Birthday Memories: Sony PlayStation Turns 15
September 9, 2010 Page 1 of 4
This story, originally written in 2010 for the 15th anniversary of the U.S. launch of the PlayStation, offers a look back at the early days of the console from long-time SCEA executive Peter Dille, who has since departed Sony.
It's hard to overestimate the significance of the PlayStation 1. The console market, in the 16-bit generation, had been split pretty evening between Nintendo and Sega -- but Sega was decimated, and Nintendo began its long pre-Wii downward slide with the Nintendo 64, thanks to a new competitor: Sony.
Today marks the 15th anniversary of the original PlayStation's launch in North America: September 9, 1995. And while some of the biggest franchises that were built on the PlayStation may be in very different places than they once were -- Tomb Raider, Final Fantasy, WipeOut -- we remember them all as titans of the era.
In fact, in a testament to that, Final Fantasy VII has recently been the most-downloaded title on PlayStation Network for many months, beating out original, new games posted to the service.
To get a window to the system's launch, Gamasutra spoke with Peter Dille, Sony Computer Entertainment's senior vice president of marketing. In 1995, Dille moved to California to help bootstrap Sony Computer Entertainment, and worked on the system's launch.
He speaks here about that experience, the company's troubled history with Nintendo over the cratered plan to launch the PlayStation as a peripheral for the Super Nintendo, and much more.
So, Peter, I wanted to talk about your personal history -- when did you join the company, and how involved were you with the original launch?
Peter Dille: I worked at Sony since the early '90s. I think I joined in maybe '90, '91, and I was working at the parent company at Manhattan at that time. This actually predates the formation of Sony Computer Entertainment.
The parent company had recently purchased Columbia Pictures and CBS Records, and it was the early days of multimedia and what they called "synergy". You probably remember Sony Imagesoft, a small, not terribly successful publisher of Nintendo and Sega video game products.
As Sony was preparing to launch the PlayStation, when they had decided to compete with Nintendo instead of purely support Nintendo -- because we had been a chip supplier to Nintendo... And you're probably by this point well aware of the debate about the original PlayStation, which was going to be a peripheral to the Nintendo machine.
At that point in time, I was sort of tasked, or recruited, by some of the folks in New York to help pay attention to the video game space and prepare for the launch of PlayStation. There was a newly-created group called Sony Electronic Publishing that the Sony Imagesoft group reported up into, and I was part of that organization, and we were managing Sony Imagesoft from New York.
Ultimately, the decision was made to combine the Sony Imagesoft operation into the Sony Computer operation, so in February of 1995, I moved out to California and became part of the Sony Computer Entertainment team. I was here for the launch, and it was an exciting time.
So, I'll stop there because that's probably a lot of history. For me, it's a chance to go into the Wayback Machine.
At that point, when you came to California, the PlayStation was actually out in Japan. It came out in December of '94. So how far back did your involvement with the project as in, "We're going to launch this into the U.S. in the fall of '95," take shape?
PD: Well, again, I had a unique opportunity to have a bird's eye view, I think, of actually the moment that decision was made. I was, again, working in Manhattan for the parent company.
And one day, [CEO] Mickey Schulhof, who ran all of Sony's U.S. operations, hardware and software, and was on the board of directors of Sony Corporate in Japan -- which I think was, you know, one of the first non-Japanese, and one of the first Americans to be on the board. He was as big as they come.
He called me into his office -- and I never had got a call to Mickey Schulhof's office -- and he asked for my help to develop a press release announcing this thing called the PlayStation, which was going to be a peripheral to the Nintendo.
And again, this is all out in books now, so I'm not passing secrets along, but what Mickey was doing was in effect, negotiating with Nintendo in the press by saying, "We're prepared to launch this thing on our own if you don't honor the agreement that we had with you." And I thought it was just fascinating to sort of watch this all go down and see how this high stakes game of poker was being played.
And when Nintendo made their decision, they put out an announcement with Philips. This was on the eve of CES, you might remember. At that very moment in time, Mickey and a number of senior executives at Sony, said, "We're going to launch our own product, and we're going to compete to win."
And so it was from that point in the early '90s that I was aware of Sony's interest in launching a product and competing... It was several years in advance of 1994 or 1995.
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