Published as part of our sister-site GamesIndustry.biz's widely-read weekly newsletter, the GamesIndustry.biz Editorial, is a weekly dissection of an issue weighing on the minds of the people at the top of the games business. It appears on Eurogamer after it goes out to GI.biz newsletter subscribers.
Talking to people in the games business about the PlayStation's 15th anniversary this week provokes two distinct but equally instinctive emotions. The first is to reflect on just how much the industry has changed since the momentous point when Sony decided to enter the game. The second, of course, is simply to roll their eyes and say "Christ, that makes me feel so old".
Facetious as that may seem, both responses actually give us a useful insight into the state of the games industry. They both reflect interesting realities - firstly, that the introduction of the PlayStation did bring about a true sea-change in the games market, one whose impact is still being felt even as the industry goes through the throes of a new transition. Secondly, that the people behind that market are, however painful they may find it personally, not as young as they used to be - and that, too, has a subtle but powerful influence on the market.
It's only with the benefit of hindsight that we can truly consider what a disruptive event the launch of the PlayStation was. Its legacy in terms of wonderful games and market-leading franchises, of course, is extraordinary, but its legacy in terms of redefining the market and expanding the audience is even more important.
Prior to the PlayStation, the near-universal perception of console gaming was as a child's pastime. A small band of core gamers formed a minuscule but lucrative import market, while a handful of sports games and nascent "casual" franchises reached out to a wider audience - but the bulk of console games were made for, marketed to and ultimately sold to young boys.
Sony's entry to the market changed everything. The company's timing was impeccable, arriving just as a generation who had grown up with games were entering adulthood and wondering if their hobby would grow up with them. In concert with that timing, Sony's approach to marketing was a breath of fresh air which the industry desperately needed.
Unencumbered by its rivals' core principles of remaining as family-friendly as possible - a factor which remains both a strength and a weakness for Nintendo to this day - and with decades of experience of marketing consumer electronics products which relied on being cool and cutting edge for their sales, Sony was able to separate the PlayStation brand from the existing preconceptions of videogames and turn it into a must-have product for a generation which felt that it had outgrown Sega and Nintendo.
It's extremely interesting to read back over commentary in the specialist press from the years following 1995, as the PlayStation began its extraordinary sales curve and rival systems were left in its wake. Reflecting concerns among the "core" gamers to whom they spoke, the press was torn between being excited about the new entry to the market and the genre-redefining games which were emerging for the platform - and being far less enamoured about the new breed of gamer which it was drawing into the pastime.
The PlayStation transition which we're now celebrating was far from universally welcomed at the time. Many gamers bemoaned the arrival of "casual" players whose interest was founded in titles like FIFA, Madden, Tekken and WipEout - high-profile, strongly marketed titles which were among the industry's first truly successful attempts to reach out to an older and less tech-savvy demographic.
Others complained about the sheer volume of shovelware which appeared for the PlayStation - indeed, one of the more easily forgotten changes ushered in by the console was the rise of low-cost titles thanks to the significantly lower production and licensing costs of CD media, as compared to the cartridges which had come before.
Sound familiar? Of course it does - it's a dead ringer for the Wii in many respects, and it's no coincidence either that the PlayStation era brought with it plenty of hardcore gamer refuseniks who would loudly proclaim how little interest they had in Sony's console and how wonderful the N64 and the ill-fated Saturn were by comparison.
While it's clearly something of a reach to suggest that the Wii's impact will be as powerful or as long-lasting as that of the PlayStation, Nintendo's present detractors would do well to recall that similarly minded gamers were equally quick to dismiss Sony's newfound mass-market appeal in the late nineties.
The rapid expansion of the market seen during the PlayStation era - and subsequently carried on by the PlayStation 2, which remains the high water mark for game hardware success - is also notable for the fact that it lasted. The new consumers who were attracted by Sony's marketing did not, as more pessimistic pundits suggested, play FIFA and Tekken for a few months and then disappear from the fold. They stayed; they played more and more games, they integrated gaming into their media and entertainment lives, and they now form the backbone of the games industry's core consumers.
There's a resulting argument which says that once a consumer becomes used to interactive entertainment in some form, the barrier which prevented them from engaging with the medium falls. Today's Farmville players and Wii Fit aficionados may not be tomorrow's hardcore MMO raiders or trigger-happy FPS junkies, but equally there's no precedent to suggest that their conversion to gaming will not be a lasting one. If there's one important lesson to be learned from the PlayStation's legacy, it's that one.
The present transition represents an even more fundamental shift in how we perceive the games business - if the PlayStation provided depth by making existing types of games appealing to a wider audience, today's new platforms and delivery systems provide breadth by expanding the definitions of gaming and applying game design concepts to an ever-increasing circle of products.
As we face into that transition, I believe that there's also something important to take away from that creeping sense of being old which comes from remembering the PlayStation's launch all those years ago.
The extra 15 years of life experience which our industry's leading lights have accumulated count for a great deal. They mean that a vastly larger percentage of people in the business now have partners, families, and everything that comes with that - the responsibilities, the pressures and, of course, the joys. Those experiences feed into game design - whatever you feel about Heavy Rain as a game, ask yourself if a narrative that relies so heavily on the sentiments of fatherhood could ever have been made, let alone been successful, 15 years ago?
Moreover, they feed into basic business choices. If games are turning into shorter, more intense experiences, that's not so much because long games are expensive to develop - many enormous PlayStation-era games achieved their notorious length fairly cheaply - as because their creators no longer live lives that allow them to spend many dozens of hours on a single-player game campaign. If an increasing number of games pitch themselves clearly as kids' games that adults can also enjoy (the LEGO Star Wars games and their ilk are perfect example), it's no doubt because an industry where more people have children of their own is an industry that can recognise the true value of such experiences.
If the industry is growing old, in other words, it is also learning in the process - learning how to make games that fit into people's lives better, games that make sense for people who are no longer teenagers or college students but who still want gaming to be a part of what they do. None of this detracts from the experience of core gamers or younger gamers - there will always be development studios fuelled by the kind of youthful enthusiasm which powered the earlier waves of game creation - but it provides the medium with a breadth of experiences which vastly broaden its appeal.
None of this would be possible without PlayStation. It was the right product, in the right place, at the right time, and with the right team and titles behind it - a perfect storm of a console, one whose impact is still writ large on our industry. Yet let's never forget that in the 15 years since PlayStation launched, the games business has done a lot more than just getting old. "Growing old is mandatory, growing up is optional" is a common slogan of those facing down the advancing decades - but in the last 15 years, the games business has slowly discovered that growing up has its benefits, too.
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