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Thread: The Saturn Early Launch in North America - Help Me Understand...

  1. #61
    Mega Driver Hedgehog-in-TrainingMaster of Shinobi Gryson's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by gamevet View Post
    They would have been fine with the software problems, if Virtua Fighter was a big franchise in North America. Nintendo got away with a long drought, after the release of the N64. The console was launched with Mario 64 and PilotWings 64 in September. It would be followed up by MK Trilogy, Cruis 'n USA, Killer Instinct Gold and Wayne Gretzky's 3D Hockey in October, and then ending the year with Shadows of the Empire and Wave Race 64. I think it took a good 5 more months before Turok, Mario Kart 64 and the rest of the titles started flowing.
    Yeah, in hindsight we can think: What if STI / Sonic Team had not messed around with Sonic 3 and the Genesis but had instead started working on a killer Saturn game for the US from 1993? Sonic 3 did start out as a 3D game using the SVP, after all. There are lots of what-ifs like this. It was a big waste that arguably the best development team at SOA worked on Genesis Sonic games until the end of 1994 (and they didn't sell that well).

    Another comment I forgot to mention about that Robert Leyland interview:

    He said that SOA leadership had pissed off the media during the Saturn era, which resulted in poor treatment of the Saturn in gaming magazines. In my opinion, there's some evidence of this when you look back at old magazines.

    Example:

    At the end of 1995, magazines widely reported that the PlayStation was winning the battle against the Saturn in North America. They reported things like the PS had sold 800,000 units while the Saturn had only sold 400,000. I think that kind of early reporting really harmed the Saturn's chances.

    Of course, the reality was different. As Next Generation later said: those numbers were the sell-in numbers (the number of consoles sent to stores, not necessarily sold).

    In fact, there was a shortage of Saturns in 1995 and they completely sold out:

    North American sales of Sega Saturn in November and December increased over prior months by up to three times in many retailers across the country; the total number of systems sold in North America was 400,000 since the product was introduced in May 1995.

    According to Kalinske, North American Sega Saturn performance was limited by a short supply of the integrated circuits used in the system; given the shortage and worldwide market conditions, Sega emphasized the Japanese market. Sega has put in place a strong worldwide procurement and production plan to meet the demand for Sega Saturn in the North American market.
    I've translated a quote from Nakayama somewhere where he says the same thing: They had a severe shortage of Saturns at the end of 1995 and they decided to press their advantage in Japan since they were doing so well against Sony there.

    Conversely, I don't think there's evidence that the PS sold out in 1995, so it's not clear how many of those 800,000 units were actually purchased. Magazines were eager to print that Sony had defeated Sega, but it doesn't really look like that when you have all the data.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Gryson View Post
    I've translated a quote from Nakayama somewhere where he says the same thing: They had a severe shortage of Saturns at the end of 1995 and they decided to press their advantage in Japan since they were doing so well against Sony there.

    Conversely, I don't think there's evidence that the PS sold out in 1995, so it's not clear how many of those 800,000 units were actually purchased. Magazines were eager to print that Sony had defeated Sega, but it doesn't really look like that when you have all the data.
    The PlayStation completely sold out everywhere it launched - Japan, UK, US, etc. All of its successors sold out at launch too. I always figured Sony planned for that by holding back some units early on to make it look like demand was through the roof.

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    Quote Originally Posted by axel View Post
    The PlayStation completely sold out everywhere it launched - Japan, UK, US, etc. All of its successors sold out at launch too. I always figured Sony planned for that by holding back some units early on to make it look like demand was through the roof.
    You're saying the PlayStation sold 800,000 units in 1995 in North America? Or something else?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Gryson View Post
    You're saying the PlayStation sold 800,000 units in 1995 in North America? Or something else?
    I don't know the total number sold during that time. What I'm referring to is that if you look back at any of the PlayStation launches, the consoles always sold out within days, or sometimes even earlier if people could place pre-orders. Are we referring to two different things?

