Before PS5: A Look Back at PlayStation’s Console History

The PlayStation 5 (PS5) is here and it’s safe to say fans are excited for Sony’s next generation. The PS5 is expected to be one of Sony’s best selling consoles to date, projected to sell huge numbers as demand increases due to quarantine. While the PS5 looks towards likely success, Sony’s history of console releases has some pretty highs and ugly lows. Before we can assess all the pros and cons of the PS5 release, let’s look into this gaming giant’s past…

The Beginning 

The Playstation 1 and the first Dual Shock Controller
The PlayStation 1

Before the release of their first video game console, Sony had never held a large portion of the video game market. Sony Interactive Entertainment began their foray into the video game market by teaming up with it’s eventual competitors, Nintendo. Throughout the late 80s and into the early 90’s, the gaming world was firmly gripped in Nintendo’s fist and Sony was hoping to work together to create the Super Disc, a CD Rom attachment that was designed to be part of Nintendo’s Super Nintendo Entertainment System. CDROM systems were outselling traditional cartridge based games and it was time for the SNES to get innovative. What Sony didn’t know was that Nintendo was working behind their backs with Phillips Industries Technology.

At the 1991 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), Nintendo announced they would be joining forces with this unexpected ally. Phillip’s technology would be used to produce add-on devices for Nintendo game players for compact discs, the exact same kind of device they were working on with Sony. While many employees at Sony wanted to scrap the project completely, Ken Kutaragi (who is now known as the king of PlayStation) lobbied to save the PlayStation concept and turn it into its own device. In June of 1991 at the Chicago CES, Sony introduced the PlayStation, a modified version of the Super Disk. Only 200 models of this PlayStation that could play Super Nintendo games was created, but it was scrapped to create a better multimedia machine and so Sony could focus more on CD Roms.

PlayStation Load Up Screen (Says Licensed by Sony Computer Entertainment Europe)
PlayStation Load Up Screen

After returning to the drawing boards, Sony revealed the PlayStation X. Born out of betrayal, the first official PlayStation lowered the bar on development fees, bringing new and innovative development support. Easier and cheaper to manufacture compared to Nintendo consoles, the PlayStation X (largely known as the PlayStation or PSX) capitalized on the popularity of CD Roms and was launched into the video game hall of fame!

The Playstation was introduced to the US at the 1995 LA Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) and it pre-sold over 100,00 units by it’s September launch. Within a year, this new system had sold 2 million units in the US and over 7 million world wide. Within 10 years, the PlayStation reached the momentous milestone of 100 million units sold, being the first video game console to do so Nintendo was absolutely regretting their choice as their Phillips partnership system never came to fruition.

Having games from so many genres, like scary Resident Evil to the family friendly Crash Bandicoot, the PS was slowly building a reputation as a machine for every kind of gamer. Not only did Sony back up the console with a great game library, but the gameplay was innovative. Sony probably spent as much time on the PlayStation’s console as it did on the design of just the controller.

Crash Bandicoot in front of a Jungle background
Crash Bandicoot

Sony’s innovative additions to the traditional controller forever changed the way we game. Sony added an extra set of shoulder buttons that gave both developers and players a bit more flexibility. This is also the controller that introduced the iconic square, triangle, circle and cross button layout for PlayStation controllers. Rumble technology came crashing into gamer’s living rooms with Sony’s first, and very successful, attempt at the DualShock controller.

Sony managed to score a home run on it’s first foray into the video game market, but when it tried to take the success on the road, failure came knocking.

AN ATTEMPT TO GO MOBILE

After their successful competition up against Nintendo consoles, Sony decided to take on Sega. More specifically, the DreamCast’s portable counterpart, the Visual Memory Unit (VMU). In 1998, the PocketStation was born with only one purpose, to take down the VMU. Basically a memory card with a built-in LCD screen, the PocketStation was designed to plug into the PlayStation’s memory card slot to transfer over new mini-games. With display tech similar to a 90’s era Tamagotchi or Pokéwalker, there was definitely a big market for mobile games. But no matter the demand, the PocketStation just didn’t hit the spot.

