Sega Saturn (1995)
Finding its way to North America almost 6 months after its Japanese debut the, Sega Saturn was released on this day in 1995. A simpler time, where the Saturn’s 32 bit graphics and new CD-ROM were a big deal. It was built with dual Hitachi SH-2 CPUs running at 28.6 MHz and dual display video processors. It also featured a custom built yamaha sound processor. It was a powerful system for its era, but its complex hardware made it challenging to program for.
The Saturn featured some solid titles including Panzer Dragoon, Daytona USA, and Virtua Fighter, all of which were also released this day in 1995. Dragoon showcased the Saturn’s hardware and new 3D modeling technology. Originally ported from the successful arcade game, Virtua Fighter was the first 3D fighting game. Virtua Fighter would go on to generate a successful franchise for years after the Saturn.
The Saturn was marred by poor North American sales, and would be eclipsed by the Playstation and Nintendo 64 only 2 years after its release. Eventually, the system would be labeled a commercial failure. So what happened?
Until the the Saturn, Sega was a leader in the industry. Sega dominated in both the in-home and arcade arenas and they had developed a system powerhouse system. Enter Sony and the PlayStation, new to the industry but eager to innovate. They initially attempted to partner with Sega, who dismissed them. So Sony forged their own way and released the first Playstation in Japan December 1994. The system began gaining hype in North America and Sega panicked.
In the spring of 1995, Sega of America announced during the first E3 that the system was to be immediately available at a price of $399. This was three months ahead of schedule in order to beat Sony to North America and protect its market share. This backfired spectacularly, as the abrupt release date change lead to both hardware and software shortages. There were not enough systems to ship to retailers on short notice, meaning some retailers did not get any at all. Developers were just as surprised as players, and many of the the system’s best games would not be available for months after release. Perhaps most devastating was Sony’s response to the early deployment of the Saturn.
At attendance at the inaugural E3, Sony held a press conference hours later where the President of PlayStation America, Steve Race, took to the stage with a now infamous simple presentation: “$299″, undercutting Sega’s system by $100. The Saturn did not sell well, moving less than 10 million units in North America. Sega’s next system, the Dreamcast, proved more successful. However, it failed to reverse the ruinous losses caused by the Saturn. Sega would withdraw from the console market after the Dreamcast, fading into the background as a software developer.
Arguably, it was not the new release date that hurt Sega. Rather, it was their lack of planning to properly accommodate the move that lead to their failure. May 11th, 1995 represents an important case study in how quickly a company can slip out of favor with stakeholders when they rush to make big moves. Sega, with a single decision, would erode their market share and effectively alienated retailers, developers, and players.
Let’s not forget some great titles that were also released on this day in gaming history:
Images © Activision, CAPCOM, Sega, and Sony