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Short: The Death of Sega

Short: The Death of Sega

Mon, 17 Apr 2023 21:17

Sega and the Genesis was THE underdog story of the early 90’s. In a single console generation, Sega went from ~zero to 50% US market share and dethroned Nintendo’s seemingly invincible global monopoly. But — somehow — it all then died. Two console generations later Sega was out of the hardware game entirely, and the company was sold off for pieces to a pachinko manufacturer. How on earth did this happen??

Today we’re launching Acquired Shorts in order to tell this story and others like it: side tales from the “Acquired Cinematic Universe” that are too brief for a full episode, but too good to leave in the vault. We’d love to hear your thoughts on the format (and this episode). Please send us your feedback in Slack, email or Twitter!

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Okay, let's hear your best Sega screaming pressure. Sega! Is the emphasis more on this set? Sega! They talk about it in console wars. Yeah, the voice actor. And he was sick. I think he had thrown up earlier in the day and he was just in such a bad physical and mental state that he could do this insane scream. It was perfect. The cost you pay for great art. Who got the truth? Is it you? Is it you? Welcome to this episode of Acquired, the podcast about great technology companies and the stories and playbooks behind them. I'm Ben Gilbert. I'm David Risenthal. And we are your hosts. Today we have for you our first acquired short. There are some stories that deserve three or more hours to chronicle the entire company history start to finish. But there are also some stories, or perhaps chapters of stories, that can be told in an hour or so. Now in Nintendo part 2, I asked David a question. How exactly did Sega manage to go from having over half the video game console market in the US with the Sega Genesis to abandoning the console business entirely after Dreamcast in a few short years? And David, you gave us a quick short answer, but we were both sort of looking at each other afterwards thinking there is so much more to this story. It really does deserve its own episode. And frankly, it's a nice opportunity for us here at Acquired to take a look at a company that didn't become hugely successful and what the lessons we can learn from that one are. So we bring you today the death of Sega. This could be really fun, experiment, we get to tell this story right. Lessoners, let us know if you like this and we might do more of them. Yep. Let us know in the slack slash slack. It is the best place to discuss episodes after we release them. Tons of folks joined after the Nintendo episodes. There's a lot of great video game discussion right now. Check out ACQ2, our second show with interviews. The most recent interview is with David Xu, the founder and CEO of Retool. And with that, this show is not investment advice. David and I may have investments in the companies we discuss and this show is for informational and entertainment purposes only. We could technically still invest in Sega today. Sega Sammy Holdings. Not quite sure we'd want to, but let's get into it. Spoilers. So we start our story in round, call it 1992, 1993. Sega and its Genesis, as it was known in North America, has battled Nintendo and the Super NES to basically a tie in the US home console market, which really in practice, if you go listen to our Nintendo series, was beating the pants off of Nintendo. Like Sega had no right to get to 50%, maybe even 50% plus market share, given how far behind they came from. Imagine you're a startup and you're fighting some big incumbent. And within three years, you get to a basically 50, 50 market share. It's totally nuts. The Genesis, I mean, it was the cool console in the 90s. It had Sonic. They've got John Madden football. They've got great sports franchises. They've got the Mortal Kombat version with the blood. Oh, the real red blood, not the Nintendo toned down gray blood. And they have about a 30 million total unit install base of the Sega Genesis around the world, the vast majority of which about 20 million is in the United States. Yeah. And this is basically the best video game consoles we're doing at the time. Years later, the PlayStation 2 with 150 million, but no one was doing 100 million plus unit sold game systems at this point in history. So 30 million, rock solid, huge player in the market. A great base to build on. Yes. Also, at this time, in Call it 1992, 1993, it has become clear that compact discs are the future, not just for the video game industry, but for everything. CD album sales and CD players are on their meteoric rise at this point. It is a huge driver of business for companies like Sony in the personal computer industry, bringing to the gaming industry, CD ROM drives are now becoming standard in PCs. This is how software is shipping. This is how games are shipping in the PC industry. And the trade off with games is of course, a cartridge doesn't really require loading time. The CD, while it has a ton more storage, does have trade offs where it needs to load stuff onto the machine. Yeah. And there's one other really big advantage of the CD medium for the business side of the industry, which is that CDs are much lower cost to produce than cartridges. Cargages, you got to like put silicon in there. They have chips. CDs are just optical discs. You can stamp these out for a 10th, a hundredth of the cost of a cartridge. Penies. So it's obvious that the home video game console industry is also going to move to the CD medium as its primary distribution technology going forward. And the way right now that people in the industry are thinking that this great migration is going to happen is not via new consoles, but via add-on peripherals to existing consoles. Looking back now, this was obviously a very, very poor path, an evolutionary branch of the gaming tree that mercifully died off. But at the time, everybody seemed to be doing it. Our other consoles like Atari's Jaguar console came out with a CD-ROM add-on, the NAC PC Engine in Japan in the US. It was called the TurboGraphics console that came out with a CD add-on. And of course, famously, Nintendo is working on a major partnership that they've announced that everybody knows about with none other than Sony to make a CD-ROM add-on for the Super Nintendo that would be known as the Play Space Station, the Sony Play Station add-on to the Super Nintendo. We'll come back to that in a little bit that doesn't go as planned. This is now our third episode in addition to Sony and Nintendo where we've talked about this. So, of course, back to Sega, they are working on a CD-ROM add-on too for the Genesis. And just like with the Genesis, they had beaten Nintendo and the Super Nintendo to market with the first 16-bit console. They want to make sure that they beat Nintendo and Sony to market with the first CD-ROM add-on. So in late 1992, they launched the Sega CD add-on for the Genesis in North America. It comes out with this game called Night Trap, which is a full-motion video game that uses like, it's basically a playable movie. It's a really crappy game. People think that this is the future that CD-ROM technology is going to enable. It's like a zombie slash, like a teen horror flick that you basically play as a video game. This is one of the games that gets Congress all spun out about. Video games are corrupting the youth and leads to the creation of the