Bernie Stolar, Sega of America's president and COO, has a lot to talk about. He's currently laying the groundwork for the North American launch of the Dreamcast in the fall of 1999. Whether you've been a Sega fan since the Master System, a Saturn loyalist, or just like playing Sega's games, Stolar is making decisions about the way you'll soon be looking at video games.
Whether you've always supported Sega or felt abandoned with the downfall of the Saturn, Stolar's words do indicate that there's a plan in place to bring Sega back to the forefront. Here's the full text of our interview with him during the Electronic Entertainment Expo this past May.
GameSpot News: So what do you think after seeing the whole show; how do you think Sega's going to do against all the competition from Nintendo and Sony with the Dreamcast?
Bernie Stolar: Well, I haven't been out of the booth yet, so it's hard for me to get an idea of what the competitive nature on the floor is right now. When I say competitive nature on the floor I mean from a software standpoint. I think the software that's on the floor is probably better this year than it was last year.
I think that's because of the learning curve that takes place, and the engines are more mature. But from what people have told me that have come through is that there's nothing really compelling from a software standpoint. It's like they're seeing a lot of "C" titles and not a lot of really strong "A" titles. I think in saying that, what I know we're going to deliver next year in the marketplace will have those titles, and real freshness about them - I don't believe there's anything fresh in the marketplace today. I think we've seen it, done that, been there, and in the sports titles I think they're very weak. I don't believe the authenticity or the realism is there that needs to be there today, and I think we're going to deliver that. I will tell you.... We're developing a football title through Visual Concepts, we are releasing. I showed a piece of that title (around 10 percent, and they're working on it right now) to all the retailers, and they all looked at me and said, "Bernie, you've got a real winner here." And I know that. I believe we will claim the next level of sports titles in the marketplace.
We will launch with a football title and a basketball title, as part of our overall mix. We're also launching with Sonic. I believe that we will have the right, quality titles next year. Which is setting the standard - we've got a window. We have a real window, and we're going to take advantage of that window. We will launch this with enough money to make sure we get into the minds and the hearts of the consumer. So from a company standpoint we're really excited. We believe that the groundwork of being a wiser and smarter company has paid off at this show, and that's going to launch this thing to the curve of development and marketing that we want to establish at a grassroots level going into next year. In that sense we are positive.
GameSpot News: I bought a Genesis, Sega CD, 32X, Nomad, Saturn - all those. Let's say I've seen Sega through the best of times and the worst of times, and there are a lot of people upset that the Saturn is dead in America. In your opinion, what would you say is the reason I should buy a Dreamcast? What would you say to me?
Bernie Stolar: I don't believe we delivered after Genesis the quality software that needed to be there to make those systems happen. What we're doing with Dreamcast, first and foremost, is developing and bringing to market the next-level software. So anybody who wants to play games, who's entertained by games (it's an entertaining business, it's an entertaining format), we are going to deliver what I believe is going to be the strongest and best libraries.
We're going to have a very strong preview program going forward that will show the consumer in the marketplace that this product, Dreamcast, is supported by software - and that's the change. When you walk into a store environment and you see this, you'll say "this is a must-have product." That's how we're going to do it.
It's not just that. Our AM group's Yu Suzuki - he's never developed for the platform first. We've only developed for the arcade side first. So they've embraced this technology - this is the first time that the arcade group and the consumer group are working on a bonded method to drive this. In doing that, you're going to see a Virtua Fighter title - a genre of fighting that you've never seen before. We'll preview that to the consumer in all different possible formats, whether its commercial advertising in prime time, something through a rental, or a demo disc way before we launch. I grew up in the entertainment business, and I came out of the magazine publishing side, so I believe that the more we do that for previewing (just like the film industry does), we'll bring that consumer back into our fold. That's the most positive thing we can do.
GameSpot News: Sony stated at the show that it saw it as being like the music industry, and that if you just throw loads of products at the consumers, they'll pick out the ones that are good. And then Nintendo takes the completely opposite attack and says "we're just going to give you the good stuff and then not bother with the rest." What's your position? Which way is Sega going to lean with Dreamcast?
