It’s no secret today that Nintendo and Sony started working together on a project in 1988 to create a CD-ROM attachment for the upcoming Super Famicom, the Famicom’s successor which would hit Japan first in 1990.
Unfortunately, things apparently didn’t work out for the two coming to a head in 1991 when Nintendo announced its partnership with rival Philips instead of Sony at 1991’s CES. That wasn’t something that the other party would be soon to forget.
The reasons for Nintendo backing out at the last minute? Control. Apparently Hiroshi Yamauchi, Nintendo’s president and the man that led the company into becoming a console juggernaut, wasn’t happy with how much control Sony would get on the software licensing side and sought out Philips as a countermeasure. Yamauchi’s notoriously tough insistence over tight controls on software and its production, something that would echo in Nintendo’s dealings with retailers and manufacturers, was a hard lesson learned from watching Atari and its ilk implode in the West as the Famicom rolled out in 1983 in Japan. It would also be a controversial practice that would continue with its introduction a few years later, in 1985, in the United States in a muted debut.
Negotiations actually continued, however, into 1992 where they had apparently reached a deal allowing Sony to manufacture SNES-compatible hardware while Nintendo maintained control over software on which it would collect the profits. Ultimately, however, they collapsed.
Nintendo’s about turn to Philips in ’91 was something that a spurned Sony would always remember, a moment in gaming history that would later dictate the commercial course of the industry over the next two decades. “Revenge is a dish best served cold”, as Khan Noonien Singh would say to Kirk in The Wrath of Khan. In this case, it was on CD-ROMs.
But what about the Nintendo Super Famicom CD-ROM unit? According to Wikipedia (quoting an article on IGN), “apparently” 200 of the “Play Stations” were actually made. And now it looks like one of them have actually surfaced on Reddit thanks to user, analogueboy (who is , who posted in r/Games before the subreddit was made private as part of a wider protest against the firing of a well-liked moderator). Fortunately, the cache is available and can be viewed in the meantime. User DanDiebold’s (who, I’m guessing, is analogueboy on Imgur) pics can be found here on Imgur, too.
Is it real? I’m not sure myself, but still, it’s both a great reminder of one of gaming history’s biggest upsets and a great “what could have been” for what might have happened if Nintendo and Sony had combined their respective strengths.
UPDATE: Eurogamer has been keeping up with this discovery reporting an update that first seemed to suggest that it was fake and then another update where it was clarified that it was a misunderstanding. Dan Diebold had even gone so far this time around to post a video of the console (not a working demo, just a physical look showing it to the camera). All in all, an exciting day for Nintendo history fans.
UPDATE 2: Read through a few more of the comments at Eurogamer and there are a few suggestions that it might be the SNES CD development kit instead of a prototype console. Hopefully in the next few days or weeks, we’ll get more concrete information on the device — is it really what it’s supposed to be and if it is, does it work? What’s on that cart? Or is this all just a fevered dream?
Another question is just how much would that be worth if it went up for auction? Odds are good that there’s more than likely a collector out there with deep pockets interested in all things historical. One copy of the extremely rare Stadium Events from Bandai for the NES sold for $35,100 back at the beginning of this year. An Apple I computer sold on auction had gone for $365,000 back in 2014.
Though not quite as huge as an original Apple, and if it can be confirmed as real (and, even better, in working condition), Dan’s device could be worth a nice chunk of change to the collector that really, really wants a piece of the kind of history that might have been made between two titans.