According to former Sony Executive Shahid Ahmad, who worked in the role of director for strategic content for the company until his departure in 2015. PlayStation 4 had to succeed for the company to survive the struggles brought by its PlayStation 3 and Vita platforms.
In an interview that is part of the documentary from Bed to Billions: The PlayStation Revolution (scheduled for a September 7th release), according to videogameschronicle.com, Ahmad claimed that the PlayStation 3 placed the tech giant in a precarious position:
“PS3 was many things to many different people. It was definitely a difficult period, because a lot of work had to be done to turn around the technical deficit and the monetary deficit created by the launch of this extraordinary piece of hardware.”- Shahid Ahmad
Those of us with elephant memories will remember that the PlayStation 3 was a tremendously expensive piece of hardware to acquire during its early days in 2006, and 2007. There were two versions of the console being sold, one priced at $499 and another at $599. The difference between the two systems (and the pricing) was the size of their internal hard drives (20GB to 60GB).
The pricing, coupled with a less than stellar showcase of launch titles (Resistance looked awful when compared to Gears of War), and a cheaper, easier to develop for Xbox 360 knocked Sony off its lofty perch back down to earth …hard.
Ken Kutaragi, the man known as the “PlayStation’s father” designed the system under a misguided vision of what game a console should be, and it cost the company millions, even when they sold units. By 2008 the company had lost about 3 Billion dollars on the PlayStation 3. That number isn’t hard to believe when you factor in that Sony was losing a whooping $300 for every 20GB $499 unit sold, and an even more astronomical $540 per every 60GB $599 model that was purchased.
Blue Ray tech was expensive in those days, as were hard drives, and Sony had equipped their system with both devices (perhaps in an attempt to duplicate their success with the PS2 which introduced DVD drives to consoles). The worst thing was that despite the much touted power of the “Cell Processor”, PS3 games in general, fared worst in graphical and performance comparisons to their 360 counterparts (who can forget PS3 Madden running at 30fps).
Like the failed Sega Saturn, on paper the system could outdo its nearest rival, but in actual real world application developers had a hellish time coding for the system. Years later, the president of Sony Interactive Entertainment Worldwide Studios, Shuhei Yoshida would reflect on what went wrong during the system’s systems conception:
“Ken [Kutaragi] was such a brilliant engineer – the team that worked for Ken was so motivated, he was a great motivator. Maybe he was using video games as a steppingstone to realize his vision and dreams; he wanted to become the next Intel or something… We were not given access until it was done… He didn’t see the need to involve game developers in the design of the system; that’s how the PS3 was made, and you know how successful it was.” Shuhei Yoshida (Edge Magazine Interview)
Sony would eventually bounce back during the second half of the console’s 7 year life cycle The company’s first party studios, especially Naughty Dog, figured out ways to tap into the full potential of the system. Price cuts (coupled with cheaper redesigns of the console) allowed the system to squeak by the Xbox 360 in terms of sales (87 million to 84 million). Still, it was a dark moment in PlayStation’s other wise absolute dominance of the console market since the original system’s inception.
Lessons were learned, and the PlayStation 4 marked a swift return to a “Gaming First” approach, and this, coupled with Xbox One’s early “TV multimedia experience” approach, allowed Sony to reclaim all of its lost ground over the past 7 years.
“The PlayStation that emerged at the end of PS3 was a much more gritty, determined, focused entity – and I’m not saying this from a personal perspective, but from a corporate perspective – than the much more hubristic organization at the beginning of the PS3 era.”-Shahid Ahmad
As Sony prepares for another console launch, it is nice to see that the company has kept reflecting on past blunders, and learning its lessons.