entertainment software, ratings board, the video game industry version of movie ratings that comes out. Rager D for everyone. Yeah, exactly. So funny, go back and look at this stuff today and you're like, yeah, compared to Call of Duty, you're like, this is nothing. Seriously. Grand theft auto. Yep. But ultimately, despite all this hand-ringing over these games and everything coming out with these CD add-ons, there is a fundamental problem with what Sega is doing here. And that is that add-on technology for consoles is never really a good idea. Because the business model of the video game console industry, it's a razor-and-blades model. And the way that video game companies like Sega, like Nintendo, like Sony in a minute, make all of their profits is from the software sales, not from hardware sales. And so you want to have as big of an install base of consoles as possible to amortize the software sales across. So when you're selling an add-on console, you are limiting the target market to the 30 million people that already own a Genesis. It will be smaller by definition than the market base that you've already created. And this creates a huge problem because then developers don't want to make their best games for a limited install base of consoles. Consumers don't want to go buy a platform that's only going to have a very limited number of good games and it quickly becomes a death spiral. So the Sega CD sales, despite starting off relatively strong, stall out quickly. Sega only sells about 3 million Sega CD units versus the 30 million plus Genesis units that they've sold. This is a flop for them. Now Nintendo, by either luck or skill or maybe just being slow in Nintendo, they never actually come out with the CD add-on for the Super Nintendo and the Sony partnership falls apart. So they kind of avoid this disaster that Sega stumbles into. But after the Sony partnership fell apart, didn't they form a new partnership with Philips to create the Nintendo CD thing? They did. But that delayed everything enough that everybody kind of realized that this was a bad idea and Nintendo basically also abandoned that project and let Philips come out with their own console. I think it was called the CDI. Nobody supported it. It sucked. You know, you know, the Super Nintendo ecosystem. Okay. So what does Sega do after the Sega Genesis CD add-on is abandoned? Well, you would think just like Nintendo sort of did here, you would learn your lesson. Console add-ons are a bad idea. You've got all these problems with it. It's a limited market. You cut your losses. You move on. You just embrace the next generation. That's the logical thing to do here, right? Yep. That is not what Sega does. They decide that they're going to follow up their failed console add-on with another failed console add-on. That's right. The infamous and infamously terrible 32X, which launches in the fall of 1994. This is another hardware add-on for the Sega Genesis system. You plug into the top of the console and it adds a 32-bit processor to the Genesis. And it works sort of like the same way a game genie worked, right? You put it in where your game cartridges go and then that way when you put your actual game cartridge on top, it sort of stacked like a tower. Yes, exactly. This whole thing is so hair-brand. I think it added more colors, maybe to existing Genesis games, but then it also had its own 32X games that you bought separately for it. This thing was just an unmitigated disaster. One of the worst video game industry decisions of all time. Huh. Okay. Yeah, so the 32X sells less than 1 million units total. And in the meantime, almost immediately thereafter, Sega also rushes out a separate brand new native 32-bit system to market called the Saturn. What a nightmare. This makes no sense what's going on here. The story goes that all of this was basically a decision handed down from Sega in Japan. They order Tom Kalinsky, the CEO of Sega of America, to launch the Saturn. Sega of America doesn't really want to do this, but they don't have a choice. So they spin up their patented brilliant Sega marketing launch playbook for the Saturn. They announce to America that September 2nd, 1995 is going to be Saturn Day. It is Saturn Day, September 2nd. And the Sega Saturn is going to launch on that day. But then at E3 in May of 1995, they shock the world. Tom Kalinsky comes out on stage for the Sega keynote and says, actually, I know we told all of you that we were going to launch in September. Well, surprise, we're launching today. The Sega Saturn is coming out right now. The press, the industry, the developers here, they're all like, what? It's like exciting, but confusing. This makes no sense. There's no Sonic game ready. There's no third-party games at all. The retailers aren't prepped. They don't know to expect this. There's been no marketing. None of the groundwork has been laid. In fact, everybody thinks this thing is coming out in September. It's really weird because it's like everyone's sort of recent hero, the David versus the Goliath of Nintendo, seems like they should be firing on El cylinders. But you have the market confusion with the 32X and the Sega Saturn. And now Sega Saturn's sooner, what the heck's going on? Right. On top of this maybe forgivable Sega CD thing that happened a year or two before, this whole thing is just weird. So on the back of this, the Saturn flops, it sells just over 9 million units compared to the Genesis, which sold 30 million units. And if you read the book, Consul Wars, by Blake Harris, he spends a lot of time with Tom Kalinsky, the CEO of Sega of America, and interviews him. Tom and the other folks who were at Sega of America this time, like, they're somewhat diplomatic, but they just kind of lambast the Japanese management of Sega at this point in time. They say that they had Sega of America fought against all of these decisions, that the Japanese parent company was jealous of Sega of America's success with the Genesis. Because the Genesis sold really well in America, didn't sell as well in Japan. No, all of the Genesis's success was in America, Europe, and South America. It basically did nothing in Japan. And in Consul Wars, the author draws this great analogy of Japan as the parent and America's the child. So shouldn't the parent be proud of the child's success? But in reality, the way that it actually was going on is that Japan and America were sort of sibling markets. And the parent's favorite child used to be Japan. And as the parent showed more favoritism toward America, the Japan leadership sort of retaliated and found ways to kick and scream. It's a, hey, you need to pay more attention to me. Yep. And Sega, at this point, of course, is a Japanese company. And the board is Japanese. And at the end of the day, Japan wins here. So Tom and most of the rest of the team at Sega of America, they get super frustrated. They end up just leaving the company, including Steve Reiss, who masterminded the whole aggressive marketing strategy behind the Genesis, you know, the Sega screen, the welcome to the next level. So it goes to work for Sony to launch the PlayStation. Oh, yes, we'll talk much more about that in one minute. So Sega of Japan is kind of running the ship now at this point in time. They decide after a couple of years to give up on the Saturn, they launch another new internally developed console, the Dreamcast. The Dreamcast actually had some real innovations to it, like it was the first true online console that