What if there was a "Sega Playstation"?

You may have heard of the story of how the PS1 came to be. Long story short, Sony had developed a CD add-on for Nintendo's SNES, only to get the door slammed in their face at the last moment, prompting Sony to further develop the add-on into a full-fledged console of its own. And the rest is history.

Anyway, a recent thread had me take a deeper look at the Sega Saturn, from inception to downfall, and my digging revealed something very interesting:

Sega of America wanted to codevelop a console with Sony

It didn't happen, of course. The head honchos of Sega Japan flat out said no.

But what if they had said yes and pooled their resources into a speculative console I'll call, for conveniences sake, the "Sega Playstation"? A jilted Sony finding comfort in Sega's arms. Sony's marketing and r&d talents and their understanding that the future lay in 3D visuals and a new audience of 20-somethings with disposable incomes backed by Sega's existing experience (with software) and portfolio of IPs. On paper, it seems like a powerhouse combo.

What do you think? An even bigger hit? Doomed to fail? Something in between? Or perhaps things would have played out mostly the same?

Sega ran their company in the ground because they had no idea what they were doing. Let's make a CD addon so the Genesis can play crappy FMV games! No wait, let's make an addon so it can play other different cartridges! And then we'll release a combined Genesis and 32X and call it the Neptune! No wait, actually scratch that whole idea, let's release a competing console in the same year that plays CDs!

They just couldn't stop dividing their libraries with expensive addons and competing consoles. They were doomed to fail.

Drathnoxis:
Sega ran their company in the ground because they had no idea what they were doing. Let's make a CD addon so the Genesis can play crappy FMV games! No wait, let's make an addon so it can play other different cartridges! And then we'll release a combined Genesis and 32X and call it the Neptune! No wait, actually scratch that whole idea, let's release a competing console in the same year that plays CDs!

They just couldn't stop dividing their libraries with expensive addons and competing consoles. They were doomed to fail.

True.

Sega also bet on the wrong horse in terms of industry trends with the Saturn, and focused on making it a 2D powerhouse, precisely when the Playstation and the N64 were ushering in the 3D era.

Which is a shame, really, because as one of the few people who actually had a Saturn, I can safely state it had tons of potential that went to waste.

Drathnoxis:
They just couldn't stop dividing their libraries with expensive addons and competing consoles. They were doomed to fail.

Yeah. Sega had an unfortunate tendency to rush products so they could beat a competitor to market, or simply just match them, and myriad other poor and often panic-fueled decisions. The Sega Cd, 32X, Saturn, arguably the Dreamcast too.

However, it should be noted Sega of America's idea to partner up with Sony came (and got shot down) shortly after Sony and Nintendo's falling out at E3 '91. The Sega CD was released later that same year in Japan, so that was already a lost cause. But it does predate the 32X and possibly also the Saturn. The latter is a little harder to pin down. Exact data on when proper development on it started is scarce. Most sources I found seem to indicate late '92 to early '93.

Would going through with the idea and partnering up with Sony for the next-gen Sega console have changed things? Impossible to say. It's possible Sony's influence in the partnership could have tempered Sega's hasty and imprudent decisionmaking, possibly preventing the mistakes made with the 32X and Saturn from ever occuring. With the benefit of hindsight, Sony certainly showed itself more savvy at the time. They envisioned a future of 3D graphics and widening the audience beyond teenage boys, and they would be proven correct.

Or not. Corporate culture is weird, doubly so for Japanese corporate culture. The American branch was more open to cooperation and had a vision of the future much more closely aligned with Sony's, but the Japan HQ often had the last say and they preferred sticking to what they knew (2d and arcade conversions) and keeping everything in-house.

In any case, it's all speculative.

Ogoid:
Sega also bet on the wrong horse in terms of industry trends with the Saturn, and focused on making it a 2D powerhouse, precisely when the Playstation and the N64 were ushering in the 3D era.

Sad thing is, part of Sega knew this.

