Round Table: SEGA’s worst decision during the 16-bit console wars

Roundtable16bitwars

Some people consider the 16-bit wars to be the golden age of gaming, but as much as we see the early 90’s with rose tinted glasses there where some serious mistakes made during the war (on both sides). This week we will discuss what we think SEGA’s worse decision during the 16-bit console wars was. Sit back and if you want to join in on the discussion, please do so in the comments.

RoundtableAndrew16bit
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Personally, I feel SEGA made many poor decisions as the 16-bit era came to a close. Seriously, as soon as SEGA began to dominate the market in North America, they went absolutely mad with power. Not only were they supporting their 16-bit champion, but Game Gear, SEGA CD and SEGA Pico. Three gaming consoles and an add-on? That’s a lot of mouths to feed. Still, they decided to pump out the ill-fated 32X when SEGA of Japan had already begun working on a 32-bit successor. Now it’s four consoles and two add-ons?!

Honestly, what the fuck were they thinking?! 

That being said, I feel the 32X was their greatest mistake. Now, I do love my 32X, but it really was a pointless addition to the SEGA family in light of the Saturn. First off, after skull-fucking us to death with their great big hype machine while screaming “CD is the next level”, only to go back to cartridges just felt like a bitter-beer-face inducing cum shot right in the uvula. Especially since the Saturn had been announced by this point, making it abundantly clear that CD was here to stay. If you purchased the SEGA CD, I’d equate the feeling to that of receiving an incredible blow job only to find that your wallet’s been taken, along with your car keys and self-respect. 

Second, they tried telling us that it would be a cheap update for those unable or unwilling to fork over $300 for their next big thing, which only told consumers from the get that it would be inferior tech, thus killing its “cool” factor in the process. Oh, that’s fuckin’ brilliant. 

SEGA32xcomplicatedThird, the design. I feel the 32X is too complicated for its own good, and it works against its own advertising. “Just stick it your Genesis!” Yeah, you should just stick it in your ass! Not that it was difficult for me to hook up because, unlike some people, I know how to read instructions. Still, it should have been simplified. If only SEGA hadn’t rushed their 32-bit blunder through R&D and onto store shelves, that may have been possible. Instead, they got greedy and threw it to the wolves. That’s bad parenting, SEGA! That is very, very bad. 

In the end, it had very few games to carry it through, and even fewer that actually took advantage of its power. When this shit comes together, it spells ‘FAILURE’. Seeing as how the SEGA CD was on its way out to pasture, the 32X became another piece of hardware that wouldn’t sell. Even at $20, which is what I paid way back in 1998 at Toys “R” Us, retailers couldn’t move ’em. That left a bad after taste in everyone’s mouth, hurting SEGA’s good name and damning it for years to come. The 32X was the straw that broke Sonic’s back. 

Admittedly, I love the 32X and what it has to offer, but seeing what it led to….

RoundTableGeorge16bit
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I think we can go down a long list of mistakes that SEGA had in the 16-bit wars, thankfully I personally think the positives outweigh the the negatives and that is obviously why The SEGA Genesis/Mega Drive is the most popular SEGA console. But what was the biggest mistake? Most people would suggest an add-on, cutting the Genesis life to early, but I personally think their biggest mistake was caring what the competition was doing.

First we have the TurboGrafx-16 who was one of the first companies to have a CD add-on. Its hard to see how NEC Corporation wasn’t a big part of this CD add-on. The story goes that Nintendo was the one that really pushed the issue when they teamed up with SEGA to give the SNES an add-on. Regardless it had to start somewhere and the TurboGrafx-16 did it. It even had a new console with everything built in called the TurboGrafx Duo, which SEGA did something similar with the Genesis after it was out called the SEGA CDX. I understand that most people now won’t recognize TurboGrafx-16 as a competitor and it really was, they sold 10 million units world wide, which is nothing to laugh about considering they where fighting against two big competitors with SEGA and Nintendo (and lesser SNK). 

TurbovsSEGACDI’m sure the final push for the CD format was probably the number one competitor Nintendo looking into a CD add-on themselves, but should they have cared? Well if we look back everyone during the 16-bit era had some sort of CD powered console and all those ‘add-ons’ and in some cases new consoles (See: Neo Geo CD) did badly in sales department. Who is considered by most as the 16-bit winner? Nintendo, the company that didn’t touch compact disc based consoles till they released the Gamecube in 2001.

Of course the SEGA CD was a bigger success than its little brother the 32x. The SEGA CD sold around 2.7 million units and the 32x only managed to move a little over 650,000 units. It also did get a solid game line-up of over 200 games released for the system.  But the 32x, now that is an add-on that didn’t have nearly as much support with only less than 40 games and barely selling over 650,000 units, it was possibly the biggest mistake financially for SEGA America. 

Why was the 32x even released? Well, you have to give people that next generation experience on their current console. The SEGA America team really loved the Genesis and thought it had legs to continue for awhile into the next generation, a bit like NES went on for a few years within the SNES life-cycle. But SEGA thought it needed some more power to impress current Genesis games to stick with SEGA. Who even came up with this rule? If you thought the SEGA Genesis was powerful enough for the next generation why wouldn’t you just sell that at a cheaper price? 