shipped with Internet connectivity built in. It had the little slide out hand-held thing that was like a little game boy that popped out of the controller. That was super cool. Oh, yeah, the VMU, that thing was cool. And a bunch of the design philosophy made a lot of sense. They were using commodity components instead of a special silicon for it. Yep. But unfortunately, it launches against the PlayStation 2, which goes on to become the best selling console of all time and completely trounces it. So the Dreamcast sells even fewer units than the Saturn. And it's really sad after just two and a half years on the market, Sega ends up discontinuing the Dreamcast, announcing that they're getting out of the hardware business entirely. They're going to go to just being a video game developer and publisher on other platforms, on PlayStation, on the Xbox, etc. The company really just becomes a shadow of its former self. It limps along. And then finally, after a couple of years from kind of 2001, 2002 into 2003 of Sega just making games for other platforms, the company gets sold off to another Japanese public company, company called Sammy, that was a manufacturer of Pacinco machines, which is kind of like the Japanese equivalent of pinball machines. It's this sort of sad ending with a whimper for this one's legendary Sega scream company. Right. You've got the exodus of all the talent. You're sort of still scratching your head a little bit about how it all fell apart so fast. You know, I started digging into why and how and what were the corporate transactions that actually happened around here. And David, I feel like there's more to this story because I pulled up pitch book to look. There are a lot more transactions around this company than you've sort of mentioned so far. Oh, are there? There are. If only there were a podcast that went and did really deep research on what actually happened here. Yeah. Well, while we're talking about pitch book, this is a great time to thank them as our sponsor for this episode. And I'm going to keep this segment very short and sweet this time because you will be able to get a sense of all the great info in pitch book as a source for this episode as we go through it later on. And pitch book is of course the platform you can log into and get great access to an insane amount of private and public company data like what companies raised money and when it what prices and number of employees in the board composition. Basically every VC in PE firm, I know has a pitch book account and it's essentially a competitive disadvantage at this point. If you don't have one, if you want to sign up for pitch book, you can go to slash acquired. Just tell them that you heard about them from Ben and David at acquired and are thanks to pitch book for powering many of the insights and stats throughout this episode. So David, feels like there's so big things missing from the story. Yeah, you like that little story that I just told you, right? It almost feels high gloss apocryphal and if you really stare at it, you're like, I'm not satisfied. That can't be right. This is insufficient. Everything you say is exactly correct. The funny thing is though that like listeners for you all listening, I bet most of you, if you knew any version of the story of the death of Sega, what we just told was the version you probably know. But while it's not wrong, it's only one version of the story and the other version is both way more charitable to Sega, the parent company in Japan. And also I think way more interesting in terms of like lessons we can take from it. So let's tell it. If you go listen to our two part Nintendo saga, we talked quite a bit about Sega along the way. And especially in our first Nintendo episode, when we talked about Sega, we talked about them as this arcade company. And that's actually what Sega was. The home console business, the Genesis, the master system before it. These were like side project offshoots from what was otherwise an enormous and very successful arcade business based back in Japan. Totally. It started as service games back in the like 40s, 50s, this merger of arcade game makers and arcade distributors. You even had this story that you were telling. I think we actually cut this from the Nintendo episode for time. But on Parascope, the Sega, very innovative Sega game, they standardized the unit of the quarter as what you pay for an arcade video game session. Yeah, the arcade industry, it's lost to history now because basically doesn't exist anymore. But it was bigger than the home console industry and nobody was bigger in the arcade industry than Sega. They were the OGs. They literally standardized the quarter as you said. Now that game, Parascope, came out in the 60s. This is before video games. This is what was called an electro mechanical game. So there were like mechanical elements to this cabinet of submarines and ships that moved around. They were like plastic and cardboard. And then you fired a gun that had like torpedoes that traveled on a light bulb path to hit the ships. That goes pretty cool. But it became so successful. Sega actually gets acquired in 1969. Yeah, I was shocked to see this in Pittsburgh. I scrolled all the way down like I normally do when I'm looking at like private companies who raise money to see who their seed investors were. And the first transaction for Sega is from 1969. Yes. The company that acquires them is Gulf and Western, which is a big oil company. Oh, yeah. The US, so like what the hell is going on here? Well, turns out at the time, Gulf and Western also owned Paramount Pictures, the movie studio. Oh, I've always seen that at the little like, I don't think you see it anymore, but the little title screen. Yeah. When the movie is starting. Yep. So they acquire Sega and merge it into Paramount. The operations stay separate and the like boards of Sega and Paramount stay separate. But within Gulf and Western, Sega is part of the Paramount Empire so much so that they take their two most talented Paramount executives and they put them on the internal Sega board. We think Gulf and Western, do you know who those two people are? No. Michael Eisner and Barry Diller. What? Right. I had no idea. So Michael Eisner and Barry Diller are like key parts of the Sega history. And all of this, all we're talking about. This is before Atari. This is before there is a home console business. This is before there's a video game business period. This is how important Sega is in our case. Twenty years before Michael Eisner becomes the CEO of Disney and long before Barry Diller dreams up interactive corp. Yep. This is in the 1970s. So we also talked on the Nintendo series about how Atari got acquired by Warner Brothers and this was a crazy like Atari. This video game company becomes part of this movie studio and then it becomes the biggest part of this movie studio. Warner Brothers was just copying Paramount and what they did with Sega. Isn't that so funny? Wild. So part of the strategy that Sega adopts during this time, they're like a truly international company because the arcade business was a truly international business. They're thriving in the US. They're thriving in Japan. They're thriving in Europe all over the world. They start not only building and creating these games, these arcade cabinets, they start building out their own arcade centers that they operate. They're like, we're going to make money every which way in this industry. So they're called family fund