History of the Sega Saturn/Release
From Sega Retro
Having been designed in Japan for a predominantly Japanese audience, it is perhaps no surprise that the Sega Saturn would do well in the territory. The Saturn launched in Japan on the 22nd of November, 1994 at a price of ¥44,800, alongside five titles — Sega's Virtua Fighter (packed-in with the system), Sega/Micronet's WanChai Connection, Electronic Arts Victor's Mahjong Goku Tenjiku, Sunsoft's port of Myst, and Time Warner Interactive's Tama. It was a launch closely watched by other territories to ensure a Western release was handled as well as possible.
It is thought that roughly 500,000 consoles were ready to be sold on launch day, but Sega specifically held back on 300,000 in storage for a week, in an attempt to catch a fledgling PlayStation off guard. Sony shipped around 100,000 consoles to Japanese retailers for its launch on December the 3rd - Sega sold at least 170,000 Saturns in its first day of sale - its most successful console launch of all time.
Pre-orders had effectively sold out two weeks in advance (having only been available for a month), and queues for the system were several hours long. To compensate, staff dressed as Sega's "coneheads" (characters seen in early Saturn advertising) were brought in to keep order. JVC's V-Saturn was also made available, but was considerably harder to find. Ten Saturns were reported as defective, having apparently caught fire.
While the figures would suggest Sony's console was in a better position than Sega's, with only a ¥39,800 price tag and a choice of eight games (fronted by Ridge Racer), all PlayStation software had to be purchased separately, making it a more expensive purchase overall. Meanwhile Virtua Fighter stood as one of the most successful Japanese arcade games of all time - between 1993 and 1997 Virtua Fighter was a (perhaps unexpected) phenomenon in Japan, but one which failed to resonate to the same degree in the Western world. Indeed, consumers bought the Saturn on the promise of Virtua Fighter alone, and Sega spent the forthcoming years using the franchise as a driving force behind the console, starting with Virtua Fighter Remix six months later, Virtua Fighter 2 towards the end of 1995 and the promised Virtua Fighter 3 in 1997/1998.
Some elements to the Saturn's early praise were down to experience - initial PlayStation controllers had short leads, while Saturn ones were 7ft. And while Sega had never been a console market leader in Japan, the name was synonymous with a decade's worth of cutting edge and often highly praised arcade games. By contrast, Sony's commitment to Japanese video games was negligible - Sony Imagesoft may have had a small foothold in the West, but aside from MSX computers and rumoured projects with Nintendo, the company was known for products such as the Walkman and Discman - it still had a lot to prove in the video game sector.
By the end of Christmas 1994, 500,000 Saturns had been sold (including 50,000 V-Saturns) versus the 300,000 of the PlayStation, topping the market over the period. Sega were planning to triple that figure by Christmas 1995 at 1.5 million units, with an additional 180,000 V-Saturns in play. As supply struggled to keep with demand, expectations were then raised, with a planned 1.2 million units to be sold by May 1995 and 2 million by the end of the year. Reportedly Japanese 3DO sales stopped almost instantaneously as the Saturn and PlayStation hit the shelves.
Sales of Both Sega and Sony were claiming around 600,000 of their consoles had been sold by March 1995.
While the Sega 32X had the potential to do damage to the Saturn brand, in Japan the Mega Drive add-on was dismissed out of hand, and was killed within the year. Furthermore virtually all Mega Drive and Mega-CD game production ended on the Saturn's launch - while games continued to show until early 1996, it was clear these older consoles and add-ons were being sidelined.
One million units had been sold in the territory by mid-1995, and to celebrate, June 16th saw the price of a Saturn drop to ¥34,800, packaged with Virtua Fighter Remix. Sony were able to slowly catch up and overtake this figure, due in part to lower licensing fees and a 7-10 day lead time versus the 10-12 weeks experienced in the days of cartridges. However, the Saturn again outsold its competitors during Christmas 1995, thanks in part to the so called "big three"; Virtua Fighter 2, Sega Rally Championship and Virtua Cop. Sega felt that about 50% more Saturns were being sold than PlayStations during the first half of 1996, and a further Spring price drop cemented this point further.
Sega's market share in Japan rose from 12% in 1994 to 32% in 1995, with Nintendo dropping drastically from 75% to 33%.