PocketStation Promo of a white model
PocketStation Promo

There’s a few reasons for this. First of all, you not only had to own a PS1 to get the mobile games to work, you also had to own the games themselves. While the technology was easy to use for Sony fans (the PlayStation was one of the first consoles to use external memory cards) most gamers ended up using this device not as a gaming system, but just as a memory card. Mostly because there were only a handful of PS1 games that were even compatible with the PocketStation and none of the games were exceptionally good.

The PocketStation was a complete failure. It was released in Japan and due to lack of pre-orders it was never released in the United States. Sony couldn’t capture success with mobile games, but used the momentum from the first PlayStation to succeed in the second generation.

A SECOND WIND

With high definition 3D visuals, new online play and an integrated DVD player, the PlayStation 2 hit the market with a bang. Released in 2000, the PS2 was a worthy challenger to Nintendo’s GameCube and Microsoft’s XBOX. Sales of the console, games and accessories pulled in $250 million on the first day of sales! The PS2 eventually sold over 155 million units worldwide, making it the best selling home console of all time and the fastest game console to reach 100 million units shipped.

The PlayStation 2 with a controller in front of it
PlayStation 2

The PS2 sold well partly off of the strength of the PlayStation brand and the ability to play PS1 games. This was the first console to include backwards capabilities both for it’s games and DualShock Controllers meaning that gamers could not only play games they loved from the past, but actually do it with the controller and style they remember. This generation’s built in functionality also expanded it’s audience beyond avid gamers. The console was a low cost option for movie and TV fans everywhere to watch their favorite Blu Ray and DVD collections.

The PS2 also ushered in a new era of open world, sandbox style 3D action game play. Games like Ratchet and Clank and God of War became instant best sellers. Sony beat out XBOX by gaining exclusive titles for highly anticipated games such as the Grand Theft Auto series and Metal Gear Solid 2. More than 3,800 games titles were released for the PS2 for launch so gamers rarely ran out of titles to explore.

Kratos sits on the left of a temple for a God Of War promo
God Of War (2010)

Sony later manufactured several smaller revisions of this model, cutting the price down and making it even more affordable for consumers. Even with the release of the PlayStation 3 in 2006, the PS2 maintained its popularity and continued to be produced until January 2013. The PlayStation 2 was in production for 13 years and was one of Sony’s biggest successes to date.

ISSUES ON THE ROAD (AGAIN)

Sony tried yet again to direct their momentum to the mobile market. Unveiled during E3 2004, the PlayStation Portable (PSP) was promised to be one of the best handheld consoles on the market. Many were awed by it’s technical superiority, and some even thought that this was the end of Nintendo’s reign over the handheld gaming market, as the DS continued to do well with consumers. However, the PSP ended up not being the breakthrough that everyone was expecting.

The PlayStaton Portable held up by a left hand
The PlayStaton Portable

At first sales soared, setting records and flying off of shelves as soon as they landed. Coupled with a great lineup of launch titles like Lumines and Wipeout Pure, it seemed like the PSP was going to go the distance. But things started to take a downturn quickly after release. While the starting line up was great, gamers quickly ran out of PSP games to play. Approximately 260 games have been developed for the PSP since launch and while this sounds like a lot to choose from, there were actually very few games worth picking up.

The Nintendo DS was a much more impressive system at the time. Having two screens and then adding in new 3D elements, the DS had immersive gameplay that had never been seen before. While the PSP was absolutely graphically superior with a beautiful widescreen display that blew Nintendo away, the problem wasn’t ever that the PSS was a bad piece of hardware. The problem is that there really wasn’t anything unique about it that compelled gamers to pick it up.

Sony tried to rally by launching the PSP Go in 2009. It was expected to revive Sony’s mobile sales by including downloadable only content, something most consoles didn’t have before. However due to an exorbitant $250 price tag and a lackluster library of titles, the PSP Go didn’t give Sony’s handheld creations the lifeline they needed.