centers in Japan and Sega centers in the US. The Sega centers in the US change hands a few times go on to get rebranded. Sega always stays involved. These become time out arcades, which is one of the biggest chain of arcades in the US. Whoa. Okay. So Sega's got hundreds of these arcades that they are just printing cash out of because they're making money from selling the cabinets to their own arcades and other arcades. And then the arcades themselves are like hugely profitable businesses. Yeah. I mean, there's a lot of arcades that when you look at the side of them, have a gigantic Sega logo plastered over it. I mean, clearly a company focused not just on home consoles, but like making games. Yeah. When you say a company focused not just on home consoles, from the parent company's perspective, they'd rather not focus on home consoles at all. So now you can start to see another perspective on things here. In 1981, Sega publishes the game Frogger that Konami had made, but Sega published it. They made hundreds of millions of dollars on that thing. In 1983, right before the home video game console crash led by Atari, they do 214 million in revenue. Sega does as a division within kind of Paramount. And when the video game crash happens at the end of that year, Paramount, just like Warner Brothers and Atari, they won out of the business. So they wanted to invest Sega. And one of the original founders from back in the day, guy named David Rosen, and a Japanese entrepreneur of a company Sega had acquired named Hayao Nakayama. They engineer a management buyout of Sega for the grand total price. I don't know if this is in pitch book of $38 million dollars. This is the steal of the century. Yes, actually, there's a transaction in 1984. Looks like the investor name is CSK Holdings. Yes, that's it. So CSK Holdings was a public Japanese company that Rosen and Nakayama knew the management of. They financed this buyout. They were like the P shop. They were the sponsor of this transaction. Oh, interesting. And this is how Sega becomes an actual Japanese company, even though they were started by Americans to serve military bases back in the day. Right. Okay, so holy bought out by Gulf and Western, then holy spun out. Yes, they bought the whole thing for only $38 million dollars. Like this is ridiculous. This company, which is legendary in the arcade industry, did $214 million dollars in the year ended six months before this. Why did they value it so little? This is the thing because of the home video game crash in America. Video games in general just became this toxic asset that nobody wanted to own, especially you know, Paramount and Warner Brothers was divesting Atari. So the arcade business got hit by the crash, but it actually was fine. And so this was just an amazing deal. Management bought the dip because they knew that they weren't actually really affected by this. Boy did they ever. So then I think that was in 1984. They would go on to take it public. I think in 1988 on the Tokyo Stock Exchange. So now it's a publicly traded company. Yep. That makes sense because pretty quickly after the buyout, Sega gets back to their old tricks and they're crushing it. They're pumping out smash arcade hits like outrun. People might have heard of very famous racing game, Shinobi afterburner, altered beast to it was a kind of beat them up brawler that we talked about on the Nintendo episodes. That was the original packing game before Sonic with the Genesis. So they're back to making hundreds of millions of dollars in their arcade business, both making the games and operating them in their own arcade centers. Nakayama, who was one of the two guys involved in the buyout. And Nakayama and Rosen had to get hugely wealthy from this because of how unbelievably little they paid for the equity that by the time they IPO'd it would have been very valuable. Yes. I don't know the details, but I'm sure they did. Nakayama, he starts pushing the company. He gets worried about what Nintendo is doing and what he sees with the NES. And he says we should also enter the home console business. It's like a diversification bet. Exactly. Rosen, CSK, the rest of the board. They're not that supportive because they're like doing great in our kids. I don't really care that much, but sure, if you care about this, go do this. And that's when Nakayama goes and he recruits Tom Kalinsky to come in and run North America. It's kind of like a surprising success to everyone, the Genesis in North America. There's the scene that we talked about in Nintendo Part 2 where Tom comes over and presents his four point plan for dethroning Nintendo to the board in Japan. And the Japanese board is like, I don't know, I don't really like this. Now it all makes sense. They're not dumb. They're just like, why would we risk pouring all this capital into the home console business when we're killing it in the arcades? And on the one hand, it's an innovator's dilemma. On the other hand, I have to imagine arcades stay a very good cash flow business for a long time. It's not like that was actually going away. Well, let's get into it. So Nintendo and the NES and the Super NES and the home console business turned out was never really a threat to the arcade business because the way arcade technology and hardware worked was very different than the console cycle and the types of games were different. In the arcades, it was all iterative. It was constant iteration. Every game that came out was its own proprietary hardware cabinet and they were based on designs are called boards. There are arcade boards, but you could tweak it each time. You think about what Sega is pushing with all their add-ons to the home console? Of course, that would make sense to them. That's the way their R&D team worked. They'd have like a core base, you know, call it the system 16, which was Sega's kind of base 16-bit arcade platform that they based the Genesis on. Yeah, all these games I was just talking about, Shinobi, Outrun, etc. They ran on that, but each new game, like they tweaked the hardware a little bit. It was iterative. So they didn't actually have to think about we need to create a standard platform for developers to target for the next five years because every cabinet was its own self-contained system. So it's not really in their DNA to like do a once every five plus year. This is the standard thing. We promise not to change it, and we will create a bedrock platform for you developers. That's not really a thing. Yes. And so that means a couple of things for the market that keep the arcade market not just viable, but thriving. The arcades are where the most technologically advanced games are during this era because the hardware cycle is so iterative. The home systems, even the NES, as amazingly groundbreaking as it was, because the console cycles have to be designed to last so long, that's not where the latest cutting-edge stuff is. And so those games, the Nintendo games that they're making, the way Sega counter-positioned against them with the Genesis, they're slow, they're not exciting, but that's what home console games became. They became these long adventures, these fantasy lands, very different thing than you would do in the arcades. Makes sense. So coming out of this era and then into the early and mid-90s, Sega's arcade unit is just killing it. They'd had those hits in the 80s, everybody got super wealthy, and then they start really pushing the envelope on technology. There was a ton of innovation