I honestly wish SEGA would have saved their money with the 32x and SEGA CD, used the cash to market, develop more games for both the SEGA Genesis and SEGA Saturn. I think it would have been interesting to see a united SEGA that actually wanted to push the SEGA Genesis for families that couldn’t afford the $400 dollar Saturn. It would have been amazing to see a SEGA West that actually tried its best to bring over Saturn games and didn’t leave everything in Japan. Who knows, we couldn’ve been playing the new SEGA console today and taunting Wii gamers about how SEGA does what Nintendon’t

RoundtableBen16bit
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It’s always sad to me, as a SEGA fan, to look back at the company’s consoles and see their not-so-great sales and the poor decisions tied to each one. Even the Genesis, arguably the only truly successful SEGA console financially, ended its life by being attached (literally) to two major failures. 

SEGA’s biggest mistake made during the 16-bit console war was their decision to go crazy with hardware. During the time when they should have been focusing their efforts on developing the SEGA Saturn, on hyping it up and ensuring a smooth transition from one generation to the next, they instead confused the market by releasing the SEGA CD and 32X; two poorly-conceived and frankly unnecessary add-ons that only served to fragment their own userbase. 

The fact of the matter is that “more” doesn’t always equal “better,” especially in terms of hardware that the consumer has to spend their money on. Things have changed a little these days, with video game systems becoming more along the lines of “all in one” devices with large selections of features outside gaming, but back in the 16-bit and 32-bit eras, video game systems were simply objects to play the games on. They were a means to an end, with the games, and only the games, being their central selling point.

32xad1To release the SEGA CD and 32X without a strong lineup of games or 3rd party support was a bad decision. These devices were purchased by only the most die-hard Sega fans, effectively stealing these fans away from the Genesis and the Saturn. Without enough games, with a confused and half-hearted marketing effort, and with the Saturn known to be on the way, it seems insane to me that SEGA could have expected either add-on to find any success. 

Instead, they tarnished the Genesis’ reputation, hurt consumer confidence in the SEGA brand, and essentially took their own fans (and their own fans’ money) away from the two systems that SEGA really should have been devoting their full attention to. 

I’ve never played either a 32X or a SEGA CD, or even seen either in person. I have no doubt that they have their share of great games. But these are games that should have either kept the Genesis going, or should have been developed for the Saturn to make that console a success.  There’s no doubt that the SEGA CD and 32X were two major factors that prevented the Saturn from being a hit. The Saturn’s costly failure, in turn, prevented the Dreamcast from being a hit, effectively (and unfortunately) ending SEGA’s run as a console manufacturer. 

roundtablebarry16bit
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Prior to the days of internet fansites, I probably wouldn’t have had an answer to this question. Growing up with the Genesis, I thought it was the greatest console ever, featuring great games and a longevity that lasted up until I bought my Dreamcast. Following the Dreamcast’s demise, I began to fill that SEGA console void by collecting the hardware I never got around to owning, and that’s when I began to see the flaws of 90s SEGA that I once thought was near perfection. To echo other SEGAbits writers, both the SEGA CD and 32X weren’t the best decisions the company made. The SEGA CD had several quality titles, but SEGA of America focused mainly on the technical wonders like FMV games and titles that looked pretty but played poorly. Still, not the worst decision. I’d probably have to point the finger at the 32X as SEGA’s worst decision of the era. Not because I dislike the hardware or the games available for the add on, but instead it was the idea that the core Genesis was not good enough to stay in the spotlight and that accessories and add ons were necessary to keep the hardware relevant.  It was the ideology that the 32X embodied, the idea that the Genesis needed more than its core elements to survive, that I deem SEGA’s worst decision of the era. 

In an alternate history, I’d like to think that SEGA could have scrapped the 32X and shifted games to the SEGA CD and Saturn, and cancel unnecessary ports of games already on the Genesis and SEGA CD. He world did not need another version of BC Racers and Pitfall The Mayan Adventure. With only the Genesis and SEGA CD, SEGA could have highlighted great games and slowly teased the Saturn as SEGA fan’s next purchase.

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When the SEGA Saturn got a surprise launch in the United States in May of 1995, the prosperity that SEGA had enjoyed during the 16-bit era summarily ended. Genesis releases from 1995 did not sell particularly well and were mostly ignored. The Genesis itself began its slow death while its nemesis, the SNES, would go on to enjoy a few more years of life.

SEGA’s greatest mistake of the 16-bit era wasn’t a peripheral, nor was it any game or advertising campaign. No, their greatest mistake was how the ended the generation. They launched the SEGA Saturn during a time when the Genesis was still enjoying some significant success. Even the system’s brand new peripheral, the 32X, managed to sell over 600,000 units during the 1994 American holiday season, which were pretty good numbers at the time. The SEGA Saturn had numerous problems: it was too expensive, it was difficult to work with, its 3D games utilized quads instead of triangles, and it completely lacked backwards compatibility with the Genesis, thus giving Genesis owners little incentive to stick with the SEGA brand, made worse by the fact that SEGA abandoned many of their most successful 16-bit franchises during the 32-bit transition.