PRICES OVER PRODUCT 

Sony’s outrageous pricing didn’t stop with their mobile devices. After the success of the PlayStation 2, Sony decided to make a bold move with it’s next generation console. Cramming as much high tech gear into the console as possible, the PlayStation 3 came with 2 processors, 4 USB ports, multiple flash drive ports, backwards compatibility, wi-fi and bluetooth compatibility, 3D TV resolutions, a built in Blu-ray player and more. All of this was available to avid gamers for the low, low price of $600… plus tax. This was for the console and no games!

The PlayStation 3 with a controller on the left
The PlayStation 3

For many fans, this was simply unaffordable and an insane jump from the PS2’s far more accessible $249 price. On top of this, the PS3 had many issues that caused it to struggle against its competitors the XBOX 360 and Nintendo Wii. The high powered graphics of the Sony console weren’t much better than the 360, and these great graphics weren’t even utilized as developers had trouble optimizing for Sony’s unique hardware. Some games didn’t end up coming out for 3-4 years after launch.

While having Blu-Ray capabilities was innovative, it was almost too ahead of its time. They hadn’t quite hit the market yet so not enough gamers had these discs at the time. The hardware created a bigger price tag than Sony expected. Sony tried to compete in the generation of motion controls as the Nintendo Wii dominated the market and the XBOX Kinect was starting to catch up. In their attempt to jump in the game, Sony created the PlayStation Move. Shaped like a wand, the Move attempted to do what the Wii already had successfully done. As a result, it didn’t sell so well and Sony quietly stopped making them.

From Left to Right we see a PlayStation Move, Xbox 360 Kinect and Wiimote with cover
A PS Move, XBOX Kinect and Wii Remote

This generation did bring in the arrival of PlayStation Network which has since become essential for online gaming, as well as streaming TV, movies, and music. While this was a step forward for Sony it came with its own set of issues. Online on the PS3 was a laggy failure compared to the online capabilities of the XBOX 360 and XBOX Live. As if this wasn’t enough, in April of 2011 players had a huge scare when hackers successfully hacked into the PSN, compromising customer credit card information. This was the first time that there was ever a cyber attack like this through a console. The Network went out of commission while Sony worked out the kinks. Sony later rebooted the network claiming to have fixed the breach, promising security to gamers again. A few months later, however, the network was hacked into yet again. Most PlayStation games didn’t even have PSN online support. It took awhile for the network to be finished and fully developed after launch, but by then the damage was already done.

PlayStation Network Original Logo

The PS3 did have one major advantage for gamers, which was its backwards compatibility. PS2 games continued to be popular well throughout the next gen’s lifetime, so gamers loved being able to play their old favorites. Sony wasn’t as keen and made another mistake here by thinking it would be beneficial to stop backwards compatibility features in the PS3, forcing fans to pay extra money for games they’ve already purchased. Gamers were dismayed and confused when compatibility ended, causing PS3 sales to drop even further.

After a few price adjustments, game releases and a major network reboot, the PS3 ended up becoming a decent console toward the end of it’s life. The price was cut about $100, Sony reinstated backwards compatibility and more games began to hit the market as this generation’s lifespan came to an end. The failures of the system almost brought Sony to its knees though, losing the company over $3.3 billion since launch and actually ending with Ken Kutaragi losing his job as CEO. The PlayStation 3 sold 86 million units worldwide, just edging out Microsoft’s Xbox 360 in terms of consoles sold. Reeling from this mistake, Sony attempted to restart their sales by giving new life yet again to mobile consoles, only to jump right back into the same pond.

HAVEN’T WE LEARNED THIS LESSON? 

In 2011 in Japan (2012 for the US and Europe), Sony released the most powerful handheld system on the market, the PlayStation Vita. Unfortunately, all of this power was wasted as the system was considered one of Sony’s greatest failures. The system does have a small, passionate fan base and a lot of great games from third-party developers. However, the Vita had too many issues that kept it from taking off.