coming out of Sega. They developed the first real modern, great 3D games. We all think now of Super Mario 64 as being the first 3D video game that consumers used in love actually years before Sega put out the Virtua series in the arcades. So this was Virtua Racing, Virtua Cop, and most importantly, Virtua Fighter. Now, this game, Virtua Fighter, which was a fighting game, it used 3D polygonal technology. If you think back to 16-bit Super Nintendo games, they're flat, they're 2D. 3D games like Think Mario 64, you're running around in a 3D world. All of the environments and characters are built using polygonal math. We talked about this a lot on the Nvidia episode. Right. Triangles. Triangles. This is new. Sega is the one that actually brought really good games to market with this, and it was all in the arcades. So Virtua Fighter, when it comes out in 1993, is so popular, Sega sells over 40,000 Virtua Fighter cabinets worldwide at a price of like $10,000 plus per cabinet. That's half a billion dollars in revenue on Virtua Fighter. Wow. So it's a huge win financially for the company. Even more so though, it's so impactful in the video game industry once Virtua Fighter comes out. So you realize, hey, 3D polygonal games are the future. And what year was this? This was 1993, right as Ken Kuduragi and the team over at Sony are working on their standalone PlayStation. They've broken up with Nintendo. They're going to come to market with their own console. And this is pivotal. So I want to read now from the Wikipedia page for the PlayStation 1 console. After Sony witnessed the success of Sega's Virtua Fighter in 1993, in Japanese arcades, the direction of the PlayStation became, quote, instantly clear, and 3D polygon graphics became the console's primary focus. Sony Computer Entertainment President expressed gratitude for Sega's timely release of Virtua Fighter as it proved, quote, just at the right time that making games with 3D imagery was possible and that this was the direction the PlayStation should focus. So the impact of this is huge. Arcades remained viable through the 90s because they had the technological edge. But now Sony is going to come enter the market and they don't care about arcades. They're going to bring their technology and financial firepower all to the home market. And their goal now is to make a machine that can rival the arcade technology in the home market. And they have the balance sheet to subsidize it. So they can take a strategy of coming into the home with very, very good technology at a price point that consumers could afford. Yep. So here we are now. And in 1993 into 1994, Sony has announced that they're coming out with the PlayStation. They're all in on entering the video game market. They start going around and talking to all of the non-Sega arcade manufacturers, Namco, Midway in the US, Konami, and they start convincing them to bring all of their new arcade games directly to the PlayStation. And if first comes out in the end of 1994 in Japan and in 1995 in the US, it's an arcade killer. That's what it is billed as. It becomes so much more than that over time. It's grand theft auto, it's Final Fantasy, it's all that. But in the beginning, the vision for the PlayStation was we're going to take the technological firepower of the arcades and we're going to bring that in a way that Nintendo can't and Sega won't into the home market. And of course all the other arcade manufacturers love this strategy. Right. We can benefit from writing the Sony platform into the living room, but Sega is going to get caught in the wind here. Because they have a home console that's making it so that they can't go aligned with another home console. Namco doesn't have a home console, Konami doesn't have a home console, Midway doesn't have a home console. So before the PlayStation launched, the arcade industry was back up to about $7 billion a year globally and a huge portion of that was controlled by Sega. After the PlayStation launches, by the end of the decade, it's down to $2 billion. So it drops by 60% in just a few short years and it's all due to the PlayStation. So the PlayStation basically killed Sega's arcade business and their console business. Yep. That's what happened. Wow. So now let's go look at this kind of original console wars book type narrative about what happened. We have a whole different perspective now. All this crazy hardware, schizophrenic add-ons, these are like panic responses to the coming tsunami of Sony, not just worrying about the home market, but worried about their arcade dominance as well. And I have to imagine at some point, Sega of Japan lost their desire to make a great competitive home console because that was the thing that was preventing them from being able to be in business with Sony. Now, it doesn't mean that they're going to stop making consoles right away, but it does sort of plant this seed of, huh, we have a little bit of a strategy conflict here where we either have to be all in and winning in consoles or we just need to make games. Yes. But we can't really be on a seesaw kind of trying to do both and have a foot in both worlds. So here's what happens. In September 1994, right before this crazy 32X thing comes out, Sony and Namco, when now Namco was Sega's biggest rival in the arcade business, they come out with a pretty huge industry changing announcement. They're going to partner together to release a quote unquote, virtual fighter killer arcade game called Tekken. Folks might recognize the Tekken series. Well, no idea. Tekken is so much more than Tekken. The game is going to come to the PlayStation when it launches. It's not out yet, but yeah, like great. Okay, we all remember Tekken. You played on the PlayStation and I think it was an exclusive, et cetera. But it's also coming out right now in September 1994 in the arcades. And in fact, it's going to be running on Namco's awesome new System 11 arcade board platform that they have developed together with Sony. And guess what? Further surprise, this System 11 arcade board developed with Sony is the PlayStation. Whoa. So this is just the ultimate knife in Sega's back. They're just basically shipping PlayStation inside of these arcade cabinets. Yeah, it was the PlayStation hardware. Like there was some buffs to it and whatnot. Yeah. Namco and now for the soon all the other arcade guys, they're going to be like, oh, great. We're moving all of our development platform for the arcade industry to the PlayStation platform. The technological bleeding edge is now going to be, yeah, also in the arcades powered by the PlayStation, but in the home powered by the arcade. We're at the PlayStation. Wow. What a Trojan horse. So now Sega is like, oh shoot. We are screwed. We need to scramble the jets and just do anything we can to try and stave off this apocalypse. So they launched the 32X. Seems really dumb, but they got to do something like, okay, we need to get into market right now with a 32-bit system to just try and preempt Sony here in the PlayStation launch. Then they massively accelerate the Saturn launch. Why did they do that? The same thing. They're just trying to do anything they can think of to steal some of Sony's thunder here. Yeah. Makes sense. The barbarian is already through the gates on the arcade side of the business because Namco's shipping these system 11 arcade cabinets today and it's right at the gates coming next year with the PlayStation. It's funny how much in our Nintendo episode the conflict was Sega