By early 1996, roughly 2.2 million Saturns had been sold in Japan - more than half the then-worldwide total of about 4 million consoles.
On March 22nd, 1996, Sega released a redesigned "white model" Saturn for an asking price of ¥20,000 - a move thought to have made the concept of 32-bit gaming (or the fifth generation of consoles as it is more commonly known today) more accessible to the Japanese public, and a figure less than half the price of the console at launch. The move meant the Saturn now cost less than the six-year-old Super Famicom (though Nintendo were offering software coupons and would knock the system down to ¥9,800 in August), and while not unique to the system, CD-based software was generally retailing for less than those on cartridge (Super Famicom games often selling for more than ¥10,000 in 1995, a pricing strategy continued with the Nintendo 64).
70,000 white Saturns were sold in four days, with supplies again struggling to keep with demand.
The Nintendo 64 landed in September of 1996, lacking the fanfare of the then-record Super Famicom launch and, in a surprise twist, generally failing to meet Japanese expectations, with sales reportedly dropping sharply after its first week in June 1996. Curiously figures suggest that the Saturn increased its market share over the period, with an estimated 500,000 - 1 million more Saturns sold than PlayStations overall.
3.7 million Saturns had been sold in Japan by November 8th, 1996.
By the end of 1996, the Saturn was able to maintain a marginal lead over the PlayStation in Japan. But by the beginning of 1997, the PlayStation took the lead in Japan. The major blow to the Saturn's fortunes came with the release of Final Fantasy VII in January, which caused PlayStation numbers to skyrocket.
5 million Saturn consoles had been sold in Japan by early 1997.
The Saturn started faltering by the middle of 1997 when Sega's entire corporate structure seemingly went into meltdown, with frustrations in the US and a failed merger with Bandai making the news for the wrong reasons, and the ongoing trials and tribulations of the "Saturn 2" project - a console the Japanese didn't really need.
Part of the Saturn's continuing success was due to strong, inspiring adverts, featuring Segata Sanshiro, who would travel around Japan and punish those who did not play their Saturns. While Saturn systems were being outsold by PlayStation systems for much of its lifespan, Sega actually sold more software for the Saturn during 1995-1997. The result was that in Japan the Saturn became the platform of choice for more dedicated gamers while the PlayStation had an audience comprised of more casual customers who bought fewer titles.
It is thought that by Spring 1998, weekly hardware sales of Nintendo 64 consoles were finally starting to overtake the Saturn, having trailed behind both the Saturn and PlayStation since launch. Total sales of the Nintendo 64 would never catch the Saturn before its demise, however, and software sales were far behind. For example, in the first week of May, Sakura Taisen 2 topped Famitsu's top 30 weekly sales chart (selling more than twice as many units as the PlayStation-exclusive Tekken 3 in second place (355,270 vs. 161,235)) - seven other Saturn games made the list, but no Nintendo 64 games did.
All this considered, the Sega Saturn is widely regarded as the most popular Sega platform of all time in Japan, selling more than the also-popular Nintendo 64 (6 million vs. 5.54 million). The console was supported with software until 2000, almost two years after the Dreamcast launched in that region. The vast majority of the Saturn's game library was exclusive to Japanese customers, with more than 80% of the console's 1000+ strong library not leaving the country.
With perceived weaknesses both inside and outside of Sega of America, the Saturn had a tough time outside of Japan. The press were intrigued, if not ecstatic about the console's arrival and many were questioning the long-term future of the 32X, which already seemed to be on its way out. Sega of America, however, suspected that the Saturn would be initially too expensive for the US mass market, so spent most of 1995 focusing on the Sega Mega Drive (Genesis) and its extensions instead.
The Genesis had allowed Sega to become the dominant player in the so-called North American "console wars". It had beaten rival Nintendo during the Christmas period for three years in a row (1992, 1993 and 1994) and was predicting equally strong growth in 1995, holding about 55% of both the hardware and software market in the region at the time.
The Saturn launched in Japan before any firm release dates were given to other parts of the world. Sega of America had spent the preceding year extolling the virtues of the Sega 32X, and while the US branch had openly discussed the existence of the Sega Saturn (to the point where it was likely undermining 32X sales), the tentative release date for the new console was late 1995. Even at the beginning of the year there was speculation that the console would ship early, possibly arriving as soon as March or April, however Tom Kalinske was weary about the importance of pricing, and did not think the console could be sold as a mass market machine at that time.
