The Nintendo 64 was Nintendo’s third home console. Launching in 1996, the system was released one year after the PlayStation came out in North America and a full two years after the PlayStation’s release in Japan. Despite the late start, Nintendo entered the generation as the favorite, having just successfully fended off their previous competitor Sega by winning the Super Nintendo generation. The SNES legacy gave Nintendo a very positive reputation and they entered the next generation overly confident, if not cocky. Due to some grave errors made by Nintendo and sound business decisions made by Sony, the PlayStation would overtake the N64 and finish with a significant lead, which would carry over to the PlayStation 2. The following are the 10 most significant reasons Nintendo found themselves trailing Sony’s PlayStation.
10. Built-in CD Player
While a obsolete device in today’s age, the technology the PlayStation presented gave it a multimedia edge over the Nintendo 64, which was dedicated exclusively to gaming. The PlayStation’s ability to play audio CD’s was a forerunner to the notion of a home media console. Today, consoles are expected to perform more tasks than simply play games. The PlayStation was the first console to embrace this idea and its CD player was a major selling point. Walkmans and stereos were still quite expensive at the time; therefore, having the functionality of playing CDs was a boon on top of the many other gaming aspects the PlayStation presented. The CD player was able to shuffle the playback order or play songs in a pre-programmed manner. Made by Sony, a pioneer in audio technology, the CD player was of such a high quality that it’s actually still considered one of the best players today by many audiophiles.
9. More Mature Games
Sony’s console aimed for a mature crowd, promoting games based on adult-oriented themes, complex storylines, and realism. They also offered plenty of titles that appealed to the youth market, yet it was the mature library that set Sony apart from Nintendo, who had earned a reputation of appealing solely to kids and young teens. While Sony was able to pick up many of this younger demographic as well, it was their utter dominance in the 18-to-29 year-old range that began to turn video games from a niche hobby into acceptable mainstream entertainment. This demographic, which in many ways represented the first generation to grow up playing video games, was an untapped resource that Nintendo failed to attract to their console. While PlayStation titles such as Resident Evil and Silent Hill embraced the M rating on their cover, even all-ages titles like Gran Turismo simply appealed more to an older demographic who sought realism.
8. Redesigned Controller
The Nintendo 64 controller was innovative in many ways. The first home console to offer an analog controller and the first controller to offer rumble feedback, this controller was extremely influential. However, the three-pronged mess is often mocked for its bizarre button layout and being uncomfortable. The analog stick itself was a poor quality build that became loose with excessive use (games like Mario Party were infamous for destroying these poor sticks) and the back port was finicky in terms of having to switch peripherals from the rumble pack to the memory card. Making matters even worse, the rumble support ran on batteries, adding to the controller’s heft. In 1997, after two years on the market and competing with the N64 for a full year, Sony relaunched its own controller, replacing it with the now-iconic DualShock. Containing two analog sticks of a much higher build quality than Nintendo’s and built-in rumble, this controller design would remain pretty well consistent until this current PS4 generation. Nintendo simply had no answer for the DualShock and never bothered to redesign their controller over the lifespan of the N64.
7. Fresh IPs
Nintendo owns some of the greatest intellectual properties in video games and the N64 played host to a majority of these franchises. Many of the games borrowed themes heavily from their predecessors during their foray into 3D gaming. Games like Star Fox 64, Ocarina of Time, and Mario Kart 64 are among the greatest games of all-time, yet largely amount to redone versions of their 2D counterparts. Even the best new Nintendo IPs of the time such as Banjo-Kazooie could be seen as Mario 64 clones. Around this time, gamers had become tired of these rehashes and were seeking fresh experiences. Enter the PlayStation, which thrived in creating new IP such as Resident Evil, Metal Gear Solid, Twisted Metal, Gran Turismo, Crash Bandicoot, Spyro, and Grand Theft Auto. While these series would all go on to release multiple sequels themselves, at the time this fresh infusion of new gaming blood was viewed as an innovative blessing compared to Nintendo, which appeared to have grown stale.
6. Release Date Edge
The PlayStation was released in December 1994 in Japan and in September 1995 in North America. Comparatively, the Nintendo 64 was only made available in 1996, giving Sony a one year advantage in North America and a whopping two year head start in Japan. During this time, Sony had the opportunity to learn significant knowledge during their initial foray into the video game industry. Marketing-wise, they were able to realize that they had to appeal to an older demographic rather than directly compete with Nintendo. In terms of their controller, they were wise to see that digital output in their 3D games did not allow the freedom they envisioned and they instead made time to re-release their controller with the updated DualShock. Those two years were significant in allowing Sony to learn from their mistakes and gain a foothold in the industry, as well as create a vast library that would overwhelm Nintendo’s. Sony was able to gain momentum during this time while seeing and reacting to Nintendo’s actions, which proved to be a lucrative luxury.