versus Nintendo, but the death of Sega really is against Sony. Yes. So that brings us to the very famous E3 conference in May of 1995. This is maybe the most incredible video game industry event of all time. We referenced it earlier in the show, but we're heading into the conference. Sony is expected to announce the US release date and pricing of the PlayStation at this conference. People expect it's going to be in the fall. You know, kind of know what's going to happen. Sega, they need to do something. And so this is when Sega of Japan tells Kalinsky and Sega of America, do the surprise launch. Get up there, announce the Saturn, just do it. Even though the ecosystem isn't ready, the hardware is ready, so we're shipping it. We're shipping it. So Tom does that. He do to fleet goes up. He announces, oh, forget Saturn day. You can buy the console now. It's in limited quantities. It select retailers for a price of $399. And he's basically doing this because Japan has said either you are doing this or we will find a new CEO for Sega of America who can do this. Yes. $999. That is the Sega Saturn price point available today, May 11, 1995. So Kalinsky finishes his speech. He walks off stage. They usher everybody out of the room. They turn it over. They get ready for the next keynote of the day, which is going to be Sony. Sony keynote starts a couple hours later. Olaf Olivesen, who's the president and head of all of Sony America, so like not just the PlayStation, all of Sony's businesses. He gets on stage. He starts giving his presentation. He says that the PlayStation will release in the US on September 9, 1995. So Sega is like, fuh, great. They're not moving it up. We're going to beat them to the punch. We're live today. We got a four-month head start. Let's go. And then Olaf invites the new head of Sony computer entertainment America, one Steve race, formerly of Sega of America, up to the podium to give a quote-unquote brief presentation. He walks slowly up to the podium. He's got a large stack of notes. He places them down on the lectern. He shuffles them around. He waits a beat. He's ready to give his big speech. He looks up. He looks at the audience. And he says, $2.99. And then he picks up his notes and he locks off stage. And this is, I think, most people in the industry, I think, would agree that this is the greatest moment in all of video game industry history. Right. Of industry announcement type things. Yes. All right. So that's Sony PlayStation 1, $2.99. For, by far, the most sophisticated system on the market. We will link to the video of this in the show notes. It's on YouTube. I mean, people still watch this to this day. The reaction is amazing. At first, there's silence because people are like, what did he just say? What does this mean? What's going on? And then the crowd starts cheering. And then you can hear after about like 20 seconds or so when this really sinks in of what this means, people go nuts. There's like another wave of cheering. It's unbelievable. It's like that last wave is all the developers realizing, oh my God, we are going to print money because there's going to be so many people buying this thing. This exact moment in the afternoon of May 11, 1995 is the death of Sega. Because let's go back and think about the three key constituencies in the video game, home console business kind of flywheel. You've got the consumers. Why on earth would any consumer go buy a Sega Saturn today on May 11 on its launch day that has no Sonic game has only six games total and it costs 399 when you now know that the PlayStation, which is far superior, is going to come out just four months later. They're going to have perfect ports of all the latest and greatest arcade technology video games and it's going to cost less. Wow. You're not going to buy a set. So that's the consumers. In the retailers, the retailers are so mad at Sega. Sega just completely ruined all of their holiday season planning because for retailers, Q4 is everything and why are these consoles launching in the fall in the US so that it can be ready for the holidays. Sega just screwed all this up. And now more importantly, they've got units on trucks on route to their stores that they know they're not going to be able to sell now. So they are so mad at Sega. I think it was KB toys, which then was a big franchise in America. They drop Sega entirely. They're like, we're not carrying your stuff anymore. Goodbye. You're gone. And then you've got the most important piece, the developers, all the third party developers who are sitting there at E3 watching these keynotes. They're like, wow, we're going to make a ton of money on Sony and Saturn has no chance of building a meaningful install base. So like, if I was planning on developing games for the Saturn, I am now canceling those plans. This is just the worst thing that could possibly happen to Sega and the Saturn and the arcade business. Now listeners, as you can imagine, there is a tough path that they have to now traverse to get to the 2023 Sega that we're going to talk about and what they look like as a games business today. David, I have a couple of stories that I don't think you know about how they made that transition. So I'm curious to know if I will stump you with that or not. But first, we want to thank our other sponsor this episode. It's our good friends at vouch, the insurance of tech. Vouch, as you know, from previous years is the best way to ensure your startup as you're getting started. But they have really grown into a fantastic way to ensure your company even as you scale much larger. So this season, we're talking about real life examples of startups buying insurance. So we're going to meet Josh, the founder of Inspectify. Inspectify is digitizing the entire home inspection process. Traditional home inspections are old school, fragmented. It's phone calls, paper forms. It's a mess. Josh envisioned a world where customers could order an inspection on any property, anywhere with a click of a button. Funny story that the vouch folks don't know. I am an inspectify customer myself. Oh, no way. That's awesome. I actually use this service when I bought my house. Yep. So Inspectify went through YC in summer 2020. They quickly built the world's largest network of inspectors. They at this point realized we need business insurance to meet many of the requirements spelled out in the contracts they were signing. So they turned to vouch as many YC startups do because vouches of fellow YC company. So Inspectify went to They cruise through the application. They bought a Europe basic coverage. They did the lightning fast thing when you're trying to get a company off the ground. In 2021, as many of you know in the real estate industry, things really took off. Inspectify achieve product market fit with big institutional real estate buyers like REITS who need to run a ton of inspections. And so as many of you running startups know when your vision expands and you're scaling a company, a lot of the things that you started with aren't necessarily the way that you continue. Vouch is the complete opposite of this. They are awesome as you are scaling. They're cranking out certificates of insurance for inspectify in 40 plus states to onboard all these inspectors. There's a great client services team who's anticipating risks and helping them put together a really robust program that will support them as they grow. So obviously if you are looking for insurance today for your startup, you can go to