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    Quote Originally Posted by axel View Post
    I don't know the total number sold during that time. What I'm referring to is that if you look back at any of the PlayStation launches, the consoles always sold out within days, or sometimes even earlier if people could place pre-orders. Are we referring to two different things?
    It sounds like you're referring to the initial shipment of consoles. In North America, Sony reportedly sold out the initial shipment of 100,000 consoles immediately. But they keep restocking as more become available, so I don't think it's quite a situation where the console is simply unavailable for an extended period of time. In Sega's case, the Saturn was unavailable due to the shortage.

    I found this great interview with Tom Kalinske in the Jan 1996 issue of Next Generation:

    Is War Hell for Sega?

    Man, I can't recall having read a more hostile interview in a game magazine before. That interviewer is out for blood. And the bias against Sega seems to really be strong there.

    I mean, who the hell says in an interview: "Will you acknowledge that the Super Nintendo was a better machine than the Genesis?"

    Kalinske seems really honest in this interview, though.

    Quote Originally Posted by Tom Kalinske
    NG: Do you still feel that the early launch of Saturn was a good idea?

    Tom: Yes I do. We needed to do something a little shocking because we were $100 more than the other guy. We also knew that we were competing against somebody we knew was going to spend so much money on their launch -- they are a very wealthy company.

    I still think it was a good idea. If I had it to do over again would I do it a little differently? Yeah, definitely. I wouldn't take the risk of annoying retailers the way we did. I would clue them in and do an early launch in a region or three regions or something so we could include everybody. So that part I'd change. But I wasn't that smart then [smiles].
    I feel like that's the gist of the situation. The surprise launch was a move to get publicity and beat Sony to the punch, but they never thought it would annoy retailers, which it did.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Gryson View Post
    It sounds like you're referring to the initial shipment of consoles. In North America, Sony reportedly sold out the initial shipment of 100,000 consoles immediately. But they keep restocking as more become available, so I don't think it's quite a situation where the console is simply unavailable for an extended period of time. In Sega's case, the Saturn was unavailable due to the shortage.

    I found this great interview with Tom Kalinske in the Jan 1996 issue of Next Generation:

    Is War Hell for Sega?

    Man, I can't recall having read a more hostile interview in a game magazine before. That interviewer is out for blood. And the bias against Sega seems to really be strong there.

    I mean, who the hell says in an interview: "Will you acknowledge that the Super Nintendo was a better machine than the Genesis?"
    OK I get what you mean. And wow, that is indeed one hostile interviewer! It's not even interesting to read at that point because nearly every question is about a competitor.

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    Sony being a massive conglomerate and able to subsidize their hardware will always be a tough competitor. Look at how the tech companies operate in the same fashion today in a variety of areas.
    Quote Originally Posted by j_factor View Post
    The Sega Saturn was God's gift to humanity. This is inarguable fact!



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    Quote Originally Posted by Baloo View Post
    Sony being a massive conglomerate and able to subsidize their hardware will always be a tough competitor. Look at how the tech companies operate in the same fashion today in a variety of areas.
    I think the bigger advantage for Sony was that they had some of the best hardware engineers in the world, plus a ton of experience in designing consumer electronics. If we were talking about Microsoft I would agree with you. They were content to piss away billions for an entire console generation just to get their foot in the door.

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    Sony having part ownership in CD technology didnít hurt either. They didnít have to pay the licensing fees to use the technology and that alone could have saved them 10-20% on the costs of having a CD drive in their console.
    A Black Falcon: no, computer games and video games are NOT the same thing. Video games are on consoles, computer games are on PC. The two kinds of games are different, and have significantly different design styles, distribution methods, and game genre selections. Computer gaming and console (video) gaming are NOT the same thing."



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    The impact of the Saturn surprise launch in US was always overblown by the supposed "historians".
    If your console is in high demand and thus is a source of big profits for retailers and software publishers, it will receive support from them regardless if they may have had some issues early on.
    The big crux for SoA was they were marketing a product which was, on the whole, not much enticing for american consumers and had trouble to ramp up the momentum for their platform against the rising momentum of other competing platforms from Sony and Nintendo.
    Even taking in consideration the slow start of the generation, PS1 surpassed Saturn's total sales in its launch month to never look back and one year later N64 would do the same in its second month of availability.

