21 years ago today, Sega of America CEO Tom Kalinske dropped the bombshell at E3 that the Saturn was immediately available that day at specific retailers in North America. Yes, the Sega Saturn Released in North America just like that. This was months ahead of the originally scheduled “Saturnday,” or September 2nd.
30,000 units had been shipped to only Toys “R” Us, Babbage’s, Electronics Boutique, and Software Etc. This was a move that royally pissed off other retail outlets, something that would affect their relationship with Sega for years following the occurrence. This included major players such as Best Buy, Walmart and KB Toys; the last of which decided to completely drop support for the Saturn altogether due to the event.
The Saturn launched at $399 or $449 with the somewhat sub-par initial port of Virtua Fighter, which was a fairly high price for a console at the time. At the same E3 conference, Sony of America President Steve Race took the stage, said “$299” and essentially dropped the mic. Ouch.
The early launch also took many third-parties by surprise and gamers were greeted with slim pickings until the original release window for the Saturn.
By the end of the year, the damage of Sony’s lower price point and better launch was apparent. It’s estimated that the PlayStation sold as highly as 2:1 to the Saturn. Believe it or not, it’s thought that even the 3DO sold better that first Summer than the Saturn, it having been reduced to $299 by that time. Many consumers were just not ready to drop that kind of money on a game console back then.
Still, the North American lineup eventually improved, and the incredible support in Japan meant the Saturn eventually found it’s way into many of our hearts. Despite this rocky start, we still love the Sega Saturn.