Quantcast
Alternate history: N64 goes with CDs instead of cartridges

Forums - Gaming Discussion - Alternate history: N64 goes with CDs instead of cartridges

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 suspect it could have changed everything drastically. Had Final Fantasy, Resident Evil, Metal Gear, etc. all been multiple platform... with the N64 being more powerful. The cartridge move was a bad one for Nintendo. It stifled development and increased costs. I remember paying $70 for N64 games and $40 for ps1 games.



Around the Network
Chris Hu said:
VAMatt said:

I think the market was ready for something new. Sony was a very powerful brand in electronics. Possibly *the most* powerful brand at that time. Sony entering the business finally settled the matter - video games were serious, mainstream tech, and they weren't gonna go away. That cachet would have been hard to beat, regardless of what Nintendo did.

Yeah, no Sony was never the biggest or most powerful brand in electronics not even in Japan Panasonic is still bigger and so is Hitachi.

Microsoft is bigger and more powerful than any of them, but they barely squeaked into 2nd place with the Xbox, came in 2nd with the 360 only after Kinect, and is going to finish in third place this generation to a system that came out two and a half years after the Xbox One.



Chrkeller said:
I suspect it could have changed everything drastically. Had Final Fantasy, Resident Evil, Metal Gear, etc. all been multiple platform... with the N64 being more powerful. The cartridge move was a bad one for Nintendo. It stifled development and increased costs. I remember paying $70 for N64 games and $40 for ps1 games.

Final Fantasy VII would likely have been permanent N64-exclusive in this scenario, as would Dragon Quest VII. Both Square and Enix believed in supporting a single platform at that time. In that case, Nintendo would have crushed the PlayStation.



It's hard to say, but my gut is that Nintendo would have a narrow victory for several years and then dominate in the tail end, much like the SNES vs. Genesis.  Make no mistake, FFVII was a huge killer app in generation 5, especially since it was released fairly early on.  It would be kind of like taking Breath of the Wild away from the Switch.  It would definitely have had an impact, but how big is hard to tell.  I tend to think a lot of Japanese CD games like Metal Gear Solid and Symphony of the Night would have ended up on the N64 too, just because it would have had that momentum from FFVII. 

On the other hand the PS1 had some other factors in its favor.  1)  It was 32 bit while the N64 was 64 bit.  That meant that the PS1 hardware would always have been cheaper than the N64 hardware.  (Although N64 software would have been comparable in price to PS1 software.)  Also, the PS1 had a fair amount of PC ports.  Tomb Raider was a PC port, for example.  GTA1 was also a PC port, but GTA didn't really help Sony until the PS2 era.  I think all of the Western/PC games would have ended up on the PS1 which would have meant the PS1 wouldn't have been lacking in games in general.  It would just be lacking the good Japanese games.

So yeah, I think the N64 would have pulled it out in the end, but it would have been close.  It would have been a repeat of SNES vs. Genesis.  A tight race with Nintendo dominating on the tail end.



Quodam_Diem said:
I don't understand why so many votes for N64 victory. There would be definitely a great battle in America, where Nintendo could win in the end, if we take under consideration the base from SNES and NES years. But, in Europe...no way. The very best 64 could have done, would have been around 10 to 15 million, and again this is very optimistic. In Japan with FF and DQ, obviously would have won. There would be no reason to buy a PS1. But then again it would lose in Rest of the world. So, the most logical opinion I 've read is the 80-50 with PS1 victory.

Japan and the United States would have carried it for Nintendo. It would have been 60-80 million for Nintendo, 30 million at best for PS1. Remember that Genesis won overwhelmingly in Europe but still lost globally to the SNES by 20 million because of NA and Asia. Europe was the smallest console market at the time.



Around the Network

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.



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. 



Shadow1980 said:

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.

This is an interesting question.

Microsoft entered the console race in the first place because they were afraid Sony would become big enough that people might abandon PCs running Windows in favor of TV devices that were outside of the Microsoft ecosystem. I can't see them having the same anxiety over a Nintendo dominant in the console space. In fact, I think they would probably have tried to buy out Nintendo, but if they couldn't manage to do it when Nintendo was weak, as happened when they made offers in the mid 2000s, they certainly wouldn't have managed it with a strong Nintendo.  Maybe Microsoft would still have used Sega as a backdoor into the market.

If they had gone in, it would also be an interesting question. With the market more evenly split between Nintendo and Sony rather than being dominated by Sony, I could see the Xbox having a real shot. On the other hand, Microsoft is still just as clueless in Asia as they were 20 years ago, so that wouldn't have changed. Maybe Western games wouldn't have gained as much of a foothold in 6th gen as they did in 5th gen with Nintendo dominating. 



I think n64 would've sold better than it did but ps1 would've still sold more i think because of their focus on europe and other markets. plus their policies were better than nintendos at the time in regards to third parties. Plus I also still think sony would have moneyhatted big name japanese companies to gain a competitive edge in japan



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.

Exactly. Someone who knows what they're talking about. "Playstation" was not nearly the same type of brand it was until really about 1997 and a big part of that is FF7. 

Take that away and give it to Nintendo and likely a chain reaction occurs where Sony never really gets the same kind of traction.

I honestly think that US split is generous too for Sony ... N64 was clearly more popular than the Playstation out of the gate, it only started to slow in 1997 because Nintendo had no games and couldn't push their momentum. 

If they had tons of CD multi-plats (so no droughts) + GoldenEye + Final Fantasy VII in 1997 ... that would've been a rout for Nintendo that year.