SNES-CD refers to an unreleased video game media format and peripheral for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES). The device and the format were to build upon the functionality of the cartridge-based SNES by adding support for higher capacity compact discs.
Development of the format started in 1988, when Nintendo signed a deal with Sony to produce a CD-ROM add-on for the SNES. After several years of development, Sony introduced a standalone console at 1991’s summer Consumer Electronics Show called the “Play Station.” The system was to be compatible with existing SNES titles as well as titles released for the SNES-CD format. However, due to licensing disagreements with Sony, Nintendo announced that it had formed an alliance with Sony’s rival Philips to produce the SNES-CD add-on.
The partnership with Philips did not produce a CD add-on for the SNES. Eventually Sony dropped its partnership with Nintendo and developed its own console independently, which resulted in the release of the original PlayStation, a chief competitor of the SNES’s cartridge-based successor, the Nintendo 64.
The Sony/Nintendo relationship started when Sony engineer Ken Kutaragi became interested in working with video games after seeing his daughter play games on Nintendo’s Famicom video game console. He took on a contract at Sony for developing hardware that would drive the audio subsystem of Nintendo’s next console, the Super NES. Kutaragi secretly developed the chip, known as the Sony SPC 700. As Sony was uninterested in the video game business, most of his superiors did not approve of the project, but Kutaragi found support in Sony executive Norio Ohga and the project was allowed to continue. The success of the project spurred Nintendo to enter into a partnership with Sony to develop both a CD-ROM add-on for the Super NES and a Sony-branded console that would play both SNES games, as well as titles released for the new SNES-CD format.
However, the two companies conflicted over control of the licensing. Under their agreement, Sony would develop and retain control over the SNES-CD disc format, effectively ceding a large amount of control over software licensing to Sony. To counter this, Nintendo president Hiroshi Yamauchi sent Nintendo of America president Minoru Arakawa and executive Howard Lincoln to Europe to negotiate a more favorable deal with Philips, Sony’s industry rival. At the June 1991 Consumer Electronics Show, Sony announced its SNES-compatible cartridge/CD console, the “Play Station”. The next day, Nintendo revealed its partnership with Philips via a surprise announcement at the show.
About 200 prototypes of the Play Station had been created and software for the system was being developed as Nintendo and Sony attempted to sort out their differences. In 1992, a deal was reached allowing Sony to produce SNES-compatible hardware, with Nintendo retaining control and profit over the games, but the two organizations never repaired the rift between them. By the next year, Sony had refocused its efforts on developing its own console for the next generation of consoles.