Bernie Stolar: Somewhere in the middle. I was at Sony, and I don't believe in quantity, I believe in quality. If you look at the PlayStation, the average title sells less than 40,000 units. So if you're developing a title that's $2-2.5 million dollars, how do you make money like that? You can't do that. You've got that amount, you've got the advertising dollar support, so you've got to sell over 250,000 units.
Not only that, between EA and PlayStation that's about 40-50 percent market share. So every other company is a one-digit number. How do they make their money? That's being driven because of quantity of titles. It's wrong, and the retailer won't stand for it anyway. They don't want that. All the retailers are looking for is profitability now; they're looking for less - I've had every one of them tell me that. They all told me that with the PlayStation, that's why it got so hard there.
I also don't believe in ports from PC to the platform. I believe in freshness. I believe it goes platform first then PC or simultaneous, but we're not going to take titles that appeared in other platforms to the market. The only way we're going to do that is if there's so much differentiation that there's something there to be given to the consumer; otherwise, why do it?
Plus we're going to have the online component for the first time on the console side, launching with a multiplayer game dedicated to this, where thousands of people can play simultaneously - which is also different. We're going to market that so it's a seamless sell. I don't call it a peripheral; I call it part of the platform. The reason it's outside right now is that because technology changes as quickly as it does, we're not sure where that's going to be. I don't want to be left out of any other ways of how that modem could work, plus at the price point we wanted to achieve, we wanted to make sure it was at the right price point. Being that, I decided that we were going to have it outside. So these are all new dynamics that consumers have never seen.
GameSpot News: Between now or when the last Saturn product ships and when Dreamcast launches, what is Sega going to be doing, internally?
Bernie Stolar: Well, we're building a grassroots effort to redo how we're working with retail. We will be working with store managers, regional managers, so next year when somebody comes into the store, they're going to say, "the must-have product is Sega's Dreamcast." They don't say that now, but they will say that next year.
So we've got a year of work ahead of us to do that. We're also developing what we believe are some great titles internally, so we have a year of doing that. Outside, to make sure we keep the brand going, we've got Sega PC, we've got Segasoft, Sega GameWorks - we'll sell over a million units of Genesis hardware, we'll sell over four million pieces of Genesis software this year, and there's also a Sonic syndicated series that starts in September. So we believe with all of that activity and the fact that you guys are going to write so much press about us, that the consumer will be fully aware - and the core gamer is driving this already, so we've got the core gamer locked right now. So that's basically what we're doing. We're going to manage our mature products and manage our business plan moving forward.
GameSpot News: When do you think you're going to start previewing the games to the public?
Bernie Stolar: Any games that we're going to ship, both from first party and third party, if they're going to be September launch date titles, they've got to be in-house for test in July. So I believe we'll start doing that probably end of July, start of August. And we'll also have a major presell program with the retailers.
GameSpot News: Is the system going to cost between US$200-300 like they said in Japan?Bernie Stolar: We're going to have a very aggressive price point.
GameSpot News: Why not release more titles until the Dreamcast comes out? Panzer Dragoon Saga for instance sold out in a week, and got a lot of press that way with the fans, and the fans really enjoyed that game. Why not bring more games from Japan out here like Deep Fear, Shining Force III Scenario 2 & 3?
Bernie Stolar: Those are discussions we're having now. It's a matter of economics, it's a matter of market positioning with the retailers so those are things we're still debating right now.
GameSpot News: Is there any chance that you might consider remaking Panzer Dragoon Saga for the Dreamcast, because it's such a great title and kind of came out during the last days of the Saturn?
Bernie Stolar: Products that are in development right now are some things I can't talk about. Let me just say, there's gotta be some surprises here. But we do believe that that's obviously a strong title - and I'm also a big believer in RPGs as well. No one ever believes that because I came out of the coin-op side of the business. But I'm an older, wiser person these days.
I think you know that I'm not one to not be a competitive person. I believe if anybody knows me, this company is right now a different company than it ever has been, and we're smarter than we have been in the past, and we believe we're marching to a plan that will make us the number one company again, and I'm looking forward to that, and I think everybody in this organization is. They're working very hard to do that. So, I'm going to leave you with that....