Previously I wrote a little bit about the Secret of Mana, which was originally planned to be one of the titles available on the planned SNES CD that never materialized. By happy chance, while I was on vacation, apparently a prototype SNES CD unit has been discovered by a relative of one of the major players in that business deal. It’s a fascinating story in its own right and you can learn about some of the history in Game Over [affiliate link]. I also managed to find a few of my very old issues of EGM that covered the SNES CD, so when I have some time I’ll add scans of that coverage to this post. Besides the obvious “What if” scenarios that come to mind had Nintendo continued its relationship with Sony (imagine for a moment, no PlayStation brand as it exists today), from the perspective of the 16 Bit wars it was also a pivotal moment. Sega, of course, was wiping the floor with the SNES in the North American market, and the SEGA CD was itself a hyped piece of equipment that just didn’t pan out for the company, and arguably set the company toward exiting the console business in 2001. But Nintendo would pay a price for pulling out of SNES CD project at the last minute.
It’s been a while since I read Game Over, but if I remember correctly much of the disagreement between the two companies had to do with the complex licensing agreements that would have to exist for the software. The upshot is that those agreements favored Sony considerably in the long run, and this is ultimately why Nintendo chose to abruptly exit the partnership with Sony in dramatic fashion before a CES event. At that event they surprised everyone when they announced they had partnered with Sony’s rival, Phillips, to produce a SNES CD attachment. It was a stinging blow to Sony – a slap in the face – but they had gotten a taste of the business, to speak, and with so much investment made in the original system, so rather than punting the whole thing, they decided to enter the console business alone. I wonder how much they learned from their partnership with Nintendo, because they aggressively pursued both the developer channel and the retailer channel.
The rest is history. PlayStation, released in 1994, became the dominant force of the 90s, and the PlayStation 2, released in 2000, is still the best selling console of all time. As for Nintendo, they would continue to release consoles with the tantalizing “EXT” panel on the bottom of the system, suggesting that future add-ons would be made available. But except for the n64DD (only in Japan) and the GameBoy Advance Player for the GameCube, there would be no further modular developments for any of Nintendo’s systems. After a fashion it became almost a punchline for the games press; one has to wonder, why even bother designing the system with an external port if it was never going to be leveraged? I suspect that Nintendo always had a very good feel for its home market but has always been one step behind in what the rest of the world wanted: no disc-based medium for the Nintendo 64, when it was clear everybody wanted bigger storage for games; no broadband for the GameCube, when it was obvious gaming was going online; low resolution graphics for the Wii; and the WiiU…
Eh, let’s discuss the WiiU catastrophe in a separate post.
Still, it’s fun to speculate what would have come to pass if Sony and Nintendo had released the Play Station in 1993.