Super Mario Fusion and the Downfall of SEGA

Hopefully all of you have seen Super Mario Fusion by now, but if you haven’t check it out now.  I talked to JudgeSpear and he decided to allow to host his amazing project.  Our entire staff has been really enamored with this game since we first laid eyes on it, so it really makes us proud to have this great little project tangentally connected to us.  We hope that you will click the Super Mario Fusion link on the left and see the page that Mecha and Q designed for it.

Richie’s post about the SEGA channel brought me even further into the SEGA spiral than I was last week.  I’ve been playing the Genesis and Saturn for almost all my gaming pleasure recently, and it made me wonder even more how they descended into the company they are now.  I had always known bits and pieces about a man named Tom Kalinske, but I never knew that he was probably the man most responsible for SEGA’s success in the early and mid 90s.  In the spirit of true irony, it was actually this same success that changed SEGA.  In the end, jealousy killed the SEGA we knew and loved.

This post is not meant to be a encyclopedic entry describing SEGA, but merely the reminiscing of a gamer that misses the great games that came out of the competition between SEGA and Nintendo and the surprising circumstances that ended the period.  With that out of the way, one must travel back to the early 90s when Nintendo owned 98% of the industry and knew it.  They treated their third parties poorly and even threatened any company that might want to develop a game for a rival company.

It was in this climate that Tom Kalinske took over as CEO of SEGA of America.  His predecessor had only managed to get 2% of the market away from Nintendo’s dominance, and SEGA of Japan was extremely unhappy with how it was doing.  Knowing Tom from dealings with SEGA earlier, Nakayama-san hired him to try and bring as much success as possible to the Genesis. 

After surveying the situation, Tom came up with a plan to change virtually everything with how the Genesis was run.  He wanted to lower the price, he wanted to develop different and better games, he wanted to tackle Nintendo head-on in advertising, and most importantly, he wanted SEGA to have a mascot.  He brought these ideas, and many more, to Nakayama-san and the rest of SEGA of Japan.  The Japanese executives were absolutely in disagreement with everything that Tom had said and went into an uproar, and Mr. Kalinske thought his new job was over before it had even started.  As Tom walked towards the door, Nakayama-san told him that they all disagreed with everything that he said and thought his ideas were crazy…  BUT  that they had hired him to manage the US and Europe and they would back whatever decision he made.  With this, he set his initiatives in motion that eventually led to the development of Sonic the Hedghog, the famous SEGA scream ads, and moving from 2% of the market share to a firm 50%.  It was at this time that development of games was in an absolutely amazing age as Nintendo and SEGA were fighting for a lead as they remained deadlocked.

As all of this was taking place, Nakayama-san was still angry at SEGA of Japan as the Genesis was doing horribly there.  The Turbografx-16/PC-Engine was kicking their ass there, not to mention Nintendo.  "Why can’t you do what they did in America?  Why can’t you be like the Americans?"  This was the echo heard around the offices in Japan.  Eventually SEGA of Japan grew to be jealous of SEGA of America and wanted to become the dominant force.  

It was around this time that history dealt crushing blows due to this conflict.  Silicon Graphics called SEGA of America and wanted to offer them first dibs on some technology they were developing.  Tom Kalinske and crew went and saw it, thought it was great, but told them that Japan was in charge of the hardware.  Tom contacted Japan and they sent some people to look at the hardware… to which they turned up their nose, saying that it wasn’t good enough and giving several reasons.  Silicon Graphics corrected all the issues that SEGA presented them with and SEGA of Japan went back to Silicon Graphics and said the same thing, "Not good enough."  Kalinske was upset and told his friends at Silicon Graphics that they should contact other companies because they were simply unable to accept it since it was really Japan’s decision.  They did and the chipset became the Nintendo64.

Also around this time, the SEGA CD was released and Sony was offering up a lot of support for the system, so much so that Sony and SEGA became friends.  They worked hard together and eventually figured out a scheme to develop a new and really great CD based console that could succeed the SEGA CD/Genesis.  Again, SEGA of Japan did not want the recommendations of Kalinske and his crew and they turned up their nose.  Sony went to Nintendo and Nintendo worked with them for awhile before deciding not to use Sony’s technology.  Sony was left with a lot of knowledge from both SEGA and Nintendo and used it to make the PlayStation.  

SEGA of Japan gradually stripped away Tom’s powers and by the mid 90s left him as nothing more than a figure head.  SEGA of Japan then launched their plans to stop supporting the Genesis completely and move on to the Saturn, all the while leaving Kalinske and SEGA of America completely out of all decisions.  In 1996 Tom left SEGA, and so did their success.  It wasn’t long after this that SEGA started their downhill descent into what they have become today.  The disgruntled fan base, the oddly designed hardware, the power of Sony and Nintendo, the idea of price, and the importance of Sonic the Hedghog all flew out the window. 

I still love SEGA, especially Saturn and Genesis games, but I thought it was important to share a bit of the slice of history regarding the downfall of SEGA and also this individual’s importance to all gamers.  Even if you don’t like SEGA, Tom and his crew were also a part of the history of the Nintendo64 and the Sony PlayStation.  He knew gaming hardware and software, too much so for the egos of the executives at SEGA of Japan.   Hopefully their game division can pick up some of the steam of the 90s, or at least teach a lesson on how not to run a company.