slash acquired save 10% on your first policy when you come in through the acquired channel. And also email Josh at if you are interested in inspectify either as a real estate professional or as a potential employee or frankly as a customer, I can vouch. See what I did there, David? Haha, there you go. That it was a great, great experience. So our thanks to vouch. Thank you, Vouch. Okay, so David, here are a few things that I was curious if you knew about. So I planted the seed earlier with the idea that some people personally accumulated a lot of wealth through Sega. One of these people was I say, oh, Kawa. Yes, the chairman of CSK, right? Yes, exactly. And then ultimately became the chairman of Sega. So in 1999, he had loaned Sega $500 million. I believe personally, in 2001, the writing was on the wall. He was coming to the end of his life. He actually forgave Sega's debts to him ahead of his death and returned $695 million worth of Sega and CSK stock, which basically was the bridge that Sega needed to transition a massive shift from the Sega that we've been talking about this whole episode to just being the game creator that they are today. Yeah, because all of this R&D that was required to go into these new consoles, the Saturn, and then we just talked about how the Saturn basically got the floor wiped with it by Sony and the PlayStation One. Sega would then turn around and pour a bunch of effort into the Dreamcast. The same story would happen, but even worse, the Dreamcast sold less than the Saturn and the PS2, of course, goes on to become the best selling console of all time. It takes hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars in R&D to create these consoles. Right. They're just destroying their cash reserves. Yeah, you would think when the PlayStation comes out and basically creates a giant sucking sound that takes all of the business and players in the arcade industry and brings them into the home console with the PlayStation, that Sega would also get decimated in the arcade side of their business, which was the Golden Goose. They do, but they kind of get a stay of execution for a couple of years. Thanks to this partnership that they do with the Japanese developer, Altus, to launch purekura machines. So yes, the core gaming experience of the arcades does get totally gutted and Sega along with it. But almost like Nintendo and Pokemon, this purekura thing, these are photo booths, like selfie booths. Oh, I did read about this. I didn't know what it was called. Yeah. It becomes sort of the origin of the selfie phenomenon that of course started in Asia and then like move to the rest of the world. Sega was right there at the beginning of this. So the photo booths in the late 90s make over a billion dollars in revenue that Sega plugs into their quote unquote arcade business division. Now this is not the arcades by any stretch of the imagination. It makes sense though. It's the same distribution channel. It's kind of the same locations as arcades. Exactly. Unlike cutting edge technology in the arcade video game business, there is nothing defensible about this. It's a one time cash grab. Exactly. So once both the fads, subsides and competition springs up by the end of the decade, Sega no longer can continue in the hardware business on any front. So what do they become? Well, they become a games publisher. You can get Sonic on Nintendo platforms and on the PlayStation and on Xbox and that's great. They make mobile games. I remember in 2008, the very first iPhone game that I had was Super Monkey Ball, which was a Sega game. Yep. Actually a really good game, super fun puzzle game. Yeah. And it was perfect for the iPhone handheld device with accelerometers. Like it was this natural fit on mobile as people were trying to explore that form factor and figure out what it should be. In fact, it was, I believe in one of the original Apple iPhone OS app store keynotes to show off what games you could make, what types of experiences you could do on this device. And so we keep talking about the Sammy. What was the Sammy transaction and what was Sammy before Sega Sammy? Yeah. So Sammy was and is a Pachinko machine manufacturer and operator in Japan beyond the scope of this episode. But Pachinko is kind of like pinball used to be in the US. It's like gambling meets pinball and it's like much smaller than pinball. It's like a small vertical type thing. Yeah. On the one hand, it's sort of gaming-esque. On the other hand, it's also like a slot machine. Just like pinball was back in the day in the US. So that's what Sammy was. They had made some video games in the past. They had a small video game division. So they acquired Sega and merged that into their video game division. And it's fine. It's still a public company. You could say maybe at the bottom end of the majors or the top end of this sort of like mid-level game publishers out there. It's fine. Yeah. And Pitchbooks got this around 2003 for the Sega and Sammy merger and they've just been Sega, Sammy publicly traded ever since. More stats from Pitchbook today. They're a $4.3 billion market cap company. If you back out their cash, they have an enterprise value of about $3.6 billion. Last year they did $2.7 billion in revenue. So clearly the market doesn't think much of them with a revenue multiple of $1.3. It's a little bit of like a zombie company. Yeah. This is a good spot to transition to analysis here. I think there's a couple interesting things to talk about in playbook and then we have a fun sort of way to end the episode. One of the things I want to talk about is despite all of these machinations and mistakes, they do have some pretty great IP in the company. The Sonic movie, it's no Mario movie, but it did pretty well. People still love Sonic the Hedgehog. The Akusa franchise is strong. There's lots of other franchises within Sega. Is there almost I'm wondering like a LVMH Bernard Arnoh style takeover opportunity here? Like could you come and acquire either the whole Sega Sammy company or the Sega IP out of it and like do it right? You know, there's so much more that could be done with this stuff. I don't think so. I mean, my take on this whole thing is that Sonic was a one trick pony and that they never really found an effective way to expand the franchise. They came out with a bunch more stuff that had Sonic on it, but I never wanted to play 3D Sonic the way that I wanted to play the original Sonic the Hedgehog side-scroller game. It feels to me like there's a lot of nostalgia to play with, but it didn't really create any durable extensible IP or a gameplay, frankly. Well right back to the difference between Sega and Nintendo and the games and the difference between Miyamoto and Sonic team. You know, Sega's DNA, this is the whole point of this episode, it was the Arcades. The type of game you make for an arcade is very different than the type of game you make for a $60 packaged good home console. Sonic was the perfect arcade style game. That first level in the first Sonic was so good and even the subsequent 3D stuff like Sonic Adventure and beyond. The first level of Sonic Adventure for the Dreamcast is so good. It really is like you play it and you're like, wow, this is 3D Sonic, this is everything I remember. The first level is in like an island setting and you're chasing a whale running around at Sonic's speed and doing 3D loop deletes, it's super fun. But the problem with these games and with Sonic is it's super fun for 5 minutes. And then