Sega Japan vs. Sega America continues to be fascinating

Ever since reading Sega-16'sinterview with Tom Kalinske, I have been shown a side of Sega I never knew existed - one that I've found continually fascinating. Unfortunately, Sega-16 has completely redesigned their site and never bothered to re-publish these fantastic articles, so the best I can give you is a Google Cache link. That doesn't really matter, though, as I've stumbled upon something else that also touches on the apparent feud Sega of Japan waged on Sega of America in the 16-bit console era. 
 

 Dungeon crawling
The following comes from a (rather old) blog dedicated to a fan translation for SegaGaga. SegaGaga, for those in the dark, was a late-era Sega Dreamcast game developed by Hitmaker and published by Sega. It was an oddball sort of simulation RPG - positioned basically as Sega's last great hurrah. Imagine Game Dev Story with a rigid plot structure and a greater amount of anime/fantasy elements and you have a fuzzy picture of what the game was like. You took control of young game developer who moved through Sega's ranks in an effort not only to save the company, but to save the entire game industry itself. Offices were laid out like dungeons in a JRPG, and you fought mutated versions of irate programmers and designers in an effort to make them work harder. The game also had sort of a "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" sort of feel, as not only did you interact with physical people, but you were afforded the opportunity to speak to iconic characters like Alex Kidd (one particularly notable scene involves meeting a washed up Kidd working as a supermarket bag boy as he laments Sonic taking his place as the company's starlet). As you can imagine, the game was a little too niche to ever come stateside, and on top of that, the Dreamcast had already flat-lined in the west by the time SegaGaga hit Japanese shelves. While the game definitely did not take itself seriously, it does attempt to accurately recreate a timeline of what it was like at Sega, from their 8-bit beginnings all the way up to the eventual death of the Dreamcast. And, thanks to this blog, I've discovered SegaGaga even touches on the Sega of Japan vs. Sega of America Feud. I've deliberately truncated the following text in order to focus on the juicy parts, so you'll want to read the full blog entry to get the whole story - there's a link at the bottom of the post.
 

We’ve encountered a character in SegaGaga that might bother many long-time American Sega fans. In our present rough drafts, the character’s name is Special Task Force Director Cool. SegaGaga most likely uses him as a reference to Sega of America’s former president, Tom Kalinske.

Let’s look at some history first. At the start of the 16-bit console generation, Sega’s CEO (Nakayama) hired Kalinske to turn around the American market in Sega’s favor. Kalinske reviewed Sega’s situation, went to Japan, and told the board of directors how he thought they could remove themselves from beneath Nintendo’s foot. The board of directors hated all of Kalinske’s ideas, but Nakayama gave his approval. With this freedom, Kalinske built a legacy that rests in the memories of anyone who grew up as a gamer during the 16-bit console generation.

Material success strikes Americans as its own justification, at least in business. Sega of Japan’s board of directors hardly regarded Kalinske’s success in America as virtuous. Yes, he put money in their bank accounts, but he brought a lower branch of Sega greater success than the head could hope to achieve. To describe the corporate power relationships in feudal terms, Kalinske was a chief retainer who had brazenly proven himself more valorous than his lord.

The Japanese corporate world has been known to punish insolence without terminating the person’s career. So Sega of Japan seemingly punished Kalinske. They manipulated the company’s structure to strip him of any real authority, and they left him with all the direct power of England’s royal family. Kalinske became fed up with the whole affair, left Sega, and boosted LeapFrog, Inc., to tremendous success.

Of course, Sega began to stumble toward their present state shortly afterwards. In effect, they razed themselves by exposing Kalinske to passive Japanese corporate discipline and driving him away. Tom Kalinske’s entrance into and exit from Sega might mark the most dramatic part of the company’s history. SegaGaga, as a reflection upon the company’s history as well as the industry in general, addresses these events as a matter of course.

