Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Sega Saturn could have been Sega 64 or Sega PlayStation!

Reading IGN's "History of Sega", I learned something very interesting - Sega's Fifth Generation console could have used hardware that went on to be the Nintendo 64 and PlayStation. This must be ancient news to some members of the Sega community, but I had absolutely no idea!

Everyone knows the story of how Nintendo's partnership with Sony to produce a SNES CD add-on fell through. This eventually became the Sony PlayStation, but at one point it could have become the Sega PlayStation.

Sega had a good relationship with Sony, working with them on the Mega CD. After the Sony-Nintendo deal fell through, Sega had a go at taking their place. Former Sega of America President, Tom Kalinske, explains:
"We got together with [Sony] and defined what we'd like to see in our next hardware. We had this great idea that it should be a joint SEGA-Sony hardware system. If we had to take a loss on the hardware (which was the norm then), we'd split the loss on the hardware, but we wouldn't split software, so any software they did, they'd get 100% of the profits, and any software we did, we'd get 100% of the profits. It seemed like a fair deal since we were eons ahead of them in terms of software development.

"So we go to Japan, and Sony management liked the idea. Then we went to SEGA, and Nakayama hated the idea. [laughs] So that was the end of that, and the rest is history once again. Those were the specs that became the PlayStation."
Even before Sega's plans with Sony, they had meetings with Silicon Graphics, who went on to produce the Nintendo 64.
"We went down the road to Silicon Graphics and met with [SGI founder] Jim Clark. They had bought MIPS Technologies, and they were developing a chipset for use in a game machine. We liked it, so we called up the Japanese guys to come take a look at it. The hardware guys came over, and they really pooh-poohed the whole effort. The chip was too big; there would be too much waste; lots of objections from a technical standpoint. It was upsetting to us, because we thought it was better in terms of speed, graphics, and audio.

"So after we had this meeting, I had to report back to Jim Clark, who was then Chairman of Silicon Graphics and tell him that SEGA wasn't going to be buying, and he asked, 'Well, what should I do now?' and I said, 'Well, there's this other game company up in the Seattle area. I think their name starts with an N.' And of course, he did. He went up there and sold it to them, and that, of course, became the foundation for the Nintendo 64."
So, Sega turned down hardware for two consoles that would eventually beat their own Saturn. How would the games industry have turned out if Sega had marketed the PlayStation? There are so many things that happened to Sega in the mid-'90s that could have changed their future, this being another thing to add to the list.

IGN's article is very interesting, but there is some false information that they state persistently - Yu Suzuki has not left Sega! He has in fact moved departments a few times over the years, giving the impression that he has left. But remember, you can't spell ignorant without...

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