As Microsoft’s FTC affair gave the world a behind-the-scenes glimpse of a modern platform supportThe emails from , along with a huge trove of old Sega documents from the 90s have leaked, and they go a long way to explaining… well, why Sega is no longer a platform holder.
The documents, collected and loaded on Sega Retro, are a mix of everything from E3 floor plans to financial results. Some of the highlights, however, are internal emails, like this one from March 1996 where former Sega of America CEO Tom Kalinsky writes about the Sega Saturn vs. Sony’s PlayStation, a fight that doesn’t go away. did not end as it began:
It’s one thing to hear/read how well we’re doing in Japan compared to Sony, it’s another to witness it first hand. I just visited 10 retail stores in Tokyo (most in Akihabra); it’s spring break now so the teen/college crowd is huge. We kill Sony. In every store, Saturn hardware is sold out and there are stacks of Playstations. Retailers said they couldn’t compare the actual sell rate because Saturn sells out before they can accurately measure. Our interactive screens are better, our display and storage software far superior. It is not uncommon to see 40-50 copies of Panzer Zwei or Virtua Fighter 2 stocked even in small stores and they sell out quickly. I wish I could bring all of our staff, vendors, retailers, analysts, media, etc. to see and understand what is happening in Japan; then they would understand why we will end up winning here in the United States.
How do we show this at E3?
To be fair to Tom, in the early days of 1994-95 the Saturn, buoyed by the popularity of virtual fighter— has indeed outsold the PlayStation in Japan! However, this success was only short-lived and, by the time Final Fantasy VII discontinued in 1997, Sony’s console was out of sight, making Kalinsky’s “We Kill Sony” line one of the most poorly aged in video game history.
In another doc, here’s Kalinsky again, cutting a sadder number in April 1996 as he clarifies the Saturn’s new $249 price –an attempt to undermine Sony’s famous $299 launch price for the PlayStation– while also wondering what is going on with “Hare Krishna cult members” in a Saturn TV commercial:
Here’s the ad, if you’ve never seen it:
Also of interest is a range of marketing strategies for 1997, which provide insight into the type of battle Sega faced at this stage of the Saturn launch; while some ideas are built on selling the Saturn on its own strength, like Sega’s first-party games, there’s a lot of stuff that’s just obsessing over Sony’s plans, reacting to Sony’s pricing, trying to get ahead of the Sony’s release schedule…it really speaks to a company that, in 1997, is catching up in almost every way possible.
Moving on, here’s a list of Sega’s “critical software issues” the Saturn faced in FY97, and they’re brutally honest, calling it Psygnosis, talking crazy shit (the famous atrocious) heart of darkness and I wonder how many of these games will be ready to stream at E3:
If you want to read the full document dump, it is available hereand aside from the kind of stuff I’ve posted above, also includes a range of illustrations of cereal promotion boxes, sales records and even internal emails lamenting how bad the sports production of Sega had become terrible.
And if reading all of this makes you feel like Sega was a struggling company, remember that many of these documents are from 1997. Sega would be completely out of the console market four years later, in 2001.