Thoughts on the History of SEGA, Part 05


Welcome back, friends, as we continue our trek through the history of SEGA.  Last time, we went through the rise and fall of Michael Katz, who was primarily responsible, at the very least, for creating the foundation of SEGA’s popularity in America.  This week, we start looking at successors—and the beginning of the end.

Due to a perceived failure to meet a goal (that he thought was ludicrous), Michael Katz was let go.  The man who took his place was Tom Kalinske—interestingly, a man who considered himself a friend of Katz, which made this new job obviously somewhat uncomfortable.

Kalinske was selected because he had a history in toys, so he knew about getting a product onto the shelves, then into customers’ hands.  He’d been with Mattel for quite a while, and spent some time with Matchbox Toys as well, so he’d had as much experience in selling products as the board of SEGA could want.  It was almost a no-brainer that they’d try and grab him.

His recruitment is an interesting story.  According to him, he was lying on a beach in Hawaii, when then-C.E.O. of SEGA Hayao Nakayama showed up and convinced him to go to Japan and take a look at the Mega Drive/Genesis.  He liked what he saw, and went to SEGA of America.

In this corner, the returning champion...

It was still headed by Katz at the time, though Kalinske only worked with him for a short time—but those months are the source of hot debate.  Those few months saw every major component that started to propel SEGA into fame.  The “take that” advertising campaign against Nintendo, the introduction of Sonic, the collecting of celebrities to be the “faces” of SEGA’s games.  This is important to mention for one reason: Both Katz and Kalinske take complete credit.

From Kalinske: “[…] none of those were Michael Katz’s ideas.

From Katz: “They ought to study their history a little better […] and try to take credit for what they really did or didn’t do.

And in this corner, the challenger...

It’s difficult to try and pin down exactly who came up with what idea, or if one person came up with all of them, or whatever else.  However, the most important issue concerning this ongoing debate—ongoing because, to this day, no one at SEGA has laid down a clear-cut list of who did what and when—is that in this dissent, we see the hints of the future.

In the meantime, SEGA only grew and grew and grew.  By the time the S.N.E.S. was released, SEGA had crushed the TurboGrafx-16 (though with help from N.E.C. Corporation—the developers of the TurboGrafx-16; click the link for the full story, but the Reader’s Digest version is that the TurboGrafx-16’s library was slow to grow, and when it did it grew with bad titles as much as quality ones), gotten a host of third-party developers, gotten the console into Walmart—one of the staunchest hold-outs—after a wicked campaign that, basically, consisted of annoying them with seeing SEGA, Sonic, and kids playing Genesis games at every turn, and—one of my personal favorites, just for the dedication to getting the brand out there and the sheer wackiness of the idea at this point in time—created the SEGA Channel, a subscription-based cable network which was the spiritual ancestor to modern gaming console on-line stores.

In Japan, the Mega Drive was failing to live up to the example left by its American “cousin”.  This can be laid squarely at the feet of the heads of SEGA, including Nakayama.  Both Katz and Kalinske tell similar tales of being left to run SEGA of America however they want (which is how they could come up with the incredibly brazen “Genesis Does” campaign et al.), and in both versions of events, Nakayama left whichever man is doing the speaking to do whatever he wanted.  Nakayama seemingly chose to ignore the strategies employed, and for the Mega Drive, continued to do things the way they’d always been done—which didn’t work in the first place too well, but that’s really neither here nor there.

Right at this point, SEGA was pretty much on top of the world.  They’d carved a sizable chunk of gaming real estate out for themselves, and things only looked like they would get better and better.

Unfortunately, the beginning of the end was on the horizon—which we’ll get to on Monday.  Enjoy tomorrow’s Friday Flashback Five!

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