you're like, okay, I'm done. Whereas Mario and Zelda, it's not as fun in the first 5 minutes but you can play it for 50 hours and lose yourself in it. Since we did most of the kind of analysis commentary in the story, let's just ask the question what could have saved Sega and this is where it's probably worth sharing the Jim Clark story. Yes. So this is a great excerpt from console wars and I had no idea. I mean, we have talked a few times about Netscape and Jim Clark and SGI and how the internet almost happened on N64s with Mark and Dreson and Jim Clark together. And you may know that the N64 was based on SGI's architecture. You needed an expensive SGI workstation to create the amazing graphics games. A big reason why the best N64 games were first party and there weren't a lot of third party games. Right. But the way that that came about is crazy. It was actually Tom Kalinsky, the CEO of Sega America who wanted to do the partnership with SGI. He saw the potential in the cutting edge chips and after the potential Sony partnership that we referenced earlier fell apart between Sega and Sony, he came back to Sega of Japan with a pitch saying, I just met with Jim Clark. I really think we should do something with SGI. I think our next generation console should be powered by SGI and Sega of Japan got back to Kalinsky and said, no. And when Kalinsky pressed them and said why it's a no brainer, they said the chip is too big. And Kalinsky was like, what? This doesn't make any sense and they were like, that's our decision. And so he had to have this really hard phone call with Jim Clark saying, I'm sorry, man, I actually don't have a deal for you here. Japan is against it. And so Jim Clark goes, what am I supposed to do now? And Kalinsky in this incredible moment of frustration where he seems half a foot out the door, looks in the phone book, looks up Howard Lincoln's phone number and says, you should call Nintendo of America. Which I can't believe that actually happened. I know. It's so crazy. But again, you know, understanding what we know now from the Sega story, it's not just that Sega of Japan was being really dominaric in here. Right. That was a reasonable business decision. Because at that very same time that Tom was calling up Japan and being like, oh, we're going to do this thing with SGI. The Sony apocalypse was coming in the arcade business with the system 11 and Namco and the PlayStation. And I can totally understand, say, Japan being like, look, doing this SGI thing, that's not what we have time for right now. Yeah. I also think there was probably some kind of like not invented here sentiment where it has to happen in Japan, within Sega's walls in order to be a viable strategy. It is a little weird. You know, it's not like they already were thinking we should just be a software business because they did have the dreamcast after this. To me, it feels more like a lack of willing to partner than it does a sort of business model conflict. Had it happened a couple of years later, you would have been like, okay, clearly you should get out of the console business. And so don't invest in new hardware partnerships. But I think this is just a, we don't know those guys. We don't trust those guys. So we're not working with them thing. Who knows if it could have saved Sega, but maybe. That's probably the closest thing that I can think of to like had that happened probably still wouldn't have saved Sega, but at least the dreamcast might have had more of a chance of success. Maybe. We'll never know. Carvouts? Carvouts. Let's do quick carve outs. I have one funny story before giving my carve out. This is a thing that also got cut from both last episode and I'm not letting it get cut from this episode. The Sonic origin story is hilarious. In a interview years later, Neyoto Oshima, who is one of the creators, I think he was the designer of Sonic, he was asked, how did you come up with Sonic? This blue hedgehog, why does he look like that? And his answer, he just says, well, I put Felix the cat on the body of Mickey Mouse. That's amazing. And I was reading that. I couldn't believe it. And you look it up and you're looking at Felix the cat and you're looking at his eyes and his head shape. And you're like, oh my God. It's Felix on Mickey died blue with sneakers. Yes. Ridiculous. Uh, to your point about Sonic while being beloved isn't really like the super deep IP. No. Kaczyna Kaczyna and team gave it a good run, but man, it was thin all the way around. It was. All right. What do you got on carve outs? My carve out, I want to re carve out your carve out from a couple episodes of Darryl Mori on Invest Like The Best. I listened to it after you recommended it. Well, now the GM and President of basketball operations at the Sixers, formerly the GM of the Houston Rockets, he's just brilliant and so fun to listen to whether you care about basketball or sports at all. I mean, he was a computer science major like he's very, very interesting. And Patrick is just such a good interviewer. It really is a master class in how to conduct a truly interesting, explorative discovery based interview. And I learned so much from it. I really enjoyed it. Yeah, so good. Okay. I have three. They're going to be fast. One is my god. If you are not watching this season of succession, it's the best television I've ever seen. Just remarkable storytelling. Two, I'm keeping a close eye and I suspect many of you are as well. In the next month, Starship is scheduled to launch. And so. Oh, nice. SpaceX launches always sort of our, who knows on the date and Elon things always slip. But it is on the launch pad. They're doing lots of pre-launch inspections and tests and it is going to be so freaking cool to watch that thing do its first launch. And then three, I said this to David. I don't know, David, if you watched it yet, six days to air. I haven't yet. All right. If you like this and you like South Park, you will love that. If you like this and you like watching creativity and action, but you're not so sure on South Park, you may still love it. It is a documentary about the process of conceiving of a South Park episode idea on a Thursday and then having it air the following Wednesday and the unbelievable six day turnaround. There's just nothing more special than watching creativity and action. I think the documentary is like 10 years old at this point, but a pretty special view into their process. Nice. We could learn some stuff for a client. Lot we can learn. All right, listeners, that's it. Thank you so much for joining our huge thanks to pitch book and vouch. You can click the link in the show notes to learn more. You can become a deeper part of what we do here at acquired by becoming an LP. You will gain access to our LP only Zoom calls every couple months or so. And you will help us pick at least one episode per season. Our next episode is actually LP selected. So if you join now, you will get in on the next one. You can join at slash LP. Check out our interview show ACQ 2 available in the podcast player of your choice, free and public. Join the Slack. The Slack has been a critical part of our research recently since many of you are experts in the topics that we are covering. So lots of great gaming discussion going on there. And if we missed anything in this episode, let us know slash slack. And with that, listeners, we will see you next time. We'll see you next time. Who got the truth? Is it you? Is it you? Who got the truth now? Who got the truth now?