Article from Dec.2019 published in Metro UK. Highlighted the most important points.
As you may heard, the Sony PlayStation celebrates its 25th birthday this month. With that in mind, I’ve decided to give it a special birthday retrospective looking at how Sony broke new ground by offering a different experience to its rivals… happy birthday! These days we have a tendency to take gaming a bit for granted. We’re spoiled for choice, if I’m brutally being honest, given how easily we can choose between a range of excellent home and portable consoles. We overlook that only 25 years ago this brave new world was still at a teething point… an edgy teenager, on the cusp of autonomy, not quite sure which of their peers to fit in with, and demonstrating some odd fashion choices to boot – remember bucket hats?
Like the kids of my own era who formed their cultural education by rebelliously listening to Eminem, gaming’s own adolescent phase came during the mid-1990s. It was a period that saw the introduction of exotic parlance like CD-ROM and 32-bit processors. Nintendo and Sega were the behemoths of the day, backed by their respective red, blue (and sometimes yellow and green) mascots
They’d already cornered a market of ardent fans. To gain their own, Sony had to attract a completely new audience. It had to appeal to the weirdos, the crazies, and the downright normal people of the UK looking for a different type of gaming experience.
Launched in Japan in December 1994, the PlayStation finally hit these shores a year later in September 1995. I was only an impressionable kid at the time but still remember my dad coming home with a curious rectangular box made of grey plastic. I was immediately drawn to that start-up sound – a futuristic low-bass rumble followed by something that sounded like a crystal ball shattering all over the carpet.
The iconic clatter brings with it a lot of nostalgic warmth today and was only made possible thanks to Sony’s new-fangled pulse chip modulation; what I still presume to be a piece of complex technological wizardry that provided CD quality audio.
The chip set the scene for some great games, but also for Sony’s association with the UK’s music, fashion, and alternative scenes. With the introduction of an eager marketing manager named Geoff Glendenning, Sony set out to dig its claws into what it described as the ‘neglected youths who’d grown up with Mega Drive and Super Nintendo’. In other words, a demographic of adults who’d grown up with great games but were now too embarrassed to control plumbers and hedgehogs. The PlayStation’s graphical power gave rise to a new realm of realism, which sought to pave the way for a new generation to bask in the glow of fast-paced polygonal action.
As mentioned already by GameCentral this week, this included the stunning racetracks of Gran Turismo and Venetian canals of Tomb Raider 2. It brought about the intense Antarctic setting of Metal Gear Solid and steampunk world of Final Fantasy 7. It showed that gaming was not merely confined to anthropomorphic pixel-platformers. Sony’s television adverts reflected this too through a quixotic mix of super serious and super surreal. These included fictitious stories of martial arts gurus, and native tribes who worshipped Sony’s machine like a digital god. I’d really recommend digging these out on YouTube if you’ve a spare 10 minutes
In one of the marketing team’s early ideas, Sony infiltrated the UK’s club scene by using rest areas to demo the console. It allowed energetic ravers the chance to chill out on the racetracks of Ridge Racer and Destruction Derby. Over 50 clubs around the country were provided with these booths – including various Ministry of Sound locales. It allowed the PlayStation brand to become synonymous with the futuristic world of electronica music. It emphasised this later with hit games such as WipEout, which featured in-game music by Leftfield and The Chemical Brothers. Sony even gave away free consoles to attendees at snowboarding and BMX event.
While the £300 price tag was high, word-of-mouth marketing eventually paid dividend. As did Sony’s use of round silvery objects that acted as the lifeblood: discs. Games like PaRappa the Rapper, Music 2000, and Vib Ribbon continued to associate the console with CD quality audio. This wouldn’t have been possible without the new-found ability to cheaply produce discs. Costs associated with cartridges tended to hinder production of more experimental titles. It meant Sony could capitalise by becoming the home of forward-thinking developers, which ultimately enlarged gaming culture as a whole. It also paved the way for rampant piracy – just ask my cousin Paul.
Of course, the decisive role of PlayStation became not just as a console but as a lifestyle gadget. It was a futuristic bit of kit that could play music and games equally. Something worth showing off to your mates. Sony took advantage of the marketability by associating it closely with adult life – something that still holds true today. Nintendo eventually fought back through the global phenomenon that was Pokémon but Sony’s machine kept on trucking. It’s a testament to the success of the original console that the PlayStation brand lives today. If you’re happy to tell your friends you’re a gamer, then in many ways you probably have the original PlayStation to thank.