Since the launch of the Sony PlayStation in 1994, the PlayStation brand and its PS symbol have become one of the most recognized names in console gaming. In this guide, we’ll take a brief look at the history of PlayStation, then see where it’s currently at.

A Brief History of PlayStation

The original idea for the PlayStation began in 1988. At the time, Nintendo was working on its Super Famicom (SNES) system, which would go on sale in 1990. Sony – which didn’t have its own gaming division at the time – was working to develop a CD-ROM device (colloquially known as the SNES-CD and the Play Station) that would provide far more capability than the cartridges used by the SNES.

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The two companies were not able to reach an agreement, and final negotiations stopped in 1992. In a July meeting between the head of the Play Station project (Ken Katsuragi), Sony’s current president, and various board members, it was decided to shift the project over to Sony Music Entertainment. A short time later, Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. (SCEI) was formed, and the PlayStation became its first official project.

The first PlayStation was released in 1994 and featured extensive use of 3D graphics. Its primary competitors included the Nintendo 64 and the Sega Saturn, and by 2003, it was the first console to sell 120 million units.

In 2000, the original was followed up by the release of the PlayStation 2, which is generally considered to be the most successful home console to date. The original was fairly bulky, but a slimmed down version (with an ethernet port to play games online) was released in 2004.

Around the time of the slim PS2’s release, Sony also introduced its PlayStation Portable, a handheld console to rival Nintendo’s Gameboy line. The PSP was a major success for Sony, eventually selling over 80 million units.

2006 saw the first release of the PlayStation 3, which had a slow start but began to increase in popularity when its own slim model was released. This era also saw the true launch of the PlayStation Store, a virtual market allowing people to buy games, downloadable content, and other items over the internet. This wasn’t new technology, but it hadn’t seen much use in gaming consoles until this generation.

2011 brought the PlayStation Vita, a successor to the much-loved PlayStation Portable. Unfortunately for Sony, reception was generally poor despite the Vita’s solid design and power. It’s estimated to have sold only around 15 million units, though high staying power among buyers (despite competition from mobile phones, tablets, and Nintendo’s DS series of handhelds) mean it continues to see new games on a regular basis.

The PlayStation Vita has a companion, the PlayStation TV. This product is capable of playing many Vita games, but hooks up to your television instead of acting as a standalone handheld.

The PlayStation 4 launched in late 2013, adding x86 architecture and significantly increasing the line’s computing power. In 2016, Sony began selling the PlayStation 4 Slim (a lighter version of the original) and the PlayStation 4 Pro (an improved version of the console offering more power and graphical capabilities).

The Modern PlayStation

The modern PlayStation experience is built around three pillars – PlayStation consoles, the PlayStation Network, and PlayStation Plus.

The PlayStation Network is the primary online service Sony offers. The PS3, PS4, PSP, and PSV all have free access to the system, which supports features like access to the PlayStation Store and the ability to obtain and display in-game trophies.

PlayStation Plus is a more recent service, acting as a paid subscription for access to various special features. Notable features include up to six games each month, internet storage for saved games (preventing loss if the console is damaged), and early access to certain games and features.

More controversially, PlayStation Plus is required for synchronous online play in most PS4 titles. Synchronous play is when two consoles need to communicate with each other in real-time – for example, many competitive games (such as Fighters) require synching.

Non-synchronous titles – such as some turn-based games – are exempted from this. Similarly, certain online-only games (like Massive Multiplayer Online titles) do not require PS Plus.

Sony’s reasoning for this is that the servers running online play represent a significant investment for the company. If the service were kept entirely free on the PS4, they’d have to significantly lower its quality.

In addition, Sony has begun exploring the use of Virtual Reality through its PlayStation VR system. It’s too soon to say if this will become a popular component or a soon-forgotten gadget, but for now, Sony is at least trying to make it work.

Games

Ultimately, PlayStation is a platform for playing games.

First-party games (developed by Sony exclusively for PlayStation) are made by Sony Interactive Entertainment Worldwide Studios. SIE Worldwide Studios oversees more than a dozen independent studios that produce games as diverse as MLB: The Show and Horizon Zero Dawn.

Having so many studios working on titles allows Sony to regularly release content at a variety of price points and in many different genres. People aren’t going to buy a console unless it has games they want, so supporting a variety of studios is critical to the ongoing success of the PlayStation brand.

Third-party titles cover an even wider variety of titles than Sony’s in-house games, ranging from colorful animated titles like Level-5’s Ni no Kuni to grittier, philosophical titles like Nier: Automata. The breadth of titles means the PlayStation brand has something for everyone – a fact fans have not overlooked.

Where Do I Jump In For The Best PlayStation Experience?

That depends on what you’re looking for – but if you’ve never bought a PlayStation, it’s always best to start with the newest console. The PS4 Slim is ideal for most households – there’s really no need to upgrade to the PS4 Pro unless you have a television capable of supporting 4K resolution.

Alternatively, if you’d prefer something a little cheaper, go ahead and invest in a Vita. The handheld is strong enough to play many PS3 and PS4 titles, as well as its own lineup. (Note that as a handheld, the Vita is best when you plan to devote an hour or more to playing – it’s not for ‘quick’ games like you’ll find on smartphones and tablets. These are different devices, for different purposes, and should be treated that way.)

Once you know which device to get, it’s time to start looking through the game catalog. Whether you’re looking for action or relaxation, intense competition or personal triumph, PlayStation has plenty of titles to keep you occupied. You can also download many older titles through the PlayStation Store. If you’re still not sure where to start, here’s a list of some of the console’s most popular games.

(There’s a strong emphasis on action in popular titles, but don’t let that dissuade you – plenty of games in other genres are available.)

Final Fantasy XV

Final Fantasy has long been one of the most-recognized names in gaming, and the franchise is still going strong. This standalone action role-playing title follows the story of Noctis Lucis Caelum as he aims to retake his home from the empire of Niflheim… only to find out there’s far more going on than he ever imagined.

As with most titles by Square Enix, Final Fantasy XV features gorgeous visuals – and this particular title includes an expansive, open world to explore.

Grand Theft Auto V

Like Final Fantasy, Grand Theft Auto has long been one of the most popular franchises in gaming. Publisher Rockstar Games upped the ante with this title, set in a fictional version of San Andreas as the protagonist executes a series of heists. However, the real draw for most is Grand Theft Auto Online, a multiplayer mode that allows for as many as 30 players to share a city. And yes, it’s even wilder than it sounds.

Killzone Shadow Fall

This first-person shooter was one of the launch titles for the PlayStation 4, featuring an open-ended single-player campaign and a robust multiplayer mode where players are allowed to create customized maps for others to compete on.

Nier: Automata

Sometimes, the most popular games don’t have the best budgets… and that’s definitely the case for this action role-playing title set in the far future of our world. While the actual gameplay is considered average at best, constant changes in perspective and a densely-woven narrative helped to make this one of the surprise hits of 2017.

Nioh

This action role-playing game follows the tale of an English sailor named William as he travels to Sengoku-era Japan in pursuit of a friend. There, he fights humans and spirits (known as Yokai) as he’s enmeshed in a war that threatens to spread far beyond Japan’s isolated borders. Nioh is most notable for its high level of difficulty – only skill brings victory in this title.

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

You don’t need to play the previous games in the Uncharted series, though it definitely helps. This action-adventure follows the tale of retired fortune hunter Nathan Drake as he’s drawn back into adventure by the lure of pirate Henry Avery’s treasure. Uncharted 4 was widely praised for its strong narrative and emotional depth.

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