I just read this excellent article on MCV – it makes for great reading and I highly advise reading the ORIGINAL longer article…
Original Article by Christopher Dring publish on Friday, October 2nd 2015 at 11:00AM BST @MCV
“Three weeks after they bought my company, Sony introduced me to a busted photocopier with chips hanging out of it, and said: ‘This is the PlayStation’”
Ian Hetherington was the boss of Psygnosis – the developer/publisher that Sony acquired in 1993. And his first impression of Sony’s new console was not good.
“Quite frankly, it was not fit for purpose when we got involved with it,” he tells MCV.
“The Japanese view of it was you put the CD in, you load the software, you take the CD out. They still thought of it as a cartridge. We looked at the specs andupgraded the CD drive and the memory so that we had enough memory to stream.”
Sony did not have a good reputation in the games business before the launch of PlayStation. It operated a publishing and distribution division under the name of Sony Electronic Publishing, and its games were hardly setting the industry alight.
“We were almost a laughing stock,” recalls Alan Welsman, who began at Sony Electronic Publishing before leading the PR for PlayStation’s UK launch.
“We were distributing Sega and Nintendo products for a few years, and I was going out and seeing all the journalists across Europe with all these games. One game was Last Action Hero, and that got reviewed as a minus-six by one French journalist who said its only use was as a doorstop.
“Everyone said we’d be like Philips [which launched the failed CDi console] and that we would turn and run, because we were a hardware company, not a games company. But the purchase of Psygnosis meant that we were able to cement the software side with the hardware side, which shouldn’t be underestimated.”
Of course, the game that would go on to define the launch of PlayStation was a certain futuristic racer.
“The thing that made PlayStation cool, beyond any shadow of a doubt, was Wipeout,” continues Hetherington.
“The music we put in was Chemical Brothers and Leftfield. It was a statement piece, it said this console is cool, it’s 3D and for the 18 to 25 age group.”
Ray Maguire, who was leading PlayStation UK at the time, remembers: “We weren’t producing the same kind of games as Sega and Nintendo. Our titles were just awesome and absolutely showed off the power of the PlayStation. Psygnosis and Phil were fundamental to that. CD music sales were roaring at the time, and having the ability to use the likes of The Chemical Brothers as part of the music allowed us to go to a 20-something audience.”
What’s more, the European team wanted as many games as possible on the format. And, despite objections from the US, made it easy for developers to build and release games for the system.
“We simplified the approval process to a one-step system,” says Chris Deering, the first European president of PlayStation.
“We had disagreements with the US. They thought we were too loose, they thought we should be more guarded with our approval process. But the Japanese were more on our side about this one. They were saying: ‘Why not let the consumer decide what games to buy?’”
“While it was important for us to secure listings with the more dominant High Street brands, such as Comet and Argos, the opinion formers were – without doubt – the independent trade. Gamers went into that environment and engaged with the store owners. They sparred with them in terms of gaming knowledge. And in that environment the endorsement, or a recommendation for our platform, was gold dust.”
Goodwin went out of his way to win over the indies. He treated them all like a multiple High Street chain. He took PlayStation on a regional tour to do product demonstrations, and even launched an intranet system where indies could plug in their data, and in return would receive point-of-sale materials – the sort of posters and standees usually reserved for the likes of Dixons.
“We were looking to engender hearts and minds, and we saw the indies as the biggest opinion formers in influencing the consumer,” says Goodwin.
Goodwin did several other different things in trying to support the trade back in 1995, including taking PlayStation games into Blockbuster. But the biggest thing that won over the retailers and the publishers back in the mid-1990s, was the strength of the disc.
“People don’t realise just how awful that cartridge business was,” says Harrison.
“You had to pre-pay for your cartridges and they took about eight weeks to arrive. The amount of cash you had tied up as a publisher was just extraordinary. You had to have all of your inventory locked up ahead of time. You’d either ordered too few because you were being conservative and the market would dry up or, more likely, you’d order too many and you’d have to cut the price to shift them. Just to own it in your warehouse costs as much as $14 a cartridge. It was a horrific business.
“With CDs, we could turn around re-orders within a matter of days.”
Cartridges had a minimum order of around 5,000. It was a very risky model, and the result was that publishers viewed PlayStation and its CD-based system as a more viable platform. Sony also helped publishers in destroying any unsold stock.
“We wanted publishers to want to put their games out on PlayStation first, because it was the more profitable console,” Goodwin adds.
“Sega got panicky when they saw the software
we were going to launch with, so they decided to
get the Saturn out first and they cocked it up.”
– Simon Jobling, former PlayStation UK marketing director
The publishers and the retailers were on side ahead of PlayStation’s September 29th, 1995 European launch. But the single most important group to win over were the consumers.
PlayStation was already making a name for itself before its arrival. The Japanese launch had gone down well, while the first ever E3 in May was a huge success. It was here that US chief Steve Race delivered his famous one-word ‘$299’ speech – undercutting the price of Sega Saturn.
“There was a miscommunication the night before and the actual price hadn’t been approved by Japan when Steve Race said: ‘299’,” recalls Deering. “It wasn’t his fault, he was told to go ahead. But there were some really anxious moments after that speech. It turned out to be very fortuitous.”
Sega Saturn was having its own issues. Sega, panicked by the momentum of PlayStation, decided to bring the launch of its console forward by months. A move that backfired.
“The Saturn was supposed to launch after us, and they suddenly got panicky when they saw the software that we were going to launch with, and they decided to get it out first and they cocked it up,” says Simon Jobling, former PlayStation UK marketing director.
“They may have gone first. But they didn’t have the games.”
With Sega floundering and Nintendo’s new machine over a year away, Sony had been gifted a golden opportunity to succeed where so many others had failed. And so PlayStation set out its plans to do an altogether different advertising campaign.
“I remember looking out of my offices on Sonic 2sday [launch of Sonic 2 in 1992],” says Goodwin. “They had a launch party at The Ark in Hammersmith. The strength of the brand and its punch capability was very impressive. We had to do something different.”
“We knew that if we cocked this up, it wasn’t just a case of moving company, but moving industry,” says Goodwin. “Who is going to take on a failed format employee? We had to make this work. But it wasn’t pressure. This was pride.”
Jobling adds: “We were all committed to it and we all loved it. We worked hard, we went out, we had a good time, and we did a lot in a short amount of time. Yes we were tense about if we would pull it off, but from the day it hit the market it just went. It was the most fun I’ve ever had in a job.”
Hetherington concludes: “I still do a lot in video games today. But the best period of my career, by a country mile, was going from that busted photocopier to the launch of PlayStation.”