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How Ken Kutaragi Changed The World

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Joi Ito / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.
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Sony Computer Entertainment is one of the most successful video game companies ever. The PlayStation 2 is the best-selling game system in history, and had it not been for their partnership and eventual falling out with Nintendo, the PlayStation may never have ever happened.

Sony’s entrance into the video game industry started with the work of one electronics engineer named Ken Kutaragi. In the late '80s, he watched his daughter playing games on the original Nintendo, and saw the potential that games consoles had. When Nintendo was developing the Super Nintendo, they expressed interest in a new, powerful sound chip for the system.

Kutaragi developed the chip at Sony Digital Research labs in secret, and when his bosses found out, they were furious. However, Nintendo loved the chip and bought it for their new console.

A few years later, Nintendo decided they needed help developing an accessory for the Super Nintendo so it could play games from CDs. They approached Kutaragi directly for this, and although Sony management still considered video games a fad, Kutaragi was able to convince them to let him spearhead the project. He developed a console that could play CDs as well as Super Nintendo games, and they called it the "Nintendo PlayStation."

Unfortunately, the two companies’ legal teams could never come to an agreement over who would own these technologies, so Nintendo broke off their relationship with Sony, thinking that Sony wouldn’t pursue a video game console on their own. The team at Sony kept working, though. In 1994, they released the PlayStation, which sold more than 100 million consoles in the 10 years that it was available, making Kutaragi’s console the biggest rival Nintendo had ever seen.

Kutaragi eventually became the CEO of Sony, and even to this day, Sony Computer Entertainment is the most profitable arm of Sony, all because of an engineer that saw what video games could be, instead of just a passing fad.