Over in the West, Bernie Stolar is the man most often blamed by Sega diehards in the U.S. for the death of the Saturn. Many reasons are cited, but they all tend to boil down to three key issues - his feud with Victor Ireland of Working Designs over Sega booth space at E3 1997, his public statement at the very same show about the future of the Saturn, and his implementation of the Five Star Games Policy. Let us take a moment to look at these three reasons and see just what bearing they had on Sega's worsening fortunes in 1997. In truth, the Saturn was dying long before Stolar came onto the scene, but since he is perceived by many as putting the final nails in its coffin, let us examine why this may in fact be so. E3 1997 was held 19-21 June 1997 at the World Congress Center in Atlanta, Georga. The reason for the change of venue was that the show had become so big an event that it had outgrown its previous stomping grounds in Los Angeles. The first keynote address was by IDSA president Douglas Lowenstein, who discussed the growth of multimedia and the rise of the Internet. Lowenstein noted in his speech that official NPD research data indicated that there had been a 58% incress in console game sales, some 6 million nextgen consoles were already in the homes of U.S. gamers, and it was expected that there would be as many as 16-18 million by the end of the year. The second keynoted address was by NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw, there to discuss the founding of his employer's MSNBC online news service. So what does all of this have to do with Bernie Stolar and the demise of the Saturn? Plenty, as it turns out. There were two things that happened at E3 1997 that bore on Saturn's ailing fortunes, and both of them are connected directly with Bernie Stolar.
The first problem for Saturn at E3 1997 attributed to Stolar was the apparently spontaneous eruption of a feud between Sega of America and software licensee Working Designs, its number one importer of RPGs. Due to a series of events and misunderstandings concerning scheduling and booth space that still raise the ire of the principals involved, Working Designs did not get the large area within Sega's E3 booth that it had thought it was supposed to receive. Instead, it was relegated to a small space in the back corner where hardly anybody could find them. Victor Ireland, the president of Working Designs, had already developed a personal dislike for Sega of America president Bernie Stolar going back to the latter's days with Sony due to his brusque manner and dismissal of "non-mainstream games" (i.e. RPGs) as largely unprofitable. He took personally the treatment his company received at E3, perceiving it to be a direct insult levied by Stolar himself, and promptly announced that Working Designs would no longer support any Sega platform so long as Stolar remained in Sega's employ. Stolar remained unpreturbed, but Saturn RPG fans went berzerk at the news. While Working Designs was still committed to release the long-delayed RPG Magic Knight Rayearth for Saturn, it had abruptly cancelled its work on the Saturn port of Lunar Silver Star Story Complete even though the game was reportedly nearing completion. Instead, it was jumping ship into Sony's camp as fast as it could and would release Lunar SSC for PlayStation instead. An upgraded and overhauled version of the highly acclaimed RPG for Sega CD, Lunar SSC had long been awaited by Saturn RPGers, so who could blame them for beside themselves now that their game had been canned? They took Ireland at his word and vented all of their fury on Stolar for his reported behavior - even though a large portion of it was undeserved. While it was true that Stolar and Ireland were not exactly buddies and never would be, it should be noted for the record that Ireland had already decided that Saturn was a dead system and was looking for a convienent excuse to take his company out of the Sega fold. That infamous E3 1997 incident gave him exactly the "cause" he needed to pack up his tent take his show elsewhere - away from a man he personally detested and on to greener, hopefully more profitable pastures. As for Stolar, he was reported to have privately expressed delight that Sega didn't have to deal with such a prima donna licensee anymore.
The second and more damning problem for Saturn at E3 1997 was a single quote lifted from a speech that Stolar gave on 23 June 1997, just two days after E3. "The Saturn is not our future," Stolar said without hesitation during that speech, and it was that one quote that would forever earn him the ire of the hardcore Saturn fanatics. Stolar's quote was reprinted in a number of mainstream videogame magazines, such as Electronic Gaming Monthy, and plastered all over pro- and anti-Sega Internet sites in the months ahead. Rant after rant, rave after rave, flame after flame, the ire continued to pour out of the Sega faithful against Stolar and what he had said, and would do so even years after it was first reported. "For all practical purposes, Stolarexternal link buried the system alive while it still had a pulse left in it," noted one such Sega site. Gamer Henry Knapp was even more blunt. "It seems as if Sega didn't want the Saturn to succeed," he fumed in his own public rant. These two are actually some of the milder comments that one can find in print and on the Internet that were generated by Stolar's words, but he never took it back nor apologized for his remark. Why? Because he was now focused on Sega's next console, and he didn't really give a damn anymore as to what happened to Saturn. It wasn't and wouldn't make Sega any more money - but its successor might, provided it was given the proper time and effort for a successful launch. That is where Stolar was focusing his talents and efforts: towards Sega's potentially bright future, instead of wasting his time on its present failures. He didn't care about the Saturn, its sales, its software, or anything about it. What he cared about was the new console, for that repesented Sega's last chance at making a profit and climbing out of the financial hole it was fast digging for itself. Above all else, he had faith that the average Sega gamer would eventually understand ... given time, that is.
The third of Stolar's perceived problems was his Five Star Games Policy, which went into effect on 20 June 1997 and is often blamed for the dearth of good Saturn titles in the West. It was put together in an effort to assure top quality, top selling Saturn games for the U.S. market. All submissions from both Sega's own programming divisions and its third party licensees were subject to the Five Star grading criteria, which emphasized "quality over quantity." If submissions did not receive a composite score of 90 or more, then they would have to be reworked or else they would be dropped from the release list. It sounded good when it was first announced at E3 1997, but shortly thereafter came to be blamed by irate Saturn gamers as the reason why so many good Japanese Saturn titles never made it out of Japan. Take Sakura Taisen, for instance. This odd yet excellent combination of mech combat sim and romance simulation was wildly popular in Japan and had a devoted following in the U.S., yet Sega never saw fit to release the game in the West. Saturn fans pointed to the Five Star Policy, which seemed to ensure that such a market-specific title would never see the light of day in the West - and since Stolar put that policy into place, then it was Stolar's fault. They point to other titles left behind in Japan, such as Radiant Silvergun, considered the best shooter ever created for the platform, and then proceed to call Stolar every dirty name in the book in every language they know. After all, hadn't he screwed up good games for the PlayStation launch back when he was with Sony? A lot of Saturn gamers from that day still blame Stolar and his Five Star Games Policy for the dearth of good Saturn titles in 1997 and 1998, even though in truth it had very little to do with them. It was Sega's own executives over in Japan and not Bernie Stolar who was calling the shots as to which Saturn titles would make it across the pond. He had more pressing concerns to worry about - like ensure that the Saturn left this world with some grace while he readied Sega's next system for its eventual market debut.