Before you read this, you might need a little bit of background information on why it’s titled quite the way it is. You see, back in the 1990s, Nintendo worked with Sony and Philips to create a CD add-on for the SNES. Its name? Play Station. The deal fell apart, Sony retained naming rights, and well, you know the rest. But what if things had gone the way they were intended? Read on and find out what we think would have happened between 1992 and 2002!
In 1988, CDs were still a high end commodity and with drives being as new as they were, weren’t yet a viable solution for video games except in the computer market, where you could install games onto a hard drive. However, with their large storage space and 3D gaming just about starting to become a reality, it began to look more and more tempting to find a way to fit video games onto those things. Nintendo signed a deal with Sony and Philips, two electronics giants instrumental in the early success of CD, which resulted in the debut of the Play Station at the Consumer Electronics Show in 1991. Here’s where our narrative splits. In the real world, Nintendo declared they would be working exclusively with Philips on the new SNES-compatible cartridge/CD hybrid, while Sony left to develop their own console. In our fun little world, Sony stayed and the Play Station was released worldwide in June 1992.
This would make it available in the United States a full four months before the Sega CD, Sega’s Genesis peripheral that enabled CD-based games like, umm, Night Trap. But it also had Sonic CD. That one was good, right? The early arrival of the system and the brand recognition of Nintendo (which was neck and neck in the console wars at that point) could well have pushed Nintendo into the lead enough to offset the release of Sonic 2 the same year. This would have required a rather high profile release on the system to justify an initial purchase, but Nintendo being Nintendo and brimming with all sorts of ideas, I don’t think it’s unfeasible that they might have come up with CD-audio versions of SNES titles like Starfox or F-Zero to keep players entertained.
This upset in the balance of power would likely have brought the start of the next generation much closer than in our world. Faced with the Play Station, Sega wouldn’t have seen much benefit in the failed 32X and instead would have poured their money into their new system – the Saturn – which launched worldwide in 1994. A major reason for that console’s failure was the surprise release of the console with very few games after E3 ’94 – an event that happened because of Sega’s wish to get a console out before the PlayStation launch at Christmas that year. With Sony working as a Nintendo second party and the Play Station relatively new, Sega felt no such rush, allowed developers to finish their games, arranged deals with retailers and brought out the Saturn to a successful launch in December 1994.
As Saturn sales began to outpace those of the now three-year-old Play Station, Nintendo decided to hasten development of their new system – a powerful, 3D capable machine that, like the Play Station, could play both cartridges and discs. Since the 32X had not already made the claim to being 32-bit, the new system made the claim instead. The Nintendo 32 launched earlier with slightly lower power that our Nintendo 64, in October 1995. Due to its rushed release date, the only titles available at launch were ports of a few Saturn and PC titles along with a sequel to the SNES game Pilotwings entitled Pilotwings 3D. The system launched poorly due to its high price point and lack of games, and Sega took a solid lead by Christmas ’95. Nintendo struck back with the very popular Super Mario 64 in late 1996, evening up the playing field sales-wise.
To free up money for the Nintendo 32 development, the company had to axe several projects, including the Virtual Boy. Upset by his progress being thrown away, Game Boy creator Gunpei Yokoi left Nintendo for Bandai, where he worked on their handheld WonderSwan. He was killed in a car crash in October 1997.
Impressed by the power and CD-capabilities of the N32, developers SquareSoft began development on Final Fantasy VII, which released on Nintendo 32 in 1997. It quickly became a must-have system seller, drowning out the objections of Sony high-up Bernie Stolar, who lost his job and defected to Sega, where he was given a figurehead position on an unimportant team. In real life, he is the man responsible for the cancellation of many great Saturn games, considering them too ‘nerdy’ for Western audiences. Sega were rocked by the game’s impact, but kept themselves afloat with many solid titles like Grandia and Radiant Silvergun which held down their core audience throughout the late nineties. They had a resurgence with the release of Konami’s Metal Gear Solid in 1998, which helped to balance the impact of Final Fantasy VIII and IX on the N32.
By 1999, Sega were losing the console war – though not nearly as badly as they did in real life. With the figures standing as N32: 70 million systems sold and Saturn: 45 million systems sold, they found themselves in a stable position financially and announced the upcoming release of their newest system Dreamcast. Nintendo once again launched later, announcing the Gamecube at Spaceworld 2000 for a release in late 2001. A courageous Microsoft also announced their newest system, the Direct X Box, later shortened to Xbox.
The Dreamcast launched in late 2000 with a huge lineup including the long absent Sonic’s 3D debut in Sonic Adventure along with quirky titles like Jet Set Radio, Crazy Taxi and the vastly interactive and graphically impressive Shenmue. The console had the most successful launch ever, breaking sales records in all three major territories. With a year to build their library, they went from strength to strength as popular JRPGs Grandia II and Skies of Arcadia were released to critical acclaim. The system’s online play proved popular with gamers round the world, as without the Saturn’s failure, EA sports titles were available and with their next-gen graphics sold quickly. Nintendo needed to pull a few tricks out of the bag but pulled it off, releasing the DVD-capable (on Sony’s advice) Gamecube in November 2001. The system lacked a Mario game, but instead marketed itself with launch title Final Fantasy X, which once again drew millions of users to the console.
Xbox launched around the same time, but with the Dreamcast still going strong, lacked the third party support it needed to succeed in most markets. After some initial success with Halo, the system trundled on in North America before being quietly discontinued in 2004, with around 5 million units sold.
Want to know what would have happened next? Drop us a comment below! If you like this sort of thing, maybe we’ll do more!