Bernard Stolar (Or Bernie as disgruntled Saturn fans affectionately call him), was previously the executive vice president of SCEA. And before that, he was in charge of Atari Corp’s Lynx team, which we all know died a horrible flaming death because third party support was non-existant (that should have been an indication right there that the man was *NOT* fit to be in such a powerful position). Make no mistake here, it’s the third parties that essentially make or break a system. And this gives Bernie an insurmountable, almost ungodly power. After being fired from his perch at SCEA, he went to work for Sega as executive vice president of product development and third party licensing. But in the March of 1997, Sega made one of it’s most critical mistakes. He was promoted to chief operating officer (COO) in charge of ALL of Sega’s North American operations.
Sony canned Stolar in the first place for a reason. A reason which obviously eluded SOJ when Shoichiro Irimajiri (the CEO of SOJ) had this to say:
“Bernie brings more than 20 years of video game industry experience to this position, His knowledge of game development, combined with an intuitive understanding of what motivates the gaming audience, will be a tremendous asset for Sega as the video game console business expands in the years to come.”
Right about now, the only thing on my mind is “What a croc of S*it!”. Really! That’s the only thing that can be said about Irimajiri’s statement.
In fact, Stolar has proven time and time again that if anything, he is NOT in touch of the American gaming audience. In retrospect, SCEA and their recent and well thought out decision to translate Final Fantasy VII makes for a far better example of being in sync of what the US gaming public wants.
If hindsight truly is 20/20, I’m sure Irimajiri is dreading the day he even thought of elevating Stolar to such a high position. Particularly since a brief look at Sega’s US sales record will reveal that they only hold 2% of the market. So what went wrong? Well, there’s really no one answer. But I’ll try to run though those that I can think of right now.
1. Stolar’s poor management of third party affairs.
For one thing, Stolar did not try hard enough to capture the support of third party companies like Konami. They were all turned off by Stolar’s inept management. From lack of support, to trouble in the approval process. While Konami’s choice to drop all Saturn development was probably ill thought out (I’ll get to that in a later editorial), I think Stolar was sending bad signals to the third parties. Nobody likes rooting for an obvious looser, and Stolar was most definitely a looser. He was detrimental to the success of Sega’s entire North American operation (which is the running theme with everything in this editorial).
2. Lack of advertising.
Where was the advertising? Aside from a few TV commercials and the occasional ad, Sega’s advertising campaign was like a ghost. Completely without voice, or focus. The recent discussion to re-spark the ad campaign (“Sega Hard Stuff”) is too little, too late. Why didn’t we have more commercials in the same vein as the “Blast Processing” campaign in the Genesis era? Oh sure, “Blast Processing” was nothing more then marketing hype, but when you take into account how many ignorant people there are in this world, it was a very good idea.
3. Little focus on Japan.
Lets face it here folks, Japan is the pinnacle to any gaming machine. I’ve said (and demonstrated) time and time again that a console system can’t survive for very long in the US market without a lifeline directly to Japan. This has held true for any system. The only reason why the N64 is surviving in the US market while literally failing in Japan, is because the Nintendo brand name still holds lot of water in this country. Sega lost a lot of respect among the majority with the 32X and Sega CD.
I think Irimajari put way too much faith in Stolar’s business decisions. According to Stolar’s contract (which runs out this year), he has to report his progress to Japan on a regular basis. One has to wonder why SOJ didn’t realize that Stolar’s close-minded business tactics were obviously *not* working.
Thunderforce 5 was dismissed because Sega thought the game play was “dated”. This is a direct result of Sega’s “Five Star Policy”. The very existence of the five star policy is somewhat of a paradox. The theory was that it’s supposed to publish the games the public wants to see, but instead it “tells” the public what they want to see. So much for Stolar having his fingers on the pulse of the gaming masses.
4. Premature announcement of your new console.
This was just plain stupid. Any business major will tell you that you should always wait till the last possible minute before announcing any new product, that way you can milk sales off your old one. Even Sega’s old management insisted that the failed 32X would be supported right up until the bitter end. The current SOA did everything to get the word out that 97 would be the Saturn’s final full year, and 98 would mark the end. While SOJ has done everything in their powers to deny the existence of the Dural. Why? Because SOJ is smart. Saturn software sales in Japan are still healthy, and a 5.5+ million userbase has already been established. Why risk throwing that off track?
In all fairness, major announcements are leaked from time to time. Even despite SOJ’s attempt to plug the leak, you can’t completely lock up a major development like this and throw away the key.
However, the bottom line still is: SOJ has put in a lot more effort.
These are just four examples of why SOA’s management is the most responsible for the Saturn’s failure in the US. It’s not the only company at fault, but the most apparent. I personally believe a lot of things went wrong.