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Retro interview: Phil Harrison 13 years ago

The announcement last week that Phil Harrison was leaving Sony came as bit of a shock. After 15 years of loyal service, Harrison had become a Sony institution. A metaphorical 'part of the furniture'. A vertical, well upholstered chaise lounge, perhaps.  So when we found out he was the new president of Infogrames it was as though we'd pulled on our metal boots, licked our fingers and stuck them in a socket. Anyway, good luck to him, we hope he can successfully turn the fortunes and reputation of Atari around.

As a sort of celebration of his time at Sony, we've raided the archives of Edge magazine and dug up an interview with Harrison that was conducted following the launch of the first PlayStation back in 1995. At the time of the interview, Harrison was Sony's communications director, playing a key role in marketing the console in Europe. Prior to this, Harrison had been product development director, working closely with Sony's research and development team in Tokyo and evangelising PlayStation to European developers.

The unabridged interview starts after the pic of old Sony Harrison...

Edge: In personal terms, what has been the most rewarding part of the PlayStation’s journey to market?

Phil Harrison: Simply that the reality of the finished machine exceeded my expectations in every way. In fact, as the development process went on, the games were getting better and the hardware and OS were getting stronger. Normally in this business it’s the other way around, with the end result being somewhat underwhelming. On the whole, it’s been a tremendous challenge and experience to follow the project from the very early days of hushed tech specs and a shroud of secrecy to the massmarket launch. I don’t think there will ever be another opportunity like this one, and I sometimes feel like I’ve got the front seat on the most amazing rollercoaster ride you can imagine.

Edge: Given that the PlayStation is a small grey box attached to a SNES-style joypad, do you believe that it is as innovative as that seminal Sony product, the Walkman?

PH: Well, the Walkman revolutionised the way people listen to music – taking it outside the confines of their home or car for the first time. It made people think differently about the part music played in their lives and became a cultural icon. The PlayStation is certainly a dramatic innovation but not an invention like the Walkman was in the 1970s.

Edge: When you look at the PlayStation as a complete system, what aspect of the design appeals to you most?

PH: Every part of the machine – from the sleek outer case design, the ingenious memory cards and the ergonomic controllers through to the chipset – has been so well designed. It feels like a complete product – no element has been rushed or compromised. It also feels like a Sony product – you know you’re holding 40 years of innovation and quality. Then when you look at the price we’ve achieved, it becomes even more remarkable.

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