Gaming history was made last week when a rare Nintendo PlayStation prototype sold at auction for a record-breaking $360,000. The winning bidder spent more money on a single video game item than anyone has ever paid, beating a sealed copy of Super Mario Bros. for the NES that sold for $100,150 in 2019.
The auctioned Nintendo PlayStation is “said to be the last remaining prototype of the alleged 200 that were forged from the failed joint-venture between Sony and Nintendo,” according to facilitator Heritage Auctions. “Reportedly, the other prototypes have since been destroyed,” the auction listing claimed.
The winning bidder was Pets.com founder and video game collector Greg McLemore, who outbid Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey. “It’s the single most expensive thing I’ve ever bought outside of a house,” McLemore told CNN.
Back before Sony made their own gaming history by launching the original PlayStation, they collaborated with Nintendo to create an answer to the Sega CD. In the original plan, Sony’s add-on would add a CD-ROM attachment to the SNES and allower for bigger and more complex games on Nintendo’s famous machine.
Of course, the Nintendo PlayStation was not meant to be, and that is why this rare prototype sold for such an epic price. To better understand its true value, you need to learn more about the wild history of the machine whose death led to the Sony PlayStation.
The History of the Nintendo PlayStation
The Super Nintendo came out in 1990. You might imagine that the story of a failed SNES add-on starts in the ’90s as well. Instead, this story goes back to 1988. That was when Sony signed a deal with Nintendo to create a CD add-on for the SNES.
In a way, this showed real insight on the part of both Sony and Nintendo: on the eve of launching yet another cartridge-based system, each company seemed to understand that disc-based games were the wave of the future.
Sadly, this partnership was doomed from the beginning. As always, it all comes down to money.
Despite signing the deal, Sony and Nintendo had not yet agreed on how profits would get split. Allegedly, Sony wanted a split that deeply favored their own wallets: they’d get 100% of the money from CD licenses and later has out royalty details with Nintendo.
Nintendo seethed at this, but they kept their cards really close to the vest. They waited until one day after Sony showed their prototype system to the Consumer Electronics Show in 1991 (known as the “PlayStation”) to publicly announce they were ditching Sony in favor of working with its Dutch rival Philips. This is the company that would eventually created the infamously bad Philips CD-i.
While Philips had developed the CD-i on their own, Nintendo was initially interested in getting their help for a CD add-on for the SNES. Eventually, Nintendo abandoned the CD add-on altogether and stuck with cartridges for their next generation of gaming (the Nintendo 64).
Here’s the funny part: while Nintendo backed away from their deals with both Sony and Philips, the latter still had the right to use Nintendo characters in their games. This includes such forgettable games as Hotel Mario and Mario Takes America. There were even two staggeringly bad Zelda games on this system.
At first, it seemed like nobody won from Nintendo’s first foray into CD-based gaming. Nintendo lost the CD add-on war to Sega (who released the flawed-but-beloved Sega CD) and Philips lost a billion dollars on a failed gaming machine. The longterm winner, though, was Sony.
Sony president Norio Ohga felt personally betrayed by Nintendo when the gaming giant chose Philips over Sony. In turn, Ohga tasked Ken Kutaragi to develop a gaming system that could take on Nintendo.
That system, of course, was the Sony PlayStation. The rest is gaming history, as Sony’s various PlayStation systems went on to become the world’s highest-selling consoles. Just think: none of this would have happened if the Nintendo PlayStation had become a reality!
As for Sony’s prototype add-on? Like The One Ring of Middle-Earth lore, it faded into history before getting rediscovered.
How the Nintendo PlayStation prototype was rediscovered
A former maintenance man named Terry Diebold and his son Dan Diebold auctioned off the only known surviving Nintendo PlayStation prototype. But how did they get their hands on it in the first place? It happened thanks to a series of weird coincidences.
The Nintendo PlayStation prototype was originally owned by Olaf Olafsson, the founder and first CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment. He left Sony to work for financial services firm Advanta Corporation in 1996. And it just so happened that when he quit Advanta in 1999, he left the Nintendo PlayStation behind in his office!
When Advanta went bankrupt in 2009, it auctioned off items from the company’s building in lots. Advanta maintenance man Terry Diebold put in a modest bid of $75 for a particular lot of boxes, which happened to contain the Nintendo PlayStation! By a weird stroke of luck, Diebold ended up paying $75 for something that he would eventually sell for $360,000.
Eventually, Terry’s son Dan Diebold discovered the console in a box in his dad’s attic. In 2015, Dan posted photos of the console to Reddit and learned it was actually the fabled Nintendo PlayStation!
However, both Terry and Dan were scared to turn the thing on and fry one of the world’s rarest gaming systems. They eventually found the right power source in Hong Kong. And that was how they verified that the prototype did, in fact, power on.
While it powered on, there was a bit of “good news/bad news” with the system. The good news was that it was mostly functional. The bad news was that the CD part of the system (arguably the most important part of the prototype) didn’t work.
They X-rayed the system to make sure it would be safe to tinker with it. Initial efforts to fix the system failed. However, legendary console modder Benjamin Heckendorn was able to get everything working.
People could now play audio CDs via the CD-ROM. And while there are no official CD games for it to play, fans immediately started working on homebrew games.
In recent years (especially after Heckendorn made the system fully functional), the legend of the Nintendo PlayStation has only grown. The prototype has traveled the world to make appearances at conventions, and fans were able to actually touch it and even play games on it.
But Terry Diebold revealed last December he was losing money by taking the console on tour, and realized it was time to part ways with the Nintendo PlayStation. In the past, he had turned down an offer of $1.2 million for the console from someone in Norway. He decided to auction the console off in February.
The excitement for a legendary system led to an equally legendary auction.
The Future of the Nintendo PlayStation
Video game collector and founder of the International Arcade Museum Greg McLemore won the auction on March 6 for $360,000. “I believe I got a great deal,” he told CNN. “To me it was worth it, especially when combined with the rest of my collection, the whole of which tells a story I want to save for society.”
Plus, there is good news for fans who hope to see the Nintendo PlayStation in person one day. “I’m looking to not have this machine just buried in a closet somewhere,” McLemore told Forbes.
Fans will get to see the Nintendo PlayStation in spring 2021 at the University of Southern California Pacific Asia Museum in an exhibition on the influence of Asia on the video games industry. The legacy of the Nintendo PlayStation lives on!