Eventually Sega of America announced the release date was to be "Saturnday" on September 2, 1995 - delayed to ensure the console had games at launch (Kalinske wanted at least ten). The Saturn was meant to ship with 20 titles with an additional 100 titles by Christmas 1995, backed by a $50 million advertising campaign. Like the Mega Drive, there were also plans for test markets, some rolling out as early as the 11th of July.
However, when Sega of America caught wind of Sony's PlayStation plans, Sega jumped the gun. According to Tom Kalinske: "We all knew PlayStation was coming so we wanted to pre-empt them. Japan basically ordered us to be on shelf in the Fall, [so] I thought up the surprise launch as a way of generating excitement and PR." On stage at Sega's E3 1995 press conference in May 1995, Tom Kalinske announced that the Saturn (with six launch titles) would be available across the US immediately, surprising not only the show's audience, but developers and retailers too. In response, Sony took to the stage a few hours later with a $299 price tag for its PlayStation console (versus $399 for the Saturn, or $449 with Virtua Fighter), beginning what was later seen as one of the most poorly planned console launches of all time.
Fundementally, Sega did not have enough US consoles or games in stock to justify the early launch. The firm could only supply select retailers, prioritising Babbages, Electronics Boutique, Software Etc. and Toys 'R' Us, while in the process, alienating the likes of Kay-Bee Toys (which incidentally refused to stock the Saturn from this point onwards). Furthermore it is thought no retailers made a profit from the $399 figure, relying solely on software sales to make up the difference.
Sega were able to ship 30,000 consoles to retailers at launch, but as demand greatly outstripped supply Sega were forced to stagger the console's release across the Summer, starting with select US cities and further retailers (Sears, Wal-Mart, Target, Circuit City and Best Buy) receving Saturn stock in July and August. 60,000 Saturn units were thought to have been sold during the launch period in total.
For most, "Saturnday" remained the date where the Saturn would start to be distributed nationally across 12,000 stores. Nevertheless, before the PlayStation could redefine what "success" was, early Saturn sales looked promising, to the point where it was rumoured that Sony would jump the gun on its release date too (although it transpires the console was still awaiting approval from the FCC at the time, as well as more solid third-party support).
Canada followed a similar pattern to the United States, seeing a limited release from May 11th prior to a national release on September 2nd.
Very few third-party publishers took advantage of the Saturn's head start (the August release of Bug! being Sega's most publicised effort), as developers working on launch titles were aiming for the original September release date. As a result, the Saturn library remained largely unchanged during the first three months, with consumers having to make do with the initial array of launch titles, several of which failed to impress critics. This period also played into the hands of Sony, which would have more time to put some finishing touches on their PlayStation, draw up a well-planned strategy and learn from the pitfalls of the Saturn.
The PlayStation launched on the 9th of September as planned, and the true situation for Sega quickly became apparent. The PlayStation's launch broke records, and both the software and hardware was highly praised by critics. Of particular note is the port of Namco's Ridge Racer which was technologically superior to Sega's Saturn release of Daytona USA, despite being the simpler of the two arcade releases. It gave rise to the impression that the Saturn was the weaker system, ill-equipped to deal with 3D gaming in comparison - the perceived future of the industry.
To divert some attention away from the PlayStation launch, Sega began bundled units with Clockwork Knight and Worldwide Soccer: Sega International Victory Goal Edition between the 2nd and 30th of September.
Sega forecasted that 600,000 Saturns would be sold in the US in 1995, but there were a number of factors causing headaches for the firm. For one, it is thought the Saturn cost roughly $380 to produce (versus the $300 or so for the PlayStation), and Sega had misjudged the public's enthusiasim over a $400 "next generation" console, many of whom were waiting to see how Sony would respond.
In the end, 80,000 Saturn units were sold in North America before the PlayStation, while the PlayStation amassed 100,000 unit sales just from pre-orders, with about 130,000 consoles sold within its first week. Sega disputed the figures, claiming 100,000 consoles were sold by the end of August.
A slight consolation prize from the PlayStation launch, however, was that Sony reportedly ran out of plastic cases for its games, having to buy some from Sega to fill the gap. This explains why in the US, the likes of Rayman and Battle Arena Toshinden originally shipped in Saturn-style "long boxes".
