Worth Reading: How Sega Totally Blew It With Saturn

Worth Reading: How Sega Totally Blew It With Saturn

Ahh, the weekend. You’re here, I’m here, and that means Worth Reading, our weekly collection of the best games writing that’s not on Kotaku, is back.

Hey, You Should Read These

It’s wild to imagine a world where PlayStation wasn’t so dominant over Saturn, but Keith Stuart makes a compelling argument for how Sega could have made a few tweaks — primarily, not launching absurdly early — and been more competitive. Maybe Sony would have stomped the floor with everyone no matter what, but it’s clear Sega’s goal of catching everyone off guard was the biggest error made for the poor Saturn. I’m still waiting on a port of Panzer Dragoon Saga!

Sega had an autumn US release for the Saturn all planned out; its production line was in motion, retailers were ready. But Japan panicked. Nakayama believed that Sega had to get into the US market early and establish a presence before Sony. So on 11 May, at the E3 event, Tom Kalinske went on stage and announced that the Saturn was not only launching early in the US, it was already on the shelves — at the basic price of $US399.

“Many Americans have gone to the extent of paying $US800 and more for Sega Saturn units from Japan,” said Kalinske in the resulting press release. “We’ve decided to bring the product to market earlier than scheduled to meet the high consumer demand, to refine our marketing strategy over the summer, prior to the important fall season, and to get a head start on the competition.”

But it was a shambles. The machines were expensive and in short supply; only a handful of major retailers got them, alienating the rest of the market. There was only a small selection of games, including an OK port of the arcade hit Virtua Fighter, with few new titles expected until later in the year. All that was to come, but the big blow was only minutes after Kalinske’s announcement.

During Sony’s own E3 press event, Sony America chief Olaf Olafsson called head of development Steve Race on to the stage to make a brief announcement. In a piece of theatre that foreshadowed the cruelly funny PlayStation 4 game-sharing video produced by Shuhei Yoshida in 2013, Race calmly approached the lectern, put his notes down and said “$US299”. Then left the stage. If he’d had a hand mic, he would have dropped it. The audience went wild.

It used to be cool and hip for a game to feature pixel art. Now, it’s likely to earn you eyerolls, as people get fed up with games endlessly feasting on nostalgia. That’s not true for every game, of course, and lots of games are using pixel art (hey, Shovel Knight!) in wonderful ways, but artist Blake Reynolds, a renowned pixel artist himself, has decided his studio is moving on from pixels. His essays explains some of the marketing rationale behind this — lots of people don’t even know what pixel art means anymore — but also argued there’s a “pixel tax” levied against games with pixel art, as though pixel art is somehow easier to pull off than complicated 3D.

Sometimes the word “pixelated” is used in a derogatory sense, and sometimes not. Either way, anyone who uses the word clearly doesn’t grasp the concept that pixel art is a deliberate, predetermined art style. And it’s not just with us. The Reviewer of the SNK fighter King of Fighters XIII over at IGN had this to say about the sprite work:

“While they look a bit pixelated, the character models look quite good” — IGN review of KOF XIII

This sprite is not “quite good.” It’s among the best 2D animation ever made in a video game. However good it is, it’s good in spite of it being “pixelated” according to many.

If You Click It, It Will Play

Oh, And This Other Stuff

  • Soha Kareem investigated games literally centered around cleaning.
  • Leigh Alexander wondered why games have such trouble telling good stories.
  • John Riccitiello, former head of EA, argued consoles are getting boring and stale.
  • Matt Leone followed Koji Igarashi around for a day, prior to announcing his Kickstarter.
  • Cara Ellison isn’t so happy with how Black Widow was used in Age of Ultron.
  • Joe Bernardo reflected on the different ways video games convey death.
  • Christian Nutt went down memory lane, triggered by the reveal of a new Igavania.
  • Raffi Khatchadourian profiled No Man’s Sky, one of this year’s big mysteries.
  • Simon Prefontaine said Steam Greenlight is a test of a developer’s marketing muscle.
  • Robert Khoo explained why so many people aren’t able to get PAX tickets.


  • Still play my Saturn daily. Great system with great games – still finding new titles I had no idea existed rather often, which is nuts, because out of all the gaming systems I own, the Saturn is my favourite 🙂

    • What would you say are the best 20 or so man for someone to go discover the Saturn having missed out?

      • Best 20? Hmm…
        Sega Rally
        Virtua Fighter 2
        Fighter’s Megamix
        Mobile Suit Gundam Side Story 1/2/3
        Keio Flying Squadron 2
        Radiant Silvergun
        Guardian Heroes
        NiGHTS Into Dreams
        Burning Rangers
        Gungriffon 2
        Bulk Slash
        Athlete Kings and Winter Heat
        Sega Ages

        That’s just off the top of my head. The JPN games I mentioned are fully playable in English too 🙂

        • How on earth does your list not have Panzer Dragoon Saga?

          I’d also like to add:
          Magic Knight Rayearth
          The Story of Thor 2
          Steep Slope Sliders
          Deep Fear
          Shining Force III (although the second and third parts aren’t in English, there are fan translations out there)

          And also echo Exhumed/Powerslave. To this day, one of my favourite FPS games.

        • F&*king gaurdian heroes is still one of my al time favourite games ever. i have my saturn still, but it doesnt work. so devo.
          Virtual On is alos a worthy mention
          and if you lke JRPGs
          Shining Force 3 episodes 1, 2 and 3
          also a cool side scroller is
          3 Dirty Dwarves (inspiration for my screen name on here actually)
          loved fighters megamix AND Fighting Vipers
          and i played a crap ton of Street Fighter Alpha 2 and X-Men VS Street Fighter too.
          and you forgot DAYTONA!!

          • Didn’t list Daytona because the XBLA/PSN version pretty much makes the Saturn port redundant. Also, to be fair, to list only 20 Saturn games to try out is pretty hard 🙂

          • Thank you so much for taking the time to list them. To be honest I thought you would have trouble at 20. If there is more I am all ears. 🙂
            Though if there was a site with a top whatever list that was not garbage like an IGN list I am happy to be redirected there.
            Thanks again dudes!!!

          • My Saturn collection is currently sitting at around 160 games, so there are so, SO many games worth your time. A lot of games are timeless and can be picked up and played like any game today. The shmups, scrolling beat-em-ups and fighters especially. Then there are some of the older games, such as Ninpen Manmaru and the like that are early attempts at 3D, that if approached in the right frame of mind (think going back to the very first Tomb Raider), can still totally be enjoyed today. Here’s a link to SSUK forums Top 20 list – some different games in there 🙂


  • I loved the Saturn. Bought one at launch from Toys R Us. It had only 3 launch titles in Australia, 2 of which I purchased. Virtua Fighter and the disappointing Dayton. I distinctly recall the shelves being laden with unwanted copies of Clockwork Knight :). I also bought a PSX at launch a couple of months later (from Myer) with Toshinden and Wipeout. The latter was the first game I played that truly felt ‘next gen’. Fast, flashy, and the soundtrack was insane!

  • Good article. Now do one on the dreamcast (easily one of my favorite consoles). I just remember i was 14 and there was basically no advertising for it, it just showed up on shelves one day and expected people to know what it was.. sega really fucked up in the end. Was such a shame. i would have loved for sega to be here battling out this gen.

    I guess this is why alot of companies these day spend 1/4 of their development costs on advertising.

  • It’s a pretty epic fall (falling off a skyscraper bad) as they had such domination with Genesis/Megadrive. i guess after the MD upgrades failed (32x and SegaCD) they were probably justifiably nervous.

Show more comments

Comments are closed.

Log in to comment on this story!