Once-classified documents reveal Sega’s late-1990s battle with Sony

sega of america

A huge dossier of internal Sega documents reveals the company’s fight to push the Saturn as sales of Sony’s PlayStation took off.


“We are killing Sony,” Sega boss Tom Kalinske wrote to his colleagues after visiting Japanese shops in March 1996. “In every store, Saturn hardware is sold out and there are stacks of PlayStation… How do we show that at E3?”

It’s but one revealing detail in a vast, 296-page tranche of once classified internal documents from Sega of America in the late 1990s – just as the Japanese firm had launched its Saturn console, and was facing huge competition from Sony’s PlayStation.

The PDF of documents was uploaded to SegaRetro.org, and was brought to our attention by author John Harrison, who shared a link on Twitter.

“There is so much info here that it’s almost overwhelming,”  wrote Harrison, whose book Legends of 16-Bit Game Development is out soon. “Manufacturing costs, retail margins, sales, product strategies, emails, etc.”

He’s not wrong, either. The amount of information gathered in the PDF is quite extraordinary. In it you’ll find everything from stock figures to sales strategies, and internal memoranda with lines like, “Casting of pilots is very important, let’s get younger pilots our target audience can identify with. When did we decide on Hare Krishna cult members?”

Quickly scroll through, and you’ll get a snapshot of Sega of America’s growing realisation that Sony’s PlayStation would be unbeatable – from the initial euphoria of Kalinske’s email following his visit to Akihabara stores in 1996, to lines like this one: “PlayStation continues to outsell Sega Saturn due to quality of software library and perceived price differential.”

It’s fascinating stuff, and we’ve barely scratched the surface of what’s in here. We’ll report back with more findings as we make them, but until then, you can find the PDF here if you want to see it for yourself.

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