After Saturnday Sega went on the offensive, offering a three game deal for customers purchasing Saturns between the 2nd and 30th of September, with Clockwork Knight, Worldwide Soccer or Virtua Fighter Remix being available in addition to the already bundled Virtua Fighter. Remix, incidentally was made available to any (registered) Saturn owners prior to this date for free.
As was widely expected, the Saturn dropped to $299.99 on October 2nd, and a replacement bundle pack, now containing Virtua Fighter Remix was being sold for £349.99. Sega were using a 120,000 Saturns sold figure around this period, with Tom Kalinske claiming the PlayStation had sold less. Meanwhile Sony was claiming a 200,000 figure.
Even the 3DO is thought to have out-sold the Saturn in this initial four month period, it too being priced around $100 cheaper, and by the end of 1995 NPD data was suggesting the PlayStation was out-selling the Saturn 2:1 - 800,000 units versus 400,000 in the territory, Howard Lincoln of Nintendo put the Saturn figure between 120,000-200,000 (versus 500,000 PlayStations) and Ted Lennon of Fairfield Research put Saturn and PlayStation sales on 474,000 and 569,000, respectively.
There is very little way of telling exactly what the situation was in North America shortly afterwards - both Sony and Sega were reluctant to disclose official numbers and both were thought to be inflating the figures. Commentators suggested the PlayStation may have been out-selling the Saturn at a rate of 3:1 or 4:1, but it could have easily been as high as 6:1 or even 12:1.
Former Sega man and recently departed Sony executive Steve Race also suggested a 2:1 or 3:1 ratio, however cited that the PlayStation would be doing much better had Sony been able to produce the volumes of consoles needed by retail (though arguably the same could be said of Sega).
Sega was no longer top of the Christmas charts, and as well as being beaten by rival 32-bit machines, a surprisingly strong comeback from the SNES meant that Nintendo sold more 16-bit consoles than the Saturn too. The figures are slightly misleading, however, as when 16-bit and handheld sales are included in the 1995 figures, Sega and Nintendo held roughly 40% of the market each, while Sony was closer to 15%.
It was in early 1996 when to counteract some of their losses, Sega pulled the plug on both the Sega Mega-CD and Sega Nomad, while shifting focus away from the 32X. The product line was effectively reduced to three; the Mega Drive (Genesis), the Game Gear and the Saturn, with the former expected to be discontinued within a couple of years.
Sega tried a marketing push with the NetLink - the first genuine attempt to marry a video game console with internet capabilities, but it too failed to catch on. At a combined cost of $499 it managed to undercut fledgling internet-led devices with as Apple and Bandai's Pippin console, and most desktop PCs. Behind the scenes a Sega Pluto console was being developed which would have had NetLink functionality built-in - it was never announced nor did it get past the prototype stage.
By May 1996, the Saturn was on 600,000 units versus the PlayStation's 1.2 million.
E3 1996 saw the PlayStation drop its price to $199.99, to which the Saturn was forced to follow, despite being more expensive to manufacture. This led to one of the classic E3 moments, in which after Sega started putting up signs across its booth, its marketing staff got into an altercation with Sony's on the show floor. Saturn sales went up as a result of the price drop, particularly as Nintendo did not move from their $249 launch price for the Nintendo 64.
Sega of America then began the process of an internal breakdown, with Tom Kalinske losing interest in fighting an ever more frustrated Japanese arm pulling the strings in the US. Kalinske resigned in July, followed by David Rosen and Hayao Nakayama. Sega of America began pushing more towards an educational and web-based market, and became something of a non-entity to the mainstream consumer.
The gap between the PlayStation and Saturn continued to wide and would never be closed, however for the majority of 1996 the Saturn was still looked on relatively favourably, with the repeated delays to the Nintendo 64 leaving some dissatisfied with Nintendo's efforts (for example, readers of Ultra Game Players around October 1996 put the PlayStation and Saturn neck-and-neck, in terms of approval ratings). Nevertheless, the press and public gradually became more disinterested in Sega's efforts, and eyes turned to the Nintendo 64, thought now to be the only upcoming machine capable of challenging Sony's dominance.
