SEGA’s Hideki Sato talks about creating the Mega Drive to beat Nintendo

It seems that SEGA Japan’s former President (2001-2003) and hardware designer Hideki Sato is getting quite a bit of attention from the media lately. A few months ago he discussed what it was like going against Sony and the PlayStation brand, now he is talking about the creation of the SEGA Mega Drive/Genesis, which he reveals was created to beat Nintendo (no, duh?). If you didn’t know Hideki Sato was behind the creation of the SEGA SG-1000, SEGA Master System, SEGA Mega Drive/Genesis, SEGA Saturn, and the SEGA Dreamcast.

The Famitsu interview seems to be exclusive to its magazine but Siliconera translated some important bits where he discusses the SEGA SG-1000’s rough launch and how it helped the Mega Drive’s early development.

Famitsu: I believe the ways of hardware development have changed a bit since the Mega Drive days, but tell us about some of the concepts that went into the planning of Mega Drive.

Hideki Sato: “In short, we just wanted to make a game console that could beat Nintendo. We released our very first video game console, the SG-1000, and it sold 160,000 units. Those were huge numbers, considering Sega has only made arcade games that sold no more than several thousand units up until then. However, it stood no chance against the Family Computer, which released on the same day…

Back then, we had some Sega employees check out department stores to see the product packaging and customer reaction, but instead what we saw were Family Computers flying off the shelves, right before our eyes. They said that it was about ten for every one who purchased the SG-1000.”


What was your analysis on the difference there, Sato-san?

Hideki Sato: “I thought the difference was in software. Honestly, the software quality wasn’t that great. The reason was because the company saw video game consoles as as an extra or bonus, in a sense. We couldn’t get our in-house development team to budge. We had no choice but to outsource the software, but against Nintendo’s fine software, it just wasn’t meant to be.”


And that’s why you decided to improve on software for the next hardware?

Hideki Sato: “Yes. They also finally saw consoles as a business opportunity thanks to the SG-1000. That said, the situation at the time made it difficult to suddenly focus on new titles for the next-generation. So we pitched the idea of “being able to play hit arcade games as they are” and began development on the next-generation console.”


I see.

Hideki Sato: “However, we needed a 16-bit CPU in order to port arcade games (the Family Computer had an 8-bit CPU). We went with one called the MC68000… but it was so expensive. Just having this part in the device itself made its price jump up, so it came with the problem of being too expensive for a console.”


But I don’t remember the Mega Drive being particularly expensive…

Hideki Sato: “Actually, we negotiated with the other party to have it sold to us for a tenth of the price. We told them ‘If you agree to sell it to us at that price, then we’ll buy 300,000 right now,’ and ‘If it goes well we’ll likely sell 500,000 or one million,’ and we somehow managed to negotiate.”


10 responses to “SEGA’s Hideki Sato talks about creating the Mega Drive to beat Nintendo

  1. Brilliant and from the man himself, I remember the day he stood in as Vice president after Isao Okawa passed away on March 16th 2001 after donating a personal fortune to SEGA to help their difficult situation and transition.

    It should be known though that Isao Okawa wanted Sega to go third party as early as 1999 if not sooner and he already had envisioned the Dreamcast being SEGA’s last home hardware in the series years before it happened, maybe in that 1997 SEGA-Bandai merger hadn’t fallen apart, things would have been very different today, SEGA president then Hayao Nakayama had talks with Hoshino of Bandai for a while and Bandai’s Tamagotchi was all the rage then in 1997, you can see the early influence of this in what later became the Dreamcast having a tamagotchi like memory card for the controller.
    But Bandai’s middle management were disgruntled about the whole thing and the talks fell apart and didn’t end up materialising past that part and Hayao Nakayama left SEGA not long after this, making him the last founding member of SEGA to leave, after David Rosen and the rest.

    It’s amazing no one has still bothered to translate this day, the very day that SEGA announced it’s restructure by Hideki Sato who was placed in the difficult situation of reluctantly announcing and making it public to the world ~

    • OriginalName says:

      I’ve always been fascinated, in a bittersweet kind of way, by the potential of that Sega-Bandai merger, especially at that time. Has there ever been any more specific information given than the vague “Bandai got cold feet at the last minute” because of a “clash in corporate culture” sort of descriptions I always hear on the rare occasions the topic gets brought up?

  2. Eck says:

    I thought Hideki was president before this as well.

  3. Im just tapping my foot waiting for a Dreamcast Mini.

  4. TDixpix says:

    Great article and great comment from the first poster. As a teenager exiting both primary school and an intense gaming hobby at the time that Sega announced that they were discontinuing the Dreamcast, I remember this being an emotional time.

    I had no idea that in addition to Okawa’s death, company founders would have all left Sega. I guess the timing of my decision to stop playing like a raging addict was sort of poetic.

  5. Eck says:

    Anybody know where Hideki is these days?
    Is he still at Sega in some form?

  6. Senjav says:

    Why don’t SEGA and him get into the mobile phone hardware market now too. Would be brilliant to see Hideki’s distinctive SEGA brand of hardware in that industry too, or maybe laptops too, would be another way for Sega to have another hardware industry to tap into instead of just mainly the arcade one.

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