News Article

Sony Almost Joined Forces with SEGA for the PlayStation

Posted by Sammy Barker

Alternate history

It’s a well-known fact that the PlayStation started life as an add-on for the Super NES. Sony and Nintendo didn’t see eye-to-eye, though, and the latter stabbed its would-be ally in the back by announcing a partnership with Philips. However, before opting to go it alone, the manufacturer actually tried to strike a deal with SEGA.

"Sony came to us after it had been rebuffed by Nintendo," said SEGA of America’s former CEO Tom Kalinske as part of an interview with MCV. “Olaf Olafsson [Sony Electronic Publishing President] and Micky Schulhof [President of Sony America] came to my office and said, 'Tom, we really don’t like Nintendo. You don’t like Nintendo. We have this little studio down in Santa Monica [Imagesoft] working on video games, we don’t know what to do with it, [and] we’d like SEGA’s help in training our guys. And we think that the optical disc will be the best format.'"

Fascinatingly, SEGA actually agreed, and it formed a developer called Digital Pictures, which went on to produce several full-motion video titles such as Night Trap, Sewer Shark, and Supreme Warrior. “Our relationship with Sony was very close and very tight,” continued Kalinske. "Together, we worked a lot of things out. And SEGA of America and Sony were both convinced that the next platforms had to use optical discs.”

"That’s a stupid idea, Sony doesn’t know how to make hardware. Why would we want to do this?"

Sony worked closely with SEGA’s engineers in North America, coming up with some specifications for an optical-based hardware system. And this resulted in a trip to Sony’s headquarters in Tokyo, where PlayStation creator Ken Kutaragi had a proposal for Kalinske. “He said that [the hypothetical system] was great, and as we all lose money on hardware, let's jointly market a single system – the SEGA/Sony hardware system – and whatever loss that we make, we split that loss,” he explained.

All that Kalinske had to do was convince the people at the top of SEGA’s board – but they were having none of it. “They basically turned me down,” remembered the ex-industry veteran. “They said: ‘That’s a stupid idea, Sony doesn’t know how to make hardware. They don’t know how to make software either. Why would we want to do this?’ That is what caused the division between SEGA and Sony, and caused Sony to become our competitor and launch its own hardware platform.”

And it prompted the genesis of a fall out between Kalinske and his superiors in Japan, too. The PlayStation maker capitalised upon that, poaching key personnel such as SEGA of America’s second-in-command Steve Race. It then went on to crush the SEGA Saturn commercially, a platform that few outside of Japan even believed in. “We were in this very uncomfortable position trying to launch this new hardware system, a system that I didn’t like,” the former gaffer sighed.

Kalinske eventually quit SEGA and retired from the industry in 1996. “I had four years where SEGA Japan pretty much let me do whatever I wanted, and then this series of events happened where they didn’t, and that’s why I ended up leaving the company,” he concluded. We wonder if the firm regrets its decision now.


User Comments (16)



JGMR said:

I read about this in Retro Gamer (issue 117). Great stuff.



InsertNameHere said:

Betrayed twice and now look at them. At least Sega actually had a legitimate reason, Nintendo just seems like they were being jerks - had to avoid using profanity.



MadchesterManc said:

@charlesnarles Yeah I got hooked on his show a few years ago. One of the better things to watch on Youtube without a doubt. Still waiting on a release date for the AVGN movie tho...

In a way Im glad this never happened. If it had we would never of had the Dreamcast or Saturn. Sure Sony went on to destroy Sega in regards to sales, but the Saturn n Dreamcast were both superb systems regardless and we probably wouldn't have had Sega pulling out the best games of its catalougue if it was cosying up with Sony instead of having its back against the wall. As a diehard Sega fanboy thier demise still hurts but Sega released some of the best games of the 90's when they were on the ropes, I doubt a similar outcome when an alliance with Sony would not have had Sega in such a perilous condition.



JavierYHL said:

would be great if they join forces...sonic,phantasy star and many others all exclusive to playstation...