Pressure grew on Nintendo to drop the price of its console before launch, and towards the end of summer it matched the PlayStation and Saturn's price of $199.99. Sega held a press conference the following day, in which Sega of America's senior vice president of sales and marketing, Ted Hoff, apparently threw a smashed up Nintendo 64 across the room while claiming the console "didn't fly". Sega was adamant that the N64 would be marred by a lack of software during its first few months, at a time where the Saturn's lineup was the strongest it had ever been.
But the general public did not see it that way, and in September, the Nintendo 64 launched and sold well. In what was considered an act of desperation by some, Sega started bundling new Saturn consoles with three pieces of new first party software (Virtua Fighter 2, Daytona USA and Virtua Cop, a deal which would later evolve into the 3 Free Games), keeping the console in the race. Sega also reduced the top price of its software from $69.99 to $59.99.
The triple pack promotion saw Saturn sales rise by 500%, with an estimated 400,000 consoles sold in the offer's first two weeks. Going into the Christmas period, 900,000 Saturns are thought to have been sold, prompting rumours that Sony would reduce the price of the PlayStation to around $180 in response. According to TRST figures, the Saturn's market share rose from 10% in November 1996 to 21.2% in December as a result of the deal.
One noticeable Saturn absentee during this period was a product to capitalise on the 1996 NFL season, despite the history of Sega consoles playing host to popular sports titles. With no 32-bit version of Madden NFL 96, Sega found itself up against the highly praised PlayStation-exclusive NFL GameDay, which went on to sell 300,000 copies.
Sega sold 1.2 million Saturn consoles in 1996 (having shipped 1.3 million), and combined with its 400,000 figure of 1995, gave a total of approximately 1.6 million console sales in the US (100,000 more than predicted). This meant, however that it was severely out-gunned by the Nintendo 64 which had shifted 1.7 million within three months, and had only managed half the consoles sales of the PlayStation, which was estimated to have sold 3.2 million in the region.
For software, 5.5 million Saturn games had been sold, 2.7 million of those having come from Sega. Sega claimed Saturn software sales across 1996 had risen by 175% over 1995, and that its library of 214 games was more than the PlayStation and Nintendo 64 had offered in 1996, combined.
Console sales in general were up in the first quarter of 1997, and according to NPD figures, Saturn sales had risen by 135% compared to Q1 1996 (the caveat being that PlayStation sales had risen by 170%).
During the first three months of 1997 the Nintendo 64 pushed far ahead of the Saturn, hitting about 2.3 million units in March. This was countered by a PlayStation price cut to $149.95 in early 1997, though this time, Sega didn't match it (though Nintendo did some days later). On average the Saturn was selling about 77,000 consoles a month in the US, versus the 195,000 PlayStations and 383,000 Nintendo 64s, although demand for Nintendo's console would drop later in the year.
Meanwhile, talk about new consoles was engulfing Sega, awkwardly headed by new Sega of America CEO, Bernie Stolar, who openly talked down the Saturn at E3 1997, despite the console owning roughly 15% of the market at this time and sales seeing a year-on-year increase.
Two weeks before E3 1997, in June, the cheapest Saturn package was lowered to $149.99, with software capped at $49.99. With a pack-in the price was $169.99, and £249.99 for the NetLink set. At this point however, the company had only managed to move 1.7 million consoles in the US likely a contributing factor to third-party publishers pulling out of their upcoming Saturn projects.
By August, Sony controlled 47% of the "next generation" market, Nintendo 40% and Sega on 12%. Following continued sluggish sales, Sega cut ties with ten of its distributors, making up roughly 5% of its sales - the first suggestion that it was beginning to give up on the Saturn.
Sega gave themselves a $25 million budget for advertising Saturn and PC games during the 1997 holiday season.
After another third place turnout during the holiday season in 1997 a number of third party publishers started cancelling titles, as a result many games planned for a US Saturn release, including renowned titles such as Policenauts and Lunar The Silver Star Story. A chain reaction of cancellations rushed through the Saturn market transforming a seemingly promising 1998 schedule of North American releases to a small handful of titles. Working Designs abandoned the platform in late 1997 leaving Capcom as the last major third-party player in the US.
Nintendo's figures claimed Sega owned 4.1% of the 32-bit/64-bit hardware market during 1997, putting themselves on 48.8% and Sony on 47.1%.