I hate speculating about stuff like this, but I’d at least like to think that had the Saturn been released a few years later with more intelligently designed hardware and Genesis backwards compatibility, many of the issues SEGA experienced during the mid-90’s could have been avoided.

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6 responses to “Round Table: SEGA’s worst decision during the 16-bit console wars

  1. straitJacket says:

    To expand on Barry’s point, Watermelon’s Pier Solar has demonstrated that the Mega CD could have really been marketed as the accessory for audiophiles. So instead of having to purchase a CD port of Ecco the Dolphin to get the improved BGM, you could have bought a audio CD to accompany the Mega Drive cartridge at a much cheaper price. Then I feel the Mega CD would been seen as a proper add-on to the Mega Drive rather than another console that requires the Mega Drive to be attached.

  2. Fernandeath says:

    It’s a uninamity about the add-ons

  3. ROJM says:

    I think this is really about SOJ and their subsidiaries….who was it that wanted the 32x made in the first place..knowing that they already had the saturn in place? Whose idea was it to go ahead with the complicated design of the Saturn and being the first system in two generations of Sega systems not to feature backwards compatibility?
    Whose idea was it not to even continue or make the big Genesis games and bring them over to saturn..giving it a stronger chance in the states? Oh wait whose idea was it not to even have a proper Sonic game for the saturn from the get go?
    This isn’t about which add on or what its a symptom of a bigger problem that is still going on today.. the fact that SOJ management don’t know what they are doing..

  4. Glen Bradford says:

    ,As a gamer at the time I got the Mega CD when it first came out and to me the mega CD felt like a brand new game system it had its very own magazines and it had a very good year or so, compared to the mega drive the mega CD was amazing and I have lots of good memories. For me the Mega CD was a great idea for me, My enjoyment is not dependent on how much money a system is making and I was never going to stick to a brand. I did not go for the 32x, you do know there was a generation happening in between the mega drive and Playstation/Saturn generation? CDi, Amiga 32, Jaguar and the good old 3DO, I traded all my mega drive, Mega CD and games in for the birth of the 3DO putting aside weather they made money or not the 3DO was amazing I enjoyed many years with that system, so many good games, how much they make is not my problem, it is not my concern what the most people go for, the best selling systems don’t always prove to have the best games, time back then must of been like a blur for most people because I enjoyed the life span of the 3DO in between the mega CD and Saturn not to mention the CDi. amega 32 and jaguar all system I still have today I then went on to enjoy the sega Saturn. There is a difference between a gamer and a fanboy, the gamer wins what ever game system he is playing on the fanboy only Perver gets to play the branded games and suffer when things go bad with their system of choice, never care how much money Nintendo, Sony, Panasonic, Apple or Microsoft are making its in the billions and turns in to money in their banks it dose not vanish. After the Saturn that I really enjoyed I then went for the N64 flop or not I am a gamer for me it was another win for me every game system I ever had I enjoyed to the full, even the CDi, I am a gamer I play games what’s how much money they make got to do with they enjoyment we have and I don’t let what other people think, if they feel they waisted money on a fame system then they weren’t really a gamer anyway, playstation was a fanboy game system, I played Playstation in between the the life of the N64 and the Dreamcast the Playstation had turned everyone at the time in to sheep so as all the fanboys were glued to the Playstation brand I was already on to the next generation of gaming and remembering how Sony fanboys at the time were believing the Playstation was better because of some stupid motion chip, only 20% of people who play games are truly gamers the 80% are on auto pilot with no clue and just follow their imagination not reality, the systems that have been seen to of won to the press are not the systems that won to a gamer. The history of gaming as been destroyed by none games repeatedly saying what as already been said a bit like watching a film then reading a review then making a review with the same wording as the review you just read only the other guy like comedies but watched w action film so gave it a bad review. Is the best music really in the charts? 98% of songs will never be in the charts because there is only room for 2%. Because the industry want millions of people to buy 1 type of music and a small selection of singers saves them having to give more of the money to more people, so much good music out there for people who go looking for it instead of going for what is making the most money, I like to discover life for myself

  5. Dave Wagner says:

    This was an interesting article, but a headache to read. A little proofreading never did any harm.

  6. Gabriel says:

    What really killed sega saturn was the lack of games and not 32X. Saturn had 40 games one year before PS1 launch, and the sony started with 40 games. Most Sega games came with flaws, like polygons pop-ups in virtual fighters, Daytona USA (the most important and expected games to the console) and others. Sega CD came long before 32X, and had no impact on Saturn. 32X died because of saturn not the other way. I have all, and the focus on sega CD was FMV, for the 32X it became a sega arcade conversion since it really did very good conversion like After Burnner, Space Harrier, virtua racing, Virtua Fighter. All these versions were better than the original saturn.

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