    Worse is that SoA in the attempt to secure what would have become a distant third place, incurred in hundreds of millions of losses.


    What's not often discussed is Sega first-party software's capability (or lack of) to sharply increase Saturn's install base in US because on the third-party front Sony was smoking all the other competitors (Namco's exclusive support, Square's exclusive support, Resident Evil timed exclusive on PS1, Tomb Raider sequels console exclusive to PS1...).
    If third-party software was unlike to make a difference for Sega, the burden to improve Saturn's momentum fell mostly on Sega in-house games.

    Annual top 20 best selling games in US (NPD; ranked on dollar sales):


    Last edited by Folco; 08-07-2022 at 05:08 PM.

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    A very interesting and informative thread. Here is my take. SEGA was never going to beat the Sony PlayStation. For many reasons, most that Sega caused themselves. But just to talk about the early launch subject:

    1. The early surprise launch did have a negative effect on consumer opinion. SEGA was jumping the gun and it showed! Saturn had ill-advised and imperfect games at launch and even throughout 1995. Virtua Fighter and Daytona USA were great titles, but they weren't refined enough, to be the first titles you saw when introduced to Saturn. And that's a shame. I still loved them but visually they were immediately put to shame by the first PS1 games. And this is by Sega themselves, who engineered the hardware and created the arcade versions of those games! What chance did anyone else have at making a game to impress people at launch? Saturn had the reputation as inferior hardware right out of the gate and the magazine writers never let it be forgotten.

    Not related to the early May 1995 launch, but SEGA seemed determined to not use their popular 16-bit IP's at all! Games like Clockwork Knight, Astal, and Bug are fun, and visually they were something we really hadn't seen before with the polygons and scaling and colors. But those weren't system sellers. There should have been 32-bit Sonic , Streets of Rage, and Ecco games. At launch.

    2. The early launch had a negative and lasting effect on overall visibility as well. It may have been negligible loss of sales in the long run, but who knows? Kaybee Toys was the best example, they got angry and blackballed the Saturn. So parents go into Kaybee, there is no new Sonic, let alone no new Sega Saturn for the kids to beg for.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Gryson View Post
    I found this great interview with Tom Kalinske in the Jan 1996 issue of Next Generation:

    Is War Hell for Sega?
    Oh interesting, Kalinske gave a point of reference about 32X sales, saying that he forecast to sell in total around 700K by the end of 1995.

    So based on statements from SoA managers:
    SoA bought 800K 32X units for sales in North America.
    Sold (to retailers?) nearly 500K by end of 1994.
    In October 1995 SoA was hoping to have sold around 700K by the end of the year and since the most hardware (and software) is typically sold during the Holiday season means that in October 1995 32X must have been well below 700K.
    32X sales in US really must have cratered after the launch period (probably something like 100K in the first 9-10 months of '95).

    Quote Originally Posted by Gryson View Post
    Man, I can't recall having read a more hostile interview in a game magazine before. That interviewer is out for blood. And the bias against Sega seems to really be strong there.

    I mean, who the hell says in an interview: "Will you acknowledge that the Super Nintendo was a better machine than the Genesis?"

    Kalinske seems really honest in this interview, though.
    That SNES question, even if facetious, ruined an otherwise interesting set of questions.
    You can guess the interviewer was closely informed about the game industry.

    About Kalinske's answers some were candid, others had bullshit associated with PR speech.
    But it's understandable, after all it was his job (to be marketer)!
    Last edited by Folco; 08-07-2022 at 08:00 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Cafeman View Post
    1. The early surprise launch did have a negative effect on consumer opinion. SEGA was jumping the gun and it showed! Saturn had ill-advised and imperfect games at launch and even throughout 1995.
    The software lineup basically wouldn't have changed much if Sega had released in September instead of May. I mean, unless you think Bug! and Ghen War would have changed things.