After news broke out in early March 1998 about Sega abandoning the platform, retailers began to pull Saturn consoles off store shelves and Sega discontinued the Saturn TV advertising campaign, before cutting the system to $99.95. A last wave of first-party Saturn games including The House of the Dead (January), Panzer Dragoon Saga (April), Burning Rangers (May) and Shining Force III (July) appeared in the first half of 1998, but technical support aside, for all intents and purposes the console had expired by the Summer. Indeed, Sega had officially announced the Dreamcast in May, and attention was being rapidly shifted to the new "super console".
It has been suggested that the Sega Saturn held only 1% of the US video game console market during the first half of 1998 (versus 32% for the N64 and 67% for the PlayStation), and 2% for software sales (N64: 39%, PS1 59%).
The Sega Saturn is estimated to have sold about 1.8-2 million units in the US overall.
Sega's flagship character and mascot, Sonic the Hedgehog, never made a particularly major Saturn appearance - an enhanced Mega Drive port, a racing game and a compilation of his major Mega Drive adventures were made, but only the racing game was exclusive and it was hardly a major title. In fact, the one truly major title (Sonic X-treme) wound up being canceled.
Unfortunately, many of the games that made the Saturn so popular in Japan such as the Sakura Taisen series or many of the quirky anime-style RPGs that sold well in Japan were never released elsewhere. Much of the reasoning behind this was due to policies put in place under by Bernie Stolar, who believed that RPGs were never to have great commercial success in North America (despite Sega simultaneously promoting Panzer Dragoon Saga and Shining Force III in 1998).
One of the biggest contributions to the Saturn's failure was the distrust that gaming consumers had developed for Sega after a series of add-on peripherals to the Sega Mega Drive (Genesis in the US), the Mega-CD and 32X, which were discontinued around the same period as the Saturn's launch after only lukewarm support. While this had little bearing on the average consumer, likely unaware that these products existed, those in video game circles, particularly those who had invested in these consoles, were not keen on supporting a company with a track record of expensive, "awkward" systems that would be killed too early.
In development circles is is thought that a lot of misinformation was spread about the Sega Saturn's hardware, particularly when it came to polygon counts (which in itself is a difficult metric to calculate). Initial PlayStation specs inflated its figures, and on the console's box claims to be able to process "360,000 polygons per second". This was later revealed to concern flat shaded polygons - texture mapped polygons were cited to be around the 180,000 per second mark. The Saturn later claimed 500,000 and 200,000 for flat and texture-mapped polygons, respectively.
Fundamentally these figures are inaccurate as they do not represent a typical game scenario. It is thought that the average Saturn developer was being able to render roughly 80,000-90,000 polygons in 3D games at a stable frame rate, however at one point Electronic Arts went on record with a 60,000 figure based on early releases such as Daytona USA. In reality, both consoles offer relatively similar results in performance, the PlayStation having an advantage when dealing with lighting and effects, and most crucially, an easier development process (and better technical support) allowing programmers to access these features more quickly.
Nevertheless most US gaming and technology publications are thought to have presented a biased analysis of the Saturn thanks to figures like these. The Saturn was portrayed as a significantly weaker machine than Sony's (and later the Nintendo 64) and as word spread, likely altered the perception of Sega's console in the West significantly.
Following their lead with other Sega consoles, Majesco picked up the rights to distribute lower cost Sega Saturns, and was planning to sell systems from Spring 1999 for $49.95 (games being priced at $14.99 each, including "new" ones). Though their Sega Game Gear and Sega Pico plans announced at the same time did make it to market, no Majesco Saturns were ever sold.
Success in Europe is difficult to quantify, as Sega's marketing and distribution channels varied considerably between the constituent countries of the continent. Unlike the Sega Mega Drive, however, Sega Europe had a handle of the four major European markets, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Spain from the outset. Giochi Preziosi continued with Italian distribution and the system was catered for in smaller countries too, but the Saturn marks a period where country-wide plans converged on a single "European" strategy.
The Sega Saturn was first shown in Europe at a side event to ECTS Spring 1995 in March, and launched across Sega's definition of Europe in early July 1995, a few months before the September launch of the PlayStation. For the United Kingdom and other countries, the launch took place on the 8th (a Saturday, or "Saturnday"), though others such as Germany and Spain saw their launch the day before on the 7th, presumably due to abnormal trading hours on weekends. While different strategies were applied across the continent, most took the UK's lead, which in turn was led in part by events happening in the US.
