083 – New player – 1994

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When I was 17 or 18 years old and hanging out in a bar, talking to girls and somebody would say,
‘What do you do for a living?’ I would mutter something about working in computers.
I wouldn’t have said that I was in the computer game industry. It just wasn’t cool.
Wind the clock forward 20 years and say, ‘I work for PlayStation’, and people are fascinated. Phil Harrison

As a child Ken Kutaragi was active in his parents’ printing business and he qualified in electrical engineering from Denki Tsushin University.  He joined Sony’s digital research laboratory, working on LCD screens and a camera with disk memory.

Following the success of the Nintendo SNES video console, Sony planned to deliver its own version, the SNES CD, which used its new CD-ROM technology.  Ken Kutaragi was appointed within Sony to look after the Nintendo relationship, in part because he had earlier developed a sound chip for them.

But behind the scenes Nintendo did not reach agreement on a split of revenues with Sony.  It felt that an earlier contract had given them too much power.  So when Sony announced the details of its console, the very next day Nintendo announced it had moved instead to use a Philips CD technology.

The Sony president was none too pleased about this and appointed Ken Kutaragi to use the experience to develop an independent Sony console.  The success of this would see Kutaragi rise to the role of CEO and President of Sony Computer Entertainment in 1999 with a seat on the board in 2000.

His first approach was to reuse materials from the aborted Nintendo project; some two hundred Play Station units were created but Sony soon suspended this approach.

Kutaragi then worked on a completely new product, developing a VLSI chip at the heart of what they called PlayStation, contracting the name to just one word.  The outer design was by Teiyu Goto.

Unfortunately there was not a widespread belief in the project among senior Sony executives and in June 1992 it came to a showdown meeting.  Kutaragi was quite outspoken and considered something of a maverick.  He was moved to Sony Music, an autonomous Sony operation, and permitted to continue his work on the console. 

PlayStation was launched in December 1994.  It was the first successful disk-based system and the first to sell over 100 million units – achieved in less than ten years from launch. 

PlayStation 2 continued the success, at one point achieving a 65% market share.  By 2003 it represented 60% of Sony profits.

Kutaragi was then charged with creating the next generation of products.  He focused on digital convergence, launching the PSP, PlayStation Portable, and broadband entertainment.

Kutaragi retired from Sony in June 2011, though he remains a senior technology advisor.

Phil Harrison, a Brit, was hired by Sony to work with developers and publishers.  He had previously been with Mindscape as a games designer.  In 2005 he became president of Sony Computer Entertainment Worldwide Studios, in charge of development at thirteen studios around the globe.

Armed with PlayStation’s new 3D capabilities and easier CD-ROM production facility, Harrison soon signed up Electronic Arts and Namco to the PlayStation cause.  A year before he left Sony there was a portfolio of just under 8,000 titles for the PlayStation and these had sold over 960 million units.  Harrison moved to join Infogrames in 2008.

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