The PSVita is one with logos on a blue background
The PSVita

The Vita offered a superior gaming experience but the rise of smartphones and mobile gaming was a leading cause to this failure. Consumers just didn’t need a handheld gaming device in a world where they had games at their fingertips in an instant. Nintendo didn’t seem to mind the competition as their 3DS system did well despite the surge in smartphone purchases.

Price yet again became a downfall that Sony didn’t see coming. The initial launch price of the PSVita was $250. Compared to a relatively cheaper 3DS, most gamers looking for a mobile experience decided to go in favor of Nintendo. Anyone else looking for a high definition gaming experience probably went with either a PS3 or XBOX 360, considering they were only $50 more. With a high starting price, the Vita continued to thin wallets by not being compatible with cheaper SD cards. With no built in hard drive and no other compatible memory solutions, consumers were forced to fork up almost $100 for extra storage.

This mobile machine did succeed in coming out strong with some great AAA titles like Uncharted Golden Abyss and Wipeout 2048. While promising, quickly after the wave of Triple A glory faded, the overall quality of games drastically declined. Highly anticipated sequel, Call of Duty: Declassified was so broken, GameInformer called it a “Complete Embarrassment”. Backwards compatibility was a mess with very few titles from other generations and absolutely none available from their best selling console, the PS2.

Hands playing Uncharted Golden Abyss on the PSVita
Uncharted Golden Abyss on the PSVita

Some fans consider the Vita worthy of ownership and herald it as a classic but most gaming historians consider it to be one of Sony’s worst gaming flops. Selling only 350,000 consoles compared to the 75 million 3DS units sold, it’s clear that Nintendo swept the mobile gaming competition. While some companies may have been left in the dust, Sony decided to come out stronger than ever with one of it’s most beloved consoles ever.

THE GOLDEN ERA OF PS4

The 8th generation of Sony games burst into life with the release of the PlayStation 4 in 2013. A powerhouse gaming system capable of High Dynamic Range (HDR) giving gamers stunning visuals on top of exclusive triple A best-selling games, integrated streaming and social media features, the PS4 quickly became a must have. Sony sold 1 million units of the PS4 in the first 24 hours on the market and completely demolished its competitors, the Wii U and Xbox One. Becoming the second best selling console of all time, the PS4 sold over 113 million units and over 1.5 billion digital and physical games have been sold for the system.

The PlayStation 4 with a Dual Shock 4 controller on the right
The PlayStation 4

This time, Sony had learned its lesson. Instead of releasing a console with a preposterous selling price, the PS4 hit the market at $399. This was an affordable price point for many consumers and as the years went on, the price was eventually dropped to $299. This was cheaper than the Xbox One and propelled gamers back into Sony’s arms.

Sony had gone back to what made them great – the games! Refocusing on gamers, this next gen delivered on the games front while still offering a wealth of multimedia features. The share button was introduced to the Dual Shock controller, giving players a chance to easily capture and share their best (and worst!) moments of gaming. Streaming started to rise in popularity and Sony also added integrated streaming features that made broadcasting your favorite titles a breeze.

The PS4 has amassed an unbelievable amount of stellar exclusive titles that aren’t available on any other console. Reboots of games like God of War (2018) and Tearaway Unfolded satisfied a love for retro games with an intriguing graphical update, while new titles like The Last Of Us changed the face of gaming. It’s highly debated sequel, The Last Of Us 2, is the best selling game of 2020 selling over 4 million copies,

Ellie looks to the left holding a gun on the promo for The Last Of Us Part II Cover
The Last Of Us Part II Cover

Other Sony titles dominated the market, and the exclusive title Grand Theft Auto V shattered gaming sales by selling over 100 Million copies and becoming the second most popular video game of all time.

