Xbox One does a great impression of the Sega Saturn
Sony turned back the clock this past E3 and made everything look as easy for them as it was in the late 90’s. Microsoft stumbled at nearly every turn, offering inconsistent and incoherent messaging about the Xbox One. Weeks later they flip flopped on the anti-consumer policies they campaigned so hard for. I’m happy they decided to reverse these policies but it feels just like Sega’s immense flip flopping during the 90’s.
I know the popular thing to do nowadays is compare Nintendo’s Wii U console to the Sega Dreamcast because both had screened controllers and both experienced slow sales. I’ve always thought that was a dumb comparison for many reasons that I won’t go into right now.
There is one major Sega console comparison that can be made though. Microsoft opened the time machine, set the date to 1994/1995 and acted like they were releasing the Sega Saturn. Why you ask? Because Microsoft let the entire industry decided what their new console would be like with a strong focus on what Sony is doing with the PS4. They will try to tell you that Sony’s PS4 had nothing to do with their decision to reverse their used game DRM policy but I think we all know it played some role in it. Just like how Sega would have tried to tell you in 1994/1995 that they didn’t complicate the Saturn’s hardware because they felt pressure from the PS1’s 3D capabilities. While I’m grateful Microsoft didn’t stick to their original vision of anti-consumer policies it isn’t easy to see a company of hard working individuals say, “Oh sorry our bad! We totally worked hard on these policies for years but its okay we’ll just throw years worth of work away!”.
Don’t forget that the Saturn had a bad reputation as flawed, under powered hardware. We now know that the Saturn and PS1 were closer in terms of power than people thought in 1995 but this reputation for being less powerful at double the price never left the Saturn 95-98. While the Xbox One is certainly a powerful console, the fact that a lot of RAM is used by the OS (rumored to be up to 3GB RAM) and because it is DDR3 makes people think the console is less powerful than the PS4.
If people think your console is less powerful, that’s fine if you console is cheaper than everyone else. But selling a console with less horsepower and slower RAM at $100 more isn’t going to be easy. It was impossible for Sega during the 90’s and it remains to be seen if Microsoft’s marketing muscle can do what Sega couldn’t: Convince consumers to buy a less powerful device with more caveats at a higher price than the competition.
Compare this to Sega in 1994. They were developing the Saturn to be an awesome 2D gaming machine when Sony revealed how much more powerful the Playstation would be. Sega’s executives quickly panicked and decided to make the Saturn an overly complicated 3D capable machine. That is an example of Sega letting Sony make their decisions for them. This was a huge error as Sega, for whatever reason didn’t foresee the consumer’s demand for 3D games even though it was staring them in the face.
Because Sega didn’t see the rise of 3D games coming, they had to over-complicate the Saturn’s hardware. I’ll never understand how Sega’s executives really thought the masses didn’t want 3D games until Sony revealed the Playstation and all the horsepower it possessed.
Microsoft found themselves in a similar situation. Despite rumors of their console having anti-used game policies and 24-hour check-ins they didn’t see a backlash like this coming. How they couldn’t have predicted that and changed course months before the Xbox One reveal is mind blowing.
Microsoft really believed, even after the May 21st Xbox One reveal, that consumers wanted their vision of the future. It took immense backlash to change their minds as they saw Sony bask in the glory of not making the same mistakes they did. Sony simply gave fans what they wanted: More powerful hardware at a great price, with few restrictions.
Sega approached the Saturn in the same way leading up to the Playstation’s reveal in May 1994. They thought fans wanted a console with great 2D games and endless add-on accessories. Then Sony shook the gaming world with the Playstation reveal and no one could stop talking about how it was going to change gaming with 3D environments, characters, etc. How Sega was caught flat footed in this I’ll never understand.
Hopefully Microsoft can recover better than Sega did back in 1995. Another parallel is that the Xbox One is $100 more than its competition, like how the Saturn cost $399 while the PS1 was much cheaper. Will Microsoft ever be able to price the Xbox One lower than the PS4, considering one ships with an expensive camera accessory and the other doesn’t?
Time will tell how badly the Xbox One’s first few weeks in the public eye hurt the Xbox brand. Microsoft has a lot of money and has experience recovering from things consumers hated, Windows Vista for example. The similarities between the Xbox One’s botched reveal and Sega’s many mistakes in the 90’s are popping up left and right, a trend I’m sure Microsoft hopes to end soon.