Many folks are aware that Nintendo and Sony at one point were not competitors, but rather partners. Back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, Sony and Nintendo reached a contractual agreement for Sony to create an attachable addon for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (known as the Super Famicon in Japan). There has been a lot of mystery and intrigue around this device not only because a prototype has recently surfaced, but because the falling out from this deal lead to the entire creation of the PlayStation brand of home consoles that are beloved by millions today.
There was a point in history where this could have been prevented, and instead Nintendo and Sony could have established a long standing partnership. A new interview has just been translated by our friends at Nintendo Everything that sheds a lot of light into the situation. As an example, we learn that the addon was not going to have anything to do with games because Nintendo worried about load times (cartridges have factually always had next to zero load times), however it was going to expand the system to work with multimedia. So it would be able to play music cds and, as one person behind it put it, it would open the door for a plug and play Karaoke machine.
When the deal fell apart (literally no one has actually spoken on the precise details of the falling out. Everyone was lead to the impression it was all Nintendo’s fault since they canceled a final meeting for it, but the exact details are not known. It is noted, however, that some found it really strange Sony never persued a lawsuit against Nintendo if it was truly 100% Nintendo’s fault, as the contract was already signed.), all Sony really had at the time was a stand alone CD-Rom drive. It was not capable of doing anything but reading discs. A certain someone took advantage of the situation to heavily persuade Sony to let him turn it into a bigger and better gaming system than what Nintendo already offered.
It sounds like there are a lot of behind closed doors with a mix of shady dealings going on that not only canceled the partnership at the last minute, but also lead to the creation of the PlayStation 1. It seems as if the reason a lawsuit never happened was because there was some fault with a certain person at Sony who selfishly wanted to beat Nintendo at their own game (ah, console wars. May they never end!). Here are a few select excerpts that shine light on all of this:
Maruyama: But right before the announcement, Nintendo put a lid on it. Kutaragi, Sony’s director and PR manager, and the not-as-of-yet-president Mr. [Nobuyuki] Idei had come to Kyoto. But while they were in a pre-meeting for the conference, they were suddenly told “No, the conference is being cancelled”.
Kawakami: But, they were under contract this whole time.
Maruyama: Of course.
Maruyama: Yeah…but, there’s gotta be more to it than that, right? It’s easy to say that Sony was 100% the victim, and Nintendo 100% the wrongdoer.
Kawakami: Yes, that’s right.
Maruyama: In fact, that’s the story the company gave all of us while I was working there. It’s a real mystery why Sony never actually filed any kind of lawsuit against them.
Maruyama: I get the feeling something was going on behind the scenes. After all, there had to be a reason Sony wasn’t able to go after them. But back then I was just a software producer, so I didn’t understand everything that was going on. In fact, my team threw a ton of money into the project. I remember thinking, “If I had that kind of cash to spend on up-and-coming artists…son of a b****!”
Kawakami: So, you’d tell your coworkers, “This is all Nintendo’s fault.”
Maruyama: Yeah, loud enough for everyone to hear.
Maruyama / Kawakami: (laughs)
Maruyama: Now, this is where the story really starts. Kutaragi set all of this into motion for some reason.
Kawakami: What do you mean?
Maruyama: The head of Nintendo, Mr. Yamauchi, and the head of Sony, Mr. Ohga, both approved the project originally. But it fell apart right at the end.
Kutaragi had begun stirring up trouble in the company. He even came up to Mr. Ohga and said “Sony’s very own Norio Ohga gave his approval, but the project got canned for no reason. If you back out now, how will you maintain your honor!” And Mr. Ohga responded “You are right. This has brought us shame…”
Maruyama / Kawakami: (laughs).
Kawakami: So you’re saying we still don’t know exactly what happened, but we do know Kutaragi took advantage of the situation.
Maruyama: That’s right.
Kawakami: Still, it’s only natural that the company would be angry.
Maruyama: Well, you’re sort of right. But let me get back to the earlier topic. If you think about, all we were doing was making an external CD-ROM drive. It was just a drop in the bucket (bitter laugh).
Even taking into account their software businesses, Sony didn’t consider it a big deal…?
Maruyama: It was a lot of money for us at Sony Music Entertainment, but to the whole of Sony, it was pocket change. Kutaragi belligerently argued over the royalties made from the sound chips, saying “I made this money, so let me use it at my own discretion.” So I’m assuming the budget was only about 2-3 billion yen or so.
* Business Size Back Then: Sony’s sales in the 1991 fiscal year totalled 3,617,000,000,000 yen.
Kawakami: Hrm. That’s certainly not a lot, considering the scope of an enterprise as big as Sony.
Maruyama: And, the CD-ROM drive was just this little thing you stuck on top of the SNES. It’s like we were just renting an office instead of building ourselves an entire skyscraper, and then at the last minute they simply kicked us out. Sure it sucked, but that should be the end of it.
Instead, Kutaragi managed to turned the story around, saying “How dare they! We’ll just have to build an even bigger skyscraper next to them (Nintendo).” But really, the two things had nothing to do with each other.
Kawakami: That sounds like a lot of nonsense (laughs). Kutaragi made the whole thing out to bigger than it really was, trying to use the situation to further his own ambitions.
Maruyama: That’s how it looks to me. He was really a crazy guy (laughs). Still, I don’t really know what went on with Nintendo.
Kawakami: But Kutaragi knows what really happened.
Maruyama: Right. I’m pretty sure Kutaragi knows the truth.