Ristar42 said:

Up to the Dreamcast, I was a SEGA fan all the way since the Master System (I think this was before the word 'fanboy', but I suppose I kind of was one), I have to admit I sort of resented the success of PS2 at the time as I could see SEGA losing it in the hardware business.

I wonder what may have happened if they had teamed up pre-Saturn, but then again, they Saturn was a great console for 2D games and importing, while the Playstation also had great games and shook up the industry and games as pop culture in a whole new way. In retrospect I see how cool both consoles were, so I suppose we may have missed out of something with the SEGA Sony Saturn.



Hokage17 said:

Good information I never knew that. It always felt like something about Playstation reminded me of Sega and now I know why.



ThreadShadow said:

From what I've read, Nintendo and Sony were about to stab each other in the back.
Nintendo's last minute decision was a move of self preservation. With the contract Sony wanted Nintendo would have been enveloped. I don't think that would have been a good thing.



rastamadeus said:

@ThreadShadow If I remember rightly Sony wanted the majority of the profits from the SNES CD (or whatever it was going to be called) and Nintendo then decided to seek other contributors. Would be interesting to find out how much of all this article is true though as the games mentioned (like Night Trap) came out just under a year after Nintendo announced they were ditching Sony. And the conpany - Digital Pictures - were also already developing for another machine, NEMO, before the Mega CD. There's something really off with all this (not your article Sammy, the MCV and Retro Gamer ones), as if this Tom Kalinske is trying to rewrite history. Also interesting that despite Sony "hating" Nintendo they still applied for a licence to become a SNES developer.

EDIT: Yeah, the company that was apparently created by Sony and Sega was already around. Sony had asked them to make Sewer Shark for their SNES playing CD machine then bought the company after Hasbro sold them. They then just released it on the Mega CD instead. So a bit of either old age setting in or rewriting history on Kalinske's side.



Tasuki said:

@charlesnarles: Yeah the AVGN is one of my favorite webseries around.

With that said I have heard of this before but not to this detail. Wow no wonder Sony took it upon themselves to dominate the video game industries after two well known companies told them that they didnt know what they were doing. Fast Foward to 2013 and Sega is out of the console business and Nintendo hasn't exactly been as successful as they once were. Got wonder who didn't know what they were doing?



Zombie_Barioth said:

Quite a turn of evens, huh? Sega of America and Sega of Japan hated each other so you gotta wonder how much of that played a role in turning down Sony.

Its funny that they claim Sony doesn't know how to make hardware, console hardware no, but everything else they made was solid. Sony made hardware with Sega made games would have been quite the combination, and Sony did manage to impress Nintendo enough to consider a partnership. Can't be a small feat considering their reputation back then.



Kage_88 said:

@ThreadShadow - Yeah. The generally-accepted story is that Nintendo betrayed Sony, but the reality was a lot more complicated. Sony weren't exactly innocent victims.

Unfortunately - and as much as I love the company - Sega's management was woefully incompetent. The biggest success the firm ever had was Sonic & the Mega Drive (which really was something; Nintendo was generally seen as untouchable back then). Besides that though, the Sega bosses didn't seem to have much clue; bitter competition between the Japanese and American branches was actually encouraged (which led to the cancellation of the American-made Katana console), as well as famous gaffes such as the cancellation of Sonic Xtreme, the 32X, Mega CD, the Saturn (complete with dodgy CPU), and the Dreamcast.

Of course, the actual creative talent of Sega were utterly awesome. Who knows what they could've achieved under Sony's management?



AlexSora89 said:

Funny how this was also a possibility, I had only known about the "Nintendo PlayStation" until now.

You know, Crash Bandicoot's role was essentially that of a mascot meant to rival Mario, and as such he was supposed to appear alongside Sonic on SEGA consoles at some point, had Sony's own PlayStation never come to be. Then the PlayStation turned out to be Sony's solo debut after all, and needed a mascot. The rest is history.

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