5. Vast Game Library
The Nintedo 64 has 388 official release cartridges, a modest total at best. In contrast, the Sony PlayStation has a whopping 1284 games released in North America alone, one of the highest totals in console history. Nearly another 1000 titles were released exclusively for Japan but even without taking that into account, the PS1 offering over three times the amount of games as the competition is too great a difference to ignore. While Nintendo did subscribe to the quality over quantity mantra, it’s clear that this disparity was a factor in gamers choosing the PlayStation. The Nintendo 64’s library was small even by the previous generation’s standards, as the SNES and Sega Genesis each offered over 700 games. The PS1’s nearly 1300 releases had something for everyone. The N64 library was missing many titles and even genres that gamers had come to expect.
4. Third Party Support
One of the main reasons why the PlayStation 1 and N64 had such a disparity in their total number of games is because Nintendo suffered from a lack of third party support (a running theme for the company that holds true to this day). Nintendo largely relied on their first party exclusives and their ace second party developer, Rareware. The majority of these titles were excellent, but the N64 as a whole did not offer the diversity the PlayStation was able to achieve. Losing the third party support of Capcom, Konami, Squaresoft, EA, and countless others, the N64 began to lose the empire that Nintendo had built. No longer having access to popular series such as Castlevania or Final Fantasy that were once developed exclusively for Nintendo consoles caused many gamers to mutiny to the other side. Furthermore, once Sony was able to cement themselves as the industry leader, they were able to acquire new companies that chose to develop for the PlayStation rather than the N64.
3. Final Fantasy 7
Love it or hate it, Final Fantasy 7 sold PlayStations in a way no other game did and played an important role in Sony’s early success in the console space. With Sony already gaining impressive momentum with titles such as Crash Bandicoot, Resident Evil, and Twisted Metal, Squaresoft’s decision to leave Nintendo in order to produce Final Fantasy 7 for the PlayStation may have been the final nail in the coffin for the Nintendo 64. Squaresoft, responsible for a large majority of the timeless RPG classics on the SNES, had decided that the cartridges Nintendo had decided to use as their medium would not suffice for the vision they had with Final Fantasy 7 and went with Sony’s larger capacity CD-ROM format instead.
With JRPGs just beginning to gain popularity in the West, FF7’s release popularized them like no other title before it. With a heavy marketing campaign focused on the game’s CG cutscenes, FF7 was so popular it managed to sell the system. With gamers coming to terms with the fact that the N64 would be incapable of supporting quality JRPGs and was unable to replicate the story-driven elements or CG capabilities that Sony’s disk media could achieve, the PlayStation officially became the industry leader.
2. Genre Diversity
A major selling point that Nintendo did not envision is that the PS1 had game genres that were simply non-existent on the N64. JRPGs could not compete on cartridges with Sony’s disks. The N64 had no fighting game to stack up with the depth that Tekken offered. There was no competition on the N64 for a realistic racing sim such as Gran Turismo. PaRappa the Rapper introduced gamers to rhythm-based games and was unopposed on the N64. Metal Gear Solid popularized stealth-based video games for years to come (even the N64 masterpiece Ocarina of Time borrows elements from Metal Gear Solid, with Link sneaks into the castle courtyard to visit Zelda for the first time). Finally, the survival horror genre which cemented the PlayStation as the place to go for mature games arrived far too late on the N64 with the port of Resident Evil 2, after the PS1 had already established itself as the home of Resident Evil. Through and through, the PS1 simply had more titles to appeal to a wider audience of gamers in terms of genre diversity.
1. Disk-Based Media
Nintendo’s decision to keep cartridges as the N64’s medium for outputting games is the single most important reason the PlayStation was able to overtake the N64 and win its respective console generation. Nintendo was concerned with piracy and faster load times and opted to keep using cartridges, which is extremely ironic considering they originally planned to make the N64 run on disks in a partnership with Sony that ultimately went sour and led to the PlayStation’s inception. Keeping cartridges was disastrous for Nintendo, as the majority of the points presented on this list can be tied back here. Losing the third party support of countless developers, the N64 would flounder in game diversity. Companies like Squaresoft would abandon cartridges due to their lower storage capacity. Disks managing to hold CG cutscenes allowed for greater presentation. Other companies would abandon Nintendo’s cartridges due to the high cost associated with them, as developing for cartridges rather than optical disks actually made games more expensive to produce. Disks paved the way for the future and Sony’s embracing of them proved to be the wisest decision they made with the original PlayStation.