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What Happened to the Sega Saturn?

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The Saturn is a video game console released by Sega in 1994-1995 (Japan and America) after the success of their previous console, the Genesis. It was a 32-bit, CD-capable console unlike its previous systems. Developments like this are examples of how the video game industry operates in an “environment of constant innovations” (Ernkvist, 2008) driving previous innovations into the past. Sega was competing with Nintendo in the early 90s, as well as Sony, who were beginning to enter the market.

Sega Saturn Logo (western), [Click for source]
Sega Saturn logo (Japanese version), [Click for source]

The Saturn sold well in Japan when it came out in late 1994, and “all 200,000 units sold immediately upon release(Shea, 2020). Despite Japanese success, this did not translate to North America. In an attempt to compete with Sony’s upcoming console, the first PlayStation, the release of the Saturn was pushed forward. This eventually led to the financial failure of the Sega Saturn. 

When the Saturn was released in North America in 1995, it was only available at select retailers, with those who were left in the dark choosing to drop support for all Sega products. This meant that “Sega’s tireless efforts to win over retailers in the prior generation after Nintendo tried to keep competitors out of the market(Shea, 2020) was wasted.

The Sega Saturn was also the only Sega hardware to not have its own game with Sonic the Hedgehog, Sega’s mascot. There was one in production, a 3D game called “Sonic X-treme”, but was dropped after multiple snags. The CEO of Sega America of the time, Tom Kalinske, said that “Clearly, it would have helped so much to have a great Sonic game on the Saturn launch” (Shea,2020)

Virtua Fighter, Nights Into Dreams, and Panzer Dragoon were video games part of the small library of games released on the Saturn to generate sales and develop interest. When the Playstation became available in September that year, fan interest in the Saturn disappeared.

 

In the 5th generation of gaming consoles, while other developers were slowly dropping their prices, Sega struggled to do this with the Saturn because of a “complex system-board design that is unable to condense in a cost-saving manner” (Eres, et al., n.d.). With the Playstation’s price point of $299, $100 less than the Saturn, the downfall of the Saturn and Sega continued.

Selling approximately 9 million units, the Saturn was discontinued in 1998. Compared to other platforms of the time, the N64 sold nearly 33 million units, and the PlayStation sold a staggering 100 million units. The Sega Dreamcast was released in 1999, and while viewed as a strong platform, sold fewer units than Saturn worldwide. Because of this inevitable downfall beginning with the Saturn, Sega became a third-party software developer, stopping hardware production.

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A full in depth study of all the reasons Sega failed with not just the Saturn but their production and other hardware could be obviously conducted, how this failure is viewed by other video game producers and gamers, etc. Ultimately, Sega suffered substantial financial losses and their downfall as a hardware producer.

References

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Blog Post Updated: 23rd August 2021

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