admin Posted on 6:33 am

How SEGA shot itself in the foot with the Saturn

If you’re a gamer and you’ve given more than a quick glance at industry news in recent years, then you probably know how Microsoft really screwed up the Xbox One launch. Whether out of arrogance, arrogance, or just plain stupidity, someone at Microsoft really misjudged the marketing of the latest Xbox console, and the effects of that can still be felt today, as the PS4 dominates the charts month after month. Sony might be celebrating now, but they, too, found themselves in a similar situation last generation when they tried to launch their PS3 amid controversy, a high price, and poor marketing.

While Microsoft is in the midst of rebranding its image following the Xbox One DRM debacle and Sony implemented what it learned from the PS3’s relative failure to improve on the PS4, at least those companies are still releasing consoles. Back in 1995, SEGA was one of the “big two” when it came to console gaming (along with Nintendo), but some egregious marketing decisions with the Saturn sent the company into a tailspin from which it never really recovered, resulting in it abandoning its next console, the Dreamcast, early and eventually pulling it out of hardware gaming entirely.

Prior to the Saturn’s release, SEGA announced that the console would launch a week before Sony’s new console, the PlayStation, in September 1995. Whether out of fear of the new kid on the block or just an incredibly misguided marketing ploy, someone at SEGA HQ decided it would be a good idea to surprise everyone by releasing the Saturn in May as a big surprise. To all. Including the players. and retailers. And developers. And publishers. Oh, and forget about developing for the 32X, that was last month.

Yes, the SEGA Saturn released in May of 1995, but as far as most gamers were concerned, it wasn’t expected until September, so they didn’t get a chance to save up or warn their parents that it was coming. That didn’t really matter all that much, though, as most retailers didn’t know the console was coming either, and therefore their stores weren’t prepared to take on the release of a new console five months sooner than expected. Although, on second thought, maybe they weren’t worried at all since there were no games ready for the system since SEGA also didn’t alert game developers about the release date change, which means there were only six games available at launch and all of them were created by SEGA.

In one fell swoop, SEGA managed to piss off virtually every retailer, every game developer and publisher that wasn’t them, and confused gamers all over the world. Basically, it was the gaming equivalent of sending out all your Christmas cards in June and then wondering why no one bothered to send one back.

The Saturn wasn’t the last straw, but the decision to mislead everyone with a fake release date for the console crippled it and allowed PlayStation to clean itself up when it finally launched on the day Sony told people it would be released in September. SEGA didn’t try any such gimmicks with its next console, the Dreamcast, but the damage to its brand had already been done, and in doing so, it gave Sony a chance to find a place in the console market. The PlayStation 2 became the best-selling console of all time, and the Dreamcast lasted less than two years on the market before SEGA abandoned the hardware entirely to focus on developing and publishing games for other consoles.

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