Sony nailed it with their next generation of DualShock controllers. Along with that new share button, the DualShock 4 had integrated motion controls that worked seamlessly to create interactive game play that didn’t require a whole separate motion controller. The touch sensitive pad could be used for moving the cursor on screen, making it easier to type. Sony embraced the neon, tech aesthetic that many gamers were starting to adopt. The new RGB light bar in the PS4 controller wasn’t just for looks though, it worked with AR to track the light bar, improving motion sense immensely. The color changes depending on the in game situations, sometimes flashing red when health is low or red and blue when cops are nearby.

The DualShock 4

With amazing games, new and improved technology and games that became must haves for most gaming fanatics, the PS4 was a slam dunk. The PlayStation Plus Network grew by 60% since the console’s release and Sony continues to capitalize on this by adding new games, free downloads and exclusive game franchises only available to paying customers. Almost 7 years after it’s launch, it’s time for the PS4 to make way for the next generation of consoles. The PS4 hit the shelves 8 months after it was announced, and while it hasn’t been smooth sailing, luckily we don’t have to wait long for the highly anticipated PS5.

THE NEXT GENERATION OF SONY 

As the PS4 generation comes to a close, some fans wonder if the next generation can up hold its legacy. While the console is over 4 years old, it still feels fresh and most games don’t look like they’ve aged a day. However, after the PS5 event on September 16th, Sony unveiled some long-awaited details of the PlayStation 5 that gave fans an idea of what they could expect, leaving most of them craving more.

The PlayStation 5

Backwards compatibility has always been a big part of Sony’s past. The next gen is able to easily play digital and physical PS4 titles. It is unfortunate that other older generations will not be available for play on the PS5. This doesn’t mean that the greatest titles from past generations can’t be brought on later and other big titles like Ratchet & Clank: A Rift Apart are getting a PS5 sequel. Sony continues to hold the market when it comes to exclusive titles, after giving players a sneak peek of what to expect, we want more. Games like Horizon Forbidden West and the new IP Deathloop look incredible and you can’t get them anywhere else!

Horizon Forbidden West Promo

As mentioned before, the pre-orders for the PS5 were less than smoothly handled. Everyone was caught off guard when pre-orders began not long after the November 12th date was revealed. Most fans weren’t exactly ready as retailers unexpectedly began rolling out pre-order links as Sony failed to announce when pre-orders would open and if any were open at all. Finding a pre-order is difficult now with Sony already working to try its best to ensure additional stock for it’s upcoming holiday release.

Sony has an erratic past when it comes to their console prices. With so many new graphics capabilities, 4K capabilities and even more social media integration, fans were waiting to find out the price of this next gen with baited breath. The PS5 will come out with two different console editions, a physical edition and a digital edition that removes the disc drive from the hardware. Not going back to its old ways, the PS5 price reveal was very welcome for fans struggling during 2020. The digital edition will cost gamers an affordable $399.99 and those who are looking for the normal console experience only have to pay one hundred dollars more at $499.99.

The biggest reveal was truly huge, leaving other companies feeling dwarfed in comparison. The PS5 is about 15.4 inches tall making it the single biggest game console ever creative. Even without the disc drive the model is the exact same height.


The internet went wild comparing it to a wifi router and making jokes about where to put the console in their gaming centers.


The size is largely due to something that should make gamers happy, the cooling system. The PS4 created a reputation for having fans that would sound like a plane taking off. Games were huge and the system had to work hard to keep up. The PS5 will have multiple cooling systems and a massive fan placed right inside to keep quiet and cool while playing.


While Sony has had a checkered past with releases, it seems like the PS5 is well on its way to being another hit. According to Jim Ryan, CEO of Sony Interactive Entertainment, the demand was so high that they sold more PS5 consoles in 12 hours of pre-sales than in the first 12 weeks of PS4 pre-order sales in the US. The PS5 launched this week with Demon’s Souls, Spiderman: Miles Morales and Sackboy: A Big Adventure debuting alongside it. With a new AMD graphics chip, games look better than ever before on a system that is more powerful and quicker than any console in generations past.

The PlayStation 5 is out now and we’ll just have to wait and see if the PS5 will go in the Sony Hall of Fame…

PlayStation 2: A Tribute

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