As I said above, Sega of America saw the potential of Sony's Playstation project and their vision of the future of gaming. Sega of Japan disagreed, and they had final say. During development, Sega America recognized the Saturn as a console that wouldn't appease Western developers, and they would eventually be proven right. Sega Japan, again, disagreed.

At one point during the Saturn's development, Sega of America was in talks with Silicon Graphics Inc to source a graphics chip for Sega's new console. SGI was working on a low-cost real-time 3D graphics system. America was very impressed by the project. Japan wasn't. Negotiations failed.

The best part? The SGI deal was then picked up by Nintendo in summer '93 ... and used for the Nintendo 64.

Sega's speciality has always been arcade style games that you can easily pick up and play without too much learning, with the occasional exception like Shenmue, and they did them really well in that space. I don't think you necessarily need a more powerful product to be successful.

However, I think if Sony and Sega had teamed up there would have been way more arcade style games for the platform. You just had to look at the dreamcast to see the kind of games which could have been produced (as opposed the Saturn releases which weren't as good)

In business terms, I think Sega could have done with some handholding through that period. Then they might not have found themselves in the situation they eventually ended up in.

It could be called the Sega Sonystation. Or Segony Box. Or Soga? "Hey, fancy some Soga?" Hmm...

The Saturn is basically a series of "what ifs".

What if SEGA made a system with better architecture?
What if they learned from the mistakes of Mega Drive?
What if they delayed the launch instead of pushing it forward?
What if they didn't launch a 32-Bit addon to their previous system in the same year?
What if they didn't rush it off the market?

"What if SEGA collaborated with Sony?" is just another one of those as far as I'm concerned.

But hey, at least we know one thing for sure.

This is still the best console marketing campaign of all time.

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dscross:
Sega's speciality has always been arcade style games that you can easily pick up and play without too much learning, with the occasional exception like Shenmue, and they did them really well in that space. I don't think you necessarily need a more powerful product to be successful.

You're right about that, a more powerful console does not guarantee success, and historically, the most powerful system has never ended up the most commercially succesful in past console generations.

Although you can argue that Sega underestimated just how much and how quickly 3d polygon visuals on consoles would take off with consumers and developers alike, while overestimating the importance of 2d sprite graphics. So they created a console that was great for 2D and could handle 3D just fine, assuming a dev knew how to work the complicated hardware architecture, which few outside 1st party devs did (and failing to correct this severely hurt Sega in the long run). The competition did see the advent of 3d coming, so they developed systems to match.

By the time Sega fully realized this, they thought they could still eke out a win by gaining an early market foothold, leading to the disastruous early launch at E3 '95, pissing of many retailers. Then Sony's Steve Race took the stage, said $299, and that was it. The competition not only offered more impressive visual capabilities, it was cheaper for consumers and more appealing to developers.

Speaking of arcades, it seems that while outlining plans for the Saturn, they briefly considered leveraging their existing 32-bit arcade hardware. In particular their Model 2, which was probably the most powerful dedicated gaming hardware of its time. They decided against it because the consumer price would be too high. They were right, since SNK had tried that with the Neo Geo AES, which could do arcade perfect games because it essentially was arcade hardware, but cost so much only well-off people could really afford it.

However, I think if Sony and Sega had teamed up there would have been way more arcade style games for the platform. You just had to look at the dreamcast to see the kind of games which could have been produced (as opposed the Saturn releases which weren't as good)

That would've been very likely, yes.

In business terms, I think Sega could have done with some handholding through that period. Then they might not have found themselves in the situation they eventually ended up in.

Oh, definitely, although I'd say that applies mostly to Sega of Japan's handling of the Western markets (the Saturn did pretty well in Japan). Of course, the benefit of hindsight makes it easy to point fingers, but most of the poor decisions got pushed through by the Japanese headquarters, frequently against the wishes and advice of their American branch.

It would had probably sank, dragged down by Sega's decision of betting on the wrong future-of-gaming horse (aka, FMV).

 

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