The father of PlayStation, Ken Kutaragi, last week announced his intention to retire from his executive role at Sony Computer Entertainment.

Today Screen Play pays tribute to a man who has made one of the most significant impacts on the video games industry in its 30-year history.

Kutaragi joined Sony Corporation in 1975. After working on digital signal processing at Sony labs, he headed a five-man team developing a CD-ROM add-on for the Super Nintendo, a project that would eventually lead to the release of the PlayStation console in 1994.


While he could often be bafflingly oblique and PS3's uncertain fate has prompted some analysts to suggest he was pushed out, Ken Kutaragi is a unique visionary who changed the games industry forever. Today Screen Play pays tribute by looking at the machine that started it all - Kutaragi's first "baby", the original PlayStation console.

In late 1993, Sony Japan announced the development of a project code-named "PS-X". In the following years, Kutaragi's Sony Computer Entertainment division left an indelible mark on the interactive entertainment industry, carving out the lion's share of the booming video games industry for more than a decade with an unswerving confidence in its products.

Kutaragi tackled rivals previously thought to be untouchable giants and attracted countless millions of new consumers to the interactive medium.

Through Kutaragi's PlayStation, Sony was almost single-handedly responsible for making video games cool, transforming what was almost exclusively a geeky bedroom hobby into a mainstream entertainment behemoth.

Kutaragi produced the right machine and astute marketing that appealed to the huge and virtually untapped market of twenty-something's who had largely stopped playing games in the mid-eighties.

The PlayStation first went on sale in Japan on December 3, 1994. It cost 39,800 Yen - around $400. The games available on day one in Japan were the magnificent Ridge Racer from Namco, and the uninspiring A-IV and Parodius.

In an Australian newspaper a week before local launch, Screen Play wrote prophetically: "The launch of the Sony PlayStation in Australia on November 15 will be one of the most exciting product launches of the 90s. The exceptional standard of the first games and the wealth of leading designers that Sony has signed to produce titles for the PlayStation should ensure the console is a spectacular success."

Over 200 million PlayStation-branded consoles later, "spectacular success" now seems a massive understatement. However, it must be remembered that Sony was the unlikely underdog when it first announced plans to enter the video games business.

After the PSone and PS2's dominance, it is easy to forget how video games analysts gave Sony little hope of taking on Sega and Nintendo at their own game.

Sony had virtually no experience in the industry. Yet now PlayStation is one of the most widely recognised and valuable brands in the world.

PlayStation begun life in the midst of the now-legendary Sega versus Nintendo video game wars. Sega had unveiled plans for its ill-fated Mega CD add on to the rampaging Megadrive, and Nintendo needed a counterstrike to buoy its SNES console.

Nintendo forged a partnership with Sony to develop a CD add-on for the SNES. The companies had already worked together in the past, with Kutaragi designing the SNES sound chip.

In addition to creating a CD drive for the SNES, the Nintendo deal was to allow Sony to release a Sony-branded standalone console. The machine was to use cartridges as well as CDs, and also play video movie discs, which were growing in popularity in Japan.

But Nintendo, obviously nervous about Sony's growing interest in the videogames business, ended the partnership abruptly just a day after Sony had revealed the PlayStation project at the 1991 Chicago Consumer Electronics Show. It was an embarrassing and significant blow to Sony.

Defiantly, the electronics giant decided to pursue its PlayStation project. Now without the constraints of cartridge and 16-bit technology, Kutaragi spent the next three years developing a "next-generation" games console.

Kutaragi's most significant decision was to focus on shifting polygons in 3D worlds instead of manipulating the 2D graphics that had defined previous generations of videogames.

Kutaragi's team also recognised that as a newcomer to the industry and lacking games development expertise, it needed to recruit strong third-party developers for the format.
The signing of Namco provided strong impetus for the PlayStation's launch and importantly, brought leading arcade titles to the platform.

Namco provided a near-faultless conversion of arcade racer Ridge Racer for the PlayStation's launch, and would later provide some of the machine's best titles. Other leading third-party developers like Konami, Capcom and later Square were also to prove crucial for the PlayStation's success.

The build-up to the Japanese launch was strong, and Sony claimed it would be the company's most significant hardware launch since the Walkman. Early sales were good, but not as strong as Sega's Saturn, with 100,000 machines sold on the first day in Japan.

By May 1995, Sony had sold one million consoles. Meanwhile, dedicated Australian gamers were paying up to $1500 to buy an imported machine and a couple of games.

The PlayStation was launched in Australia on November 15, with launch titles including Ridge Racer, Wipeout, Destruction Derby and Battle Arena Toshinden. Tekken was released within weeks.

In contrast to videogame marketing of the past, Sony devised an ambitious advertising campaign that positioned the PlayStation as the ultimate boy's toy for the then non-existent lifestyle games market. The launch was successful. Titles like the spectacular 3D beat 'em up Tekken, and Wipeout, with its selection of techno tracks from leading dance bands, helped define the PlayStation's street-cool image.

The battle between the PlayStation and Saturn had promised to be a long and bloody one, but despite Sega's leading arcade titles such as Virtua Fighter, Sega Rally and Daytona, the superior 3D power of the PlayStation and its more comprehensive third-party support meant the war was won very quickly.

By Christmas 96, the battle was all over, and PlayStation had the market almost to itself with the no-show of the successor to the SNES, the Nintendo 64.

By the time the Nintendo 64 was launched, Sony had sold 11 million PlayStations around the world. Economies of scale had meant Sony was able to drop the price of the PlayStation in Australia to $299, and CD format meant games were significantly cheaper than the N64's cartridges. Some N64 cartridges in Australia were released for $129.95.

Meanwhile, Sony was able to launch an incredibly successful Platinum range of titles - popular best sellers for under $50.

The PlayStation simultaneously managed to become both a mass-market consumer item and a cult icon. The console hosted some of the best games yet released, including Final Fantasy VIII, Wipeout 2097, Metal Gear Solid, Tekken 3, Chrono Cross, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Resident Evil and Gran Turismo. In its lifetime, over 500 PlayStation games were released in Australia, and over 3000 worldwide.

Sales of 100 million PSone consoles worldwide and hundreds of millions of games made PlayStation one of the most successful brands of all time and helped ensure PS2 would be even more successful.