According to everything we’ve translated so far, however, SegaGaga renders Kalinske a villain to the point that he opposes and nearly snuffs the plan intended to save Sega along with the rest of the videogames industry. Both Kalinske and Special Task Force Director Cool are American, and both drastically increased Sega’s hold over the American market. The game’s characters–all Japanese, of course–regard him as “shrewd,” an attitude that contrasts with the other characters’ confidence in the genius of a fun-loving wunderkind. Cool intrudes upon Project SegaGaga with the CEO’s authority, just as the Japanese executives perhaps viewed Kalinske’s presence as unfairly forced upon them by Nakayama. All of this, of course, casts Kalinske (by association with Cool) and a generalized idea of “the American approach to game development” in a bad light.


 The full text, including quotes from the game's script and an exploration of what they mean in the grand scheme of SegaGaga's plot, can be found here.
9 Comments
10 Comments
Posted by BlazeHedgehog

Ever since reading Sega-16'sinterview with Tom Kalinske, I have been shown a side of Sega I never knew existed - one that I've found continually fascinating. Unfortunately, Sega-16 has completely redesigned their site and never bothered to re-publish these fantastic articles, so the best I can give you is a Google Cache link. That doesn't really matter, though, as I've stumbled upon something else that also touches on the apparent feud Sega of Japan waged on Sega of America in the 16-bit console era. 
 

 Dungeon crawling
The following comes from a (rather old) blog dedicated to a fan translation for SegaGaga. SegaGaga, for those in the dark, was a late-era Sega Dreamcast game developed by Hitmaker and published by Sega. It was an oddball sort of simulation RPG - positioned basically as Sega's last great hurrah. Imagine Game Dev Story with a rigid plot structure and a greater amount of anime/fantasy elements and you have a fuzzy picture of what the game was like. You took control of young game developer who moved through Sega's ranks in an effort not only to save the company, but to save the entire game industry itself. Offices were laid out like dungeons in a JRPG, and you fought mutated versions of irate programmers and designers in an effort to make them work harder. The game also had sort of a "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" sort of feel, as not only did you interact with physical people, but you were afforded the opportunity to speak to iconic characters like Alex Kidd (one particularly notable scene involves meeting a washed up Kidd working as a supermarket bag boy as he laments Sonic taking his place as the company's starlet). As you can imagine, the game was a little too niche to ever come stateside, and on top of that, the Dreamcast had already flat-lined in the west by the time SegaGaga hit Japanese shelves. While the game definitely did not take itself seriously, it does attempt to accurately recreate a timeline of what it was like at Sega, from their 8-bit beginnings all the way up to the eventual death of the Dreamcast. And, thanks to this blog, I've discovered SegaGaga even touches on the Sega of Japan vs. Sega of America Feud. I've deliberately truncated the following text in order to focus on the juicy parts, so you'll want to read the full blog entry to get the whole story - there's a link at the bottom of the post.
 

We’ve encountered a character in SegaGaga that might bother many long-time American Sega fans. In our present rough drafts, the character’s name is Special Task Force Director Cool. SegaGaga most likely uses him as a reference to Sega of America’s former president, Tom Kalinske.

Let’s look at some history first. At the start of the 16-bit console generation, Sega’s CEO (Nakayama) hired Kalinske to turn around the American market in Sega’s favor. Kalinske reviewed Sega’s situation, went to Japan, and told the board of directors how he thought they could remove themselves from beneath Nintendo’s foot. The board of directors hated all of Kalinske’s ideas, but Nakayama gave his approval. With this freedom, Kalinske built a legacy that rests in the memories of anyone who grew up as a gamer during the 16-bit console generation.

Material success strikes Americans as its own justification, at least in business. Sega of Japan’s board of directors hardly regarded Kalinske’s success in America as virtuous. Yes, he put money in their bank accounts, but he brought a lower branch of Sega greater success than the head could hope to achieve. To describe the corporate power relationships in feudal terms, Kalinske was a chief retainer who had brazenly proven himself more valorous than his lord.

