Posted on May 14th, 2010 8 comments
I’m a bit ashamed to admit it, but I missed a notable milestone back on May 11 — the 15th anniversary of the Sega Saturn’s North American release, more or less.
The particulars are already well-known to most game historians, but in case you aren’t familiar with the story:
- Sega of America president/CEO Tom Kalinske announces in early ’95 that the Saturn will come out on September 2; Sony then announces a September 9 release for the PlayStation.
- At Kalinske’s keynote address, held 8:45 am on May 11 (the Thursday of E3 1995), the president announces that the Saturn’s actually on sale right now at select retailers for $399.
- The move seriously backfires. The Saturn’s library is starved for releases through the summer. US third parties, not tipped off to Kalinske’s release-date shift, are angry that Sega robbed them of the chance to release launch titles. Retailers that weren’t selected for the launch are even angrier; Kay-Bee refuses to stock the Saturn entirely for a while.
- Sega sells 80,000 Saturns by September 9; Sony sells 100,000 PlayStations (which had its price dropped to $299 in response to the Saturn’s MSRP) during its own launch window. Sega thus loses the generation’s console war practically before it began.
I happened to fish this out of my shelves the other day. It’s a cardboard newspaper holder with a humorous Saturn-themed cover (you can read it by clicking on the top image). I don’t know how it was distributed — I need to look into this detail later — but it seems logical to assume that Sega set up a deal with some hotel near the LA Convention Center to place it on guestroom doorsteps on the morning of May 11.
As you can see, the holder comes complete with a vintage copy of USA Today from May 11, 1995. Top stories include Terry Nichols‘ indictment, public debate over talk-radio hate speech, and United Airlines raising their fee for canceling flights to $50 (they now charge $150). The Life section has a PR-y story about the upcoming 3D game-console revolution: “For the first time, video games approach reality: You’re in the driver’s seat, behind the punches, atop a dragon. The 16-bit games to date are two-dimensional environments with pedestrian colors; Sega’s Saturn and Sony’s PlayStation use multiple 32-bit processors, giving them power beyond the average PC and rivaling that of the advanced computers developers use to conjure video game magic.”