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Classic Interview: Barry Jafrato (Sega Europe Marketing Director)

This interview appeared in the May 1995 issue of the Spanish magazine Hitech. In it, Sega Marketing Director Barry Jafrato talks about the upcoming Saturn and its competitors in the next generation market. Jafrato started in video games in 1989 as International Director at Virgin Mastertronic where he set up European distribution for both Sega’s Game Gear and Mega Drive before joining Sega full-time in 1990.

 

It’s one of the positions within Sega with the most responsibility since all marketing plans – including releases and advertising campaigns – for the Japanese company’s new products in Europe depend on it.

Hitech: Malcom Miller, your General Director, told us that Spain was a very important market for your products. Could you explain the actual reach and meaning of that phrase?

Barry Jafrato: Saturn is very important to us, but it’s more a question of image. Even if we could only sell 500 units (we’ll surely sell much more), we’d be content. Making a comparison, it’s like selling a BMW Series 8; you might only sell 20, but they would lift the image a lot, and that’s what’s important. However, we think there’s a wide market for our console to exploit and we’re going to look for it.

We’re currently developing games in Spanish. Any game that needs to be translated, even if it’s full-motion video [FMV] and includes voice and text, we’ll do it. Spain is our favorite market.

Hitech: Does that mean you’re going to translate everything?

Barry Jafrato: Yes. Yes, if the software needs it. Virtua Fighter or Daytona don’t need to be translated, but Mystery Mansion [Mansion of Hidden Souls in NA] does. If it needs translating, we’ll translate it. Rampo o Wan Chai Connection, on the other hand, won’t come out in Europe. And no, there won’t be any increase in price; these games will cost the same for all markets.

Hitech: What about the Saturn’s price? Do you know anything about its launch date?

Barry Jafrato: It’s still undecided. The Yen is very strong and that doesn’t benefit us, but we’d like the price to be around £400 (about 80,000 Spanish Pesetas). In any regard, it’s difficult to talk about price when we really haven’t begun to put the machines together yet.

Hitech: Isn’t that price too high to categorize it as a game console?

Barry Jafrato: Yes, but you know that the machine offers incredible graphics and full capacity for FMV. In fact, all the technology inside that little box has a price, and it’s impossible to lower it. You have to pay for that. But we want the final price to be as competitive as possible, so we’ll do everything we can to keep it at the lowest price possible. It’s clear that this market is marked by price, both in terms of hardware and software. I guess that around June or July we’ll be able to talk about the price for the Saturn.

Hitech: What’s the 32X’s position on your release list? What’s going to happen with the Neptune?

Barry Jafrato: Its price will be reduced this summer thanks to the optimization of our manufacturing costs and a higher production volume. Neptune might be delayed until next year, as we can’t aim to launch all of our products this season. Moreover, thanks to the price reduction for the 32X, the Genesis/32X combo will cost the same as a Neptune, so it really doesn’t make much sense to release it.

Hitech: Don’t you think that once consumers see the Saturn, their interest in the 32X will disappear?

Barry Jafrato: Like with everything, the 32X won’t last forever but it’s in our plans for the next two years and there’s a big plan for software development. I don’t think it will disappear so easily. In fact, I still have my Mega Drive. I don’t think it’s worth it to get rid of old hardware because there will always be some game that will draw you back to it. Basically, the amount of time the Genesis and 32X will draw consumers’ attention depends on how long it takes them to save for a Saturn.

Hitech: The Saturn has a kind of aura of technical innovation, with two RISC parallel processors, a Yamaha sound chip, etc. – technology that Sony’s machine doesn’t have. What do you think of it? How do you see Daytona going head-to-head with Ridge Racer?

Barry Jafrato: Well, I love Ridge Racer, but I find it excessively simple. There aren’t a lot of cars onscreen and when there are, the game slows down. Daytona is more complex, with 40 competitors onscreen and each with its own AI. I’d say that Daytona is much more playable.

Hitech: Regarding Toshinden and Virtua Fighter, we find that the PlayStation game is truly impressive graphically. In contrast, Virtua Fighter features more polygonal fighters. How do you explain that?

Barry Jafrato: It’s true that Toshinden is graphically superior, but Virtua Fighter is infinitely more playable. Graphical detail has been sacrificed for more speed and realism during gameplay.

Hitech: What does the battle look like with the other next generation machines, those already out and the ones announced?

Barry Jafrato: the Phillips machine, the CD-I, isn’t competition for us, even though games like Burn Cycle are really good. 3D0 could have been a great rival, but Panasonic doesn’t distribute the software; it’s only a manufacturer and distributor of the hardware – It doesn’t really understand how that area works. Panasonic doesn’t have the image Sega has. Regarding Sony, since it doesn’t develop software (except for Psygnosis), it’s had to hunt for licensees. Yes, there’s Namco, and there are companies like Konami, Capcom, etc., but Namco and Konami are also making games for us. It’s because of this that at first there were many companies announced to be making games for the PlayStation and only a few for Saturn. But… software companies have been surprised by the Saturn’s acceptance in Japan.

Hitech: You didn’t mention Nintendo’s machine, the Ultra 64. Don’t you consider it to be a competitor for your machine?

Barry Jafrato: Who? Well, they’re not going to be here this year. They committed the same mistake in the past with the 16-bit market, waiting seven months to get their machine out. The result: we have 70% of the European market. What more can I say?

I think they have some good technology, but I haven’t really seen anything functioning that could be called Nintendo Ultra 64. I can’t say if the chipset works or not. I’ll worry about it when it arrives, though I’m sure it will have good games.

Hitech: Will you port all Sega’s coin-op hits to the Saturn?

Barry Jafrato: All the hits. Our test sites will be all the game rooms and their arcade games. If they’re successful, they’ll have their corresponding Saturn version. We’re going to do Virtua Cop, Virtua Rally (Sega Rally), and of course, Virtua Fighter 2. There’s also a new soccer game called World Strike.

Hitech: What function does the cartridge port on top of the Saturn have?

Barry Jafrato: It’s to extend the use of the Saturn, but I can’t tell you what it does. It’s a secret.

Hitech: What’s going to happen with the Saturn’s multimedia features?

Barry Jafrato: We’re not going to launch the Saturn as a multimedia machine. What you need to know is that first, Saturn is the best game console in the world. It does other things well, but we don’t necessarily need to play with the machine’s Video MPEG or PhotoCD player. 90% of our marketing message will speak of a next generation game console. Also, there are many other machines that use MPEG video, so who cares? It’s a small market, if you’re interested in that kind of thing, but we want to sell the definitive game console.

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