The Japanese corporate world has been known to punish insolence without terminating the person’s career. So Sega of Japan seemingly punished Kalinske. They manipulated the company’s structure to strip him of any real authority, and they left him with all the direct power of England’s royal family. Kalinske became fed up with the whole affair, left Sega, and boosted LeapFrog, Inc., to tremendous success.

Of course, Sega began to stumble toward their present state shortly afterwards. In effect, they razed themselves by exposing Kalinske to passive Japanese corporate discipline and driving him away. Tom Kalinske’s entrance into and exit from Sega might mark the most dramatic part of the company’s history. SegaGaga, as a reflection upon the company’s history as well as the industry in general, addresses these events as a matter of course.

According to everything we’ve translated so far, however, SegaGaga renders Kalinske a villain to the point that he opposes and nearly snuffs the plan intended to save Sega along with the rest of the videogames industry. Both Kalinske and Special Task Force Director Cool are American, and both drastically increased Sega’s hold over the American market. The game’s characters–all Japanese, of course–regard him as “shrewd,” an attitude that contrasts with the other characters’ confidence in the genius of a fun-loving wunderkind. Cool intrudes upon Project SegaGaga with the CEO’s authority, just as the Japanese executives perhaps viewed Kalinske’s presence as unfairly forced upon them by Nakayama. All of this, of course, casts Kalinske (by association with Cool) and a generalized idea of “the American approach to game development” in a bad light.


 The full text, including quotes from the game's script and an exploration of what they mean in the grand scheme of SegaGaga's plot, can be found here.
Edited by Red12b

Sega really fucked themselves, That whole  Kalinske debacle, it's amazing how arrogant traditional Japanese are.

 
 
text editor sucks. it's not un-bolding.
Edited by BlazeHedgehog
@Red12b said:

Sega really fucked themselves, That whole  Kalinske debacle, it's amazing how arrogant traditional Japanese are.

  text editor sucks. it's not un-bolding.
To be fair, part of that can be chalked up to cultural differences. Japan was doing what Japan does, which is different from what America does. But when you consider the fact that Kalinske did exactly what he was hired to do (make the company a threat to Nintendo), it seems a bit backhanded that they would treat him that way.
 
"Succeed... just don't succeed more than us." is a pretty awful way to run a business. The more I read about this stuff, the more it seems like the Sega Genesis was a fluke and that Sega never actually knew what they were doing. But man, what an amazing fluke it was.
Posted by BombKareshi
@BlazeHedgehog said:
The more I read about this stuff, the more it seems like the Sega Genesis was a fluke and that Sega never actually knew what they were doing. But man, what an amazing fluke it was.
This is basically my impression of the whole situation. 'Tis such a pity.
Edited by MikkaQ

Wow thanks for showing me that, I'm entirely interested in SegaGaga now. Looks insane in a way that only early 2000s era sega could be.

And yes japanese corporate policy has only harmed those companies in turn, it's when they adapt and use global business strategies, and throw out this notion of traditionalism that they find real success, look at nintendo. Blue ocean strategy can totally work for some. Doesn't seem sustainable in the long term, but it'll get you some customers if that's what you want.

Posted by TooSweet
@BlazeHedgehog
 
Very cool read. Thanks! I'll have to set aside some time to read more about it.
Posted by mpgeist

Interesting blog mate. I was always a Sega kid but I didn't know about this story until now, thanks.

Posted by BaconGames

You're right! It was fascinating. Thanks for the story. Although I do wish there was more to that article in relation to Sega of America after Kalinske's departure, specifically management and titles put out during said new management.

Posted by IcelandicHossi

I am pretty sure it was Tom that made SEGA sell millions in America, I feel good knowing SEGA failed so much after they made him quit and then Bernie Stolar destroyed the Saturn for them in America!!

Posted by JasonR86

What a stupid fucking company. It's like they're run by children.