known support patterns from older third parties, multiplatform titles would have been more common, with Capcom, Konami, and every major Western third-party sans EA supporting the PS1 and N64 about equally. Meanwhile, Nintendo would have likely retained Square and Enix as exclusive partners. In terms of first-party content, Sony was largely relegated to Gran Turismo and the output of 989 Studios (e.g., Twisted Metal, Syphon Filter), while Nintendo already had well-established brands. Aside from Gran Turismo, the PS1's biggest exclusives (either first- or third-party) would have been Tekken, Namco Museum, and Crash Bandicoot, and possibly not much else (EA's franchises were nowhere near as big then as they are today, even with the PS1's huge install base).

With the N64 retaining the support of the largest third parties of the previous generation (all Japanese) and most publishers that started to really take off that generation (many of which were Western companies), and retaining JRPG juggernauts like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest, I think it would have easily won the U.S. and Japan, no contest. While the PS1 likely would have done well for itself in the U.S., it would at best had been the company that filled the vacuum left by Sega's failures, while Nintendo would likely continue strong off their prior momentum. In Japan, the PS1 probably would have done better than Sega ever did, but it probably would have run a distant second without the support of Square and Enix and a lack of major exclusives from Capcom and Konami. Europe is a tougher call due to the lack of sales data for the region. The PS1 not having the sheer library size advantage, including Final Fantasy being N64 exclusive and other big-name third-party titles like Tomb Raider, MGS, and Resident Evil, almost certainly would have impacted its market share considerably. European gamers were almost certainly going to adopt consoles en masse after the collapse of the home computer market in the mid 90s, and it's entirely possible that they could have simply split between the PS1 and N64 instead of becoming "PlayStation Country" like it's been these past four generations. Then again, Nintendo had no real presence in Europe before Gen 5, and it's possible that they might not have seen the marketing opportunities that Sony still might have, putting the PS1 ahead (though I doubt by much).

If I had to guess regional market share under this alternate timeline, then assuming the most optimal circumstances for Nintendo I would assume the N64/PS1 split would have been 60/40 in the U.S. and 75/25 in Japan, with Europe being a toss-up. Globally, that could have put the N64 at around 70-75M and the PS1 at around 45-50M. Despite coming in second place, Sony would still have a brand with significant potential. Nintendo would still likely have continued making very conventional consoles after seeing a CD-based, still very conventional N64 winning the day, meaning we would never had have a GameCube, much less a Wii, Wii U, or Switch. This leaves Xbox in a nebulous place. Would MS have been as emboldened to enter the console market had Sony not dominated like they did, or would they still see potential? If so, then what? Could they have succeeded? Would the OXbox's market share have been better or worse? And if there was no Xbox, then the face of online gaming on consoles would likely have turned out very differently (and may have never caught on, at least not until much later), not to mention there never would have been franchises like Halo and Gears of War.

Conclusion: Had the N64 utilized CDs instead of cartridges, the Fifth Generation likely would have ended in Nintendo's favor but with Sony still in a good position. This would have resulted in a video market that would already be very different in Gen 6 and utterly alien to us by Gen 8.

Your analysis is very good, but fails on the fact that the market wanted change against Nintendo policies. So you are really being very favorable to Nintendo (to the point they would do much better than they did with SNES itself, which had all the advantages you listed, Sony was the one that brought the big expansion to the market that Sega and Nintendo had established).

SanAndreasX said:
DonFerrari said:
FF VII made PS1 relevant and other games that depended on the CD to have the cutscenes may have not gone to PS1. That wouldn't be a reality I would like to live on.
But Nintendo relationship with several companies were already on shake basis so perhaps not all would change.

Square and Enix were the ones that mattered the most by far, and they were pretty Nintendo-loyal.

Namco had always had a bad relationship with Nintendo ever since their dispute over re-negotiating Namco's licensing terms for the NES, so that wouldn't have changed. But Tekken on its own wasn't enough to turn the tide for Sony. 

Capcom and Konami would have been multiplatform. Konami was Nintendo's biggest Japanese supporter on N64. Sony might have tried to get MGS as a PS1 exclusive anyway, but MGS wasn't as huge of a series sales-wise as its fans like to make it out to be. 

They were loyal or just held at lash? If they were so loyal they wouldn't have run away just because of the format.

Let's us all remember GameCube was disc based and suffered an even worse defeat against PS2, and we can't put the "brand" as a big advantage for PS there since Nintendo had a longer image on the market and much more fans.



duduspace11 "Well, since we are estimating costs, Pokemon Red/Blue did cost Nintendo about $50m to make back in 1996"

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Nintendo would have won. But it would come at the price of the open worlds in Super Mario 64 and Zelda OoT, which would have been impossible without the fast access speed of cartridges.



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PS1 still wins 10000%



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PortisheadBiscuit said:
PS1 still wins the gen but not by as huge a margin. Sony as a parent company already had the global market penetration to take Playstation to levels Nintendo wouldn't have been able to at the time. Playstation also treated 3rd party developers much better than Nintendo and would've probably still secured a majority of 3rd party games. The only exception being Square.

Yeah, Sony had the market penetration equal market penetration Nintendo having now. PS1 and N64 fight neck to neck in USA, for some time. Sony launches the first videogame worldwide: the PSone, because the global market penetration PSone has high sales. In the 7th generation, with some degree of the global market, no big mistakes, Nintendo become the behemoth selling 255 million units( the record console sales). The people forget, yes the Nintendo sells less stationary consoles, but in the same time-space, Gameboy sells gangbusters.

Nintendo aways reign the portable scene. In sales analysis, is very important to consider this. 



PortisheadBiscuit said:
A common consensus (myself included) is that FF7 would've made N64 a lot more successful. However playing devil's advocate for a second, how do we know Nintendo would've treated FF7 the same way Sony did? Sony had a HUGE marketing campaign behind the game, it was everywhere, still one of the most hyped games I can remember and the push paid huge dividends for Sony. I dont see Nintendo investing with that same passion as Sony.

Here is my answer

A) It probably would have still sold well even if it didn't sell as much because of the huge marketing campaign.  Perhaps it sells 7m instead of 10m.  Final Fantasy 7 was still a game good enough to be considered the game of the generation (that and Ocarina).  Any game that stands out that much is going to sell.

B) The bigger factor was not how much Nintendo lost in losing FFVII.  Instead it was how much Sony gained.  Sony did not have a major killer app before FF7.  Sure they marketed the hell out of it, but they needed a game worth marketing.  Tomb Raider and Crash were good games, but not good enough to really make Playstation the #1 console.  FFVII was a true killer app.  Nintendo had killer apps like Mario 64.  It ended up losing because it didn't have a large quantity of games.  The quality was fine.  On the other hand Sony was hurting on the quality side until FF7 released.  The console needed a flagship game.

KungKras said:
Nintendo would have won. But it would come at the price of the open worlds in Super Mario 64 and Zelda OoT, which would have been impossible without the fast access speed of cartridges.

I'm sure these games would have still been made, but yeah with modifications.  On the other hand if you use a CD then you can make a game much, much bigger.  Ocarina could have been made 10x bigger (or more), but it would have had slower loading times and it would have to be zoned off like earlier Zeldas.