If you’re at all familiar with the world of video games, you know that Nintendo and Sony, which makes the popular Playstation series of gaming consoles, have been fierce competitors for many years. But before Sony entered the video game industry with the release of the original Playstation, it had actually cooperated with Nintendo to develop a gaming system, though the results of this effort never saw the light of day. In fact, the name “Playstation” comes from this collaboration, as Sony adopted the moniker for itself after its relationship with Nintendo fell apart. Engineers from both companies worked to develop a prototype, the so-called “Nintendo Playstation,” which had both a cartridge slot and a CD slot, taking advantage of Sony’s expertise with the then-new digital storage medium. Only about 200 of these prototypes were ever created, with nearly all of them thought to have been lost or destroyed; the only known remaining prototype was discovered in a box full of junk after being sold at an auction for $75. Now, the prototype’s owner has announced he would sell it at an auction, and it is expected to sell for over a million dollars.
For technology and video game enthusiasts, the Nintendo Playstation prototype is a fascinating historical artifact that suggests how the world of video games today could be vastly different if the relationship between Nintendo and Sony hadn’t turned sour. The Nintendo Playstation was intended to be built on top of the wildly successful Super Nintendo console, adding the feature of a CD-ROM drive as well as enhanced processing power. The device would have been sold in two forms: an accessory to the Super Nintendo called the Super NES CD-ROM, and a standalone console, which would have been called the Playstation and would have offered full compatibility with Super Nintendo games. However, in large part as a result of the breakdown of negotiations between the two companies and Nintendo’s collaboration with Phillips, one of Sony’s main competitors at the time, plans to release the device were cancelled. In the aftermath, the Sony Playstation went on to compete directly with the console that succeeded the Super Nintendo, the Nintendo 64.
It’s unclear as of yet exactly how much the system will sell for at the February 27th auction, but the Diebolds are sure to profit handsomely from the sale.
Few people know exactly what ended up happening to the 200 or so prototypes that were developed. But one of them ended up being sold in an auction held by Advanta Corporation, a company connected with Sony’s former CEO, for $75, with no one at the time recognizing the real value of the prototype. It sat in a box in an attic for years before being re-discovered by the son of the man who bought the prototype, who then shared pictures of the device online, drawing the attention of a large Internet community that immediately recognized the device, who described it as “priceless” and a “piece of history.” Dan Diebold, the man who shared pictures of the prototype online, also posted a video showcasing the device, which ended up getting over a million views. But people still doubted the authenticity of his claim, accusing Diebold of having orchestrated a hoax.
Dan and his father, Terry, recognize the historicity of their possession, and have done their best to preserve and study the device. Fortunately, it still works, though the software being developed for it was never completed and thus its functionality is limited. That being said, it is fully compatible with existing Super Nintendo games, and it is also capable of playing back audio CDs. The console’s owners brought it to Ben Heck, a technology expert, who tore down the console to learn more about how it was built and also fixed some small problems with the device. Additionally, the father-and-son team spent years touring the system around the world, giving global fans an opportunity to see the device in person, an endeavor which they claim made them no money. Someone in Norway offered to buy the device for $1.2 million, but the Diebolds refused this offer. The upcoming auction will be hosted by Heritage Auctions, which previously sold video game artifacts like a sealed copy of the first Mega Man game for $75,000. It’s unclear as of yet exactly how much the system will sell for at the February 27th auction, but the Diebolds are sure to profit handsomely from the sale.