Katana Strategy Still on Back Burner

Sega of America is lying low till Japan breaks its silence - which could come sooner than we think.

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Bernie Stolar, the newly appointed president of Sega of America, is waiting for Sega of Japan to officially announce its new console system before he starts promoting the system in earnest.

Word from Sega of Japan is expected next May 15. Until then, Stolar wants to keep a lid on the Katana. In a recent interview with GameSpot News, however, he did reveal just a few aspects of the Katana launch, specifically the US launch date for the Katana, Sega's goals in terms of retail support, and what of the Katana will be shown at E3 in Atlanta.

"We made mistakes here at Sega. We'll not make those mistakes going into the next platform," said Stolar as a prologue to his plan of attack.

"When we launched Saturn, we launched at about 3,500 retailers. We are going to launch at over 15,000 retail locations date and day of the launch. We will have full retail support."

Asked whether he has felt resistance lining up retail support for the Katana, Stolar says what it will take is a "reeducation" of retailers and store employees.

"The sales people on the floor have gotten used to saying 'You've got to buy Sony.... You have to have Sony.' And when Christmas came around it was 'Oh, you've got to buy Nintendo.' It was like Sega was off the charts. We've got to go back and reeducate those sales people."

He also said the marketing push for the Katana would involve a substantial TV push - and not just for first-party titles. "We need to help support the third-party developers, both from a business model standpoint, which includes marketing, merchandising, online... and we're going to do that. And they're going to help us drive our hardware - and that hasn't really happened before... where third parties will get as much marketing support as they're going to get from us."

Stolar indicated that while TV will be one of the primary battlefields, the campaigns would be "integrated," but he refused to elaborate.

He did say that Katana's promotional push would be geared toward the "traditional buyer" between the ages of 10 and 18 and not the typical PlayStation owner, for example, who is older.

Addressing the US release date of Sega's new system, Stolar gave a firm "fall of next year."

As for the tremendous number of consoles Sony is selling, and how Sega can possibly manage to mount a serious retail effort, Stolar pointed out that "the people who wrote the business plan for Sony four years ago, well, none of them are there." Stolar wondered aloud if Sony was prepared to fully tend to the continued growth of the PlayStation. It is this weakness that Stolar hopes to exploit.

Stolar seems ready to move with Katana when the time is right. With a view to both the past and the future, he hopes to constuct the perfect plan of attack.

" we didn't have the right distribution, we didn't have the right price point, we didn't have the right third-party procedures in place, we didn't launch properly... you name it. Nintendo made some mistakes in its past and they delivered product and they survived that... and they came out with product that turned the public on. Sony is a hardware company that has delivered products outside the game business that have been failures and they survived and flourished.

"I think that the proof of the pudding is what the gamer wants, and the gamer wants content. It's not so much the hardware.... We made a mistake with Saturn, and my belief is that we have to get past that in order to deliver the type of new content that the gamer wants.

"If we show that - first and foremost show that - they will believe. We will not deliver anything but quality, triple A titles, or we will not ship them. And that's what will be captivating for the consumer.

"We will deliver the promise we should have delivered with Saturn."

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