    Also, I don't really agree that the Saturn's launch lineup was worse than the PlayStation's. Sure, within a few months the PlayStation had a lot of classic titles out, but the North American launch wasn't that great. Virtua Fighter and Daytona USA might have seemed rushed, but they were still impressive home console titles upon release and helped the Saturn outsell the PlayStation in Japan. I'd say Panzer Dragoon was more impressive than the PS's original exclusives upon launch.

    All of those classic early PS titles like Twisted Metal, Warhawk, Tekken, Wipeout, Destruction Derby, and so on didn't come out until November or later in NA.

    I'd say a bigger problem for the Saturn was not its launch lineup, but that it didn't have enough strong exclusives in the pipeline through the end of 1995. That has nothing to do with the surprise launch, though.

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    Many successful consoles had weak launch lineups. So not that big of a deal. If it was such a big deal DC would have done better than PS2 or even Gamecube. I will take Astal and Panzer Dragoon over any PS1 launch game. Thet best games PS1 had at the launch were not even exclusive.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Gryson View Post

    I found this great interview with Tom Kalinske in the Jan 1996 issue of Next Generation:

    Is War Hell for Sega?

    Man, I can't recall having read a more hostile interview in a game magazine before. That interviewer is out for blood. And the bias against Sega seems to really be strong there.

    I mean, who the hell says in an interview: "Will you acknowledge that the Super Nintendo was a better machine than the Genesis?"

    Kalinske seems really honest in this interview, though.
    It's EDGE magazine what did you expect? Jason Brooks & Steve Jarratt were openly massive Nintendo fans and EDGE would always look to bash the Mega Drive or SEGA.
    Tom wasn't quite honest in that interview. I mean Toshinden really looks better on the Saturn? Yeah right, and his sales figs are for the birds... Everyone knew the PS was selling better.

    I like EDGE because at the time their deep dive on Hardware and interviews with the main players, especially the Japanese corps, were the best around at the time, but they always look to have a dig at SEGA. This was the magazine where the editor of the mag changed the review score given to them by the freelance journalist.. Read the review of the Skies of Arcade and see it reads like a 9 out 10 review and if anyone reads the PSO review, it will read like 10 out of 10 review.

    I know for a fact that the review of score of Skies of Arcadia was marked down.




    The software lineup basically wouldn't have changed much if Sega had released in September instead of May. I mean, unless you think Bug! and Ghen War would have changed things.
    If we never had the 32X the Saturn launch lineup would have been much better, even if it went in May and if the teams who worked on the 32X versions of Doom, Star Wars, VR Delux, worked on the Saturn versions I see no reason why the Saturn versions would be more better thanks to the more powerful hardware and the CD storage. Overlooking that, I just didn't know why SEGA didn't wait until the end of July or early Aug if it had to go early.

    Then you would have had Virtua Fighter Remix, Bug and ClockworkKnight 2 really to go, VF Remix looked so much better than VF (and well maybe even better than Tekken) and ClockworkKnight 2 was so much more impressive than the 1st in every area





    Quote Originally Posted by Folco View Post
    The impact of the Saturn surprise launch in US was always overblown by the supposed "historians".
    I quite agree. I always wanted consoles the western version of consoles or games to be released closer, but I can't deny the Saturn price point was a bit of a killer. I think far more a killer blow in the early launch period was when people looked to compare Daytona USA to RR or Tekken to Virtua Fighter, that was really hard to counter. Daytona USA on the Saturn was a huge cock up by SEGA Japan and needed to be delayed.


    But too much is made of launch software, being hard to develop for, more expensive Ect, Ect. The PS2 and PS3 show that is for the birds. I like the 360 and while it may have got the price and ease of development right its launch lineup wasn't that great IMO. Only PGR3 to me really felt next gen and a step up and I found Kameo to be a letdown and the PDZ crap and if anything found DOA U a more complete product to DOA4 and I know this will be LOL, but I found the XBox One launch line up to far better than the PS4 and we all know how that turned out and speaking of the XBox. The Series S/X launch line up was dire and yet its selling as fas as MS can make them....

    Its all about hype and getting people to think they want or must have your system and that is something the Saturn lacked from most of its life in the West. No main Sonic 32-Bit game must have lost millions of consoles sales for SEGA alone in the west IMO.
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