Just within the past week and half, a massive amount of new information regarding SEGA of America’s struggle during the Saturn era has come to light.
Back on July 3, 2023 an Internet Archive contributor by the name GoldenDreamcast posted an enormous information dump consisting of 289 pages of previously classified internal documents from SEGA of America titled “Sega Fiscal Year 1997 Brand Review”.
The shear number of revelations in this release was staggering, and the SEGA and Saturn community are incredibly grateful for GoldenDreamcast, who bought this document binder off of eBay for nearly $500, scanned and released it to the public for the sake of game history preservation.
Here’s a “Listener’s Digest” of the major points with me & PandaMonium
TL:DR – Just some of the takeaways from the ’97 Brand Review Documents
- Tens to Hundreds of Thousands of Genesis, Game Gear, Nomad, 32X in warehouse with few to no orders
- Sonic & Knucles – 250,000 copies in warehouse & Zero Orders
- Game Gear Games – 941,000 in warehouse & 7,000 Orders
- 32X & 32X Bundles – 400,000+ in warehouse & Zero Orders
- Saturn – 25,000 in warehouse & 1,000 orders
- Saturn Peripherals – 250,000 in warehouse & 500 orders
- Saturn Games – 187,000 in warehouse & 70,000 orders
- 32X Overstock Being Considered for Scrap Value
- Massive Amounts of SELL-IN stock coming back from retailers as unsold merchandise
- Saturn games sales were dismal in first fiscal year ’96 (1995-96)
- Daytona USA – with 80,000 copies sold is best selling game on Saturn
- Sega Rally – Rushed incomplete for US holiday season & only 42,000 copies sold
- Sony NFL Gameday sells almost 200,000 copies beating every game on Saturn
- Saturn at $399 sells $60,000 before PS1 is released. PS1 sells 130,728 in September alone.
- 2 Price drops in 1995 – $349 in Oct & $299 in Nov (matched with PS1)
- 1995 Grand Sales: Sat – 237,000 / PS1 – 645,000
- Saturn struggles to find the success with sports titles it had on Genesis
- No American Football game released in 1995 or 1996.
- US thinks NiGHTS is for “younger audiences”, then reconsiders when Crash Bandicoot is released
- Mystaria shows as Zero Sales with is a bad metric for RPG games in the west
- SoA was aware of & acknowledges their communication issues with SoJ
- SoA looks to reposition Saturn as a technically superior / high tech internet appliance
- SEGA waited until 1997 to deploy 4,000 in-store kiosks in response to Sony’s tens of thousands
Then on Monday, July 10, we learned of a translated 2022 lecture by former SEGA president, Shoichiro Irimajiri, who laid everything bare in terms of SEGA of America’s ultimate failings and dispelled certain long-running rumors about what did and didn’t happen in regard to the Saturn in America. When paired with SoA’s own self-audit, it paints a very different picture than what we have come to know over the past 3 decades.
Irimajiri Clears the Air Regarding SoA/Saturn (click to read)
TL:DR – Here are the main points from Irimajiri’s business lecture
- SoJ wanted to release Saturn simultaneously in 94, but SoA did not want to move on from Genesis yet.
- SoJ granted them a year wait for Saturn while they would market an enhancement for Genesis (32X).
- Big retailers require SEGA to have double inventory in warehouse & buy back all unsold merchandise.
- Saturn launches in Japan and it’s a hit. US consumers learn of this and don’t buy stop gap 32X.
- Months go by with 400,000 32X in warehouse and NO orders. SoA debt mounts to hundreds of millions.
- Japan orders US to release the Saturn to keep them from falling further into the red.
- US doesn’t want to do this but it forced, so they spin it as a surprise E3 launch.
- Japan learns of US overstocked warehouses, zero orders & massive debt. They order Tom to restructure.
- A year goes by with no progress to restructure for profitability, and SoA asks Tom to resign.
Here are just a few samples of other fascinating and illuminating information contained in this document:
1996 E3 Floor Plan (click to read)
Devastating Inventory & Sales Figures (click to read)
Numerous Canceled Games (click to read)
Enthusiastic, Yet Frustrated Emails from Tom Kalinske on Japan’s Success
An Email from Tom Regarding Key Strategies for 1997
Original TV Commercial Story Boards by The Mednick Group
Saturn vs. PlayStation – 1995 Sales & 1996 Projections
Saturn vs. PlayStation – 1995 Holiday Quarter Advertising Budget
Concern over Lack of Football Title
1996 Saturn Brand Review: Key Issues
Acknowledgement of Communication Issues
Consumer Research & Acknowledgment of Sony’s Postition
New Brand Promotion Partnerships (General Mills, Post, Oscar Meyer, etc…)
Saturn vs. PlayStation Interactive Kiosks
Saturn Critical Software Issues & Required Actions
Saturn’s Key Issues for Fiscal Year ’97