Only four games were available at launch versus the US' six; Virtua Fighter (a pack-in game), Sega International Victory Goal, Daytona USA and Clockwork Knight, with Panzer Dragoon and Pebble Beach Golf Links being pushed back to August (alongside Myst). Every game had been updated, both to ensure compatibility with PAL televisions, and to address concerns raised in the original Japanese versions.
With the exception of standard control pads and Virtua Sticks, most peripherals would not be available until some months down the line (for example, the Arcade Racer did not launch until August 1995, despite the only game being able to use it being Daytona USA, released a month prior. The Saturn Backup Memory cartridge would not become available until September, so all game saving had to be done internally.
5,000 units were sold in the UK during its first week of sale, though there were (potentially fabricated) European-wide shortages at first, with an estimated 30,000 initially planned to ship across the region (20,000 of which were allocated to the UK). 10,000 Saturns had been sold in the UK within two weeks, with software moving at a higher rate than the 3DO. However, many UK retailers were forced to turn customers away during the first week due to a lack of stock supplied to distributors.
European Saturn consoles came bundled with scart cables as opposed to traditional RF units, and while Sega Europe had estimated that 80% of UK televisions had scart connectors in 1995 (rising to 90% for predicted Saturn customers), many were forced to spend an extra £25 on an RF alternative, leading to a shortage here too. While Sega were happy to ship RF cables directly to customers if needed, the company's policy was to move customers away from RF technology due to its flaws as a video standard.
Sony's strategy in Europe was far different from all those which had come before, and were the first console platform holder to treat Europe as an equal partner (rather than the afterthought from companies such as Nintendo). As such, PlayStation adoption was high, and Sega were forced to openly adopt a "quality over quantity" approach as time went on.
In December 1995, Sony claimed to had sold 35,000 PlayStations versus 25,000 Saturns in the UK, making the 1995 totals at 130,000-135,000 and 80,000-100,000 for the PlayStation and Saturn, respectively.
Sony estimated roughly 160,000 PlayStations had been sold by May 1996 in the UK, versus the 70,000 Saturns, though both company's figures are disputable, with Sega Europe sometimes claiming victory on weekly sales, and others such as polling company Gallop suggesting weekly Saturn sales were narrowly behind Sony's console.
For three weeks in April, the Saturn sold for £249.99 - £50 less than the PlayStation. According to one "prominent Oxford Street retailer" (GAME? HMV?), roughly the same amount of Saturn software was being sold as for the PlayStation at this point.
Over the Summer the Saturn was reduced to £199.99 to match a price reduction on the PlayStation.
Both Sega and Sony benefited from a delayed Nintendo 64 release, not arriving in PAL regions until March 1997. This meant the two firms had a clean sweep over Christmas 1996 (where the PlayStation outsold the Saturn at an estimated 6:1), the period in which the redesigned "model 2" Saturn was launched. This helped mitigate some of the criticism of the console typically seen with North American commentators - Sega's relegation into third place occurred at a much later period, so was still seen as a viable platform for the first half of 1997.
No NetLink-style internet service was ever set up for the console in PAL regions, so for the most part the Saturn was advertised as a games machine as opposed to the low-cost internet multimedia device as seemed to be the case in the States. In the early days, however, focus was placed on the system's ability to play Video CDs through the Saturn's Video CD Card - a relatively new video format being tested in much of the continent at the time. Video CDs struggled to gain traction in Europe so the plan didn't pay off, but the situation was better than in North America, where the format was effectively a non-starter.
Our Price stores (then owned by Virgin) stopped stocking the Saturn in late 1996. The price of the Saturn was lowered to £99.99 at some point during 1997, with games often retailing at £19.99.
By mid-1997 the Saturn was suffering similar problems in Europe as in North America, forcing publishers like Eidos Interactive to reconsider their policies later in the year. While the Nintendo 64 gained ground, more retailers such as Electronics Boutique drastically reduced the console's shelf space.
Gallup's software charts suggested as little as 8% of total UK video game sales across 1997 were for the Saturn, though UK marketing director Jo Bladen claimed a Saturn software-to-hardware ratio of 4:1, with about 450,000 consoles sold in the UK by November 1997.
In France, the Saturn was initially priced at 3,000F, before dropping to 2,100F (2,590F if bundled with Daytona USA) at some point in 1995. Shortly into 1996 it was dropped again to 1,990F, then 1,490F after E3 1996. In early 1996 about 60,000 Saturn units had been sold in France versus 160,000 PlayStations.
