Sega broke Nintendo’s near-monopoly on game consoles, then lost it all to Sony and was forced to retreat back to the arcades. The tale of why has been told, but thanks to a 272-page trove of documents including internal emails, plans and even post-it notes (PDF), the story is being rewritten.
“Wish I could get our staff, sales people, retailers, analysts, media, etc. to see and understand what’s happening in Japan. They would then understand why we will win here in the US eventually,” Kalinske wrote. By September 1996, this would not be the case, and Kalinske would tender his resignation.
Not all of the compilation is quite so direct or relevant. There are E3 floor plans, nitpicks about marketing campaigns, and the occasional incongruity. There is a Post-It note stuck to the front of the “Brand Strategy” folder—”Screw Technology, what is bootleg 96/97″—that I will be thinking about for days.
Crucially, there is nearly as much Sony as there is Sega in this brand analysis. Before the Nintendo 64 showed up, Sega spent a lot of time watching Sony and figuring out how it could keep the company from gaining a foothold. Strategies included “position Saturn as the technically superior next generation system,” “leverage exclusive Saturn peripherals,” and “strengthen sports line-up and ship titles concurrent with season.”
They knew who the enemy was, but they didn’t know how to fight it. The new information is enlightening, but I think it deepends rather than overturns the standard history: Sega got snarled up making upgrades for its aging 16-bit machine while everyone else was focusing on the next gen hardware, its marketing was terrible, and relations between the U.S. and Japanese branches of the company were dysfunctional. I can’t find the video right now, but in the U.K. the ads got shockingly bad. The one I always bring up is the one that wrecked the brand with my teen clique in the 1990s, pitching the CD add-on drive as the “Sega Mega Seedy”, with straight-up suggestions of unsavory sexual goings-on. We went from “Sonic the Hedgehog is so cool!” to cringing silence in the presence of this zany, naff cyberpunk horrorshow.
UPDATE: here it is!