Saturn Month: Sega’s Big E3 Saturn Surprise Debacle

The year was 1995. The Saturn had already successfully launched in Japan, and was preparing for an American launch later in the year. Sega of America was eager to bring the system to the states despite the fact that the 32x had been launched during the previous holiday season. With the mediocre sales of the Sega CD and the failure of the 32X, Sega was starting to do poorly, and they wanted another hit console on the market soon. Perhaps a little too soon.

At the 1995 Sega E3 press conference, Tom Kalinske went onstage. Most expected him to talk the usual PR spiel about the Saturn’s price, its strengths, and its games. By and large, the press conference went as expected, with one big exception. Kalinske announced that the Saturn’s previously announced launch date of September 2nd, aka “Saturnday” was a ruse, and that the Saturn was in fact heading to select retailers that very day! This would be one of the greatest mistakes in Sega’s history and the true start of their fall in the console market. The system was only available at select stores and supplies were low. While there were some decent games at launch such as Virtua Fighter and Panzer Dragoon, there would only be a few games coming out in the months to come, since SEGA’s surprise launch caught their 3rd party partners off guard.  The lowest price of the system was $399. $449 with Virtua Fighter and a demo disc.

With Sony up next, Sega basically handed the console war to them. It gave them four months to rally up a great launch at a cheaper price. SCEA President Steve Race walked up to the podium with a prepared speech, but did not use it. Instead, he merely said “$299” and walked off.

With that, Sony had won E3 and Sega had made one of its greatest blunders ever. Retailers were upset that it was only at certain stores. Several major retailers including K.B. toys refused to even carry the system. Publishers and developers were upset that they were not told about the surprise, which meant that they couldn’t get games ready for launch. Some publishers even left Saturn development completely. Consumers were upset with the high price tag and the complete lack of games shortly after launch. With the Saturn’s botched launch, and the failure of the 32x, it was the beginning of Sega’s end as a console manufacturer. Even the Saturn’s successor, the Dreamcast, couldn’t really escape out from under this blunder, despite a cheaper price and a stellar line up of games throughout its life. People don’t forget these sorts of blunders easily.

Some surprises aren’t happy ones.

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4 responses to “Saturn Month: Sega’s Big E3 Saturn Surprise Debacle

  1. cube_b3 says:

    🙁 The worst part is that the hardware wasn't even ready.

    SEGA was unable to reduce the hardware price in the future.

    The 3D specs of the Hardware were 11th hour garbage.

    It was a bitch to develop for.

  2. And yet I have all the love in the world for the Saturn!

  3. Shigs says:

    At the very least, it was a 2-D powerhouse.

  4. My all-time favorite console.

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