Germany's Saturns were initially priced at 699,-DM, or 749,-DM with Virtua Fighter. 10,000 units had been sold by at least September 1995. On 10th October, a price cut to 649,-DM was announced. On 1st April, 1996, there was a big reduction to 499,-DM.
On 4th March 1997, an "action pack" bundle was launched in France with a Saturn console and controller, both Sega Rally and Sega Worldwide Soccer 97 and Sega Flash Vol. x for 1,590F. The same package was released in Germany at some point for 449,95DM.
In Spain the Saturn launched in July 1995, for 79,900 Pts (with Virtua Fighter), with Sega España aiming to sell 45,000 consoles before Christmas. Again was a series of price drops - to 69,000 Pts in late 1995 (with Virtua Fighter substituted for Daytona USA), to 59,900 Pts in early 1996 and to 39,900 Pts on May 22nd.
The console was released in Portugal at a similar time as in Western Europe for 99,995$ (Saturn + Virtua Fighter). In late 1996 Saturn was sold for 29,990$.
Saturn was also released in all post-communist countries. In Russia and the Czech Republic, official distributors released the imported Asian model in Spring 1995 and European models appeared there a year later. The first country in this region to distribute officially European Saturn models was Hungary, from around September 1995. In the following months, the console gradually appeared in several countries of the region, but was only available in the branches of the main distributor. Sega expected to start full retail sales in May 1996. The highest expectations among Eastern Bloc were in Russia and the CIS, due to the large population and good sales of Sega Mega Drive. Poland was the second priority market due to the second largest population in the region and the improving economy. Despite great efforts, Sega Saturn didn't sell as well as its 16 bit predecessor in post-communist countries. The main fault was the high price, the small amount of pirated software that made Mega Drive popular in this region, and the bad global Sega politics. This resulted in PlayStation winning and dominating this brand in the region for the next few years.
Prior to Sega's announcement at E3 1995, Australia were set to receive the Sega Saturn considerably earlier than the rest of the Western world, as a "soft launch" set to arrive "no later than July" at $699 AUD. In the end, however, it launched at $799.95 - still slightly before Europe as a pseudo "test market", but generally seen as too expensive to effectively combat the PlayStation (a situation not helped by Sega Ozisoft's decision to spend very little on marketing the product).
In early 1996 the Saturn's price was dropped to $695 (with Daytona USA) to match a recent PlayStation price cut, then on 17th May 1996 the price was dropped to $499 (on the same day the PlayStation dropped to $399).
As with most consoles of the period, success in Australia was predicated on success in Europe, as much of the stock was imported.
Like previous consoles, the Sega Saturn was distributed by Tectoy in Brazil, and eventually adopted many of the colour schemes set out by Sega of Japan. At the launch date about 700 units were made available at the main capitals for a salty price of R$900.00, along with four titles costing between R$60.00 and R$70.00 each. Though not a commercial failure fewer Saturn games were released than Master System or Mega Drive games, with a vast number being US imports.
Curiously, the Brazilian press was unaware of the Saturn release in North America in May 1995, making all gaming magazines of the time celebrate the, supposedly, earlier release in Brazil, that happened only at the end of August of the same year.
Like Mega Drive, TecToy got license to distribute Sega products in Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay.
Other countries also seen Sega Saturn.
The Saturn was also released in South Korea by Samsung as the Samsung Saturn (삼성새턴). It was released on November 10th 1995 and initially retailed for up to ₩550,000. The Samsung Saturn was a commercial failure due to the high price and lack of available games. It led to Samsung's exit from the gaming business by February 1997. In September 1997, Kama Entertainment (카마 엔터테인먼트) released the model 2 Saturn in South Korea under the normal Sega Saturn branding (세가새턴) at a cheaper price of ₩349,000. Kama Entertainment and Wooyoung System also distributed a handful of games under the Sega Saturn branding.
Much like previous consoles, the Saturn had a patchy release across Asia. A special Saturn with VCD support was released in the Southeast Asia. Middle East, Central and North Asia like Mega Drive, got console from Europe. South and East Asia had seen patchy distribution of Saturn.
Sega Saturn went on sale in African countries where, like in Europe, it wasn't popular.
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