This “new” hardware, new game, on still new 3D technology was being developed suspiciously fast. Issues and decisions were quickly settled. Faxes with questions were on my desk in the morning and my answers were needed in time for my evening phone call with Japan. Ultimately we would learn that System 11 was an arcade version of the PlayStation hardware. Though the Sony brand was a household name, the success of the PlayStation was by no means a foregone conclusion. And not being a content producer, Sony quietly flew under the radar as they built a giant developer community.
The 1970’s ill-fated strategy of the Betamax more than lingered with Sony management. It taught Sony that superior technology didn’t always win the race. This time around, software support and adopting a whole product approach would be required. Who would be ideal partners to help market the PlayStation? Namco was an industry leader, itself building a library of 3D games. And like Sony, Namco too had a bone to pick with Nintendo. Namco was rewarded with Ridge Racer becoming the key pack-in game in North America. 3D games Tekken, Time Crisis, Soul Blade and Ace Combat sold millions and helped solidify the PlayStation’s success.
Introduction of PlayStation
The 1994 launch of the PlayStation shook things up as never before. It accomplished what Nintendo nor Sega could do. The PlayStation ran 3D games that looked as good as those in arcades. Now arcade players needed to wait only a few short months before they could buy the same game.
Keeping things in perspective, the coin-operated game industry survived for over 80 years. It survived all eight generations of the home video game console, personal handhelds, and mobile devices. Perhaps years from now, the creation of CD-ROM and even mobile gaming might look like mere bumps in the road.
Arcade Games Lost Their Competitive Advantage
The PlayStation’s parity with coin-op eliminated the arcade’s “competitive advantage”. More specifically their “differential advantage”, because players no longer viewed arcade games to be superior over the console. If Nintendo’s NES started the bleeding, the PlayStation caused a hemorrhage.
After nearly 40 years and through four generations of consoles, coin-operated games finally lost this advantage. Arcade income began to tumble and arcade’s across America closed their doors. With fewer manufacturers selling fewer machines to fewer arcades, for many the ends no longer justified the means.
For Sega, the Dreamcast was no match for the PlayStation. In a market that couldn’t support three consoles, they were the odd man out.
With consoles now the dominant force, games now debuted in coin-op for testing and marketing support. Arcade releases once had six months before their release to PlayStation. But eventually, even this gave way to near simultaneous releases.
Pressure mounted on arcade game operators. The luxury of a wait and see approach to game buying had disappeared. It forced them to buy early and make hay while they could. The growing popularity of the PlayStation was like an incoming tidal wave.
Namco again accepted their role of being a software provider for yet another console. But coin-op was the company’s roots and life blood. Arcade games would need to evolve if they were to continue and have a place in coin-operated entertainment.