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.