Remembering Sony’s cheekiest digs and sickest burns against their competitors’ consoles prior to launch
So Sony’s PlayStation 5 Showcase has come and gone and while it gave fans just about everything they wanted to know it was a rather straightforward affair.
In the past, Sony had been known to take more than its fair share of potshots at its rivals. Not this year, though, perhaps Sony didn’t think that there was anything worth taking a shot at with the Xbox Series X and Series S—not the fact that it has a confusing naming scheme, or that it effectively has no exclusives, or that its biggest game has been delayed for looking bad (P.S. Sony PR, I assume my check’s in the mail).
Whatever the case, Sony was playing nice this year. As such, we decided to instead look to the past when Sony was absolutely brutal and fired shots that might have just sunk their competition.
Sharing games, the old-fashioned way
We start with the most recent example. Back when both Sony and Microsoft were just revealing their eighth-generation consoles, the latter had forgotten that they were making a game console and wanted to make some motion-controlled digital video recorder thing instead. On top of this, the Xbox One had a draconian always-online DRM scheme that was seen as pretty unfriendly to consumers.
Sony, smelling blood, went for the kill. They focused on one simple that Microsoft’s DRM made really hard to do: sharing games. To share games on the Xbox One, Microsoft wanted players to go through hoops since the discs were now tied to each console. In response, Sony released a video showing then-President of SIE Worldwide Studios Shuhei Yoshida and former VP of Publisher and Developer Relations Adam Boyes showing that games could be shared on PS4 the old fashioned way.
This short video encapsulated everything that gamers felt was wrong with Microsoft’s new DRM scheme. The backlash against the scheme was such that Microsoft eventually took it out.
One game to spoil your console’s release day
It may be hard to remember now that one of them is just a publisher, but back in the day, Sony and Sega were fierce rivals. After the thorough thrashing that the former’s PlayStation gave to the latter’s Saturn (more on that later), Sega was determined to get back in the race.
The Dreamcast was meant to be Sega’s return to form, as the first sixth-generation console, it contained many features that would only later be adopted by other consoles – online connectivity for one. More importantly, it was a focused machine built to play to Sega’s strengths, unlike the confused, multi-processor mess that its predecessor was.
For the console’s North American launch, Sega picked September 9, 1999. This was important for a number of reasons, not only did it read out as “9/9/99,” but it was also the same date that Sony had launched the original PlayStation years ago.
There was just one problem, Sony had decided to launch arguably that year’s most anticipated game on the same date: Final Fantasy VIII.
Now it’s a bit too much to attribute the Dreamcast’s eventual failure to FFVIII spoiling the console’s North American launch – anticipation for the upcoming PlayStation 2 had arguably a bigger impact, with gamers simply choosing to wait for the latter.
That said, it was still cheeky for Sony and Square to put the game out on that same day.
Of course, this wasn’t the first time Sony wrecked Sega’s launch plans.
Perhaps the sickest burn that Sony ever laid to any rival. While Sony was just entering the console market at the time, its more established rivals were taking it seriously.
Sega for one was wary that this gigantic newcomer would steal its thunder. They were especially worried as their Saturn was lacking in terms of 3D graphics. The console had started development as a 2D graphical powerhouse after all, before having 3D added in – Sega was something of a schizophrenic mess back then with the Japanese and American divisions squabbling over the direction of their next-gen console.
In what can only be described as a moment of desperation, Sega of America decided that the best way to stop the PlayStation was to beat it to store shelves. In May of 1995, at the first E3 show Sega made the shock announcement that the Saturn was hitting retail shelves that same day for the price of $399.
The problem was that Sega had forgotten to tell its retail partners who, just like everyone else, were caught off guard by the announcement, meaning that they hadn’t actually been prepared to sell the Saturn that same day.
Seeing the hole that Sega had dug for itself, Sony decided to swoop in for the kill. Then Sony Computer Entertainment of America President Steve Race went up on stage and uttered only three numbers: 299.
That was it. With those three numbers, the Saturn was effectively dead in North America and Sega’s decline as a hardware manufacturer had truly begun. Meanwhile, Sony had made its first important steps in becoming the video game giant that it is today.